Q&A: What Does Mentoring Mean to You?

Noblis Data Scientist Ian Ezell shares how mentoring has impacted his career

Ian Ezell was mentored by his computer programming instructor at his Danville, Va. high school. The computer skills he learned from programming class served as a catalyst for his future career as a Data Scientist at Noblis. Now, he’s paying it forward to his Danville community by teaching a programming after-school club to students at his former high school. Check out what mentoring means to Ian in the below Q&A.    

Q:        Where did you start your career?
A:         I would consider my first “big boy job” to be at Noblis, but before Noblis, I was a planetarium educator at the local science center along with tutoring mathematics on side.

Q:        Did you know what you wanted to do before you started your education?
A:         When I started my undergraduate degree, I was an aeronautical engineering major, but I didn’t know if I wanted to be an engineer in the first place. So, I switched my major to applied mathematics figuring I’d have more flexibility on my career choice when I finished school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after switching my degree to mathematics, but I knew with a little work on the side, I could apply my knowledge of mathematics to a wide variety of fields.

Q:        What mentors have influenced you? What did you and the mentor share?
A:         There are two people I would say that strongly affected my career path, Tyler Barrus and Dan Waters.

Dan Waters was my computer educational teacher when I was a Junior and Senior at George Washington High School (He’s out programming club’s point of contact). His class was my first experiences interacting with computer hardware and software, where I had someone who was knowledgeable about to computers to educate me and to answers my questions. His class was the catalyst to wanting a deeper knowledge of computers.

Tyler Barrus has been like an older brother to me and my fellow lab partners. As a new employee at Noblis, I felt unequipped to contribute to projects as much as my coworkers, but Tyler was always there to answer questions and give advice. From Noblis and career advice to programming, if it weren’t for Tyler’s dedication to the Danville crew, I’d be in a worse position than I am now.

Q:        Has your career diverted from the “path” you expected to take?
A:         After graduating, I had some idea of working in an analytical role that involved programming, but my career “path” was more like a field. However, after graduating, I didn’t have any intention on working in national security, so I’d say that was probably the biggest deviation of how I thought my career was going to go.

Q:        Did your experience as a mentee inspire you to mentor others? How has mentoring others impacted you?
A:         By having a mother as a school teacher and a father as a professor, mentoring became second nature to me. At this point in my life, I’d say there have been three experiences that have impacted me as a mentor.

  1. During college, I tutored a few hundred high school kids in mathematics. While my focus was to educate these kids in math, many times the kids and I would talk about college and what to expect when they graduated. Tutoring these kids gave me a better understanding the struggles some people have with math and I gained the ability to explain complex ideas better.
  2. At Noblis, I recently mentored an employee while she was an intern over this past summer. It was a great experience helping someone that was in a very similar state to myself when I graduated, and I was grateful to give back the experience I was given when I first joined Noblis.
  3. Lastly, over the past year, I have been involved with the programming club at George Washington High School that Noblis is sponsoring. Helping mentor kids and teaching them how to program has been an extremely rewarding experience. It’s hard to express the feeling of seeing kids absorb what you’ve taught them and accomplish things with the knowledge on their own.

Q:        If you consider yourself a mentor, what advice would you give someone who was considering mentoring?
A:         My advice would be to just do it. My biggest fear is that I’ll make a mistake when I’m mentoring, but I’ve come to accept that I will make a mistake. However, at the end of the day, the most important aspect is that you care and the mentee will realize that.