Category Archives: <a href="/topic/industry">Industry</a>

Lyza Danger Gardner on Building the Web Everywhere: Mentorship for the Novice Expert

Posted by The fine folks at A List Apart |28 May 15 |

I have to admit something. I’m not very good at being a beginner.

I’ve started riding a motorcycle again after six years. Riding is notoriously risky. There are usually seven dozen ways you are about to die at any moment. Every early morning when I get up for a practice ride, I’m all gelatinous with nerves.

But as I start up the bike, it’s not visions of being obliterated by tractor-trailers I’m quaking about. It’s the through-the-curtains drowsy glares of neighbors when I have to adjust the choke to a louder place to get the idle stable. Not the fear of getting creamed, but a dread of getting honked at. It’s the shame of wobbly turns and leaving my turn signal on.

And yet, I get up morning after clenched morning; I keep doing it because I believe the thing I’m working toward is important and relevant to the person I want to be.

Being a beginner can be terrifying and embarrassing. But it’s worth it when it changes your life or someone else’s. Coming to understand this has slowly transformed 2015 into the year I become a mentor. It’s awkward and bumpy and I love how it is transforming me.

I have no idea what I’m doing

I dislike it when it’s obvious, in public, that I have no idea what I’m doing. The humiliation burns even hotter if the thing I’m flailing at feels like something I should have already mastered.

I have long worried that I wouldn’t know how to be a mentor. This holds me back, and it makes me feel shallow. Early this year I metaphorically shook myself by my own shoulders and snapped, “Get over it, Gardner!”

I had no idea what I was doing. But I was going to do it anyway.

First, show up

I started tentatively reaching out to colleagues and acquaintances. First I made sure I was attuned to little opportunities—helping someone debug a specific thing, or understand a particular feature of git.

I had been operating under this illusion that mentors were sprung fully-formed at birth. Silly, of course. Much of the path to mentorship can be built with the basic skill of showing up. If I can tenaciously help someone find answers to questions, repeatedly, this steadiness can transition automatically into a mentorship-flavored relationship.

Friendship with intent

Mentoring relationships have different shapes. Many incorporate other facets: friendship, mutual interests, perhaps familial or professional ties. But all are personal.

I’ve found that mentorship can be a successful bolt-on addition to an existing friendship. That part of your friendship now has structure. Mentorship is like friendship with intent.

Intent means going further than vague suggestions of “Hey, we should talk about JavaScript sometime.” It means getting things on people’s calendars, and entering scheduled conversations with some goals about outcome. Success is manifest not just in your own performance, but in someone else’s ultimate success.

Reaching out

Having clarity and intent doesn’t mean we need to operate with an unbending focus on the end objective. For example, I might respond to an acquaintance’s online expression of technical woe with a message like:

Hey, (friend)! I’ve so been there. It can feel wildly overwhelming, huh? Would you like to have lunch and talk through what is making you feel so stuck? Maybe we can tease out the confusing bits and look at them more closely. How about (day and time)?

For both of us, this can be an informal lunch conversation, with venting and tangents. And food, yum. But I’ll be mentally present in an active way. This is the conversational equivalent of alert motorcycling through dense neighborhood traffic, versus the car-on-open-interstate languor of, say, weekend patio conversations. I’m relaxed but ready, on point.

Curriculum follows later

Another admission: what initially got me inspired about this was the idea that I might get to write a fun curriculum and explainers. Oooh! Sample exercises, even! I love explaining technology with words (writing Head First Mobile Web with Jason a few years ago was life-altering).

This is, unsurprisingly, cart-before-horse territory. You’re not a professor; these won’t be packaged lectures. You don’t get to hand out a syllabus on the first day of class. Your mentee hasn’t even decided on a major, as it were.

Mentorship, again, is a relationship. This is human, which means soft skills and flexibility. I run close alongside that stereotype of socially uncertain, slightly awkward technical people, so these skills sometimes aren’t well-honed for me.

I have to knuckle down and concentrate on these interactions, especially shutting my trap and listening, listening, listening.  I am not always successful; when I get nervous I tend to fill gaps with words.

But over time I try to come to an understanding of how a particular person learns best, what fires his or her imagination. I find great power in the use of questions. What feels like success to you? Do you feel more at home with theoretical or applied examples on this topic?

I get answers, I get a more complete picture. And then sometimes they ask for sample exercises. Yes!

Mentorship is vital in our industry

Since the personal mental challenge of teaching content turned 2015 into a year of mentorship for me, I’ve become transfixed by the humanity, and how right this feels. There’s something about gifting knowledge to someone that transforms the giver. It bestows the wisdom of being a vulnerable beginner for a greater goal.

On top of this is a glaring reality: our industry desperately needs mentors. Everywhere. The self-taught among us (yep, me, too!) are legion. Absent classrooms or clear curricula or obvious paths of study, wouldn’t a rich reserve of mentors among us be a great asset? Could we make mentorship part and parcel of our growth as technologists? Can mentorship roles be a default in our organizations?

Triumph as a vulnerable beginner

I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m nervous about messing up, but I keep doing this week after week because it feels important.

Wobbly and inelegant I may be, but the terror of flaunting my inadequacy is eclipsed by the importance of what I’m after. I’m humbled by this opportunity.

Rian van der Merwe on A View from a Different Valley: How to Interview

Posted by The fine folks at A List Apart |02 Jan 15 |

It’s not like my life goal was to become an expert on interviewing. I’d much rather be an expert on work than on finding work. Like a corporate version of Frodo, in the midst of a grueling interview cycle I’d often lament that, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” And then Business Gandalf would show up in my head to tell me, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Ugh.

But I did what I had to do. I got good at interviewing. Now, I don’t plan to go anywhere anytime soon, so I have a chance to take a breath and reflect on what worked and what didn’t work when I was trying to change jobs. Here I’ll share some of the experience I picked up while interviewing for a variety of jobs as I moved across the world—twice—in a relatively short time.

Of course, this whole thing comes with an obvious disclaimer: This is what worked for me. It might not work for you, so proceed with caution. With that out of the way, let’s split the discussion up into two sections: how to get an interview, and how to get through it.

How to get an interview

One of the most common pieces of advice people give when they know you’re looking for a job is that you should never apply through a company’s website or respond to a general job ad. I’ve found this to be true—clicking the “Apply” button and pasting a text-only version of your résumé is a very effective way to get ignored. But what works, then? This is the process I used very effectively to get that all-important first email back:

  1. Find a job you’re interested in. That’s not really what this article is about, so I won’t go into too much detail except to list some of the usual suspects: use LinkedIn, go to the websites of companies you like and click on “Careers,” sign up for industry-specific job boards like BayCHI, etc.
  2. Find the two or three most likely hiring managers. This step is crucial. For example, if you’re applying for a design role, use LinkedIn or the company’s “About” page to find the VP of Product, or the Design Manager, or the Chief Product Officer, or any number of fairly senior roles that the job likely reports into.
  3. Use Rapportive to guess their email addresses. It’s usually not hard to figure out people’s corporate email addresses. the first thing to try is “firstname.lastname@”. There is only a finite number of combinations it could be. But the way to be sure is to install the Rapportive plugin, compose a new email in Gmail, and try a bunch of addresses (without sending the email) until Rapportive finds the person’s LinkedIn profile.
  4. Send an extremely short introduction email. Send separate, personal emails to each of the likely hiring managers you found. Make it really, really short. Don’t go on about how awesome you are—you’ll get a chance to do that later. Tell them you like their company, you like the role, you’re interested in talking. Link to stuff you’ve done: your LinkedIn profile, your portfolio, articles/books you’ve written, etc. Then ask them if they’d be willing to have a call, or forward your information on to the right person. The point is to not burden people. If they see a long email, the chances are high that they will delete it. But if they see a short email that’s respectful of their time and gives them the information they need to make a quick decision—that’s a different story.

You won’t get an email back every time, but of all the different ways I’ve tried, this method has had the most success. Your goal at this point isn’t to get the job, it’s to get that first email back. Once you get the email and the first call is set up, you move on to your next objective…

How to have a successful interview

Note that I didn’t title this section “How to get the job.” Remember that you might not want the job. Or, you might want the job but you shouldn’t take it because it’s all wrong for you. That’s what the interview process is all about. It’s not about looking good enough so someone will hire you. It’s about finding out if there’s a good fit between you and the company you’re interviewing with.

Your first call will usually be with a recruiter. The recruiter call is mostly a formality. As long as you’re able to condense your (obviously) illustrious career into a five-minute history lesson of past experiences, you should be fine. Recruiters get in trouble when they waste hiring managers’ time, so they’re just trying to avoid that. Your objective at this point is still not to get the job—it’s to get to talk to the hiring manager. And you do that by not sounding like an idiot when you talk to the recruiter.

The call with the hiring manager is a different story. I’ve approached this a bunch of different ways, but here’s the general approach that works best for me.

First, it’s important to look at the interview through the right lens. Don’t go into it with the primary goal of impressing the hiring manager. That is a waste of their time, and it makes you sound desperate. Instead, seek to have a mutually beneficial conversation with a fellow industry leader. You want to learn something from the conversation, and you want them to learn something as well. Your best outcome is if, at some point, the hiring manager says, “Huh, I’m going to read up on that a bit more when we’re done here.”

So how do you do this? You usually start with that five-minute history of your career. But then take the next step, and ask the first question… How do you do product development at your company? How do you prioritize roadmaps? What’s your design process like? By guiding the discussion and asking questions about how things work, you not only demonstrate what’s important to you, you also open a door to talk about the areas you’re most knowledgeable and passionate about.

Sure, you’re still going to get the odd, “Tell me about a time you’ve failed and how you dealt with that” question, but that will be few and far between. Most of the time what you’ll do instead is go over your allotted time and have a spirited conversation about the best ways to design and develop software. And that’s exactly what you want. You want to be seen as a peer right away—someone who would fit in.

That, to me, is a good interview. It’s not a venue for one person to test another person. Sometimes you can’t get away from that—you get bombarded with questions the minute the call starts. But that’s probably a good indication that it’s not a good place to work anyway. If the interviewer doesn’t bite, or insists on following a script that doesn’t really allow for conversation—it’s the first sign that you should probably walk away. If you can’t have a conversation as equals, you’ll never be treated as a valuable member of the team—you’ll always be a resource. And you don’t want that.

Which is to say…

If I could convince people of one thing that will make them more successful in interviews, it would be to change their framing of what an interview process actually is. Many of us grew up thinking an interview is a test that you need to pass. However, if you instead look at the interview process as a meeting of equals to understand if a good fit exists, you’ll not only be more confident and relaxed in the process, you’re also more likely to impress the company. And who knows, maybe they’ll even become better interviewers themselves.