The alumni perspective: We are in this together

Mentors help sort through career challenges and choices and help their mentees move toward success. They are especially important during the early years of your career. At the 2014 Association for Information Systems Student Chapter Leadership Conference and Competition, held in Tempe March 20-22, four W. P. Carey CIS alumni spoke about giving and receiving mentorship. The conference was hosted by the W. P. Carey School’s Department of Information Systems and the student DISC club.

Aprl 7, 2014 – Mentors help sort through career challenges and choices and help their mentees move toward success. They are especially important during the early years of your career. At the 2014 Association for Information Systems Student Chapter Leadership Conference and Competition, held in Tempe March 20-22, four W. P. Carey CIS alumni spoke about giving and receiving mentorship. The conference was hosted by the W. P. Carey School’s Department of Information Systems and the student DISC club.

Panelists included Joshua Valdez-Elizetxe (B.S. Computer Information Systems ’13), CEO & founder, Foresold Digital Marketing; Stephanie Gonzales (B.S. Computer Information Systems and Marketing ’06), senior manager in the information technology consulting practice, Protiviti; Chris Kruger (B.S. Computer Information Systems ’11), business intelligence solutions specialist, InfoSol; and David J. Roman (B.S. Computer Information Systems ’11), analyst, U.S. consumer services and technology, American Express Company.

Diego Ortiz-Montasterio, DISC president, moderated.

How have your mentors inspired you?

David: I have many mentors, and they have inspired me to think about life holistically — to think of success not just in terms of coin or comfort, but defining success in terms of what you’re passionate about, by what is achievable and pushing yourself to make a positive impact on others.

Chris: I would suggest that you be proactive in creating mentorship relationships, and really look for character in people, because what you want is someone who will teach you about life. Look for someone who can take you in and create a trusting relationship where you can ask as many stupid questions as possible, because you will have a lot of questions.

Josh: I learned from my mentors how to look ahead and how to watch trends. Speaking to older mentors I ask them what they would have done differently — what would they be doing in life if they had the opportunity. And I always take their advice to heart. When I get advice that I can take action on, I almost always do. That’s one way to show respect.

Stephanie: The very first thing I learned very early, is to find somebody who will help me help myself, who will sit me down and say: “Here’s how you can fix your situation,” rather than saying “I’m working on it.”

Another thing I’ve learned as I look back on my career is all the times in my career where I was put in a situation that I believed I was under qualified for, or where I had to stretch, were the times where I learned the most. I firmly believe that the number one thing that prevents us from being successful is ourselves — you need to get out of your own way. I made so many decisions in my life that were limiting, because one day I wanted to be a mother or have a family. And now I’m working full-time and have two kids at home and I’m very happy doing what I’m doing. But I’m sad about the decisions I made in the past that were limiting.

David: That’s a great point. I think sometimes we try to envision what’s possible in the future, and in seeking the future we forget that who we are today defines who we will be tomorrow. Take advantage of mentors that help you have clear eyes and a full heart to see what is reality today, whether it’s personal reality or the reality around us on market trends or opportunities. Then, have the whole-heart passion to see where you truly want to go — not where you think you want to go because of some title or status — but what really drives you as a person.

What do you do to inspire others?

Chris: I try to build comforting, trusting relationships. I try to help people realize that when they graduate, the learning doesn’t stop. As a mentor, I love it when I get an email or a call and they say ‘do you have time to talk?’ When they engage me as a mentor it makes that experience so much easier, because I don’t want to initiate the meeting and force them to listen to me. I prefer to have them show me what they are interested in and to have time with me to ask all those “stupid” questions.

David: I think listening is the first part of being a good mentor. Mentorship is one of the traits of leadership. Defining reality and setting a mission are at the core of being a leader. Listening is really one of the components of mentorship, whether you are receiving mentorship or giving mentorship. As a mentor, you have to really understand where the other is coming from, and if you are receiving mentorship, you have to really understand who you are by seeing through the mentor’s eyes. Oftentimes it is the blindness in my own eyes that causes me to take a path that I think is helpful but may be running me toward a roadblock.

Then smile! Now that you’ve got this new lens, what are you doing today to prove that you want it? Cheerfully pursue what you want, as long as it’s beneficial to yourself and to those around you.

Stephanie: Protiviti has a formal mentoring program, so I am a formal mentor to five other consultants and I also find people that I call my informal mentees. They tell me that I make them do things the other managers don’t ask them to do. One of my mentees said, “Remember that time that a client was unhappy with us and you made me go talk to her? So-and-so would never have made me do that.” Then just the other day she said to me, “So-and-so would never have let me do that.” That’s a big difference. A lot of times we don’t realize the ways we can be stretched and the things we can do and the way we can grow. As a mentor I try to inspire my people to do the things they think they cannot do, but I know they can do.

Josh: I trust who I hire and work with and I like to build strong relationships with those I mentor. I like to get to know them well, to see what they might excel in, and then talk to them about it. A mentor has your best interests at heart.

I came from a very humble community in the West Valley. I was the first person to graduate from college in my family. Recently I went back to the neighborhood I grew up in and did a survey, visited some houses. A lot of kids in the neighborhood didn’t have laptops or anything, so I bought Chrome books and gave them out.

The Internet and technology made it possible for me to become successful at a very young age. It broke up that age and experience gap. I’m always looking to empower people I mentor to become better people and succeed. As a mentor you don’t have to look too far to give back.

Stephanie: I think sometimes we view mentors as people who are very successful, but we’ve all done a lot of wrong things. When I have to talk to one of my mentees about an area of improvement, I always ask myself, “Have I had this same thing happen to me?” The point is to realize that failure is part of the learning process, and if you can’t pick yourself up, you can’t go forward.

Chris: I try to empower people to try. If I tell people that’s not the way you do it, or that won’t work, then they don’t try — they are just following instructions and trying is how you learn.

How have your mentors helped you define your personal brand?

David: Kevin Burns (director of the W. P. Carey Undergraduate Business Career Center) helped me consolidate my passion into a unified brand. He saw the “systems” in me — I play and write music, enjoy software development and help startup businesses. He helped me see that the foundation is systems. I like seeing such systems work together to achieve some end. I had never thought about that before, and once it clicked, it gave me a platform upon which I could build a unified front and start tracking in a single direction.

Josh: I was able to mature pretty fast, especially in business, and I had a lot of mentors at ASU. I was running businesses out of my dorm room, and I found myself at the table with some pretty good companies doing some big deals. I didn’t have a lot of experience working with corporate America, so I had to lean on my mentors, who were business professionals.

My mentors helped me form my personal brand by helping me be a lot calmer, a lot more patient than I used to be. I also learned that overnight success stories really don’t happen overnight — they are a compilation of years and years of hard work. People just see it as overnight success.

Chris: Having multiple mentors is like having a pool of perspectives. When you spend time with them they see how you handle business, which is your personal brand, right? They can see how you — with your personality — like to deal, how you like to handle things like adversity in business. People who are in your line of business can see how your personality shines through in that business. You need to be aware of your flaws and be comfortable with them, because that’s what makes you human and people like to do business with humans.

Stephanie: I’m sure you all know how important networking is to your career, now and forever. One thing I’ve learned is networking isn’t just this formal thing: it is being in contact with people, and talking to people and being yourself. It’s important to have your three-minute speech and your elevator pitch. They are important and you need to be ready with them when the time is right, but it’s also important to say, “My name is Stephanie and I have two kids. I speak Spanish and love traveling, scrapbooking and playing my violin.” Because that’s what people care about and remember. We don’t always have to be caught up in the business aspects, because we’re human and it’s that personal connection that counts.