Mentoring is very similar to coaching. Like any sports coach worth his whistle and stopwatch, the goal of a mentor is to pass on knowledge and wisdom that they have gleaned from personal and professional experiences. Equipped with this foundation, the next generation can build on it to further their craft.
Sometimes, though the hardest thing is getting started with mentoring. It can all start, however, with a simple conversation.
Triangle UXPA’s First Meet and Greet for Mentorship Program
We recently had a meet and greet event for the Triangle UXPA’s mentorship program. Using the Beverage User Interface (BUI) platform, we kept it casual and informal. The idea was to help facilitate that initial encounter between mentor and mentee. We had a great turnout with 34 people attending.
One of our mentors had this to say, “The meet and greet was a much more organic and comfortable way to connect mentors and mentees. As a mentor, I was able to get a better sense of what the mentees want and need, and I think a lot of the mentees felt that this informal setting was an easier way to break the ice and find a mentor with whom they have good chemistry,” Courtney Hall, Sr. UX Designer at Extron Electronics.
What Can You Expect from the Program?
You can expect exactly what you are willing to put into it.
We started the night off with a short presentation on what people should expect to give and get from the program. Some highlights:
#1 Concern of Mentors: “Do I have anything to offer?”
The short answer is “Yes.”
Some of the hesitation and apprehension I hear a lot from prospective mentors is that they don’t know enough to mentor. That is a major misconception. If you currently work or have worked in the UX field in a professional capacity—at any level—you have something to offer.
"At first, I thought that I didn’t have anything to offer and that my level of knowledge was nothing special. After talking with people, I realized that I may not have all the answers, but I do have something to offer and can help people with what I do know," said Don Church, UX Designer at Extron Electronics.
Everyone can agree that being mentored is a good thing, but there is considerable convincing needed sometimes to get folks involved as a mentor. So, why mentor?
- Enriching lives and careers
- Passing on knowledge to help the next generation
- You learn as you teach. Sometimes holes can be revealed in your own professional development as you teach your craft to others.
- The teacher can also become the student. As a seasoned professional, you will have the expertise and experience that can only happen from actually just doing it—whatever it is. But those being mentored can sometimes offer young eyes, fresh ideas and new technologies to your toolbox.
Some helpful hints to be a successful mentor:
- Set real expectations for your time commitment and the type of help you are willing to offer upfront.
- Give honest but helpful feedback. Make sure to treat your mentees as colleagues not underlings.
- Help guide them in the journey toward their goals by paying attention to deficiencies in their basic skill set needed to succeed as a UX professional.
- Be knowledgeable, but vulnerable. If there is something you don’t know—admit it and then be resourceful.
#1 Question from Mentees: “How do I get started?”
Answer: Reach out to a mentor.
Mentees, the best advice to you is to start making connections. The Meet and Greet was just one way to network. In addition to our list of available mentors, the Triangle UXPA also holds events all time and these are great ways to meet potential mentors. Remember though, it’s up to you to make the initial contact.
When you do reach out here are some suggestions to make it go smoother:
- Do your research and know what you want out of the relationship. “What is UX?” is not a good question to lead with.
- Set realistic goals—what is the end game? Do you want to land your dream job? Are you looking to learn more before making a transition?
- Make sure you find the right fit—a mentor who can commit the amount of time you need, and who has the skills you are interested in.
- Be willing to put in the time and effort to make this successful for you.
- Be willing to receive honest and helpful feedback.
A Couple Success Stories with the Program So Far – This could be you!
Joe and Andrew
“Mentorship relationships often depend on the level of motivation – especially of the mentee,” said Andrew Wirtanen, Lead Product Designer at Citrix. “Joe immersed himself in the UX literature I gave him to read. That was the primary reason he was able to kick start his UX career.”
In Joe’s case, his mentors simply guided his path and he took the initiative to barrel ahead. Joe is now able to pass on his knowledge and experience as a mentor himself.
Crystal and Lucas
Crystal Ibke is currently being mentored by Lucas Brauer, Interaction Designer. “It's been great working with Crystal, and I cannot say enough about how smart and competent she already is as a UX designer,” Lucas said.
“We are working on the redesign of a website for a Duke and UNC student org called The Bridge. We have done persona development, stakeholder and user interviews, usability testing on an older version of the site (which is no longer live), and more,” he said.
The design team for this project includes Crystal, and two developers that recently graduated from the Iron Yard code academy in Durham.
So How Can We Make the Mentorship Experience Even Better?
It wouldn’t be a group of UX folks if we weren’t always looking for ways to improve our experience. Here is a list of some suggestions from attendees:
- A forum to practice presenting and discussing deliverables
- A way to spread the wealth of knowledge and expertise in our mentor pool—not just limit the experience to a one-on-one relationship
- Slack channel for mentees and mentors
- More group project opportunities
- Mentor forum or message board
What are your thoughts? Leave us a comment.