SDS 150: Have a Mentor

SDS 150: Have a Mentor

Have a MentorWelcome to Super Data Science Podcast! Today is Five Minute Friday and at the same time, the 150th episode of the show. Since it‘s the 150th, we prepared a special episode to celebrate this milestone with you and my mentors!

Was it really September 2016 – when the very first episode of the Super Data Science Podcast went live on this site?  Of course, how could I forget of a goal full of realization and a dream to share knowledge with you guys!  Honestly, none of these would even be possible if it wasn’t for the help of my mentors.

So, let me reflect on the guidance of my mentors and thank them through this episode!

And for you, my listener, I would also like to help you find your own mentors who could give you pieces of advice for your career, business, and even personal growth. I encourage you to have a mentor since it has been a life-changing decision I made.

Focus – this is what we can’t distinguish on our own especially if we unintentionally shift our priorities and goals. Having a mentor will help you get your life plans on track. Your future mentor might be a boss, a colleague, or an expert you’ve never met but look up to. Your mentor could affect or impart knowledge to you directly or indirectly.  

You should be the one who has the initiative to make the communication in the mentorship work smoothly. I’ve prepared an easy to follow step-by-step approach for you in and in which I’ll tell more when you listen to this episode:

  • Step 1: Acknowledge you need a mentor.
  • Step 2: Look out for your mentor. Find the person or wait for it to come into your life.
  • Step 3: Approach the person.
  • Step 4: Have consistent catch-ups with your mentor. As a mentee, have the initiative and be responsible.
  • Step 5: Be grateful. Be conscious of the development and learning.

Mentor-mentee relationships are going to end eventually. You have to recognize the moment you’ve exhausted the full potential of the rapport. If this happens, it is okay to keep the communications with that mentor but also a high time to look for a different kind of guidance from another expert. And, always remember to maintain a two-way relationship with your mentors.

Remember to be contemplative about this decision after you listen to this special episode!

Items mentioned in this podcast:


  • Have you thought of anyone who could be possibly your future mentor? How do you plan to approach him?
  • Download The Transcript
  • Music Credit: Lightning by Distrion & Alex Skrindo [NCS Release]


Full Podcast Transcript

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This is Five Minute Friday episode number 150, Have a Mentor.

Welcome, guys, to the Super Data Science podcast episode number 150. How crazy is that? It feels like we were just talking about episode 50 not so long ago, but it's already 150. Yeah, so, the podcast has been going on for how long now? Since September 2016, so, what does that give us? October, November, December, January, February, March, six ... one and a half years. One and a half years and we're up to 150 episodes. Congrats, everybody. What I usually do, if you've noticed is that every round number like 50 and 100, or now 150, I try to reflect back and see who I can and should thank for how we've gotten here and where we've gotten. This time, I'd like to thank my mentors, my mentors who helped me get here and who actually helped make all of this happen.

None of this would have been possible without all the guidance that I've received from important people in my life who have been helping out with advice and some directly, some indirectly. I consider mentors both people who I actually interact with directly and people who might not even know about my existence, but at the same time, I leverage a lot of their knowledge and skills. I follow their podcasts or I follow their teachings, their online workshops, and other things.

Of course, in my life, I've had quite a lot of mentors. I think I started really focusing on mentors consciously after leaving to Deloitte. It was actually still at Deloitte where I got my first mentor, it was Richard Hopkins who we've met on the podcast. He's been one of my ... or, he was. Now he's moved to Sydney, we don't catch up that often, unfortunately. We catch up like once a year if we're lucky. Before, it was frequently like once a month or so. He was one of my first mentors who was a consistent mentor for several years.

Currently, I have a mentor Vitaly Dolgov. Vitaly was on the podcast last week, so not the previous episode, but last week he was on the podcast. That was episode 147. Also, you met him at the very start. I think it was like episode 12 1/2, the special episode that we had. Vitaly is currently my consistent mentor. We catch up several times a year, and I ask him for advice, for business advice, for personal advice, for life advice, all different types of advice. Of course, I've had mentors here and there, so people who have, for a few months, been guiding me through certain things and certain people that I've met that influenced me.

Finally, there are people like Tony Robbins who I follow and who I get inspiration from. I'm sure he's never even heard my name, but at the same, I've learned a lot from him. So, that's also another mentor. Tim Ferris, another mentor. I don't follow Tim Ferris that much anymore, but in a certain part of my journey he had a crucial influence.

Today I wanted to thank all of them. Thank you very much to you guys, to my mentors, for helping me come here, for helping build this podcast and everything else that is Super Data Science. It's been a heck of a journey, and I definitely couldn't have done it without you. The other thing that I wanted to do today was to encourage you, the listener, to make sure you have a mentor. Hence, the title of this podcast, Have a Mentor.

I think it's pretty clear why a mentor is important, but why am I encouraging you guys to do it is because we don't normally think about it. I kind of thought about it because we were already catching up with Richard, and I was already getting a lot of value. So, from a selfish point-of-view, I wanted to kind of lock it in and make sure that we do continue catching up. So, I said, "Hey Richard, do you want to be my mentor?" Then it was up to me to make sure we catch up, and go to lunch one a month, and spend an hour me asking him questions, and him giving me answers, and maybe him asking me questions as well.

This is actually a philosophy from Richard that a mentor/mentee relationship cannot actually exist unless it's both ways. So, you cannot always be take, take, take, you have to also give to the other person. Therefore, when you're looking for a mentor, you have to keep in mind, "Hey, okay, so what can I actually give to the other person?" You will be surprised. Sometimes you think you have nothing to give, but you actually do. There's life experiences, there's philosophies that you have, there's values that you have that you can share with the other person and help them also learn. Even if you give 20% of the time and take 80% of the time, that's okay because it is implied that the person that is your mentor, who is your mentor, is more experienced and they have more to give. Still, it can't be 100% to 0%.

That's one thing. The other thing is, how do you find mentors. That's the hard part. Where do you go to find them? For me, I worked with Richard. I worked with many people through the course of my career, but with Richard, we kind of hit it off. We were working in a remote location. We were traveling for seven months in and out to an office, so we kind of bonded along the way. We went to the gym together, went to work together, drove cars together. We bonded along the way, so it was essential. It was obvious that he's got a lot more experience than me, and I can learn a lot from him. So, it was just a natural step.

Sometimes it's not always a natural step, but you will still feel it, you will feel that this person has something that you can learn. For me, this is where I like this story of how Vitaly and I met. Vitaly's roommate, Dmitry Korneev ... You know all of the participants of this story. Vitaly's ex-roommate was Dmitry Korneev, who was also on the podcast who is a forensic specialist, who was at the very start. I think it was like episode eight or seven, or something like that, on this podcast. Dmitry asked me and Artem ... Artem Vladimirov was also on the podcast. Artem was on the podcast twice now, most recently ... Which episode was it? 141. Artem is a consultant in BCG right now.

Back then, all of us, except Vitaly, used to work at Deloitte. Dmitry asked Vitaly and asked Artem and me to help move their furniture, to help Vitaly and Dmitry move their furniture. We agreed, we went to move the furniture. By the end of it, when we were almost done, Vitaly walked up, I think he was busy with something, or halfway through he got there. Instantly, I saw what kind of person he is and I could feel that there's something I could learn from him. So, then he treated us all to breakfast, which was very nice, and then we all parted ways. I kept in my head that, "Hey, look, this guy's really switched on. You can see how his brain is churning away, how his brain works. It's very close to me. I can really relate to that. I want to learn from him. I want to somehow get to know what he knows, get those ... " You can't even explain it. It's just like intuition.

Sometimes you have a thought, which just happens not in your prefrontal cortex, like somewhere deep inside your brain. Because it's not linked to your prefrontal cortex directly, you cannot explain it with words, and that's what intuition is, when something is deep inside your brain and you cannot just voice it. You try to master some types of words to explain what it is, but it's actually hard to explain.
When you get this feeling that this person has happened in your life not at random, there's a reason they're in your life, you should not let that feeling go. You should do something about it. So, I kept that in mind. Little do we know, what happened unexpectedly ... I guess the word here is unexpectedly later on, or expectedly, if you believe in fate, what happened later was Vitaly actually sent out an email to people interested in motor bikes in his contact list saying, "Hey, look, I'm selling some motorcycle gear. Do you want to come over and buy it if you want?" He was just selling it at a normal price, not middle prices because he wanted to get rid of it.

Even though I didn't need the motorcycle gear, I said, "Yes, I'll buy it," and I came over just because I wanted to chat to him. I came over with, of course, the money for the motorcycle gear, but also I had a whole list of questions, like two pages of questions. I had business questions and career questions that I wanted to ask him. He was very surprised to see that, but he helped me through them. That's how we hit it off. That's how he saw that I'm serious about this, that I really want to learn from him. He was open to catching up more and more often ... not that often, like maybe two or three times a year, but even that was enough.

Whenever I had questions about my career and along the way, I would write them down in a separate notepad. When all the questions filled up a whole page or several and I felt the time was write, I would call Vitaly, I would send him a message and say, "Hey, let's catch up." We'd go for a coffee, or we'd go for breakfast, or now we catch up mostly for breakfast several times a year, even maybe more often maybe once or twice a quarter we catch up now. In fact, we do even moreso. We went scuba diving recently on XHMS Brisbane. It's a warship that was in the Vietnam War. It's been sunk near Brisbane, and you can dive in it, it's a really cool dive, go inside.

We do diving together and other things. We've become friends even more than mentors. I mean, even though more than he's just my mentor, we're now friends. At the start, we would catch up for breakfast, for coffee, and so on, and it really is up to the mentee to drive that relationship, to make sure that you do encourage your mentor to catch up with you, you bring the list of questions, and you also make sure ... it's your job to make sure it's not way. So, you ask lots of questions, but also you try to give value. If you see that there's something you know ... For instance, data science, in my case, I guess I know a little bit about data. Vitaly's not a data scientist. He's a consultant, so I can help him out with maybe some data questions or maybe some areas of business that are different to what he's currently in and that I have a little bit of experience.

For instance, he's starting his podcast now, and I can give some tips there because I've explored that. He's giving me tips on other things. It's in your hands. So, those are kind of the steps. First, identify or acknowledge that everybody can benefit from a mentor. Without my mentors, my whole career journey would have been different, all absolutely different. A great example is ... I think it was start of ... what year was it? Start of last year, 2017, I had a catch-up with Vitaly. I told him about how the machine learning course, how we launched it in September 2016, and it was going great, and then all the other courses I'm interested in working on.

He said, "Hey, look, if people are interested in machine learning, then maybe you should focus more on AI, and deep learning, and those things and help people learn that because that's what they really need." I thought, "Hey, hold on." That was in line with the Pareto law, the 80/20 rule. I thought, "Oh, whoa. That's a really cool idea, really cool perspective that I didn't think of." That lead to the Deep Learning course, the AI course, the Computer Vision course, the ... what's it called, the Chat Bot course, all those courses that [Adlon 00:13:21] and I have created.

Those all came out of our brainstorm with [Adlon 00:13:29] and all the idea that we're having together, but the initial, for me personally, the initial trajectory was set in that conversation that completely changed my focus. Instead of focusing on other topics that I had in mind, I completely shifted into this space to cover ... For me, it became obvious. I think for Adlan it was obvious all along, but for me, it became obvious that we need to come and cover all these courses.

Step one is, acknowledge that everybody can benefit from a mentor. Step two, look out for these mentor connections. Maybe you already have somebody in your life, in your workplace, or maybe through hobbies or through friends, you know somebody who you aspire to be, you know somebody who you want to learn from and you always get value from when you do accidentally interact with them or happen to be in the same room with them. Maybe you've met that person already. If you have, maybe that can be your next mentor.

Step two, identify those people, and/or wait for them. If you don't have them, look out for them. As it happens in life, sometimes you get things that you don't expect, but at least if you're aware ... If you actively look for a mentor like, "Can you be my mentor?", just looking for a mentor, asking everybody, that's probably not the best approach. If you're aware of it and you're not pushing for it, but you're just aware of it and you're waiting for it, it will happen. That's step two. Find the person or wait for the person to come into your life.

Step three, approach the person. Step four, make sure you have consistent catch-ups and write down your list of questions in advance. Consistent means ... it depends, it could be once a month, or once a week, it could be two times a year. Sometimes even that is sufficient. It depends on how available the other person is, and how many questions you have, and how relevant this connection is ... how relevant their expertise is to what you're trying to solve.

Finally, it's up to you to drive that relationship. Don't expect your mentor to call you up and say, "Hey, let's catch up." No, you should be saying, "Hey, I'd love to catch up. When do you have time? Let's do that," and then that. Finally, step five or six, I guess, is also be thankful and grateful to your mentor for helping you. Also, be conscious about when there is no more value you can get from your mentor. When you have ... either outgrowing your mentor, or most likely what will happen is your paths have just diverted in different ways. There's so much your mentor can give you that is relevant to you, but then the rest of the stuff that they're into is probably not exactly what you're into. Unless you're following exactly in their career footsteps, most likely your path is going to be different.

There will be some overlap, and so you need to make sure you fill that overlap up, like you get value while you can there. Once you've learned enough or everything that they could give you in that overlap, don't try to get from them something they don't know. There's no point in ... I don't know. Me, hypothetically have a mentor who would teach me about data science, let's say data science but they don't know about machine learning, and I want to and I want to build a career in machine learning. So, I learn everything about data science that they can teach me, but then I'm starting to be more focused on machine learning, I wouldn't go to the same mentor and ask for machine learning because they ... why would you make them uncomfortable? If you know that they don't know machine learning, there's no point in doing that.

So, also be aware of what your mentor's expertise is in. If at some point you start to diverge out of there, then maybe it's time to end the mentor/mentee relationship and stay friends or stay in touch. That's fine as well. Just be aware of what you can get from your mentor, and try to get that. If you don't need that anymore, then move on and get a new mentor. It's okay to have several mentors at the same time as well.

Those are the tips for getting mentors. What was that? Like five or six. Acknowledge that it's important, look out for those people, approach the mentor, guide or be responsible for the relationship, and you'll write your list of questions about, but also be aware ... step five, also be aware that this relationship is likely to end or is likely to deplete itself in the sense of the knowledge that you can get. Then you'll maybe transition to a friendship, or it will just end and you will need to find a new mentor.

There we go. Hope everybody can find a mentor. Also finally, if you don't have a mentor or if you can't find one right now, or even if you do have a mentor or you can find one, don't forget about the other ways you can receive mentorship, not directly, so indirect methods. For instance, I like Tony Robbins' courses ... or, what are they called, Tony Robbins' events. I've been two. I'm probably going to go to more, because there I'm learning from him. Not one-on-one, it's like one to 5,000 or one to 1,000, but I'm learning. He's talking to a thousand people, but I'm getting still what I want to get and it's very valuable information for me.

Also, I like Simon Sinek's videos on YouTube. He does have amazing videos about the important current problems of society and how social media is affecting us, why people buy certain things, people don't buy other things, and so on. I've watched three, or four, five of his videos on YouTube, and those are really good. I like Jay Shetty's videos. I follow him on Instagram, even though I don't use Instagram that often, but when I'm there, something pops and it's usually a call of wisdom. Jay Shetty was a monk for three years in India, came back to the UK, so he's got some wisdom as well to share, lots of it in fact.

Vitaly said, "Sometimes there's mentors ... a person you'd love for them to be your mentor, but they're too busy. They cannot be everybody's mentor." Vitaly said he's going to start a podcast, so that could be useful. He's going to start a newsletter, that could be useful. You're probably listening to this podcast, and in a way, that's you getting some information from me. I try to share once a week certain things that I learn, and I'm really grateful that you're listening to this. I'd love to help everybody one-on-one, but I for sure can't do it. So, the best way I can do it is this like this.

There's lots of sources of information other than one-on-one mentoring that you can attend to, and lookout for those as well. Fill your life with those things in addition to the one-on-one real life mentors that you can have, and actually treat those people that you listen to as your mentors. If you think of them that way, it's not going just like, "I like this," but you're like, "Oh, Jay Shetty said this," or, "Tony Robbins has this opinion," and, "That's very interesting. I learned that today from Tony Robbins," or from this and this person. Even though they don't know about you, you can still treat them as your mentors.

There you go. That was our X course into the World of Mentors. Wow, that's 20 minutes. Okay, hopefully that was useful. Hopefully that encourages you to look out for a mentor and if you have people in your life or you don't, approach them about being your mentor. It doesn't matter what age you are. It doesn't matter what stage of your life you're in, everybody can benefit from a mentor. All right, on that note, thank you so much for being here today. I look forward to seeing you back here next time. Until then, happy analyzing.

Kirill Eremenko
Kirill Eremenko

I’m a Data Scientist and Entrepreneur. I also teach Data Science Online and host the SDS podcast where I interview some of the most inspiring Data Scientists from all around the world. I am passionate about bringing Data Science and Analytics to the world!

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