I first started in the tech/gaming/entertainment (maybe gametechertainment?) as a functionality QA Tester at a QA outsource company called Babel. I started at a Montreal office of a UK based company that had just opened shop here in town, as something like employee #10. Basically, the office wasn’t anywhere near done, almost nobody was around in the massive facility, and there was a small group of us with nothing to do, and no knowledge of what we should have been doing anyway.
That quickly changed when the company brought in a ragtag group of people from the UK head office to help run things and get the local team (which had actually grown a fair bit despite having little to do) up to speed. The first meeting with this group was… interesting. I’m pretty sure they were hungover, I know that I had trouble understanding some of them, and I think they were hitting some degree of culture shock in Montreal. For a very brief period I was worried at what the heck I had gotten myself into. Standing across from me was a group that included an English Viking, a pretty girl that had a death glare that could kill a yak, and a little guy that I was pretty sure was still drunk.
As it turns out, and while I didn’t know it at the time, I was about to get my first taste of what mentorship is all about. While this group was… interesting (which is about the only term I can come up with), they were also experts at what they did, even at a young age. They were present to get the Montreal team up to speed, show us the ropes, and help build out the office. And that is exactly what they did. Turns out that the English Viking was a natural leader and had the ability to channel that into people where he saw talent, helping me learn a great deal. Turns out that the pretty girl with the death glare that could kill a yak was also a great motivator and taught me about how to work with a team and get some great results. And the little guy that I’m pretty sure was still drunk was probably the best QA Tester I have ever worked with, and taught me more about pure QA fundamentals than anyone else. (side note: he was also quite possibly the only person I’ve ever known that worked better hungover than stone cold sober).
That was my first taste of mentorship. Of having people take their time and energy, even when they didn’t have to, to pass along knowledge and experience. As I continued working there, I took in that knowledge, from them as well as others, which gave me a tool kit of skills that I never would have acquired otherwise. Then, I started passing out that knowledge myself, becoming a mentor to some of the newer people that came in. It wasn’t formalized in any way, and the term “mentor” never even occurred to me at the time, but that’s exactly what it was.
Having a mentor and being a mentor is, in my opinion, one of the principal buildings blocks for success in anyone’s career. Formal education, personal experience, on the job training are all excellent as well, but there’s something extra special about having somebody take the time to guide you in a one on one method. Passing that along to others is the next step in the process. Having knowledge is a great benefit to you and your team. Sharing that knowledge makes your team better, which then makes you better.
Moving along my career I had a variety of people mentor me in different aspects of my professional progression. It was really only when I started at EA that I really started to get an idea of the importance of the mentorship process. The beauty of it is that it is a relationship that can take many forms. It can be Manager to Direct Report, from people in lateral positions, and in some cases even from Direct Report to Manager. At EA I was lucky to have people willing to take the time and effort to help me learn and grow. Not just in my day to day tasks, but also in the fundamentals of the business, how the company operated, how to work with a variety of people, and how to become a more effective manager. It wasn’t a magic envelope with all the answers, rather it was a slightly vague roadmap with several points of interest flagged. In other words, the mentorship process gave me the basics on a wide variety of topics, and then offered me support as I started to grasp each one.
Then, as my position shifted and I had more and more responsibility, it became my turn to mentor others. And while I think I had some successes, I had just as many failures here. I didn’t quite share things as well as I should have, I didn’t quite target what needed to be shared, and I lost track of how I could go about the process. In essence, my workload kept me a step away from where I should have been in regards to mentoring my team, and I never figured out a way to get around it. That was my mistake, and one which I really wish I had a “take back”. This is an instance where hindsight has really given me the ability to look back and analyze my failure here.
In my opinion, mentorship falls to two incredibly similar sets of questions that you should be asking of yourself, and internally thinking about when interacting with your team:
- What do I know?
- What don’t I know?
- How can this person help me fill the gaps in my knowledge?
- What do they know?
- What don’t they know?
- How can I help this person fill the gaps in their knowledge?
At the end of the day, that’s all mentorship is. Yes, it can be hard to admit that you don’t know everything. It can be hard to ask people for help. It can also be difficult to offer your help sometimes.
This is really my first thought on the topic, and is something I would definitely like to explore further in the future. I think that having a mentor and being a mentor are key items for any team, and indeed any organization. Mentorship brings people together, shares knowledge, increases competency, and it’s all done in an organic and natural way. I definitely want to dig a little deeper into this later one.