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Demian Gutierrez – Meet the Mentor

I have 20+ years of experience in software development roles. I founded two companies serving government and building enterprise systems. As a professor, I modernized software engineering/computer science curriculum by integrating theory with hands-on learning. At Amazon/AWS as a Principal Engineer, I provided technical leadership for complex, critical services, and mentoring for 50 people org.
Demian Gutierrez

Principal Software Developer Engineer, Ex-Amazon/AWS

Why did you decide to become a mentor?

The reason is simple: I enjoy helping others and sharing knowledge. I'm a hands-on software engineer and leader, and I am also a teacher and mentor at heart. I believe that investing in developing the members of a team leads to that team's long-term success. Learning, honing your craft, and mentoring form an incredibly rewarding cycle that benefits both the mentor and the mentee. I've had fantastic mentors since early in my career. In college, professors not only taught me valuable technical skills and theory, but also imparted wisdom about having the right attitude, learning from every situation, and pushing through challenges. As a professional, I was fortunate to have wonderful co-founders, managers, and peers guide me along the way. Many of them became valued mentors who continued to shape both my hard and soft skills. Through all my experiences - both as a mentee and a mentor - I have found mentorship invaluable in all aspects of my career. I also started mentoring early on. Not only did I enjoy it, but wanted to give back all the wonderful lessons I had learned through my own mentorship. I mentored other developers, students, and interns during my time as a teaching assistant in college as well as during my entrepreneur days. After becoming a professor at the Universidad de los Andes in Venezuela, I guided students, following the examples set by my own professors/mentors. Throughout my career at Amazon, I've continued doing what I love - sharing knowledge and helping software engineers grow, much like I did with my students. In short, mentoring, teaching, sharing what I know, and striving to continue to learn has been a tremendously fulfilling journey.

How did you get your career start?

I started small freelancing projects before finishing college. I was hired by a German company that had come to Venezuela to outsource work. While they were looking for cheap labor, they ultimately helped many local engineers grow and develop professionally. They taught me about creating quality software, writing clean/reusable code, and how to structure projects. I will be forever grateful for those lessons. For example, I have fond memories of one of my German bosses looking over my shoulder as I coded, making real-time comments/suggestions. If you think code reviews can be intense, try a live one with your boss! That is pair programming 10x! Eventually, a group of fellow students and I started a small tech company that managed projects directly for this German company. We diversified and took on work for the government as well as other private companies. I wore many hats including developer, product manager, customer service rep, accountant - you name it. It was a blast and I learned so much. Having to make major business decisions, hire people, manage budgets - it forced me to grow quickly. After those early entrepreneurial years, I moved on to become a university professor and later a software developer at Amazon. What I learned in those formative startup days (and from all my mentors) was invaluable in making me successful. Looking back, I was ambitious and eager in my youth, but also quite naive and inexperienced. If I knew then what I know now, I would make many different choices.

What do mentees usually come to you for?

Mentees come to me for guidance on a variety of topics that can be grouped into a few key themes: Career Growth: Many mentees feel stuck in their careers and want advice on how to get to the next level, whether that's aiming for a promotion, expanding their skillset, or generally advancing in their field. I help them create plans and strategies to set and achieve those professional growth goals. Technical Skills: Some mentees have specific technical problems or knowledge gaps that they need help navigating. While I don't solve their exact coding or architecture issues, I assist them with reframing problems, asking the right questions, figuring out what skills they need to develop, and setting a learning path. Leadership Challenges: Mentees facing tricky leadership situations often come to get input on how to navigate complex group dynamics and organizational interactions. For example, I recently coached a senior engineer who was struggling to gain collaboration and alignment from other teams. I provided recommendations on subtle cultural shifts and stakeholder management techniques. General Learning: Some mentees simply want to expand their knowledge into areas like algorithms, system design, and best coding practices. I share my past experiences and point them to educational resources, suggest potential hands-on coding projects around topics they want to learn, and help them structure self-directed learning. Interview Preparation: Many mentees specifically want help getting ready for upcoming interviews. Drawing on my extensive Amazon interview experience, I help them organize study plans for coding, system design, and behavioral interview preparation, give them recurring feedback as they practice, and coach them through the full interview prep process. In most mentorships, I aim to provide a blend of career coaching, fresh perspectives, and advice based on my own experiences. My goal is to ask thoughtful questions, help mentees gain insights, and support their professional growth through whatever challenges they’re facing.

What's been your favourite mentorship success story so far?

For six years I mentored an engineer who went from almost being let go to being promoted twice (from junior SDE to Sr. SDE) and becoming a leader and extremely valued member of the team at Amazon. I learned a good deal in the process because he challenged me (as he should have) and called me out when I was wrong (Yep, it happens). In the end, he followed me to another team and built a great friendship in the process. As a non-traditional professor who emphasized lots of hands-on work, and focused on being an engineer/builder rather than just a lecture-teacher theory kind of professor, I've witnessed the success of many of my students. After years of their professional life, we still connect, and they tell me how much of what I taught them (not only hard but also soft skills and attitudes) helped them in their professional careers. This also happens with former peers/coworkers and it is very rewarding. On MentorCruise, I mentored a software engineer looking to improve his technical skills, especially on system design. Over several months, we worked through toy examples to practice system design skills and discussed the system architecture of his own pet projects. It was fulfilling to see him tackle more complex technical challenges as he evolved. Even after ending our regular sessions, he still occasionally books time to chat about technical situations or organizational challenges he faces as he advances in his career. I'm always happy when he comes back, as it reassures me that he finds our conversations valuable.

What are you getting out of being a mentor?

Mentoring is not a one-way learning street. After years of teaching and mentoring, I have come to the conclusion that the mentor also learns a great deal. If you are a mentor and not learning, then you are not doing it right. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction in helping others grow and seeing those "A-ha!" moments when a mentee grasps something key, or when they approach me with a tricky situation, and I am able to provide perspective and tips. At the end of a session, I like to ask if the conversation was helpful. It's very rewarding when they confirm it gave them new insights and thank me for the guidance. Their appreciation lets me know I’m effectively supporting their growth. Mentoring has led to meaningful connections that can develop into lasting relationships and enduring friendships over time. It has happened often that I reconnect with former students or mentees on LinkedIn or over coffee, and they share how impactful our mentoring conversations have been for them. Beyond that, hearing some of the stories from my former mentees who are now mentoring on their own makes the whole thing come full circle. As a mentor you have the ability to positively impact other people's lives, but when your mentees become mentors themselves and have a positive impact too, then your influence has actually "force multiplied," and that is very fulfilling. Learnings, feelings, and connections like those make all the effort of mentoring worthwhile.

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