A guest post by Jennifer Beecher, Mentor.
When I first read about the Geekettes Mentorship Program I was extremely excited and immediately wanted to be a part of it. Much to my annoyance I was exactly one day too late, so when I saw a post on Facebook that there would be a second round I signed up immediately.
I’ve been involved in coaching and training people since I was 16 and I’ve spent about 4 years working as a Product Manager so I figured those would be areas I could help other women in. Nevertheless, when I actually filled out the sign-up form I had a classic moment of Imposter Syndrome: What if I can’t answer any of her questions? What if I end up being completely unhelpful and wasting my mentees time? What if she realizes I’m, like, not that smart and all that?
You’re reading this blog post, so I obviously did sign up in the end, and was matched to my wonderful mentee in the area of Product Management, Emmi. Our first Skype chat already boded well - we clicked and her expectations of what she wanted to get out of the program seemed like something I could help with. We ended up meeting every other week, very consistently for the first few months and I can tell you that this mentoring has been more valuable and rewarding to me than I expected in my wildest dream. I knew it’d be awesome but I had no idea it would give me so much insight into myself, a much clearer view of where I want to be in my life, and be so, so much fun at the same time.
So here are my 6 reasons why being a mentor was the best thing I did in 2013:
1. It helped me think differently
Product Management is an area that is a bit of a weird mix of skills and has very little formal education. Most people I know started off as either engineers or designers and then started moving towards the cross-section of business, tech and design that is being a Product Manager for an app or a service.
Personally, I have a degree in Business IT, and I worked as an engineer in agile teams for 5 years, so I’ve got those parts covered. Additionally I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing designers over the past years who generously shared their amazing brains with me and gave me the basics of design process and thinking. Finally, I’ve been teaching for ages and have recently started doing a coaching qualification, plus I love reading books about how humans function.
All of these things help with Product Management but it’s all a big potpourri of influences - until I started having to explain to Emmi how all of these things come together in my work. All of a sudden, a whole framework and process of how I design products, solve problems and make decisions started to appear in my head. Every time Emmi and I focused on a topic of interest to her added polish and refinement, and aspects I hadn’t considered before triggered by our conversations.
Having to explain and rationalize all these nuances things that go into my daily work gave me a new level of abstraction and insight that is incredibly valuable. The intense conversations about specific aspects were great for uncovering some of my blind spots and helped me become more well-rounded as a Product Manager.
2. A whole new level of clarity
I joined SoundCloud in May as a Product Manager, bringing in a bit more than 3 years of Product Management experience. Joining a new company is always exciting, new and can bring you out of your comfort zone. The tools and processes you’re used to and that gave you solid ground to work from may not be there.
Mentoring Emmi while I was going through this transition was very helpful as it made me consider the main values and objectives I care about in my work. It also helped me realize that I am now at a stage where I really know what I’m doing, from the fundamentals to the details. I have strong opinions (just ask my colleagues...) and preferences for how I want to work and I have the confidence to defend them. Seeing that I was able to advise Emmi and help her wasn’t just rewarding but also helped quiet down the insecure 6-year old in me causing imposter syndrome way too often.
I am now much more aware of what I care about in my work, what’s important to me and what I want to put energy into fighting for. I have a clearer picture of where I’d like to be in a year and I am a lot more confident in my own skills.
3. Red Bull has nothing on mentoring
Emmi and I usually met on Monday evenings for dinner somewhere, discussing and taking notes. We later switched to her office for more hands-on and whiteboard-supported sessions, ordering in food and munching away while drawing diagrams, processes, ideas and so forth.
I had some long and rough days a few times before our mentoring dates in the evening, but every time we met I not only enjoyed the intense discussions but came out of the session feeling completely energized.
Seeing how together we managed to create a larger tool kit for Emmi for dealing with tricky situations, how quickly she applied many of the tricks I suggested (no matter how far out of her comfort zone that sometimes brought her) and how enthusiastic she was about the progress she made in all areas from communication to process was incredibly rewarding and always the highlight of my day.
4. I’ve got allies
What I appreciated most about our mentoring relationship is that we really turned into allies. I rooted for her when she told me about tricky situations coming up and we prepared for them, she helped me vent when I had a bad day at work. Especially being a woman in tech having someone who’s got your back is very helpful. Like Emmi mentioned in her blog post I can only encourage you to start finding allies in your own company. Having someone to vent to, get advice from or simply have a different kind of conversation with over a glass of wine is awesome. Of course this really depends on how you’re matched with a mentee, so I’m even more grateful to have not just found a mentee, but also a friend and ally.
5. Networking is inevitable
I’m an introvert by nature. Speaking to random people and “doing the networking thing” is really not something I enjoy and in my head it evokes images of washing machine salesmen and people in suits engaging in a bullshit bingo contest (synergy! ecosystem!).
Being part of the Geekettes Mentorship Program has taught me what networking looks like when it’s done really well. You get to go to a monthly meetup with great speakers on interesting topics. The casual conversations you have with other ladies are incredibly inspiring, lots of fun and you might just end up meeting someone for coffee because you click really well and might be able to pick each other’s brains about something you both care about.
6. It’s absolutely worth the time
You could probably tell by the way I wrote this blog post that I enjoyed being part of this but it’s worth spelling out explicitly. Being a mentor is so much fun and you get to meet great people. Yes, you’re investing some time, but it’s so worth it. Without the Geekettes Mentorship Program I would not be where I am today, with the clarity of what I know, how I work, what I care about and where I want to go. In addition I’ve met dozens of amazing people and had as many inspiring conversations. Definitely the best thing I’ve done in 2013.
Thank you so much Berlin Geekettes for making this happen, Denise for matching us up so well, and last but not least thank you Emmi for being the kick-ass amazing person you are and the best mentee I could have imagined!