Interview with Maya Malakova : Mentoring, Coaching & Confidence
Since joining Redgate as a Software Engineer in 2017, Maya has progressed to Tech Lead, leading engineering teams working on our Database DevOps products and more recently SQL Monitor. In July 2021, Maya reached out to me, a Redgate Coach, to explore a mentoring relationship. This came to an end earlier this year, so I caught up with Maya to share her story and reflect on the experience.
Chris: So Maya, how did it all start?
Maya: I was looking for opportunity to find a mentor that is right for me, at the right time for me and it was mentioned in my Personal Development Plan (PDP). I felt I was past the initial part of the Tech Lead role where everything seems confusing and overwhelming, but at the same time I saw a lot of room for improvement, and I had a clear idea of things I wanted to be better at.
Then I don’t remember where, maybe Slack, or on a call, you mentioned you were available to be a mentor, and I thought that you are the right person for me as we had worked together on various occasions. I knew that I would feel safe with you and there are things I could learn from you. So, I contacted you and you said yes and that’s how it started!
How did you feel embarking on this mentoring?
At the start I felt pretty comfortable because I knew you. There were some conversations where I felt vulnerable or a bit awkward cause there was a moment of silence, but I felt safe all of the time. Even when I talked about how I made a mistake in work or felt inadequate in some moments, we had established that trust. I think it would have been more difficult if I had started the mentoring relationship with somebody I had very little experience working with. It would take some time to build that trust.
I think if there was fear at the beginning, it was because I didn’t know how to approach this, how to start with it. It wasn’t very clear to what extent I was leading the sessions, but we figured it out naturally. It was partly me, partly you.
From your perspective, how did it work? What was the format of it etc…?
We first had this kick off session that I mentioned, where we agreed the frequency that worked for us was a 1-hour session every 2 weeks. In that first kick off session we also set some rules and constraints. One example of that is that for me with my situation as a parent with a young child it’s difficult to spend time outside of 10% time for learning activities. This and other constraints set expectations between the two of us.
We also explored some areas I wanted to improve and started some conversations where we drilled into these areas. A lot of it was being asked the right questions, which helped explore the root causes of things. Often, I would commit to some actions, and we would check on the next session how these were going.
I think the most valuable part of the process were the conversations we had on our fortnightly sessions. Sometimes I would bring challenges that came up from my role, and that would be the topic of our fortnightly catchup.
After a few sessions, we did a self-assessment, like the one we do for PDPs, which then fed into my PDP with Priya, my manager.
What did mentoring give you in addition to what your manager could give you?
It was focused on myself rather than on the team delivery. While Priya is able to help me with my personal development, separating the two allowed myself and Priya to focus on the team, and team delivery. The mentoring sessions were focused on myself, on me growing.
I would talk about the sessions to Priya from time to time. Although I wouldn’t go into details on what we were talking about, I would mention that if, for example, I was having a problem in the team that I would get help from you in our next catchup.
The journey started as a very clear mentoring relationship, but evolved to a coaching one — what noticeably changed for you?
Gradually I started bringing more of the topics and doing more of the talking, especially in the last few sessions. You were very much resisting the urge to say things, you were just asking me questions giving me lots of time to think. I think it was a gradual transition.
At the start, I definitely needed you to be more in charge of things as I didn’t know how these things worked. I needed more guidance to begin with, but as it went on, I knew the process and became more comfortable so it was easier to be given a question and not be rushed to be given an answer. I may not have always had the answer, but the thinking process was very valuable.
Over this entire process, what have you taken away from it?
Something that formed in my head more recently is that you need to have the right combination of people at the right time, and I appreciated that I’ve always felt this pressure when I’m asked a question that I should come with some smart answer, or I should commit to some action that will solve the problem. That’s not it. Even if you start thinking about it and in the moment can’t come with anything useful, just the spark in your head can give roots in two weeks which is the important thing.
In both ways as a coachee and as a coach in my daily life as a Tech Lead, I have appreciation about asking the right questions, giving space, or taking the space to start this thinking.
Our regular conversations improved my confidence. I’ve learnt a lot over the time and have become a better Tech Lead, being more confident which makes me make a statement without mumbling it or doubting myself. It definitely helps when leading people, if you believe in yourself.
In general, I find myself reflecting on experiences rather than jumping into judging myself. For example, let’s say a situation where I realise that I wasn’t great, I didn’t do the best thing possible; instead of beating myself up, saying you are rubbish at this, I now ask myself “what could be better here”, “why didn’t this work”, being a bit more reflective.
What would you say to anyone thinking of reaching out to a coach?
You don’t need to rush it. Think about who are the people you would like to work with in such a relationship, maybe just reach out and check with them or watch out for them to become available and do it! It can start very casually, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and see how it goes.