Zen and the Art of Mentorship

By Lysa Banks

I am a builder.

I build cloud solutions at IBM.

I even built my own house. And throughout my career as an engineer, I also have learned to build valuable relationships as a mentor inside and outside of the workplace.

Lysa Banks, IBM
Lysa Banks, IBM

I learned a lot about being a good mentor through the many people who have mentored me in my own career. I have had mentors who have enhanced my technical skills and business acumen or served as an emotional rock and professional guide. I’ve had both male and female mentors, and in all cases, they helped accelerate my career and bring me to where I am today.

But I have to say that, as a woman, having a female mentor at IBM has given me something unique: it allows me to have both a friend and guide when I am faced with the challenges that can arise in the male-dominated technology field.

Having female mentors has helped to offset the loneliness that women like me can feel in the IT industry, where we often attend events and meetings and can be the only woman in the room.  They allow me to realize that I am not alone in some of the obstacles I have faced. With these mentors, I can express my fears and vent my frustrations without worrying about the consequences. This has made a huge difference in helping me maintain my sense of balance during what has been a long, successful career.

When I started my career as a software engineer at IBM, a female mentor of mine challenged me to do things outside of my comfort zone. She encouraged me to become a manager and lead my peers. Another female mentor supported me in becoming an architect. She even urged me to participate in cloud solutions training. Thanks to her coaching, a few months later, I ended up in the role I am in today as lead architect for and program manager for industry cloud solutions at IBM.

When I was in college, I did not have these types of strong professional mentors. At that time, I didn’t have a firm grasp of what corporate America, or even the real working world was really like. This is why I feel compelled to engage and provide guidance to students who have yet to enter the workforce

In fact, I tend to embrace all age groups when I mentor – from new hires and interns at IBM to middle school, high school and college students.

Lysa Banks, Lead Architect & Program Manager for Industry Cloud Solutions, IBM
Lysa Banks, Lead Architect & Program Manager for Industry Cloud Solutions, IBM

For example, I participate in a program near my office in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., called Project LEAD, in which high school students are brought in to IBM for several weekends a year to learn leadership and presentation skills from IBMers. I also am involved in e-mentoring with local junior high school and elementary schools in the Poughkeepsie area.In addition to the support of the local schools, I also lead workshops for young aspiring female engineers at my alma mater, New Jersey Institute of Technology.

It is incredibly rewarding to help these young future engineers start to realize their potential as leaders and critical thinkers. And I feel fortunate to be considered a role model for them, especially the women engineers of tomorrow. I hope they, too, can find their own path to success, their own mentors, and like me, learn how to pay it forward.

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