With technology constantly changing, it’s hard to keep your knowledge base updated when you’re in a management position and are preoccupied with budget and personnel issues. But you might try picking up a technology mentor to help you keep up to date. A good mentor is usually a senior developer who still has his or her hand in the thick of all things technical.

Last year, I met an IT manager (a COBOL coder turned IT manager) at a technology networking meeting, and he found adopting a mentor to be a great way to stay current on real-world implementation of emerging technology. He much preferred having a mentor to the alternative: subscribing to a barrage of trade publications or overly academic (and costly) analysts reports—many of which he never got around to reading anyway.

What are the advantages of adopting a technical mentor?
A technical mentor can provide:

  • A realistic snapshot of the technology and its challenges.
  • A one-on-one relationship in which you can ask detailed questions without feeling like a dummy.
  • An opportunity to keep using your programming skills.
  • A chance to explain your management philosophy.

What are the potential pitfalls of a mentor relationship?
Adopting a technical mentor includes some challenges, including:

  • You may not feel comfortable “fraternizing” with your direct reports. If so, find a tech mentor outside your company or perhaps join a users’ group.
  • You may fall into a micromanagement trap with your mentor.
  • You might take up too much of your mentor’s time.


Hiring the COBOL guy

Hiring a programmer from the COBOL days can bring a valuable asset to your shop, both in terms of hands-on development and numerous intangibles. A veteran can bring experience, meticulousness, and the ability to mentor younger colleagues.

If you decide to enter into a mentor relationship, make sure that you can dedicate the time to it. As a manager, you may be “officially” done with cranking out boatloads of code. However, your development chops don’t have to get rusty.