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?

4 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • This is so opportune as I have so many questions, all the time, as I try to maximize my effectiveness, delegate well, and work on my presentation skills.

    Yesterday I was blogging about the 20% of the time in grad school that provides 80% of the value for me, and how to maximize that time. You seem to maximize your effectiveness (and happiness!) really well, so I’d love to know what you think: http://catehuston.com/blog/2009/12/14/20-of-the-time-80-of-the-value/

    Also, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working on my presentation skills. After reading Presentation Zen, I gave my first no-words-on-slides presentation, which I think went well
    slides and commentary – http://catehuston.com/blog/2009/10/29/presentation-slides-for-conversation-2-0-twitter/
    thoughts afterward – http://catehuston.com/blog/2009/10/30/my-first-zen-presentation/

    The thing is, for academic situations these kind of presentations aren’t OK as people want slides they can refer back to later. I gave another presentation last week, where I tried to balance this need for information on the slides that would be useful afterward with the slides themselves being visually appealing.
    Slides – http://catehuston.com/blog/2009/12/11/slides-for-applied-clique-finding-discovering-more-about-your-twitter-network/

    I’d love your thoughts on when you can use a “zen” approach, how to balance that for what academics want (more words) and how you balance making a presentation that is good to give in person, but will stand alone on slideshare. And in general, how I can improve.

    Sorry, that was really long! But I think this is a great idea and really appreciate any time you have for me :-)


  • Cate, I’m glad you’re exploring more creative ways to present! There are some really awesome academic presentations on TED.com, including the most riveting play-by-play statistical analysis I’ve ever heard.

    Quick thoughts, and more in a blog post later:

    Put your detailed notes on a hand-out, in a blog post, or in a document. Mention it in your slides. Add a screenshot if you need to reassure people of the level of detail they’ll get. Then continue with your more engaging presentation.

    I see you’ve done that with http://catehuston.com/blog/2009/10/29/presentation-slides-for-conversation-2-0-twitter/. Great! Assure people that they can access your full speaker’s notes. That’s actually much better than giving them just your slides.

    Optimize your notes for review (or cramming ;) ) by summarizing key points above your full notes.

    This is also great for searchability and reuse, as slideshows without words tend to be hard for people to understand afterwards.

    Students will love presentations that don’t put them to sleep. I’d taken a similar presentation approach when teaching operating systems, which was handled as a mostly textbook kind of course in my university. Students came up to me after sessions and told me that they paid attention because the lecture felt more like an advertisement (in a good way).

    More thoughts in an upcoming blog post, and in comments on your blog! =)

  • Karl

    Did you ever try the Beyond Bullets Points technique (http://www.beyondbulletpoints.com/ ) for making presentations ?

    In this technique, we usually put an image with an headline text. It’s also recommende to put your text in the notes below and print it out or export as a pdf with that format.

    Ex: http://www.slideshare.net/at2009qc/processus-dintgration-continue-et-outils
    (it’s in french, but you will be able to get the meaning when going trough the slides)

  • b

    hello, sacha! :)

    i’ve been following your blog for some time. i’ve been learning a lot from you (enveloping system for keeping track of finances; some random japanese words; literature like flash fiction exists) and now that you’re taking in “mentees”, i’d like to take that opportunity so that i can learn from you more (and hopefully share something to you as well).

    i hope there’s still a slot open for me as your “mentee”. :)

    i’m particularly interested in the following:
    1. Productivity at work (particularly in a software company setting) and life in general
    my questions under this topic includes:
    – how to get things done as soon as possible (so that i can leave the office earlier and do other things i[m interested in, yey!)
    – how to balance “non-developer” tasks (project monitoring, requirements management, doing QA, etc.) as well as “developer” tasks (design, coding, bugfix) without sacrificing one in favor of the other
    – how to try to create a “let’s share the tech and non-tech stuff we learn” atmosphere in our team without being “corny” or “too trying hard” (i.e., how to implement it and more important, selling the idea to teammates). i think this also falls under “technology adoption or evangelism” if the solution involves some form of technology like wikis or team blogs in our local network.
    – how our team can quickly respond to sudden requirements from clients without overlooking the details

    [life in general]
    – how to strike a balance between work (reduce or eliminate overtime work) and the other areas of my life

    2. Figuring life out, finding and following your passion
    – this is kinda personal so i won’t spill it here (but i can email you, though, if you’ll take me as a mentee ^_^;)

    3. Frugal personal finance
    money isn’t everything but it sure does make a difference when your dreams require funding.
    here are my questions or goals:
    – find an effective way for me to keep track of spending, something that isn’t too tedious and too complicated but is still effective
    – get into the habit of budgeting and sticking to it!
    – calculate how much money i will need for retirement in the Philippine setting (most retirement amount calculators are based in the US setting) and start saving

    4. Visual thinking, notetaking, mindmapping, and information visualization and Creativity and brainstorming
    if this is about creative solutions to problems, whether IT-related or about life in general, then i’m interested in these, too :)

    if you won’t mind sharing your ideas with me or exchanging ideas/updates with me about the above (or other stuff not listed… we never know if there’s something new and wonderful to learn just around the corner unless we explore it), please send me an email. :)

    looking forward to hear from you. :)

    – b

  • Karl: Yes, I read Beyond Bullet Points a number of years ago. Its insight into seeing your presentation as a story with acts and flow continues to inspire me, and I agree that headlines that make sense are good. Thanks for sharing! =)

    b: Yes, delighted! Quick thoughts, and more in future blog posts / e-mails / calls:


    • Getting things done as soon as possible: Minimize your commitments by saying no to make sure your workload is realistic. When you’re not switching between a million tasks, it’s easier to concentrate and deliver.
    • Balancing non-dev tasks with dev tasks: I like reviewing my task list and blocking time out.
    • Sharing tech and non-tech things you learn: Don’t worry if you’re the only one doing it. Just keep sharing. Document for others. Reciprocity may eventually kick in.
    • Sudden requirements: Try agile techniques. Show what trade-offs need to be made.

    Figuring life out: e-mail me! =)

    Frugal personal finance: Many people find it simpler to just take a percentage off their income, move it to a savings account, and manage the rest. If you’re starting out, go for that. I track my expenses because I like doing so. The envelope system is more flexible than a monthly budget. As for calculating retirement in a Philippine setting: ignore what the retirement calculators say about 401Ks and social security, change the inflation and investment growth numbers, and you should be able to basically use the same ideas.

    Visual thinking, etc.: Sure! Let’s chat.

  • Esther

    Hi Sacha,

    I’m currently a part of this wonderful programme http://www.lums.lancs.ac.uk/masters/mamll and am applying to do this next year http://highwire.lancaster.ac.uk. My first degree was in Visual Arts and since 1992 I have worked in Education and the ICT industry. I am a passionate learner and have been involved in a coaching development group for the past 5 years or so to help advance my skills as an enabler to others.

    My current plans, such as they are, should allow me to draw powerfully upon all the strands of experience, expertise and interest that are particularly meaningful to me. This will involve a blend of technology, creativity, learning, collaboration and general adventuring into the as-yet-unknown with people who share my passion for mutually-enabling relationships and helping one another to discover new and fruitful ways of being in the world.

    The principle of win/win from sharing learning is an excellent one and I’m particularly interested in how individuals and communities can collaborate more effectively (and sustainably) over distance, enabled by technologies.

    At the moment I’m reaching out to discover who else shares my interests. I’ve just discovered your blog thanks to a Twitter post by David Gurteen (@DavidGurteen). While I don’t have a particular question to bring right now I wanted to respond to this post and say hello and how much I appreciate your generosity of spirit. I’m looking forward to spending more time here!

  • Esther: A coaching development group! What a great idea. =D What’s that like?

    Your plans are all terrific, and I’d love to continue learning from your adventures. What’s a good way to keep up? Twitter or a blog, perhaps? =)

  • Duncan

    Hi Sacha,

    I’d love to continue to discuss/share/learn/teach on these themes. The most relevant to me at the moment are:

    Connecting and networking, particularly as an introvert

    Figuring life out, finding and following your passion

    but pretty much all of them interest me!

  • Esther

    I’m @estherwaite on Twitter, which I’ve just started using again (following you as of yesterday).

    The coaching development group involves five of us meeting for two hours every month. We’ve been mainly using an Action Learning format for our gatherings which works really well.

    We originally set out to focus on developing coaching practice, by bringing fresh perspectives and ideas, but over time it’s evolved into more of a generic learning development group. We share and reflect on those aspects of our lives that are the most challenging, exciting, difficult, exasperating, uplifting etc etc. It’s become a very special space for us all and it’s been a fascinating opportunity to explore and understand difference (and commonality).

    Nothing beats committed peer support for the journey!

  • Lu

    Hi Sacha,

    I think your mentee idea for connecting is so great! I am a ton of questions.

    Things I’m interested in exploring are –

    – Patterns and tools for community interaction through social media

    – Blogging

    – Connecting and networking, particularly as an introvert

    – Productivity

    …and pretty much everything else, but those are my top interests.

    I’m very new to the whole social networking/blogging/ social media scenes.

    My main questions right now are: how does one find the time to connect, how often do you need to connect, and how do you find enough content to be interesting enough so others want to connect with you?

    I work at a software company in marketing, and recently we’ve decided to branch into social media. So far we’ve received some leads through Twitter, but I want to engage more in other channels. However, I find it difficult to come up with enough relevant things to say – and spending a lot of time researching topics and reading what other people are saying may be seen as “unproductive” to my boss.

    Even just going on Twitter a few times a day and following a few blogs takes up a lot of my time, and I haven’t even really started to interact yet. So far I’ve been one of those silent followers.

    We’re launching a blog in the new year, and I’m going to being writing for it, but I don’t know how 1) to come up with relevant topics since I’ve only been in the industry for 6 months, 2) how to be productive with my time, 3) how to drive people to the blog without being too promotional.

    Overall, my biggest question is how to connect with others in a way (personal and professional) that maximizes productivity and relevance?


  • Sacha,

    Thanks for the mentoring meeting on Friday. I am really looking forward to what I can learn from you.


  • Hey Sacha,

    I also want to thank you for the mentoring session this morning (or last night, I guess… :) ). I’ve jotted down a few thoughts on my blog.

    It was a real pleasure talking to you, and I suspect I’ll learn an enormous amount from you – I hope I can reciprocate sometime in the future!


  • Brian, Duncan: My pleasure. I learn tons in the process of sharing, and I’m sure I’ll learn even more from you as you play around with the ideas we talked about! =)

  • I *love* that Hans Rosling video, I’ve been playing with the motion charts a bit – they’re awesome for showing change (and not just over time).

    I did the same thing for my latest presentation, and split it up into sections too (which I hope will be helpful). I’m wondering about the bullet points thing, I tend to keep it one point per slide (or image on slide) because otherwise I’ll forget what I’m talking about, but I’ll think about bullet pointing things next time!

    Thanks for your comments :-)

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  • Hi!

    I discovered your blog just yesterday and i found it belovable. I come here from “minor emacs wizardry” sharing your ‘Livin’ la vida Emacs”.

    I like it very much, specially “Can writing make a difference?” All my blogger-teacher colleagues will find it charming. Also, ‘what’s like being a geek?’. I’m not very good writing in english as yoy can see, but i understand it decently, i’ve translated ‘Can writing…’ to spanish and shared in my blog.

    But when i read about you’re looking for mentees, my brain blowed up of joy!

    I’m not pretty sure exactly what would like my exact purpose asking you for help. Only your emacs hacks has gived me some days of study in emacs wizardry. Just a wannabe hacker ;), i’ll share with my hacklab friends in our learning group of emacs just started a week ago, and with my other communities of educators.

    It’s a lot of joy when i find geek people, loving sharing like you. Thank’s a lot for writing.

    From Mexico, with best regards.
    Tezcatl Ix
    (mirror) (wizard)
    (nahuatl) (mayan)

    P.S. Yes, i’m obsessed with Tezcatlipoca.

  • Hi Sacha, I got in touch with you through Twitter. After several weeks of following your posts, I just wanted to say thank you for being such a great source of inspiration. I’m an IBMer and I share a lot of things/ideas/questions with you.

    If you ever come to Paris I’d be glad to meet you in person!

  • Joel Jorgensen

    I saw a YouTube video of your Livin’ La Vida Emacs presentation a few weeks ago, and stumbled onto your blog here while looking for a way to use Emacs as a web browser as I read the online Git Pro book. I love your idea of mentoring like this, but if I were to try to take you up on it, the first thing I’d ask about would be figuring life out and finding a balance, and then you’d never hear from me again because I would have gotten distracted by some other really shiny thing. Like my graphics homework. Or the dishes. Or the garden. As a very relevant case in point, it’s now two hours later and I still haven’t gone on to get w3m and probably won’t tonight or possibly for several days.

    Anyway, apologies. For now, I’ll stick to asking questions in response to posts, and if I feel I’m up for more, I’ll let you know! In the meantime, I reiterate that I think this is a terrific thing of you to be doing. Thank you! ^_^

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  • Kendra

    Hi, Sacha! Yes, I do need help for someone I know concerning “tools for community interaction through social media” – specifically, to help a non-profit reach out. My friend is the head and she feels she’s not getting enough support from the community and is wanting to update/expand using online tools but isn’t sure of her strategy going forward (website, blog + ???). I don’t know much about these things (I don’t even have facebook) so I sent you an email with the details, I hope you got it. Thanks!

  • @sachac i feel like i was only a kid and i visited my first library always i visit your blog. The way you share it’s so awesome and i’m so inspired for your “shared-development” philosophy than i had to dedicate to you part of my Ada Lovelace Day post.

    cc @Kendra So, i was thinking a lot about the things in this and his twin post, i started to study about other ways to share and organize the knowledge, and i’m starting to prepare a workshops about ways to sharing and constructing ideas across social networks. I’ll post a preview in this week for sure.

    @Kendra i’m not an SocialMedia expert, but i’ve found lot of shared knowledge in social networks like identi.ca and we.riseup.net (my real social site). I’d like to get in touch with you or your friend, may be i could help with one or two ideas to help in his project, ’cause i’m engaged on such class of tools. About Facebook, don’t worry, i don’t like it, cause his privacy and (for me) abusive terms of use.

  • Kendra

    Hi, Jesus.
    Thanks, I can put you in touch with my friend and maybe the two of you could just have a quick chat. I’m not sure myself exactly what she needs, but my sense is that she is more of the visionary behind the project and actually needs someone to assist with the more hands-on online stuff. What’s your contact info? If you’d rather not post your info here, I’m sure Sacha could pass it on to me and I could then email you directly. Thanks again!

  • Jesús: Awww, thanks! =D I’m so happy that you’re sharing your own thoughts and insights with others.

    Kendra: Looks like your friend may need more help than I can give over the occasional e-mail! I’d suggest finding someone either in her group or her community who’s willing to help out, or maybe Jesús can help. =) I’ll send you both an e-mail so that you two can get connected.

    If she really can’t find anyone who’s passionate about what she’s doing and the difference she’s making, she’s got a bigger problem than not being active on social networks. The first step then would be to figure out for herself why the cause matters and what’s in it for people. Then she can get better at telling her story and becoming part of other people’s story. You don’t build community. You discover it and bring it together, but there’s got to be some connection already. Social media tools help you bring individual connections together into a community, but the tools won’t help if no one cares.

    I’m a little concerned about your friend being hands-off about the community. Someone might be able to help her understand the choices out there and gain the confidence to get started, but especially for a small group, there’ll be no substitute for her leadership and direct interaction. These are terrific tools for her to share her vision and make that connection with people. Yes, it might be initially difficult to roll her sleeves up and start learning about the tools and how people are using them, but if she can get through that, she’ll be able to do so much more than she could if she found someone else to do it for her.

    It’s a little like saying, “I’m afraid of public speaking,” or “I’m afraid of asking for help.” Yes, you can get someone else to do it for you, but it’s not going to be as powerful as doing it yourself.

    Hope your friend just gets in there and starts exploring! She can start by e-mailing or talking to the people who are most active and asking them for ideas on how to better connect with them and with people who might be interested in the organization. A lot of it is experimenting and listening and experimenting and listening. There’s no magic recipe. =)

  • Kendra

    Hi Sacha,

    Thanks for helping put Jesus and me in touch!

    I wouldn’t say that she’s “hand-off” about the community – she’s already done so for the non-profit, and is interactive and is even in touch with people from other states to put together projects. It’s more a case of being spread too thin, I think. No one can do everything. In the arts (which is the field of her nonprofit), you usually have an artistic director distinct from the manager. She can prepare the content of the online stuff, of course, and already has a blog but maybe needs some help with moving forward with what she has or finding good alternatives.

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  • Rusi

    I have trying for some time now to use org-mode to do GTD.
    Dont know if this is (high enough) in your interest….

  • Rusi: Org-mode’s page on GTD is an excellent place to start. If you have specific questions, the org-mode mailing list is a wonderful place to ask them, as you’ll probably get lots of useful ideas. =)

  • Hi Sacha,

    Sent two comments since December but couldn’t find any response from you. could you tell me where to find your responses?

    I commented on your wedding.

    Tita Susie

  • Hi Sacha,

    I’ve been reading your blog posts for the past two years since I discovered org-mode :) I think I have learnt a lot from your experiences so I want to thank you for sharing what you are learning with people you may never know (as for myself, I live in Madrid, Spain, quite far away from Canada!).

    So thanks a lot and keep up your awesome work and life!


    • You’re welcome, and thank you for writing! =)

  • xfq

    Hi Sacha,

    The “contact form” link is broken. Maybe it should be the following link?


  • Yorogers

    Wow! What a fabulous idea… I like the flow of your thoughts. ;-)

    So, I don’t know quite where to start, so let me start by saying I’m interested in the Sketchnotes concept. I’ve recently gone back to school, as a 41 year stay at home mother of three teenagers. I”m looking for ways to streamline my note taking (I rarely look over my notes after I take them.) as well as learning a better way to studying/learn all the material I’m responsible for.

    I’ve lived abroad for about ten years (three different countries) and loved every minute of it!

    I’m a homemaker goddess and natural networking guru. Well, really I’m just one of those people that people are drawn to. Not a week goes by that some stranger doesn’t say, “I want to be your new BFF!” ;-)

    I’ve had a very interesting life and I want to start a blog to think through some of my life events and record my history. Any suggestions for the best way to start this endeavor? I think I want to use a pen name as some of the stories are really personal.

    • Great to hear from you! Sketchnotes are a lot of fun, and they’re excellent for remembering and sharing ideas as well as seeing the big picture of your life. =)

      For blogging, head on over to http://wordpress.com and set up your first blog. It’ll take less than five minutes (except for the part where you brainstorm nifty names to use, which could take DAYS if you let it). As for sketchnoting, you can try drawing on paper and taking a picture of that or scanning that in. If you find that you like it, check out tablets (iPads, Androids, or Wacom tablets that you can attach to a computer) or tablet PCs. =) Have fun – I’d love to help with any questions you have!

      • Yorogers

        Thank you! I’ve got an iPad and Evernote it just seems cumbersome. I guess I need to just play with it to get more comfortable using it.

        Also, are there any homemaker tasks or skills which I can help you with? I really do have running a household down pat.

        Any advice on coming up with a blog name?

        • People really like using a stylus with the iPad – that seems to work out better than using a finger. I’ve seen good reviews of the Jot Pro. Apps make a difference, too. Brushes seems to be popular, and Paper is too.

          Ooh, do you do freezer cooking as well? I’m always looking for people to swap notes with. We tend to cook lots of food and then make individual portions (already cooked) versus the once-a-month sort of preparation where things are usually cooked on the day itself.

          Maybe vegetable gardening? Sewing? Of your homemaker skills, which ones are you happiest about? What have you worked on learning the most? =)

          In the next year or so, I’m likely to have lots more homemaking questions as I settle into this “semi-retirement” thing…

          Blog name: One thing that might help is the realization that you don’t have to get your blog name sorted out right away. You can change it! =) Lots of people get started with something temporary, and then they learn more about what they want to write as they start writing.

  • Chris Harrington

    Hi Sacha,
    I want to start blogging again. Suffering from “technical inertia” – not being able to choose tech or platform. I don’t want to start from scratch. I don’t want to be limited by a hosted service. I want a platform that is integrated with dominant social media and email. And (the reason I found you blog in the first place) I wish to do this from Emacs if possible. I’d be interested in some mentoring from you on this

    • I’d probably say WordPress + Org2Blog unless you have strong philosophical objections to that, since you can self-host on WordPress and so many web providers have one-click installs for it now. Don’t worry about picking the absolute best tech + platform the first time around. You can probably figure out how to migrate your data if you decide to change. (Ex: I moved my old blog posts from Planner Mode to WordPress.)

      See if you can get that going, and feel free to reach out through comments or e-mail ([email protected]) if you need more help. =)

      Blogging is not about the technology, so don’t let yourself make that the excuse. ;) Write until you make it part of the way you learn.