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Mentoring & Sharing Your Interests (Reading this time)


One of the interesting challenges of mentoring is knowing where the lines are; not trying to counsel about personal problems (other than listening perhaps), letting them grow in their way and not necessarily the way you did, etc, etc. So recently I got into a discussion - what if you see an area where you think your protege would benefit, but it's not exactly technology related. The item in question was reading for fun rather than technical reading. I read a lot and consider it one of my primary hobbies, but is introducing that concept to a protégé helping them, or trying to make them be like me?

I think the honest way to approach this is to have the discussion and explain that it might be outside the bounds of the area they want your help in, but if interested it could be discussed further. Making it optional, and of course non-punitive if they opt seems fair, and it could wind up being very valuable.

The next trick is what to suggest that they read? Again, my hope would be introduce them to something that helps them grow while not trying to make them like what I like. My friend Steve posted about mentoring on this topic already and posted a partial list. As we talked about it we came with a couple different ideas:

  • Should be a mix of fiction and non-fiction
  • Lot's of different genres
  • Definitely should include history and a biography
  • A couple books that were made into movies (helps to show the richness of books)
  • Books my authors with more than one book published, so that if they like it, it's easy to read another
  • At least some of them that the mentor has read so that it can be a shared experience
  • Consider reversing it at some point and asking the protégé to recommend a book for the mentor to read (after reading it themselves of course)
  • No politics or religion (not bad topics, but good to steer clear of)
  • Give them some room to choose, and to drop a book after 50 pages if not fun

So, I'm starting my own list for better or worse, and definitely includes my own biases. It's really hard, because I read a lot and there is so much to choose from!

  • Western. Any book by Louis Lamour, but I'd recommend any about the Sackett family with my favorite being The Daybreakers.
  • American History/biography. Any book by David McCollough (I recommend Truman or John Adams), or Edmund Morris (Theordore Rex is my favorite)
  • Science Fiction. Lot's to choose from, by I like anything by Orson Scott Card (Enders Game), Gordon Dickson (any of the Dorsai novels, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers)
  • General Mystery/Adventure. One of the Spenser novels by Robert Parker, or any Cross novel by James Patterson (both are interesting characters), Dirk Pitt novels by Clive Cussler.
  • Military, sorta. Anything by Tom Clancy (The Hunt for Red October for fiction, but his non-fiction is good also), Larry Bond, Dale Brown (Flight of the Old Dog)
  • Older sci fi/sorta classic. Mysterious Island by Jules Verne (or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), don't be dissuaded by the really poor movies!

For those of you thinking to try some of these, read the stuff on Amazon, and then just pick one. Got suggestions of your own? Post as comments, or put them on your own blog and link it.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


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