Commit #8: An introvert’s take on mentoring engineers

Do you prefer reading books or listening to music over partying for your “rest time”? Or planning deliberately instead of taking spontaneous ideas when speaking in the front of a crowd? Or feeling drained after interacting with a lot of new acquaintances, wanting to retreat? If your answer is yes, there’s a big chance you’re an introvert (or ambivert) like me.

Us introverts have to rest after a certain amount of social interaction. It doesn’t mean that we hate people, just… our brain has different wirings on how to recharge ourselves. I found myself lacking in this area, and I know I need to be better. I ended up learning communication and social interaction techniques from my extroverted friends. I took a fair amount of embarrassing moments on learning how to deliver my thoughts through different context and mediums, e.g. writing technical documentation, delivering a presentation, or giving a proper response when mingling in a group.

Along with my social interaction learning process and career growth, I took an interest in a certain form of interaction: mentoring. In this post, I want to share the lessons I learned on mentoring other engineers… as an introvert.

Start with why

As a human, I believe that most of us learn from experience. A mistake from the past, for example, provides reasons and steps to prevent a similar outcome in the future. These lessons don’t have to be learned from a firsthand experience. Reading one’s experience through books is a great example. Mentoring is even better since the mentor could provide tailored lessons for the mentee.

Mentoring also provides a living example for the mentees. It also works as a platform for keeping the mentors accountable. Through their questions, the mentees could also drive the mentors to grow out of their comfort zones. This allows both sides to grow together.

From the business perspective, mentoring provides a long-term value. On The Effective Engineer, Edmond Lau states that investing in your team’s growth is one of many high-leverage activities. Mentoring is one of them. Through mentoring, the mentees could rise up to take part in the mentor’s responsibilities. This allows the mentors to learn and take more challenging responsibilities.

Last, why do an introvert like me bother writing a post about mentoring? Because I’ve been on both position – as a mentee and a mentor when I was in college and in Ice House. In the days where I found myself demotivated as a mentor, I remember these reasons and push that comfort zone’s border a little bit wider.

Make a one-on-one routine

As an introvert, it’s normal for me to reluctantly start a social interaction with other. My comfort zone as a junior engineer was working on my own code while listening to music or reading through technical blogs. Sure, I could speak in front of the public or explaining deep technical details in a one-on-one setting, but those events require enough preparation, and normally happened intermittently. This comfort zone was blasted when I got promoted and requested by my manager to mentor junior engineers, two years ago.

Based on my experience as a mentor when I was in college, I know that I need to ensure my mentee’s growth by checking on them periodically. The context is slightly different, though – I need to deliver my day-to-day job, and I know that I will be inclined to ignore my mentees, using my workload as the reason. To battle my own comfort zone, I decided to make the sessions done once per two weeks. I created scheduled invitation to each mentee through the company’s calendar. Having it on the calendar definitely helps me to plan my day, and prevent others disturbing the allocated time.

When having the one-on-one session, it’s important to remember that your mentee is a human. Each of them has their own life outside of work, and it affects their performance in the workplace. This fact has driven me to ask their well-being on the start of a session. Is there something that they’re concerned about outside of work? Or perhaps a great experience from last weekend? The answer could be anything – A common “everything’s fine”, a passionately-told story, or a deep, serious-toned discussion. Your mentee might be reluctant to open up on the first few sessions, and it’s normal. Try to open up to them first. Share your experience or thoughts when they share theirs, and make sure it’s delivered in a positive language. Offer help when possible.

After discussing their concerns outside of work, ask for the work-related ones. Most of the time it’s a technical question regarding their current project. Try your best to provide guidance. If it’s outside of your forte, refer to others who might be able to help them. Don’t hesitate to ask them the solution when they have solved it – and appreciate it when you learned something new!

There are times when your mentee’s concerns related to the workplace. Listen to them well, since we are their main person to raise the concerns to the management. If you’re not senior enough to offer a helping hand,  you could raise it to your higher-ups, too. It’s also a good chance for you to impart cultural company values or lessons – e.g. how to tackle an over-promised feature.

Last but not least, ask for their technical growth. What have they learned from the past two weeks? You could improve this by assigning a certain material or book to be discussed in each session. It’s even better if the material could be applied to their day-to-day work. For me, I always assign new hires to read the Clean Code book for starters and discuss each chapter on each session.

Remember to take notes on every session, based on the date. Writing down their concerns and learned lessons would help us to track their growth. It will help us to follow up any concerns on future sessions. You could also use the notes to provide evidence to the management when they’re being reviewed in the periodical performance review.

Group them together

I was concerned about my team’s camaraderie, so I scheduled all of the one-on-one sessions to be done in a week and added a group session in the following week. The group session has one rule: each session will be lead by one of us, sharing something to the group. I remember bringing a presentation about Clean Code’s first chapter in the first session. At the end of that session, I asked Heri to deliver the second chapter for the next group session. The five of us took turns until it circles back to me. So the routine goes.

The group session gave chance for my mentees to know each other better. Thanks to our constructive communication culture, we covered each others’ missing material and gave feedback on how to deliver better. It’s not long until Sinta delivered her clever-and-dry jokes to light up the situation. I am glad that the friendliness that built in the group session extends to the day-to-day job, too!

Besides the camaraderie, the group session allows my mentees to refine their skills before speaking to a larger audience, e.g. our company’s weekly demo. It also helped us to keep learning something new, especially when we’re too busy to learn due to a project’s deadline. Talk about hitting three birds with one stone, eh?

We usually hold our group session in the office, usually in an open space or see-through meeting room. Due to the transparency, there are some occasions where our coworkers drop in to join us, driven by their interest in what is shown on the screen or scribbled in the whiteboard. What’s better, they also happily give inputs or share their knowledge regarding the material!

Lastly, this two-week session gave me a room to breathe on the alternating week, since I’m not always the one who delivers the material. I usually use this time to focus on my current project, learning something new, or maintaining a pet project.

Let them take the wheel

As a mentor, there’s an important goal for us besides helping out mentees grow – it’s to prepare them to lead and become a mentor someday, too. I tried to hone their skills in this certain area by letting them take the wheel.

When one of my group members became the speaker for the next session, I’ve always asked them to send the invitation to others. This was supposed to instill a sense of ownership to them – what day should it be, on what time in the day, and where. There are some rare cases where we need to reschedule, and on that occasion, I let them decide the rescheduled the session, too. I am glad that our team is responsive and thoughtful should we have a reschedule – all of us quickly responds when are we available.

There are occasions where my mentees gave brilliant ideas, too! On 2017’s third quarter, we were thinking about our quarterly team building event. We usually hang out for dinner, and I was thinking about something new… but I don’t have a good idea (damn introversion). When I threw the question in one of the group session, Yoga suggested us to take an escape room game. After a few discussion, we decided to do it. We went to Pandora Experience on Puri Indah on the next Saturday, and we had a ton of fun!

Law of Demeter's Q4 team building event

The Law of Demeter! From left to right: Me, Yoga, Sinta, Iqbal, and Heri.

 

There’s another occasion where we’re looking for a new discussion material. Last year, we took Gang of Four’s Design Patterns book and discuss one or two patterns on each group session. On the last two sessions, I pointed out to that we need a new material and requested them to look for a new one. One of the team member, Iqbal, offered Wayne Bishop’s “Algorithm and Data Structures with Swift”. I realized that not all of our team member came from a computer science degree, and agreed that this material would benefit all of us. All of us agrees to do it, and we had fun!

(A quick glance of Iqbal’s presentation for self-balancing trees. Heri went to the toilet when I recorded this. 😔 We also got Fathureza dropping in!)

Recap

As a recap, these are the practical points that can be taken from this post:

  1. Set up scheduled one-on-one session with your mentees.
    1. This will help you get out from your comfort zone.
    2. Ask their well-being first, be it from their personal life or work-related concerns.
    3. Listen to them, write their concerns down if needed.
    4. Share your experiences too, however small. Show to them that you’re a human, too.
    5. Last, but not least, ask what did they learn since the last one-on-one session. When possible, share some relevant technical knowledge or work ethics.
    6. Don’t be shy to praise them or ask for further details when they’re sharing something you don’t know.
  2. Set up scheduled group session with your mentees.
    1. Decide a topic to discuss. Make sure it could be divided into several parts, e.g. a book with several chapters.
    2. Encourage them to take part in delivering several parts of the topic, preferably in a certain sequence.
    3. Build a culture of appreciation. A small “thank you” on the end of the talk would go a long way.
  3. Instill a sense of ownership by encouraging them to take part in the group.
    1. If one of them become the speaker for the next session, let them decide the time and place. Make sure they’re the one who sends the invitation to others, too.
    2. Ask them what materials that should be brought into the group session.
  4. Remember to have fun!
    1. If needed, ask your extroverted mentees for ideas! 😉

Be reminded, though – this method works for my team and my company culture. Yours might be different, but I believe that mentoring could improve your workplace culture if haven’t already.

Acknowledgments

I wanted to thank the mentors I had in the college, Arthur Lumolos and Sarah Awuy, for giving me the example on how to live in the Word of God. And for giving me the room to do mistakes and grow by leading others.

I want to thank the mentors I had in the workplace up until this point, whether from designated one-on-one sessions or giving me lessons through my mistakes: Fauzan Emmerling, Batista Harahap, Muhammad Taufik “Obet”, Pria Purnama, Abdul Haris Ilmawan, Darrick Rochili, and Lars Oleson.

I want to thank my Law of Demeter team for the great journey for these two years – Heri, Sinta, Iqbal, and Yoga. It’s been a joy to watch all of you grew in your career! Don’t forget to share what you have learned – and be a mentor! Help other engineers out, and you might make this world a slightly better place.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s