The Mentorship Program is a core component of the Master of Science in Information Systems curriculum. The program connects MSIS students with Seattle-based IT leaders through a unique one-to-one professional relationship that can bridge the gap between academic concepts and real world practices.
Russell Rhodes, Senior Manager, Big Data at Seattle-based Zillow, has been a mentor in the MSIS program for the past two years. In his partnership with MSIS, he brings his tech-meets-business expertise and experience with career transition to help students find the satisfaction that comes when you land where you are meant to be.
With an educational background in linguistics, and a passion for programming and analytics, Russell knows the importance of tackling new opportunities and responsibilities. This mindset led him from analyst and engineering roles to his current position at Zillow, where he enjoys the start-up energy and loves reaching back and being a mentor.
Navigating Career Transitions
Reflecting on his own graduate school journey, Russell realized early on the impact a mentor can have, and shares that being able to mentor people is important to him.
He has carried a sense of openness throughout his career, and shares that mentality with his mentees. He advises them to be willing to say yes to opportunities and to get out of their comfort zone – you never know where your passions may ignite.
Russell’s first mentee, Gail Letrondo, MSIS Class of 2019, appreciated the insights about navigating a career transition that Russell was able to bring to their relationship:
The MSIS mentorship program was one of the biggest draws for me as something I could use to help me move from a finance position to a technical position. The idea of having a mentor really appealed to me, and Russell was the right person at the right time…I’m learning how to prioritize my time as a technical professional. I want to aim for something different, and I know Russell will help.”
– Gail Letrondo, Business Intelligence Engineer, AWS | Class of 2019
Russell and Gail developed a monthly meeting schedule and Gail found one of the surprising benefits of the mentorship was the opportunity to talk about academics, work, and life with someone who had also gone through similar experiences.
During these meetings, Russell was able to help Gail feel comfortable seeking out others at her company who could help her, answer questions about jobs she was interested in, and guide her on how to take advantage of specific opportunities.
Having gone through his own career transitions, Russell is able to be candid with his mentees and allow them to guide the conversation. He understands their challenges and concerns, and is able to bring unique insights about what the hiring process can be like for professionals making a career transition. Russell is also an active ally and mentor for women in tech, and he advocates for all of his mentees to be confident in the skills they bring to the table.
The insights and guidance Russell provided have continued to help Gail even as she has graduated and taken on a new position in a more technical role as a Business Intelligence Engineer at AWS.
Not only does Russell formally mentor an MSIS student each year, but he also participates in the annual MSIS Professional Mock Interviews. Here he brings an informal mentorship mindset to provide other MSIS students with a first-hand look at the interviewing process. A hallmark of the MSIS student experience, the mock interviews are an opportunity for current students to connect with industry professionals and receive valuable feedback. As a hiring manager and mentor who has made career transitions in the past, Russell is uniquely equipped to share invaluable guidance with MSIS students:
I was blown away by how prepared the students were for the discussion and was impressed with how hard they are working. Some students are working full-time jobs, some come to the MSIS program with a non-tech background, and some are moving forward in their careers. I shared my experience as a hiring manager: It’s common for tech interviews to be long. You meet different people who assess different skills, and not all of it is going to be perfect. All you can do is practice for the interview and do your best.”
– Russell Rhodes, Senior Manager – Big Data, Zillow
Throughout Russell’s education and career, he has enjoyed giving back and being a guiding force for others. His passion makes him a great mentor and a valuable part of the MSIS community.