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The Power of Mentoring

by Walt Silva

As a degreed Mechanical Engineer with a half-century of professional experience, I still rely on the knowledge gained from the countless math, science, and manufacturing courses that filled my college years. While that intense mental preparation laid the groundwork for my technical career, the contributions of multiple mentors over the years have truly had a far greater effect on my overall development. Indeed, the applied knowledge gleaned from working side by side with seasoned veterans cannot be duplicated by any packaged school course!

Insights into the arcane workings of mechanical systems are the first examples that come to mind when we think of mentoring moments. While they certainly account for many critical advances in the development of a top-notch professional, sometimes the less technical experiences are of even greater importance. I can still vividly remember, as a young project engineer, sending a quickly drawn sketch down to the tool room for a short tube I needed that was 0.5 inches long with a 0.375 OD and 0.250 ID. In my haste, I inadvertently switched the 0.375 and 0.250 diameters on the drawing. (This was the early 1970’s. There was no CAD, we worked manually on drawing boards! Some of you may remember those days!) A short time later I received from the tool room a small yellow envelope stapled to my drawing. To my surprise, the envelope contained metal chips instead of the desired tube. So, I headed down to the tool room and asked the toolmaker if he had forgotten to put the tube in the envelope. He replied with an amused grin on his face that he followed the drawing, chucked a 0.250 piece of rod stock in the lathe, proceeded with a 0.375 diameter drill in the tailstock to try to make the hole, and he wound up with the chips which is what he then put in the envelope! With the entire tool room standing behind him, laughing good-naturedly, he then proceeded to hand me a second envelope with the desired correct tube in it. I worked for thirteen years in that company, became great friends with that toolmaker, and learned countless important tips and tricks from him. Most importantly, I really got in the habit of checking and rechecking my work!

As we progress through our careers, the torch passes almost imperceptibly and we find that we are more often on the giving rather than receiving end of the mentoring connection. We can still learn from our younger associates, especially with the fast pace of technological development. I regularly ask my 22 year old Grandson, a Computer Science major, for advice on the latest hidden options in internet and operating system areas and I am continually amazed by the hidden features that he brings to light!

While we want to and certainly should acknowledge and give thanks to the contributions of our past mentors, we may have lost contact with them or in many cases they may have already moved on to that great design studio in the sky! The noblest way to acknowledge our debt is to pay it forward, by helping the newest members of our technical family in the same way our past mentors helped us.


Walt Silva is the author of 111 technical books primarily on Computer Aided Design and over 1,000 training videos. His latest book, Doctor Walt’s® KeyCreator Desk Reference, contains 75 Hot Tips that unlock secrets of the KeyCreator® Mechanical CAD Application.

You can find Walt’s books at www.docwalt.com and his newest book The Doctor Walt’s® KeyCreator Desk Reference at https://www.docwalt.com/keycreator-desk-reference.html
You can reach Walt via eMail at walter@docwalt.com

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