The Making of a Mentor

They’re visionary, objective, of different backgrounds and most likely working right alongside you: Everything that makes a good mentor was on topic and on display at Monday’s professional panel, “GEOINT Generations in Conversation.”


The young professionals packing the YPG Hub Monday morning came for a crackling discussion on mentoring and left with a solid dose of mentoring to boot. “GEOINT Generations in Conversation” began (and ended) with an examination of the GEOINT field itself, as panelists challenged the audience to think out of the box when it came to potential career paths.

“GEOINT is everything,” said Chief Warrant Officer Four Gus Wright, who cleverly refers to the field as “visual fusion.” “In this day and age, 99% of all data is happening at a place, so it can be mapped. Look at what’s being created and ask yourself what you are going to create.”

Nateé Johnson encouraged listeners to brainstorm creative ways to wrap in their other passions when choosing a GEOINT career. A wanna-be doctor in high school, the data scientist initially considered combining her two loves by studying technology of medicine. “I had a teacher who said to me, ‘You don’t have to choose, why don’t you find the intersection’,” said Johnson, senior consultant for Guidehouse.

What makes a good mentor? All panelists agreed, it’s someone who knows a spark when they see it—and has the foresight to envision where that spark might lead. From the sixth grade teacher who put Wright in specialty classes to the high school teacher who signed up Kate Zimmerman for a Java course without her permission (“I didn’t want to take it because I was the only girl,” she said), nearly every professional on Monday’s panel had a story of a key figure who academically intervened in their life at an early age. “Good mentors are the ones who can see the bigger picture and judge things more objectively,” said Zimmerman, chief data scientist at HawkEye 360. “They can push you to do things you don’t want to do (or don’t think you want to do).”

Good mentors are also different from their mentees—in background, personality, work style, and beyond. “When I have a difficult decision to make, I seek counsel from people who don’t think like I do,” said Johnson. “It helps me see my blind spots for one, and for two it gives me another vantage point to consider.”

Sue Gordon said she’s been mentored “constantly” over her three decades in intelligence, but her favorite mentor was the one most unlike her. “We think about the world differently; we value different things organizationally,” said Gordon, former principal deputy director of National Intelligence for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. “But whenever I couldn’t find my way, I always went to her.”

Wright is a big believer that mentors don’t have to be hierarchically senior, either. “Mentorship also happens bi-laterally,” he said. “At the end of the day, mentorship is just trying to find that nugget that’s going to help you along, and sometimes that nugget is to your left or right and not necessarily up.”

Nor does mentorship have to happen face to face (a fortunate fact when many of those senior stars are too busy to carve out one-on-one time). “I’ve benefitted immensely from indirect mentorship,” said Wright, who used Michael Jordon as an example. “I’m going to learn from the best, even if I can only access and model them from afar.”

Lastly, panelists prodded everyone to not only seek mentorship but be mentors. “I challenge everyone to take it home with you—not the work but the passion, and don’t be afraid to share it,” said Johnson. “Talk to your cab drivers; the person who does your nails; does your hair. The future is making GEOINT a household topic. In 10 years, I want my nephews and nieces saying they want to be intelligence analysts and cartographers when they grow up.”

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