Why did you decide to become a mentor?
I have been a mentor both in and outside work for about 4 years now. My main drive to become a mentor back then was the fact that I always enjoyed teaching, as I believe it to be one of the most sublime ways in which one can have a positive impact in someone else's life. I used to teach quite a lot when I was in academia, but once I was done with my PhD and decided to move into consulting, I stopped teaching for about 2 years. While I was happy with my decision to leave academia and join the business world, my nostalgia for teaching was growing almost by the day until one day, I decided to become a mentor so that I could combine my day-to-day experience with my desire for teaching and helping other grow in their careers. After these years of being a mentor, I can say that I absolutely love it!
How did you get your career start?
My career started back in my hometown, Medellín, Colombia. I went to engineering school, where I mainly focused on systems engineering, statistics, and quantitative methods. Towards the end of my education there, I started to work in Colombia's TSO (Transmission System Operator) and became part of a network of young researchers sponsored by Colombia's Ministry of Science and Technology with the aim to pursue a master's degree that could lead to scientific publications related to my work at the TSO. These two separate yet related endeavors led me deeper and deeper into data mining, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and computational methods. One day, thanks to my master's thesis supervisor, I became acquainted with a professor from the University of Bergen, Norway. After months of exchanging emails and collaborating in some projects, the professor encouraged me to apply to a researcher position at the University of Bergen so that we could work together on several projects we had discussed and get my PhD along the way. I applied and moved to Norway more than 9 years ago. During those PhD years, I got more and more into data science, machine learning, computational game theory and many other interesting areas. Once I finished my PhD, I decided to leave academia and join the Norwegian business world, where I had the pleasure to work in many interesting and exciting sectors such as banking, insurance, energy, maritime, and many more.
What do mentees usually come to you for?
I have had the privilege of having mentees from all kinds of backgrounds, some had no previous experience whatsoever, some had lots of experience in other fields and wanted to transition into a tech/data role and others where seasoned tech professionals that wanted to work with someone who could guide them and work with them in some very specific subfields. Thus, it is hard to give a single answer for such a varied crowd. That being said, I believe that all of them came to me because they believed I was someone who had the qualifications to help them reach their goals but more importantly, they felt that I was willing to listen, to care and be 100% invested in their professional as well as their personal success.
What's been your favourite mentorship success story so far?
It is genuinely hard to pick just one, as I have had the pleasure to be part of several wonderful mentorship successes with mentees who had very different life and professional backgrounds. One story that comes to mind right now is a story of a mentee who came to me with a PhD in biblical Hebrew and wanted to transition into an AI/Data engineering kind of role. As we started to work together, it became apparent that my mentee had the ambition to create an AI solution that could classify various types of ancient Hebrew into four different categories. That ambition became a shared ambition between my mentee and myself (despite my absolute lack of knowledge of biblical Hebrew :P), and we went into a great adventure to develop an NLP (Natural Language Processing) prototype that could do just that (the prototype can be seen here https://github.com/gngpostalsrvc/COHeN). My mentee went on to work in a FAANG/MAMAA company. We keep in touch with each other and sometimes even discuss and work on the prototype :)
What are you getting out of being a mentor?
Being a mentor has been one of the most satisfying roles I have had in my life. In addition to the gratification I get from helping others reach their goals, I also get to keep my own technical and soft skills sharp, learn from my mentees’ experience and expertise, as well as to work on really exciting and challenging projects along with my mentees. Moreover, I have experienced that my mentor role creates a virtual circle with my day-to-day job, that is, being a mentor has made me a better at my work and being better at my work makes me a better mentor, which in turn makes me an even better mentor and so on and so forth!