The women in tech who cracked the mentor/mentee code
Academy’s Head of Performance, Natalya Sverjensky, sat down with Academy grad Tavija (who recently joined the railtech division within Tracsis plc) and her mentor Magda, Director of Digital Delivery at Virgin Media O2.
Tavija and Magda both took part in Academy’s pilot Industry Mentorship programme. They unpacked their journeys through the industry and how their mentoring relationship has helped both of them learn and grow as women in tech.
What were you hoping to get out of mentorship?
Tavija: I was switching careers and entering into the world of tech for the first time. I wanted someone who wasn’t in my workplace so I could be honest and share anything with them.
When unexpected problems crop up, you don’t always have someone to turn to. For example, when I realised I wanted to change industries and break into tech, I tried asking my previous manager for advice but she wasn’t on a similar career path to me. I also asked my female peers from university for advice, but they were in different industries and didn’t have the context.
When I started my first job as a developer at Tracsis, I realised I needed someone more senior than me who understood what I was going through as a woman in tech. That person was Magda.
Magda: I am always up for new experiences. When Academy asked if I was interested in becoming a mentor, I jumped at the opportunity.
I really wanted to give back to the community by sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years. I wish that I could have had someone at the start of my career to tell me how to get to where I am today a little faster, as well as helping to understand common challenges when first entering any workplace, such as navigating office politics or dealing with conflict.
How has your mentoring relationship evolved?
Tavija: We've had deep and personal conversations. This mentorship programme exceeded my expectations, because I didn’t expect the relationship to become so personal as fast as it did!
At first, we focused on work topics. But our relationship evolved quite quickly to explore things like self-development and how to grow as a human being.
We talked a lot about motherhood and what it’s like to start a family while working in the tech industry.
It definitely gave me a clearer idea of my future, whilst preparing me mentally for what to expect from the world of work as a woman.
Magda: One key thing that I have learned is that every initiative starts with the leader. So, if I wasn’t able to open up and be vulnerable to explore those difficult questions, then I couldn’t expect Tavija to do the same. It’s a twoway street. Both of us have to be courageous enough to be transparent and open, otherwise trust can be easily broken. By our second or third session, we had established this vulnerability and were having very meaningful conversations.
Mentorship is typically a hierarchical relationship. did you find you had a teacher/student dynamic emerge in your discussions?
Tavija: At the start it was very hierarchical. I came in with a list of questions to kick off the relationship. I did this to both start a conversation and to learn more about Magda.
As things progressed, it became more about sharing what I was going through and then Magda sharing what she was going through and how she’d approach the situation. From this we found many similarities in our struggles.
It was insightful because our meetings formed a virtuous cycle. I would walk away with learnings and outcomes every time, and so would Magda.
Magda: It moved away from a defined structure of ‘we need to cover XYZ’ to a more natural, shared conversation. The sentiment was: ‘We’re both going to figure it out together because I don’t actually have all the answers, no one does!’
What has the impact of this relationship been for each of you?
Tavija: I was brought up and had the perception to think that life and work had to be separated all the time. It was my belief that you should never bring your work into your personal life and vice versa.
As a high achiever, this means I can be overly critical and hard on myself, and not get the support I need at work. Magda has helped me understand that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ when I’m going through something. A lot of our relationship is about validating what I’m feeling as well as what I’m going through. This has helped me feel less alone.
It’s also helped me prepare how to communicate what I’m going through to my team. As Magda is a manager herself, our conversations allowed me to expand my perspective, and understand how a manager would like to be spoken to.
Magda: Meeting with Tavija has changed how I lead in two ways. Personally, it’s been a way for me to self-reflect. When giving Tavija advice, I’d often find myself taking a step back and realising that it applies to my situation too. Sometimes I’d have to say, ‘I don’t know the answer’ and that would become a catalyst for me to think through my own solutions more. I found a lot of space to grow both as a manager as well as a person.
In my day job, it’s helped me build a high performance team. It’s been a while since I was a junior team member! Mentorship has reminded me of what people need from a manager when they are starting their careers.
As a result, I’ve realised that I need to spend more time with my team to understand what they are thinking and feeling. Previously, I’d make a lot of decisions in isolation and now I’m bringing my team on the journey, involving them and taking a more collaborative approach.
Both Tavija and Magda believe that having a growth mindset and being committed to self-development is a powerful way for people to learn and grow in the workplace.
They both encourage the active pursuit of mentorship, whilst being inspired by what the tech industry could look like if more people had access to a mentoring relationship as part of their journey into tech.
At Academy.tech, we solve the tech talent shortage with exceptional junior talent, providing people with the opportunity to take monumental strides in both their personal and professional growth. Companies that are hiring for potential have a distinctive competitive advantage. Academy sources, trains, and places the top 1% of diverse graduates into junior engineering and data roles at top tech companies around the UK and Europe.
This article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe.