Yesterday I was reading “3-2-1,” the weekly newsletter from James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, and found this quote on learning using peers.
It’s almost always better to learn from peers who are 2 years ahead of you than mentors who are 20 years ahead of you. Life evolves and most insights get outdated — James Clear
I identify with this quote a lot because in my professional life I have learned a lot from my peers. Among other things, by following Scott Hanselman’s career for more than 20 years. Scott is a programmer, blogger, podcaster, youtuber, teacher, and prolific speaker. He works in Open Source on ASP.NET and the Azure Cloud for Microsoft out of his home office in Portland, Oregon. He is a fascinating person. By sharing his experience with technology, Scott has deeply influenced the programmer that I am.
Does this mean that young people should ignore the words of people with 20 years of experience who are old enough to become mentors? Not in all cases. Yes, there are times when some mentors fall victim to a bias towards outdated ideas and are out of touch with the reality of the 21st century, but fortunately there are exceptions. The same Scott Hanselman from whom I have learned so much is one of those exceptions. Scott is still up to date with modern reality. Therefore, he is a fantastic mentor for young people.
Recently, Scott had the pleasure of speaking with the Microsoft Learn Student Ambassadors about what’s beyond mentorship.
During this talk, after reaffirming the importance of diversity, Scott reminds us that mentoring is the reverse of the technological priesthood by not being a gatekeeper preventing access to information. Mentorship is the recurring act of sharing your energy to create a mirror for others. He offers four simple practices for easily mentoring:
- Put out good work
- Don’t waste your keystrokes
- Share your experience
- Be kind
He also suggests going beyond mentoring by positioning it as a special case of sponsorship that relies on storytelling.
According to Scott, getting old is a privilege. The power of being old is the ability to have failed safely for a long period of time, continuously learning. Confronted with this learning process, we are all amateurs, there are no professionals. He asked deep question such as: Do you want 20 years experience? Or the same year’s experience, 20 times?
Even though it is aimed at young people, I really enjoyed this talk.
In conclusion, it is not about choosing between learning from your peers or learning from a mentor but rather combining the two when appropriate.