Mentorship (It's Not Just For Twenty-Somethings)

I arrived in Portland two years ago with the intention of rebooting my career. When I left New York, I left behind a successful career in client service roles at marketing and digital agencies. It was a career I loved for many years, but I was no longer invigorated by the challenges. It was time for a change.

Once I decided I wanted to become a Product Manager, my planning instincts kicked in. I pride myself on being a highly-organized self-starter. Not only did I put together a list of tasks that I needed to complete, I created my very own Kanban board with different streams for "Education" and "Networking".

And I thought to myself, “I got this.”

A couple months in, I realized I was being productive every day, but I wasn't actually making any meaningful progress towards my goal. I had completed online courses, read books, attended tech conferences, and networked with other Product Managers — the sticky notes were piled up in the "Done" column, but I still wasn’t a Product Manager. I started to wonder, “Do I got this?”

Here's the part when I learn that being a self-starter doesn't mean you don't need help from others.

The turning point came when I attended a PDX Women in Technology (PDXWIT) event. PDXWIT is a wonderful organization that brings together and celebrates women in technology. At the event, they announced the launch of their Mentorship Program. I signed up, indicating that I was interested in changing my career path to Product Management.


A couple weeks later, PDXWIT matched me up with Karvari Ellingson, a DevOps Engineer at Jama Software. I had hoped I’d be matched with someone in Product Management, but realized that Karvari could probably teach me a lot about tech. I went into our first meeting with an open mind and Karvari showed me immediately that she was taking this relationship seriously.

She asked what my goals for the mentorship were. I told her I wanted her help to become more technically fluent, advice on the Portland tech landscape, and also for her to connect me with others in the Portland tech industry. We talked a bit about those goals and laid out some action items for both of us. However, Karvari went beyond that and intuited what I really needed.

"Dude, just start applying," she said.

Karvari's advice and encouragement lifted me out of the weeds. She helped me appreciate all that I had already accomplished and she firmly pushed me forward. Turns out, what I needed was a good kick in the butt. She told me what was glaringly obvious: that in order to get a job as a Product Manager, I needed to actually apply. And further, she made it clear that I was ready. With her support, I shifted out of "Education" and "Networking" mode and into "Job Search" mode.

Mentorship can come in many shapes and sizes. As a seasoned professional, I wasn't sure what I was going to get out of it. But my relationship with Karvari ended up helping me in so many unexpected ways. I went into the mentorship thinking I needed help becoming more technical, and I came out with a job as Product Manager — because my mentor was able to see me clearly when I could not.

I'm grateful to Karvari for her wisdom and generosity and to PDXWIT for running such a powerful program. And I look forward to my next experience with the program; this time, as a mentor.

Sign up for PDXWIT's Mentorship Program here.

Date posted: June 29, 2017


We are all glad you decided to shift careers, Lilie! I am a big fan of PDXWIT and mentorship in general and stories like this are the reason why.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • You can enable syntax highlighting of source code with the following tags: <code>, <blockcode>, <cpp>, <java>, <php>. The supported tag styles are: <foo>, [foo].
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Metal Toad is an Advanced AWS Consulting Partner. Learn more about our AWS Managed Services

Have questions?