Category Archives: mentoring

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(In the presence of) Mentors

The room lights dimmed around me, and a few solitary lamps signaled others staying late. I didn’t mind at all, because I was having fun. Not everyday do I get a chance to pick a mentor’s brain with no time restraint beyond from the grumbling of a stomach (easily ignored, and besides, I brought snacks). Well worth it

Here are some quick notes about what we talked about:

  • Influence: show people why, not just how
  • Early adopters will adopt a technology for novelty’s sake, but it gets really interesting when non-early-adopters take to it. That means you’ve found a problem and solved it.
  • 40,000 feet view and runway view
  • Different perspectives and the value that brings
  • Enthusiasm

One of these days, I may try tweeting our conversation on the fly. ;)

Great day for mentoring. Jen Nolan volunteered, too, and I laughed because I’d already been thinking of her as a mentor. She’s awesome.

What can I help you learn? Looking for mentees

Update 2013-07-17: Fixed contact form link

As awkward as “mentee” sounds (I feel like I’m looking for minty sweets), it’s the preferred word at IBM. Protégé smacks of the old boys’ club, I guess.

One of my priorities for 2010 is to share what I’m learning with even more people. The slow way is to reflect on what I’ve learned, write blog posts, and package that up as presentations and podcasts. The fast way is to find people who want to learn what I’ve learned (and am learning), braindump ideas in response to their questions, and make them responsible for writing up notes and further sharing what we’ve learned.

Mentoring people is much better than braindumping things on my own because:

  • We focus on what’s valuable to people
  • Questions prompt me to think
  • Questions mean I don’t skip over anything I haven’t explained well enough
  • Other people’s perspectives (like yours!) enrich the content
  • We can reach more people

Some of the things I’d be happy to explore through mentorship or peer-mentorship, roughly in order of interest (top interests first):

  1. Patterns and tools for community interaction through social media
  2. Presentation organization
  3. Presentation design
  4. Blogging (topics, editing/wordsmithing, exploration, general website ideas, but not technical help with WordPress)
  5. Presentation delivery (particularly remote)
  6. Visual thinking, notetaking, mindmapping, and information visualization
  7. Connecting and networking, particularly as an introvert
  8. Figuring life out, finding and following your passion
  9. Scaling up and getting better personal ROI on your effort
  10. Delegation, virtual assistance, outsourcing, and working with coaches
  11. Creativity and brainstorming
  12. Technology adoption and evangelism
  13. Editing and wordsmithing
  14. Productivity
  15. Cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, and other aspects of domestic bliss
  16. Getting on board as a new hire
  17. Getting used to life abroad
  18. Frugal personal finance
  19. Social networking (which tools to use when)

I can give occasional tips on Drupal and Emacs, but I’m not focused on Drupal development at the moment, and there are much more active Emacs geeks out there.

If you think of a topic that you’d like to learn about that you know I can help you with, suggest it too. =)

How it might work:

  1. Leave a comment on any relevant blog post with your question, use the handy contact form, or e-mail your questions to me at [email protected] . No mentoring relationship required. =) I like questions! I get to think about them and blog what I’ve learned.
  2. Contact me with an introduction and what you’re interested in. I prefer to communicate through blogs, e-mail, or the phone (with blogs preferred the most). We can set up a 20-minute or 50-minute call and chat about what’s on your mind.
  3. If it turns out we’ve got lots to talk about and we mesh well together, let’s set up recurring calls and have an ongoing conversation. If lots of people have similar questions, it would be interesting to set up group conferences or a community so that we can all learn from each other.

“Pay me back” by sharing your thoughts and actions taken. =)  I don’t want ideas to disappear into single conversations. If so, I might as well just blog about it myself, and help way more people. Share as much as you can of what we learn. At the minimum, please send me your notes. Better yet, blog, podcast, videocast, or otherwise share what we talked about. We all win!

So, how can I help you or someone you know?

Conversations with a mentor: chat about plans, mentoring, and knowledge sharing

Conversations with David Singer are usually more laid-back, but I was buzzing with a few things I wanted to pick his brains about, so he graciously let me flood him with questions and ideas.

I shared my realization about what I want to do at IBM—or where I want to help take the organization, to phrase it boldly. I want to build a truly interconnected organization where people can work together and lead anywhere. I told David how my short-term plans support that goal, and he helped me think about medium-term options. He understands my passion for collaboration, so if he comes across opportunities that might be a good fit, he’ll be able to recognize them. I have a long timeline, and where I am is as good a place as any when it comes to making a difference. =)

Prompted by my recent reflections on mentoring, I asked David about his thoughts on mentoring.

David talked about the difference between formal and informal mentoring. Formal mentoring relationships usually develop from existing working relationships and focus on specific goals. Because it’s formal and usually involves working with a superior, people hesitate to start these kinds of mentoring relationships. They worry about being a burden. Informal mentoring could develop from lazyweb requests, friendships, blog connections, and so on. These relationships could turn into formal mentoring, or they might stay casual. Both parties learn a lot from the exchange, and the conversations are not only productive, but also fun. I’d like to have more informal mentors (it takes a village!) as well as build informal mentoring relationships with more people. That’ll be one of my objectives for 2010!

I also shared one of my other projects for next year: document and share what I’ve learned at work, or as much of it as I can. We talked about the difference between formal and informal knowledge sharing as well. I’m interested in sharing a lot more of the informal knowledge at work. Formal assets like presentations and papers are great, but a lot of insight is missing in the middle. Social media is a great way to find role models who work on sharing what they know. There’s so much to learn!

We talked about a lot of other things: seasons, USB drives, headsets, VOIP, holidays, life… Lots of fun!

Learning more about interviewing

David Ing let me tag along on a client interview for a Smarter Cities engagement. He and Donald Seymour interviewed the CIO and other staff of a region in Ontario. In the afternoon, David gave us a crash course on Media and Entertainment to help Donald and another consultant take over that area of responsibility. It was fascinating to watch their easy rapport and interviewing style. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Working in pairs makes interviews much easier. When David interviews, he usually asks someone else to lead the conversation. He asks the occasional question and focuses on recording notes, staying as close to the actual words as possible. This frees him from having to think about processing the words. He does this instead of recording the interview because listening to the recording would require lots of additional time.
  • Keep the conversation-setting presentation as short as possible, so you can focus on the conversation.
  • Don’t plan too much up front. Let the conversation take you to where it needs to go.
  • One-slide summaries with the question structures nudge the conversations in the right direction and help you ensure you cover everything of interest.
  • Capture notes on your computer to make it easier to share those notes with others.
  • Working with one client can be seen as self-serving. Working with several client organizations and bringing them together to learn from each other—that has a lot of value.
  • Hollywood is a strange and interesting place.

David, thanks for sharing!

Moving from testing to development

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One of my coworkers asked me for advice on shifting from a testing role to development. Inside IBM, cross-role experience can often be picked up within a project, on a BizTech opportunity, or by assignment to another role (if the project manager really, really believes in you). Here are some tips if you’re considering the shift yourself:

Although you can build your skill in steady increments, building expertise can be a long and frustrating process. You’ll make a lot of progress in the beginning, but you’ll probably hit a plateau. Don’t be frustrated.

Unless your project manager is okay with taking a risk on you, you probably won’t be able to immediately spend time developing those skills on the job. Here’s how you can free up some time to work on improving your skills:

  1. Look for ways you can work more efficiently and effectively, so that you can save time.
  2. Document those processes so that you understand them better and so that other people can take over your role when you leave.
  3. Automate as much as you can, saving more time and enabling more people to do your work.

You want to be replaceable. You can’t spend time learning something else or move on to another project if that would leave a big gap in your previous team.

How can you learn more about development when you’re testing?

  • You can improve your processes, learning more about available tools along the way.
  • You can learn how to script while automating tasks.
  • You can learn an in-demand skill and get pulled into projects that way.
  • You can focus on providing additional value while testing. For example, if your project is okay with it, do whitebox testing in addition to blackbox testing. By reading the source code, you might be able to think of test cases that should be covered. You can try helping with problem identification, using tests to narrow down where the bug might be. Once you get good at that, you can try documenting your problem-identification process and commonly-encountered bugs. When you’ve got a good feel for the structure of the program and how things are generally fixed, you might even tentatively propose fixes.

What other advice would you give to people who want to move from testing to development?

Not just a word

During the Art of Marketing lunch break, Alan Lepofsky wanted to know how I got to know his team when he was at IBM. I explained that Matthew Starr had invited me to the IBM Web 2.0 Summit even though I was just a graduate student doing research, and that was when I got to meet Carol Jones and Alan’s other colleagues. When he heard that, Alan told me this story about the word “just”, from when he was twenty-five years old.

One of his mentors had taken him to a very exclusive restaurant, the kind that looks like a home. It was a scene right out of the movies. The waiter greeted his mentor by name and offered his mentor’s usual table. His mentor ordered a drink. When the waiter asked Alan what he would like, Alan said: “I’ll just have a Diet Coke, please.”

After the waiter left, Alan’s mentor told him to never use the word “just” to make himself or his decisions smaller. Instead of saying “I’ll just have a Diet Coke”, Alan could say, “I’ll have a Diet Coke.” There’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

Reflecting on this in the afternoon, I couldn’t help but be struck by how many of the presenters apologized for themselves. It was casual — self-deprecating humour, apologies for slides or technique, apologies for nervousness — and almost unconscious, like something that people say to cover up gaps. Perhaps they thought of themselves as “just” themselves, too.

How many times have I asked for just water at a restaurant? Perhaps it’s to forestall the questions: Perrier? Carbonated water? Bottled water? But it seems even more awkward to clarify with “regular water” or “house water” or “tap water”. (What do people ask for?)

How many times have I described myself as just a lucky newbie? I often feel that I am. I feel like that child in the IBM Linux commercial, receiving insights from all sorts of amazing people. But to call it luck would be to frame this experience as difficult to reproduce, and
to call myself just a newbie dismisses the beginner’s mind that I deliberately develop and maintain – the one that lets me focus on learning and sharing as much as possible instead of staying within my comfort zone.

So who am I, if not just a newbie?

I am excited and amazed by the opportunities that I have. I am doing something incredibly right. I want to figure out not only how to do even better, but how I can share that with as many people as possible and help them do their best.

And yes, I am going to change the world. =) Why not? It’s possible. How wonderful can it be?