Let's see. We cut funding for public education, college tuition keeps rising, companies eliminate training and tuition reimbursement and then we have companies outsourcing jobs because they can't find trained people in the States anymore.
Along with the premise that you now have take charge of your career you may have to take charge at your own expense of your education as well.
At my company they've recently killed any training funding, and tuition reimbursement now has a ceiling that is lower than the tuition charged by the only local, technically-oriented university. It really has now come down to finding and bugging someone to ask questions as needed. Otherwise, it's come down to finding books and online sources to learn from as needed. That's a pretty difficult (nearly impossible) way to learn some aspects of FPGA development, embedded processor programming, circuit design, etc. I'm alone in the middle of a deep pool and feel like it's a sink or swim situation. I'd love to have a mentor.
Tom Friedman's column, "The Start-up of You," in the 13 July edition of the New York Times should be required reading for anyone under 30. He quotes LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Garrett Hoffman:
“The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone,” he says. “No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”
Good advice maybe for us older guys as well.
I think it's a bit of all 3, Glen. But the whole ballpark has changed. Max's friend excepted, a lot of young guns these days think they know it all and don't need mentors. And I'm glad you brought the MBA's into it (I call them PSMs - Pig Stupid Managers) - they also have a lot to answer for.
Very interesting observation, Duane.
Now getting back to Max's question - where have they gone?
Conjecture #1: They are mostly retired.
Conjecture #2: They have been laid off in favor of younger college grads who now no longer have the benefit of mentors.
Conjecture #3: The potential mentors are no longer willing to share their hard-won knowledge as it could backfire on them when layoff time rolls around and some MBA decides who gets chopped.
So many engineering teams are too thin and / or have lost much of their support staff. That's one of the main reasons that my company (Screaming Circuits) thrives. We're doing work that a support staff would have done a decade ago.
We also see, on a daily basis, the results of the mentors being gone. We get work from a lot of brilliant people who simply were not taught some of the jobs they are now tasked with. It's often outside of their college training and they often don't have available mentors to make up for that learning gap. It costs companies a lot of money in design spins that would likely not have been needed were a well seasoned engineer available inside their company for advice.
I have found that the best way to mentor a young engineer is to put him or her on a project with more senior people, with a task he or she can handle, and have the senior people provide guidance along the way.
It sounds like that is the situation described by the young engineer who wrote the email, except that in his or her case, the senior engineers are "too busy to help." That is an unfortunate attitude that will come back to bite them, because if the project falls behind schedule, it makes them look bad too.
That's the good and bad of project teams -- everyone sinks or swims together.
I reckon running your own career is absolutely the best advice. if you're active and you put yourself out there, you will find the people that can help you. They might be in your own organization but they could also come from elsewhere. If you're waiting for formal training opportunities or other people to do it for you, you'll either be waiting a while and/or you'll possibly be dissatisfied with the direction.
I'd also say that hidden mentoring opportunities can be found anytime you bring new people onto your team from outside an organization. By observing "the new guy" working with him/her, you're going to gain a little perspective re: how the rest of the world works. You either get confirmation that the knowledge you have is pretty reasonable or you're infused with new ideas. It may not be formal mentoring, but you still end up ahead.