Scott Nesbitt over at DMN Communications recently posted about mentoring and yes, I am quite flattered that I am mentioned…
I have been a team lead/manager at three different companies, cutting my teeth the first time as the youngest and most inexperienced member of the team at Dr. Solomon’s (the anti-virus people, bought by McAfee) standing in for a couple of months whilst a new department head was hired. Needless to say I didn’t do much mentoring there, as I was still largely learning my trade.
The second position was my best learning experience, with a small company that went through a couple of boom/bust cycles. I learnt a lot about myself, the role of technical communications within a software company and as I was hiring and building a team I spent a fair amount of time mentoring some of the technical writers I worked with.
But not all of them.
I’ve never been afraid of hiring someone with more experience, better knowledge or better skillset. Part of that is acknowledging my own weaknesses, and partly it is knowing that a good team requires the right people with a good range of complementary skills.
That said, I have worked with a few less experience technical writers and I do enjoy that process and the challenges it can bring. As I’ve recently been trying to allude, the considerations our profession requires can quite perplexing, and it’s good to talk through such things as, frequently, I too will learn something from those discussions.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think that being a good mentor is as much about listening and learning as it is about guiding and teaching. I should really run this past my parents as they are both teachers and I’m sure will have a view on this kind of thing.
Today though, the role of mentor is fulfilled in a different way. We all have access (limited or otherwise) to some very very smart people in our industry, and whilst I do bemoan the noise on such places as TechWR, it’s true to say that I’ve learned a lot about what I do (and why I do it) from some of the people on that mailing list.
With that in mind it seems to me that the wisdom of the crowd is the new mentor, and that the next time someone asks us why we bother with blogs, twitter, mailing lists and so on, that that is the answer we give.
After all, everyone needs a mentor.