PASS Summit Report #16 (Mentoring)

A couple years back Steve Jones and I started The Mentoring Experiment. Our first experiments to see how effective non-local mentoring would be. Could we make it work, would people try it? They did try, and it worked, sort of. Mentoring is hard, distance makes it harder. Local is better (we thought so at the start, but wanted to learn). We’ve debated and re-debated building something along the lines of a matching service, but neither of us is passionate about it.

Prior to the Summit I was thinking again (and again) about what else we might try. I announced a time on Twitter for people to join me in a mentoring discussion so I could test some of those thoughts – the rest of this is about that “experiment”.

The premise is that the ‘win’ is sensitizing people to the idea of mentors and mentoring. Focus less on matching, focus more on getting them thinking about it and focus more on using ‘connectors’ to facilitate the matches without making them solely responsible for it. My idea is:

  • Develop one or more 5 minute or less routines that can be dropped into a Chapter meeting (and this is the main part of the experiment)
  • Develop one or more one hour presentations that can be given at a SQLSaturday by someone in the area that is interested/experienced (no action yet)
  • Develop a half or full day train the trainer type event for the Summit (or potentially the day prior to a SQLSaturday) (no action yet)
  • Put up a simple page or two with resources. Answers to the top 10 questions about careers. Learning lists for a new DBA/new BI/new whatever. Maybe add to that a directory or forum of people that cannot find someone locally, or maybe it’s only used by the connectors. (no action yet)

In other words, do something proportional to the time available.

Now, imagine you are a Chapter meeting. You’re in the part of the meeting before the main presentation starts. Maybe you’re going over upcoming events, what your Chapter does, maybe some networking. The key is you’ve got someone up front talking and leading the meeting.

Then, either that person or the ‘Mentoring Volunteer’ steps up.

Slide 1 – Mentoring Time (Mentoring Minute?) (need a better title maybe)

  • This is what mentoring is in the SQL community (some definition we can use as common ground)
  • This is what coaching is
  • Link at bottom to resource page

Leader talks about it quickly, a minute or less. Then asks, in a way that doesn’t look like a fail if no one responds, asks “anyone here tonight interested in being a mentor?”

No response, move on.

Hand raised. “Great! What kind of person would you like to mentor?” and then “Where are you at in your career right now?”. “Ok, if anyone here thinks they might be a good fit or knows someone that would be catch Ralph at the break, or see me afterward”.

Next “Anyone looking for a mentor?”

No response, move on.

Hand raised “Cool. What do you need help with?”. “That sounds like coaching, but we can probably find someone to point you in the right direction” or “That sounds like a great fit for mentoring – see me afterward and I’ll get your information, we’ll see if we can find someone that matches. If anyone here tonight can help talk to Tom at the break.”

“Ok, to finish up, if you’re interested in mentoring or being mentored we’ve got some great resource at …..”

End of segment.

I did this at least 8 times, trying to find a good flow. Volunteers came and went during that time so kept getting new scenarios. Got one that was coaching and not mentoring. Another where no one answer. One where the answer went on too long. One where someone really needed a mentor right then (not realizing we were in practice mode). One where I waited for an answer and it felt bad. I think we’ll try some video or audio at the local Chapter so you can see what I mean in better fashion.

I learned a lot from it and think the group did too. Just saying “talk about mentoring” isn’t going to be enough. Feedback was that some groups were small and not too many new attendees, it wouldn’t make sense to do every meeting. Another said that with 80 attendees it would be hard to manage. But many said it would work, or at least they would invest some time to try it. It’s going to take some iterations to test. Will it be effective? If you can do it the whole pitch in one or two or three minutes, isn’t that worth it? Remember I’m saying the win is the sensitizing – matches are just frosting on the cake.

The biggest gap was “what comes next?”. What do I do when someone wants a mentor but I don’t have a candidate, how and where do I escalate? It’s still a gap, but that feels fixable.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “PASS Summit Report #16 (Mentoring)

  1. I think I could actually be a mentor, but don’t know where to start. I’ve picked up so many things over my many years in this business from all sorts of places that I’m never quite sure how to pass on that knowledge to others. So I’d be someone who would consider being a mentor, but would need a bit of assistance getting started. How would I know I was helping and doing the right things for my mentee?

    Sadly, I missed the announcement on Twitter. Perhaps add in an announcement on your blog the next time this comes up?

    I’d also be interested in the definitions that arise for mentor vs. coach. I’m pretty sure I fall on the mentor side, but am not sure where the definitions fall.

    If you do decide to start up the Mentoring Project again, I’d be interested in participating. I think I’d be willing to mentor with a little guidance on what I should be doing.


    1. Peter, you’re right I should have put in on the blog too! Knowing if you’re doing the right thing, that’s hard. I might have a suggestion or two, but it’s part of the learning that the mentor does (and I need a better answer than that). I’ll work on the definitions soon, I could use some feedback on those. Will definitely keep you in mind and will definitely post here if/when we do another round.


  2. I like the idea of lightweight Mentoring, decentralized, grassroots. As opposed to top down, centralized Mentoring experiment (which I thought was a great idea also!). The added advantage of local mentoring is you can meet the person for lunch, drinks, etc. More importantly is educating IT pros in what mentoring really is and is not.
    Let me know if I can help in any way.


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