Oops! Something went sideways.

Looks like the styling got goofed up. Sorry about that, unless it's what you wanted. If this isn't what you were looking for, try force refreshing your page. You can do that by pressing Shift + F5, or holding Shift and clicking on the "reload" icon. (It's the weird circle arrow thing "⟳" just above this page, usually next to where it says https://blog.unitedheroes.net...)

isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Mentoring Sucks

Tech people: Mentoring sucks, it’s sucked for a while, and will probably continue to suck.

First off, let me start with a little story.

i generally start my day early. Back when offices were a thing, i’d often show up early enough that the folk who keep things running would still be there. One morning i’m working away while someone was on a ladder repairing an air-conditioning duct. He’s up there a while, comes down, and walks away. A few minutes later, he comes back with someone who is definitely his senior. Senior goes up the ladder checks a few things and comes down. Senior tells Junior that he did a good job, but there was one tricky thing that he missed, then explained what it was. Junior starts peppering Senior with all sorts of questions like “how do you check for that?” and “is there a tool or technique i can use to spot for that in the future?”. The back and forth go on for a while, before Junior and Senior collect the tools and head off.

Why, yes, that should sound familiar. Basically it was the HVAC equivalent of a code review. It wasn’t judgemental. Nobody yelled or complained. It was clear, focused and deliberate because it was something that industry has built in for decades. Heck, you could argue that it’s something that the other trade industries have had for centuries. It’s also something that Tech just recently figured out was a good idea, and we are still generally terrible at it.

In my professional life of close to 35 years i think i’ve only really had one real mentor. Everywhere else i went through the usual horrible interview process, balanced a binary tree moving at some fraction of the speed of light on a whiteboard, got hired, and was then left to either sink or swim. That’s an absolutely terrible work environment. It’s like being proud of the fact that you work in squalor and know just how to sleep so the rats don’t bite anything critical. i’ve not had a whole lot of great mentoring role models to pick from. Chances are, neither have you.

Granted, i have a theory about that. Companies don’t care. Think about how many engineering managers you know that got to that position because they’d either been around longer than most or because the company was hoping that they would some how magically make mini versions of themselves. Then, either the new manager burns out and leaves, or the people under them burn out and leave. The company doesn’t care because they’ll just repeat the cycle and back-fill with (preferably) cheaper folk. (i also have a theory that companies love Imposter Syndrome because it’s a lovely boat anchor that makes you put up with crap you wouldn’t otherwise, but i’ll leave that for another screed.)

And we engineers put up with it because we have no idea how to change it or that things could be better. Surprise! You can change it. Things could be better.

Your boss doesn’t have to be your mentor. Honestly, your boss probably shouldn’t be your mentor. They sign your paycheck and are judged on your performance. They have a bias and it’s probably not in your favor.

A good mentor not only provides good technical insight, but also improves you, the holistic you. Hell, it’s why i’m writing this up. If you’re a better person, i don’t have to clean up the damage you did to the person i hire which lets me spend more time on things that matter, like making that new hire more effective and productive so that we can get more done. Likewise, i can start learning new things from that person since mentoring is a two way thing.

Awesome! So what’s the solution? Hell if i know.

i just told you that i’m a product of terrible or non-existent mentoring. i have spent the past year or so trying to work out what might work. i plan on sharing what works and what doesn’t here because this is also my mental dumping ground.

i will say that not everyone is cut out to be a mentor, but that just means that you’re missing a required skill. Senior+ devs need to be mentoring younger devs. This means having regular discussions with them where your compassionate and empathetic. You were also dumb and ignorant, so it’s not their fault. If you struggled with something, it’s not a badge of honor, it’s a system failure. Fix it. Part of your job is making junior devs into peers. If you’re not doing that, you’re a crap engineer. You’re basically a glorified calculator and can be replaced just as easily.

But, yeah, if y’all have ideas, the comments are open.

:: Voice of Authority

i have a cheat code in video meetings (well, honestly, any meeting, but definitely true in video meetings).

First off, a bit of neuroscience. You have a bias, and it’s a weird, kinda silly one. It’s called Enclothed Cognition, and basically it works out to how you present yourself can lead to changes in how much authority people give you. (i liked to a fun podcast episode about it and i do encourage you to listen to it.) Basically, if i give you a white linen jacket to wear and refer to it as medical garb, most people will lend you more credibility than if i had you wear the same jacket and presented it as an artist’s smock.

To that end, i tend to wear button down oxford style shirts when i have my camera on, but i’ve discovered it’s more than that. i also wear a wired headset with a surprisingly good microphone, that i run through a noise suppressor so that my voice quality is very clean. i also balance my mic levels and have recorded and listened to my own voice enough to have even pacing, clear enunciation and diction that can be understood by non-native speakers. i try my best to look, act, and sound professional. In short, i’ve developed a Voice of Authority.

It’s an absolutely horrible hack. It’s why newscasters all sound the same. It’s a skill that a lot of folk might recognize as “code switching“, and i’m doing it.

Why do i do it? Well, for one, folk often cede control of the meeting to me, which lets me set agenda and make sure that folks are heard and present their ideas.

  1. i can do things like when folk are doing introductions, i can start, and then hand off to someone so that folks aren’t wondering if they should say something.
  2. i can keep a list of folk who’ve not said anything in the meeting and make sure that they get an opportunity to speak.
  3. i can keep folk on topic so that we’re not wasting time.
  4. And most importantly, i can ensure that the goal of the meeting is addressed so that we can stop having the meeting and i can go back to blissful quiet.

(Hey, fellow introverts! Hate meetings? Want them over faster? Gain control quickly so you can do exactly that.)

Granted, i don’t always do that. i’m more than happy to let someone more qualified or needed to run a meeting. If i think that someone is struggling or feeling overwhelmed, i’ll send them a note via a back channel and ask if they want help, and then make damn sure to defer to them as much as possible. They’re still in charge, i’m just there to keep things on track as long as they need me.

i honestly suggest that you try doing it yourself. Wear a headset with a boom mic instead of using your computer’s crappy built-in microphone. Consider getting foam wind screens to cut down on breathing noises. Use noise filters to limit outside sounds. Record and then listen to yourself. Pretend you got hired by NPR to read the news or give a report about soy futures. Listening requires effort, and folk can tire quickly if they have to struggle to understand you. Even if English is not your first language, getting a quality audio setup can make a HUGE difference. Also, don’t try to sound like an American from the Mid Atlantic region. Speak slowly, clearly, and with authority and no matter what your dialect, you’ll command attention.

And now, let’s go to Bob with the Sky-13 traffic…

(Sorry, habit.)

Blogs of note
personal Christopher Conlin USMC Henriette's Herbal Blog My Mastodon musings Where have all the good blogs gone?
geek ultramookie

Powered by WordPress
Hosted on Dreamhost.