Guest post by Larissa Shapiro
I came across TechWomen by chance. A former colleague’s spouse forwarded me a note from a local ‘Women in Tech’ newsletter calling for mentors for a new program. I thought, “Hmm…Am I ready for mentoring?” I’d been in tech for about 15 years, yet I felt unsure. I took a deep breath, completed the application, and sent it off, thinking there was no way I’d be accepted by this prestigious project! In retrospect, I had Imposter Syndrome about becoming a mentor. What I did not realize at the time was how very much mentoring would change my life.
I was honored to be chosen to join the first Mentor cohort for TechWomen. I remember the first mentor meeting, and the incredible caliber of the women I met. I knew right away that this community of mentors would be a critical part of my TechWomen experience.
Through mentoring, I have met and become friends with a network of amazing technical professional women with similar goals; all of us are dedicated to supporting each other and women in STEM around the world. Lifelong friendships have been built.
When my first Emerging Leader, an entrepreneur who runs her own SAAS business in Morocco, arrived, I was impressed with her right away. It is not shocking – the women selected for this program are less than one out of ten of those applying.
We dove into her mentorship, during which she studied project management techniques. We spent a lot of time at the French bakery down the road learning how much we had in common. As much as I know I passed on wisdom to her about specific technical matters, she gave me her invaluable insights into my work relationships, and our friendship has continued.
As part of the first year of the program, I was able to travel to both Washington, DC and to Morocco. Washington, DC was a wonderful trip. I got to share both a city and a national heritage I love with new friends. That year we happened to be in DC over the 4th of July and got to watch the fireworks from the top of the State Department, and I felt like the luckiest American around.
Even more deeply meaningful for me was joining the TechWomen Mentor delegation to Morocco. One day we went to visit a house that provides temporary homes for girls who move to the city to attend secondary school because they cannot do so in their home villages. Most of the girls spoke mainly Berber, Arabic, and French, but a few also spoke English, and I had a talk with one of them. She told me of her fierce determination to become a doctor and return to her village to improve the quality of healthcare there, particularly for women and girls. She was twelve years old, but she spoke with a very adult understanding of the world. She was so certain of her path. I see the same fire in many girls who want to go into STEM to change their circumstance, and to change the world. She truly inspired me.
TechWomen moved into its second year, and due to its success, expanded into more countries. I was thrilled to apply again, and my company wanted me to as well, having seen what an outstanding networking opportunity it was. I was matched with a brilliant Emerging Leader, an IT instructor from Tunisia. She chose a protocol level project, studying the penetration of IPv6 in Tunisia. She became very engaged in politics in her home country following its “Arab Spring,” and she taught me so much, giving me even more respect for the work that goes into fighting for and building democracy.
One of the biggest realizations for me as a TechWomen Mentor was that the professional mentorship is a container for the work, but it is filled with much more – deep international perspective, caring relationships, growth, and connection.
I am now in my third year with TechWomen. I changed jobs during this year, and I was so determined to mentor again that I made my participation a criterion of my hire. I love every minute with my newest Emerging Leader, Imen Rahal, who is very excited about the mission and projects of my present employer, Mozilla. Her enthusiasm is contagious. She has jumped in with both feet and is exceeding my expectations, taking on our modified Agile development process in the FirefoxOS project. I am very lucky that Imen’s Cultural Mentor is my friend (and TechWomen’s Mentoring Process Architect) Katy Dickinson, and we have made cultural excursions together already, most recently to the redwoods near my Santa Cruz home.
Why do I mentor? Why wouldn’t I? For me, mentoring has become an emotional, networking, and perspective-building bank account where what I get back in “interest” is so much more than what I put in.
Larissa Shapiro has been a TechWomen Professional Mentor every year of the program since 2011. Larissa works on the Mozilla project, serving as the “senior program manager for product management operations”, which means lots of things, but the biggest thing it means is that she builds and implements effective product management processes for the project. Prior to joining Mozilla, Larissa was the first (and only) Product Manager at Internet Systems Consortium, an open source public benefit organization which is the creator and maintainer of BIND, the DNS software which serves 80% or more of the nameservers on the Internet. She lives in Santa Cruz, California with her family. When she is not working on open source projects, she likes to garden, sing, hike, and hang out with her family on the beach. @larissashapiro