Learners-to-Leaders — The Dialexa Mentorship Program
By Kelsey Hopson
An important aspect of being a Dialexan means constantly pushing yourself to learn and grow. Due to the diverse backgrounds of our team, there is an abundance of knowledge waiting to be shared- and Dialexa saw the value in that.
We started the mentorship program in Q3 of 2017 and execute it every other quarter to provide a fun, personal, and challenging way to further help our team members in their interdisciplinary endeavors.
Twenty-eight Dialexans have participated in the Learners-to-Leaders program to-date, meaning twenty-eight new lessons, skills, and bonds have been created. Whether it’s an engineer learning some design skills, or our Principal Engineering Lead learning a couple things from one of our first-year Solutions Engineers, both mentors and mentees have certain guidelines and expectations that help both parties get the most out of the program.
First off, a mentor/mentee pair is chosen once both parties accept the pairing and agree on the expectations of their partnership. The pairings are based on skills available to be learned and skills desired to be learned. Over the course of 3 months, the mentors help the mentees complete a project of their choosing.
Basic mentor expectations include:
- Helping the mentee plan out their project:
- Estimate scope according to mentee’s capabilities and a 3 month time frame
- Pointing and teaching mentee toward tools/technologies required for the project
- Help design and plan distinct, achievable tasks or stories that will culminate in a finished project
- Meet with mentee on Fridays during Innovate Time (At Dialexa, we allow our team to use the latter half of Friday’s for personal projects and growth)
- There are no time constraints. Amount of time spent on this project is completely up to mentor/mentee based on amount of help needed and time available
- During meetups, mentee’s utilize the time for check-in and planning sessions
- Pair programming or equivalent activities are done at mentor’s discretion
- Mentor’s help by providing guidance, direction, learning resources, and answering questions
Mentee’s are not only learning about a topic, but also creating something tangible with what they learn. At the end of the 3 months, mentee’s present their project (and what they learned) to the company during a lunch and learn, and tout their new expertise!
Also, topics do not have to be strictly technical/design-focused in nature. Dialexans can still be paired with a mentor if there is a soft skill they are hoping to develop (Personally, I’d love to master flying a drone).
Basic mentee expectations include:
- Determining the topic they would like to learn about
- Coming up with a project or deliverable that will give them an opportunity to learn what they are interested in and showcase what they learned. It’s important that mentees define their personal goals- how proficient do they want to be at the end of the program?
- They need to create a plan or timeline with their mentor
- Estimate and refine the scope of the project and create achievable milestones that will reinforce what’s learned
- Upon meeting with their mentors
- Mentees need to come prepared with questions and actively take notes during the weekly meetings to record progress. Also, it’s important they discuss which resources worked and didn’t
To keep the program on track, after one month, everyone participating in the program gets together and shows each other progress made against the project’s Milestone One Goals. After another month, pairings show progress to each other again and compare it to the project’s Milestone Two Goals. Milestone Three is then the final lunch-n- learn presentation.
Dividing the work like this allows each group to readjust their goals if needed and provides some level of accountability and excitement as everyone could show off what they had been working on periodically throughout the program. Below are some examples of past projects.
Chris Stoddart, Associate Software Engineer, built a system using React, Firebase, Google Calendar API, and MobX that allows Dialexa to reserve meeting rooms. His mentor, Ehis Ojielu, noted that
Chris took initiative and decided to solve a problem he noticed around him. As a mentor, It was fulfilling to brainstorm and see his idea iterate over time.
Once a few small features are finished, we are implementing this system company-wide for a more convenient and user-friendly way to book meetings.
Associate Software Engineer, Sean Ball, was led by fellow UI Engineer, Tim Waite, to build core competencies in front end development using react as a jumping point. Sean pointed out that the mentor program,
is valuable in that it reinforces the knowledge base of the mentor and allows the dissemination of said knowledge among peers, which in the long run helps all of us. It also fosters/bolsters the sense of community within the company as a whole.
Although Tim Waite was a mentor to Sean, he also took on the role of mentee to Luke Gordon, our Principal Software Engineering Lead. Tim used vue.js to create a simple social media app. Tim said it was a really great opportunity to get familiar with vue.js since it’s a framework that helps you be more productive as a developer. Luke knew as his mentor,
instead of trying to do all the features and fancy behaviors, we focused more on the core concepts so he could absorb the new areas of knowledge.
Applications Manager, Chris Miller, mentored Quality Assurance Analyst David Ferguson to create afull stack app with an express app utilizing a Postgres Database and a React frontend. David exclaimed,
working one-on-one with Chris Miller, an exceptional frontend developer, strengthened our relationship and communication with one another, which directly correlated to a stronger working relationship on our billable projects. Using the knowledge that I gained during the program meant that I could add more value as a contributor to my billable work, in that, I’m more knowledgeable to what’s going on “behind the scenes” of the platforms that we’re building. This allows me to ask the right questions, to the right people, at the right time to add more value as a Quality Engineer at Dialexa.
Furthermore, having more technical knowledge allows David to better respond to customer questions or concerns with accurate information, and with less dependency on the development team. Meaning our developers can work with fewer disruptions in their daily routines. David is thankful for the program as the additional technical knowledge empowers him to better estimate timelines while gauging earlier in a timeline whether the project health is good or needing improvement.
When you look at our company as a whole, we are designers, we are engineers, and we are researchers. When you take a microscope to each individual person’s skill set, the learning opportunities are exponential- weekly lunch-n-learns and the mentorship program are a couple of the ways in how we expand one person’s skills to the next. Because no matter what position you hold, you can always learn more from your peers. That’s why at Dialexa, our core values include Hunger, and Creative and Intellectual Freedom- because the status quo is never sacred. And at Dialexa, we choose to grow together.
Originally published at https://by.dialexa.com/learners-to-leaders-the-dialexa-mentorship-program.
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