How A Mentoring Program Helped An IT Entrepreneur

While attending the last Women in Technology (WIT) mentor-protégé alumni networking event, someone asked me, “Why are you a protégé? You are a business owner, a CEO”.  I replied: “being a protégé has nothing to do with your title or owning a company, I believe I still have a lot to learn out there." My point is that there is always room for growth.

Honestly, when I joined WIT last December, I had no intention of becoming a protégé. I was deep into the "make it work" stage of my entrepreneurship journey: I have a startup IT Consulting firm, and for the first time in 3 years I have to get out there and find work/contracts for the company so that I can keep my resources on payroll full time. 

Despite my being lost in the fog of business development and capture management (keep in mind that I am an engineer), I joined WIT and turned myself into a protégé. And I am very grateful every day that I did.

Oddly enough, not all my mentors are in my line of business – they are in marketing and communication. But, chatting to keep our minds occupied while processing a collection and keep our bodies from freezing, we became good friends over a mutual interest in history, fashion, and international travels.

The mentor-protégé program at WIT helped me in 3 ways:

Fight impostor syndrome. While my mentors helped me piece together my awesome future - from discussing quickest way to bring my existence into focus and give my life a purpose – I was also helping them see their value as mentors. I might feel like an impostor when I am writing my life’s mission statement (as one of them has taught me to write it down, and write it down, again and again) or talking at conferences and network events, but my mentors never saw me that way. Instead, they saw in me an expert in the IT field (which I hope I am), a resourceful reader, and a fluent French speaker, and 12 African and West Indies dialects (oh, yes). Working with each one of them one-on-one allows me to put my knowledge to good use and take the focus away from what’s not working. They told me: "You are no impostor, and being a protégé will soon prove that to you."

Deepen my community. I believe that even the most anti-social protégés amongst us have spent time in college/university putting together a network of people, one which consists of professors, advisors, other scholars in our field, peers, classmates, friends, students, and helpful administrators.  I do not think any of us could have graduated without this community. Every person we interact with enriches us, especially when that person is a mentor. A mentor-protégé program requires each party to build a different type of relationship than any other in our network. It is informal and familiar while still being professional and, to a certain extent, hierarchical. No syllabi or grading, just coffee/tea/lunch, advice, and dialogue.

Articulate my ideas. One of the most unexpected benefits I gained from working with my mentors was to be able to articulate what I do. When they asked questions, I had to think about not only the answer to those questions but also the best way to make that information accessible and understandable to them. This involved many discussions about getting out of my comfort zone: for example, and reaching out to small businesses offices within the federal government agencies to provide visibility for my company. A mentor-protégé program is a great practice for everything, from writing a mission statement to perfecting your elevator pitch, as the stakes are low and there is no one to impress. It is just a mentor and his/her protégé chatting about careers, grad school, life, etc.

 I asked one of my mentors and here’s what she said:

“Being a mentor takes a lot of time, and mental energy - a point that I do not want to understate - but the results far surpass anything you put into it. Motivation, however, to help a protégé in this way must come from within, since it will not appear on an evaluation or performance review. Like donating to a charity or contributing to the Creative Commons, helping you made me feel good. I was doing something worthwhile, something with long-term meaning. Likewise, it sets you up to be a fantastic entrepreneur in the future. Also, you became my friend, which was its reward: Doing good while making friends.”

To learn more about the WIT mentor-protégé program visit

The next session starts in September 2017. 

Have you ever participated in a mentor-protégé program within WIT or any other organization? What sorts of things did you learn from the experience? Please, let us know about it in the comments!

Click to know more about Rafi Soule

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