Seeking Guidance in Computer Science? Here are 6 Tips for Finding a Computer Science Mentor

Looking for a computer science mentor? Here are 6 tips for connecting with someone who can advise you throughout your education and career.

A young woman (left) is in conversation with an older woman (right) who is holding a clipboard.
Sigrid Turcios-Wiswe

Regardless of how or when you decide that computer science is the right fit for you, the computer science scene can often feel overwhelming at first. A lot of the seemingly “common knowledge” aspects of getting into computer science aren’t actually common knowledge.

Somehow, it seems like everyone else has had a ten-year head start and knows exactly where they’re headed. Of course, that isn’t true — but it can sure feel that way.

A great way to gain insight into the field during and beyond undergrad is to connect with a computer science mentor — someone who's already experienced your future coursework or landed your dream job, and is willing to impart their wisdom. 

You could find a mentor in anyone who meets that definition. They may be a fellow student who is further along in their courses, a previous professor, or a tech professional with decades of experience.

Here are 6 tips to help you on your journey to finding a computer science mentor:

1. Identify your needs and goals.

A great first step to finding a mentor is to think about yourself and your interests. You don’t have to have everything figured out right now, but knowing generally what your education and career goals are can help you pinpoint where to find and what to look for in a mentor.

Your mentor should be able to help you to achieve your goals, so it makes sense to gain a little perspective on what those might be.

Here are some questions to ask yourself: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What computer science topics interest you? What qualities would you like you and your mentor to share?

2. Be active on campus.

Maybe you haven’t gone to that computer science club meeting since the beginning of the semester and maybe you only kind of skim through your computer science department’s newsletter, but it's really never too late to get involved with clubs and events on your campus.

Clubs can not only help you meet other students and figure out your specific interests within computer science — oftentimes they will also invite speakers to campus. This opens up opportunities for connecting with professionals and academics who may be open to mentoring young computer scientists. 

So whether you join a new club or even just stay more aware about events happening on or around your campus, you’re making steps towards those initial connections.

3. Ask around – you never know!

Although this may seem like simple advice, asking people in your community — your family members, peers, old friends, and others — if they know anyone or even know of anyone who works in computer science is a great way to see if there are any computer science professionals who you may already be connected with.

Maybe your roommate's aunt is a software engineer at a company you're interested in or maybe your sister-in-law's childhood best friend is actually an expert in the exact topic you're passionate about. Now, it may not happen exactly like that but you will never know if you don’t ask around. 

Even a seemingly random and distant connection could help you introduce yourself to someone and open the door to a new learning experience.

4. Build relationships with your professors.

As a new student, it may seem almost impossible to build relationships with your professors. You’re just one face in a sea of hundreds in your huge intro to computer science lecture halls. How is your professor even supposed to learn your name, let alone become your computer science mentor?

Each course and professor is different, but a good rule of thumb is to visit their office hours throughout the semester. Not only is this a great way to clear up any questions you have about the course material, but it also allows the professor to get to know you and potentially set the foundation for a mentorship.  

5. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

Probably one of the most daunting steps on your path to finding a computer science mentor, is reaching out to them.

Reaching out to a potential mentor will look different depending on who they are, how well you know them, and what you want to get out of their mentorship. 

For example, if you want advice on how to ace a specific course, you might casually ask an older student you know to grab coffee together. That request will likely look different than an email you send to a tech professional setting up a call to ask for career advice. 

This task can feel enormous. You might worry that they won’t have the time or worse – they will reject you.

But that’s just it: the worst case scenario is that this specific person is not able to mentor you and in that case, just dust yourself off and continue looking.

But in all seriousness, even some of the most accomplished and intimidating computer scientists in any field are often open to guiding young students, especially if you express interest in their work and career and are appreciative and respectful of their time.

6. Look out for specific mentorship programs.

Beyond increasing the chances for mentorship connections in your day-to-day life, there are always opportunities to find a mentor through specialized mentorship programs. These programs can help streamline the processes of connecting you with a computer science professional who shares your interests and is eager to coach you through your education or career.

Many mentorship programs help fight the inequalities in computer science and specifically help connect students from groups underrepresented in tech with computer science professions, like the Edlyft Internship Development Program.

You can keep your eyes open for these through your school or you can seek them out online. 

No matter how you approach finding a computer science mentor, having a mentor can give you a boost in your career. So put yourself out there!

Looking for mentorship from an engineer at a top tech company? Apply for Edlyft’s Internship Development Program.

Sigrid Turcios-Wiswe

Sigrid is a junior studying computer science at Barnard College. She writes articles for Edlyft to help encourage computer science students to stick with it! Outside of school, Sigrid likes to read and cook with friends.