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Larry Jacobson – Meet the Mentor

15+ years experience managing cross-functional technology teams, delivering impact while fostering innovation and a growth-oriented culture. I've worked at Amazon, Snap, and several midsize companies and startups. Currently I am an independent career and leadership coach, and have a few entrepreneurial efforts in the works.
Larry Jacobson

Career and Leadership Coach | Engineering Leader, ex-Snap, ex-Amazon

Why did you decide to become a mentor?

What if you could take the favorite part of your job, that one part that gives you the most fulfillment, the most energy, the thing you would do even if your boss told you to stop, and offer it as a service to others? For me that's why I became a mentor once I found this amazing platform. As a manager it's just baked into the job description: 1-on-1s, performance conversations, career and growth conversations. And I love it - connecting with someone, building a great relationship over time, diving into problems, finding a productive path forward together, and both growing in the process.

How did you get your career start?

The first few years out of school I was a practicing civil and structural engineer, designing earthquake retrofits for tall structures. I'd create Fortran software models of office towers and run simulations subjecting them to different historical earthquakes. Advanced stuff for the time, but I was the only computer guy in an office of old timers who did things with pencil and paper and a drafting table. Fun problems, but not a team-focused culture where I could grow and learn. It was the early oughts, and my friends from school had switched to software, as part of the internet boom, and having way more fun learning html and pearl and sql, getting paid 3x as me and working in much less stuffy environments. I made the switch and never looked back. One thing I realized is that I love being a part of teams with a positive culture engaging in technically challenging problems. In hindsight, it wasn't such a big scary career switch as I made it to be at the time. Whether it's designing components for physical buildings or software architecture, it's all just technical problem solving and being constantly curious. The main thing is the people you're surrounded with, how you come together as a team to deal with the challenge of the day, and whether you can grow and thrive in that environment. It is all just technical problem solving.

What do mentees usually come to you for?

A few topics come up the most frequently. Managing imposter syndrome. Getting that next promotion. Being an effective first time manager. Getting rid of that "stuck" feeling with respect to your career. Focusing on career longevity, job satisfaction and avoiding burnout. And powering up your leadership and communication skills. Sometimes the best approach is to apply exercises in shifting perspectives, mental reframes and thought exercises resulting in a change of mindset. Sometime the approach is not anything fuzzy at all, but just to teach them how to walk a path I have already walked in my career, come up with well constructed practical plan with goals, milestones, action items, and accountability mechanisms. It's the difference between coaching/mentoring and teaching/training. And sometimes both are helpful.

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

I remember fondly the time a mentee scheduled an intro session saying they were highly skeptical, they didn't think I would be a good fit because my resume was full of big companies and I wouldn't know how to operate in a 2 person startup. However by the end of the brief session we had three big a-ha moments about their situation. It's been a series of eye-opening, fulfilling and dynamic sessions ever since. So it's not just about our online bios. It's important to do a few intro sessions with potential mentors even that you're skeptical about. A big part of a successful mentorship comes down to personal chemistry, communication styles and how we bring in nuggets from our broad life experience.

What are you getting out of being a mentor?

Well, not to be corny, but these are some of my favorite things.... helping someone to find a new gear, to discover opportunities hidden in plain sight, to create impact, to achieve high and sustainable performance, to get out of their comfort zone, to achieve personal and professional goals, to manage their energies for the good of their health, friends, and family. And it's a great question, because I got a lot out of being a mentor, even when I am helping someone with a solution that's obvious to me and I'm technically not learning something new. The value is still flowing in both directions.

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