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Changing definitions of what it means to be mentored

Posted by on Feb 5, 2012 in Blog, Uncategorized | One Comment

I’m now just beyond five months into an amazing opportunity.  When I introduce myself as working at the AP, I always cringe a bit.  Perhaps people think I work there because it’s the AP, and it’s big, and has many resources, and there’s a lot to do.  But that’s not the sum total reason.  I am supported, appreciated, pushed.

As always, I owe everything to my mentors.  I’ve been spending time thinking about how those needs have changed over time. A #wjchat this week on the subject merely strengthened my interest.  And as much as I am mentored, I’m spending more and more time mentoring others.  It helps me improve my ability to describe code, and helps broaden the pool of people doing technical journalism work.  And we need more people.

I think it bears pointing out that when I started, I wanted a lot more hand-holding. I still desperately need mentorship though, I have a lot to learn, and many high expectations for myself. The environment I have right now is truly special. It’s special enough that I would follow the people I am lucky enough to work with no matter where we worked. It wouldn’t have to be in a glamarous city, like New York or Washington.  And it wouldn’t have to be a big name place. It would be…more than enough to work with these people every day.

So, let’s get down to it. As I seek to mentor more and more, what lessons can I take from people at my current work environment?  Here’s a brainstorm:

1. Ask nicely for things, avoiding “Because I said so” syndrome. I can’t recall when I’ve ever been told that I need to do something. “Would you please” or “I thought you might enjoy” or “What do you think about” are the name of the game here.  It doesn’t matter if a deadline is close.  That’s no excuse for pulling rank, which is a last resort.

2. Give praise when something is done well. I’m thanked for almost everything I do.  Obviously, I have to do what I’m asked, but it’s nice when people are friendly about it.  Feeling respected and well-cared for is more important than any of us realize.

3. Listen. I’m pretty comfortable sharing my opinion with anyone who’ll listen, but of course, no one is obligated to give me the time of day. Take the time to pay attention to what someone else has to say. Then decide what to do about it.

4. Be patient. Sometime it takes me 30 seconds to put a coherent sentence together, when it’s technically hard. People just wait.

5. Believe in your mentee. Mentees may go through self-doubt. You wouldn’t be spending the time with them if you didn’t believe they could do it, right? Tell them they can, even when they don’t believe it. They’ll get through the dark place.

6. Say when you don’t know something. No one is omniscient. Realizing this is much like realizing one’s parents aren’t deities sent from on high (sorry Mom and Dad).  Once you realize that, you can band together to solve problems. And then you both learn.

7. Trust. When you ask someone to do something, believe they’ll get it done, or come to you for help.  No need to check in every 10 minutes, that’s just distracting. But check in on a regular basis, lest someone feel like you’re leaving them to the wolves.

8. Keep your cool. Deadline can have a lot of pressure, but freaking out helps no one. Don’t take offense when a mentee raises her voice, speaks loudly, rants, screams, says it’s not possible. Stay logical and cool, bring levity to the situation. It’ll all be okay.

Most of this doesn’t have to do with actual subject knowledge, although that helps.  It’s enough to just be a decent, kind patient human being, interested in helping. And it constantly amazes me how warm and fuzzy I feel with that kind of support at my back.

Thanks for being awesome, AP Interactive. You’re teaching me more than you can possibly know, even how to better pay it forward. There’s no way to articulate just how valuable that is.

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