My foray into Mentorship — Part 1/2: How I got into Mentorship
Feel free to skip to part 2 if you don’t particularly care about how I first got into mentorship in the design community and want to read about my learnings.
Late 2019, an inciting incident
Like many others around the world, I had some pretty exciting plans lined up for early 2020. My partner and I had sold our car, moved out and signed a lease starting in February 2020 in Shanghai. I was working as a product designer on a complex financial modelling product and after months of negotiation and planning, I had managed to convince them to let me work a flexible schedule from the other side of the globe.
What ended up unfolding was not what we expected, and instead spending my days digital-nomading in any one of Shanghai’s 50+ WeWork offices, I found myself working remotely from my in-laws lovely basement with copious amounts of free time.
Discovering more Design Communities
Due to how events played out, I found myself stuck at “home” with so much free time. I ended up coming across Design Buddies, a Discord design community that started up as the world worked their way through the first wave of quarantines. At this point, I had been part of many IRL & Slack-based communities such as DesignX (based in Toronto), but I was surprised to find Design Buddies filling a slightly different need with a much more casual and open community.
While Discord and Slack are very similar in functionality, the general target demographic of Discord led to a rapidly-growing, more-engaged design community that skewed younger. For example, in many Slack communities, people used their real name and photo which inadvertently ends up connecting the content they share with their whole LinkedIn career history. There was an underlying incentive to “appear smart” so the conversations felt more robotic and always served a purpose. I viewed my time in these communities more as “professional networking” than as leisure.
Discord, on the other hand started as a product for gamers. Most people used a nickname and a fun graphic display picture. In a Discord design community, it felt natural to discuss hobbies in addition to asking design-related questions. Discord also did not have a cap on the number of posts before enforcing a paid plan, so the communities could scale to be larger than Slack.
With all my newfound time, I found myself getting really engaged in the community, and eventually finding many groups of people (friends!) I could talk to about personal things too such as restaurant recommendations, games to play, and exchanging photos of cute pets. They just all happened to be in the design industry as well.
Dipping my toe into mentorship
Just because I was engaged in the community, I ended up participating in the first wave of “mentors” in Design Buddies as my ~5 years of work experience at that point was enough to qualify as someone who knows a bit of what it is like working in design. My confidence in being a mentor was pretty low, but the stakes were also not sky-high as it was still a very small initiative at the time. We had a special channel for Mentors in Design Buddies where I could go to get advice or maybe a second opinion on things I wasn’t quite confident in.
It was later in 2020 when another community called ADPList had started exploring the world of mentorship, something that Design Buddies… was building up a the the same time.
To those who are not aware, ADPList (Amazing Design People List) was originally just an Airtable list of designers who were laid off due to the uncertainties around the pandemic. They ended up pivoting to the mentorship space and partnered with the mentorship initiative at Design Buddies. As a result, a large cohort of us from Design Buddies were migrated over to the budding ADPList platform.
It was honestly pretty cool seeing myself on the home page with a shiny “in partnership with Design Buddies” tag.
While my path into mentorship was one of being in the “right place at the right time”, I really threw myself into this new role in 2021. I kept a few slots open on my calendar almost every week and they filled up. There were less than a dozen Canada-based designers on the platform at the time so I had a steady stream of bookings.
In early 2021, ADPList was really pushing the portfolio-review aspect of mentorship, so I would say the majority of people I chatted with were people who were:
1.) Actively seeking a job in UX (~70%)
2.) Pivoting into the UX industry and creating a portfolio to apply to jobs (~20%)
3.) Considering pivoting into UX who had questions (~10%)
In that first year of this experience, I ended up talking to over 100 people in a mentorship capacity and reviewed countless portfolios. Some people just wanted to chat and have a sounding board to bounce ideas off of, while others wanted me to conduct mock interviews for practice. Speaking to so many people did wonders for my professional development.
I will share more on the the experience of how I went from “why would anyone want my advice!?” to “I believe some people might find value in my advice” in Part 2/2 — What I learned from volunteering for 100+ free mentorship sessions in 2021.