When Mentors Move On

I was recently reminded how far I have come. Last year in September I was juggling the on-boarding of a fourth addition to our team in as many months, reviewing code written by team mates on the other side of the globe, and still getting to work on any tasks myself. Two years ago I was struggling with my involvement the decision to terminate a new hire I had been training who was not a good fit for the role. Three years ago I was working on some of the first projects I took a lead in designing and implementing, which turned out to be some of the most frustrating projects at the company for the year.

All of these situations have one man in common, a manager who pushed me to my limits but maintained a safe place for me to fail. I grew more in the time he has been my manager than I can even comprehend and this September, stepping into it without him at the company I’m determined to grow even more from his departure. I want to carry on protecting the culture of the place he helped to build, a place of growth and success even as we struggle.

In the time I have been working at this company, in a time when the Bureau of Labor statistics report the median length of time at a job is 4.6 years, I’ve seen a lot of different people come and go. I’m right at that median length of time myself, going on five years since I started as an intern, and that is right around the median length for employees in my department as well. We have been growing by leaps and bounds in just the past year or two but we also have a few stable “lifers” who have been here since the company started, many of whom were hired straight out of college.

I’ve seen a lot of people who I consider friends, leave, and for the most part I have been able to keep in reasonable contact with them. It’s obviously much more effort to talk to someone when you aren’t spending 40-ish hours a week working with them, but when old co-workers come back into town I’ve made it out to a few lunches to reminisce about old times. The people that departed were members of my team, or teams that I had worked on, other software engineers, QA resources, even product owners. They were people I had worked with and learned from, and grown used to being a part of my daily life.

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Some specific people who have departed were extra disappointing for me for a variety of reasons. I am happy to say that I truly believe I have a work family. I even have had actual family working here with me, my husband, brother-in-law, and one of my best friends from college. I recruited all of them, so when my college buddy left I felt betrayed because subconsciously it felt like he was saying he was better than this, better than me, that he looked down on me for staying. That was one of the early departures, that I had to deal with, but I’ve had a big variety of other friends and mentors who I met on the job who have also left.

One was a friend whose team I have been on for the majority of his time leading a team. We’ve had lots of good conversations about teamwork and catalytic skills. I’m disappointed that those conversations will be more rare, after having them scheduled at least biweekly for the past two years. Our teamwork let me get a feel for how to manage people, without any of the actual work or responsibility as we partnered to create an on-boarding program for new developers.

Another was a teammate-turned-friend I was fortunate enough to train and watch discover her own strength in the field. I can relate to her so much and it was nice to have another girl developer on my team, not just in the department. She was a reflection of who I might have been given only a few different parameters in my life. I think she saw what her life could be like if she stayed and decided to be brave and try new things while she was still fresh out of college. I’ll miss being able to get her take on things, to say nothing of her incredible work.

A previous colleague’s departure was difficult because he was the person hired most closely to the time I was. We worked together a lot over the three years he was part of the company, so we had a lot of knowledge in common and I felt like it helped us get on the same page or to communicate our different opinions more easily. When he moved on it felt like a sort of graduation of a classmate, leaving me behind in the dust. I have to remind myself not to be jealous of the big, exciting things he’s doing because I’m a different person than he is, who made different choices.

The departure that made me the most frustrated was that of a technical mentor who had taken the two of us under his wing. As one of the senior developers his mentorship was a recognition that we had achieved enough to be considered mid-level developers. When he left, he left a gap that I didn’t feel ready to fill myself, and the team was shorthanded enough there wasn’t someone to fill both the technical and mentorship roles. I felt pretty abandoned, and was pretty annoyed with him for leaving.

This time I’m a little less bitter. I’ve learned that I can succeed in the absence of a particular person by keeping in mind the things that I have learned from them over the years. I am more confident in who I am, in what I know and in how to continue to learn.

There’s no way I, or whoever is hired into the role of my departed manager, can fill his place. Instead, what I can do to help alleviate the impact of his absence is to encourage the team to espouse his good attitudes and behavior. I will continue to hold a space for learning to take place as I act as a mentor myself and I will continue to look for opportunities to learn from other, new mentors.

2 Replies to “When Mentors Move On”

  1. Very interesting re: the 4.6 statistic. I’ve been at my company for about 6 years now but I switched positions in the company 4 years in.

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