How Mentoring Helped Me Become a Better Data Scientist

Surprising ways you’ll benefit when you keep giving unconditionally

How Mentoring Helped Me Become a Better Data Scientist

Beyond my 9–5 job as Senior Data Scientist, I mentor students and enthusiasts to break into and grow in the world of data science. This has been one of the most meaningful works I’ve done in the past year.

If you measured success using the dollars I earned, it’s nothing, but the impact on my mentees would tell a different story.

You don’t need to have a PhD or be a professor to mentor someone; you need to have what they’re looking for. It could be an internship, a job or academic expertise. I firmly believe that helping each other as a data science community is the way to thrive in the industry.

If not for the handful of people whom I call my mentors, I wouldn’t be here. My viewpoint was to be helpful as much as possible without expecting anything in return. But things played out differently.

Read on to learn about some surprising benefits from my mentoring journey and how it made me a better data scientist.

You’ll acquire the ability to explain beyond understanding

I didn’t know it was hard until one of the mentee’s wanted me to explain how a particular algorithm worked. It should be simple for someone who has learned and understood most of the algorithms and worked on them.

No, no, no, not even close.

When you finish explaining, irrelevant to the other person's expression, you know when you could have done a better job.

The ability to explain a concept is much more challenging than understanding the concepts. When you explain, you have to organize your thoughts in a simple manner such that the person listening can grasp the idea instantly.

When I’m not sure of something during my early mentoring days, I request to get back to them later. I often end up creating a mind-map of the concept to explain better, and it remains in my memory for longer. A mind-map makes you grasp an overall idea and related concepts in an organized manner.

If you’re learning something new, especially in data science, try creating a mind-map as you learn. Then try explaining what you learned to a friend. See if they could grasp the concept.

You don’t need permission to become a mentor.

Your communication skills will improve immensely

To be able to communicate your findings is the fundamental skill of a data scientist. Sadly this is the most neglected skill too.

Most data scientists directly face a client without a prior experience of such conversations and naturally stumble across not being to communicate properly.

Before I realized it, the routine chats and calls with my mentees slowly bettered my communication skills. Driving a group call or a 1–1 chat has become a walk in the path.

Unlike the rest of the skills, you can’t acquire communication skills on your own. You need to practice a lot.

Never in my dreams, I planned to learn from those who needed my help. But I did. So can you.

Enthusiastic mentees will push your boundaries

I wasn’t prepared for this. But I’m glad this happened.

One of my mentees worked on a project combining Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) with Neural Architectural Search (NAS). If you look upon published research, there’s only a handful. The technology is yet to mature. You rarely get to work on anything close in the industry.

But I didn’t want to discourage her. For an undergraduate student, her enthusiasm, if at all, should be appreciated. So I told her to go ahead and was open about my limited knowledge of the topic. I started reading up on recent research to be as helpful as possible. It worked out well.

Instances like these push your boundaries. They make us learn more and think out of the box. If we always reside in our comfort zones, how will we grow?

I grew faster because of my enthusiastic mentees. So can you.

You will constantly defeat the Imposter Syndrome

Tell me if you’ve ever felt something similar: You’ve got the job, but you’re not sure why they hired you in the first place. You rely on google and Stackoverflow for most of the development you do anyway. Everyone seems to know everything except for you. Finally, you end up fearing that you’ll be exposed someday.

If you’ve felt it, you’re not alone. I’ve felt this over and over again. This phenomenon is called Imposter Syndrome and is common in the data science industry. Overcoming this syndrome entirely is a topic for another day, but the point here is, mentoring helps defeat it.

The impact you have on their career is concrete proof of your self-worth in the industry. You have the ability to help someone solve their issues through your experience and expertise. How cool is that?

I don’t know about you, but that was a huge self-confidence booster. The responses I get from them constantly reminds me I’m not an imposter. That’s one way I constantly defeat the Imposter Syndrome. You could too.

Above all, the sense of accomplishment is priceless

Who defines a better data scientist? I asked myself. The more I pondered, the clearer it became. It’s me. If I feel I’ve become better than who I was sometime back, essentially, I’m becoming a better data scientist.

We don’t need someone to approve our worth as a data scientist. You know yourself better. Even if I’m not mentoring someone, I’d still learn and create stuff. It’s just who I am. So why not share it with people who’d benefit?

I chose to do it for free. I’ve never charged for the mentoring sessions I’ve conducted over Google Meet. Nor for the in-depth responses I give through LinkedIn or Slack. All I expect in return is for the mentees to value my time.

The sense of accomplishment of seeing them succeed is priceless. To hear some of my work was impactful in helping them start and progress in their data science career cannot be quantified in dollars.

I’ll keep writing, mentoring and sharing everything I know for this sense of accomplishment.

Keep giving unconditionally, and you’ll benefit in surprising ways.

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