One of my messages at New Adventures was for everyone to give something back to younger generations of web designers through mentoring. But how exactly should you do it, you may ask?
There has been some discussion around this topic on twitter. Well, not quite discussion per se to be fair but lots of opinion-sharing to say the least. Since part of this conversation started back at NAConf for me I decided to throw a blog post to share how I do it and my thoughts about it.
As a college teacher I'm in a privileged position to recruit new talent. As I was discussing with a couple of speakers in Nottingham, it's easier for me to scout for talent from an early stage and that as brought me lots of emails asking for a reference or suggestion of a special student for a job position.
But apart from that I think what matters is not just the talent you take under your creative roof but how you deal with the person standing besides you (notice I could have said in front of you). In addition to being a mentor early on during classes I also take in interns and participate regularly in local mentoring programs such as Startup Pirates to which I have the honour of being invited since edition 1. So what is my process after getting in touch with so much raw talent?
Ever since freelancing work started to become to much for me to handle I've decided to take interns/apprentices to help on some projects here at TPWD.
A couple of speakers at NAConf were sharing their thoughts on this and their reaction seemed to be one of almost fear to let a new person do any client work at all. Which is something I understand in their case since their brand is their own personal work. It's not that easy to allow someone to mess with such a personal style or technique to whatever it is you do. On the other hand it's going to be very difficult for that new person to learn anything at all if they don't get their hands dirty. And that's something that is very hard to teach at school.
Much like what Andy Clark mentioned in his post, I personally believe that mentoring a person during a small project can be a defining experience for the beginner designer. In such a way that it might just teach him about 80% of what they need to know when it comes to dealing with a client’s expectations. And that's what they are here for! To absorb, to grow but also to learn enough to teach us something back! To form their own opinions on things and to share those with us in what becomes a healthy professional relation.
It's also very important to read about the oposite point of view from a student that had applied for the job mentioned on this post. It's equally as important to consider a person's expectations on this in order to get a working relation to work out right.
I try not to be afraid of what could happen if I gave total creative control to an apprentice. Always watching but trying to let them show what they’re worth. I believe that's the only way people can only do that, by realising themselves how much pivoting does it take to get something going forward.
When I take someone in I know I have to take some risks. It's always my intention to try to make them a working partner in the long term rather than using their labour hours to run tasks and errands for me. That's not mentoring at all. There's no real benefit for me or for them.
Problems and brief solutions
There are a lot of pitfals that might arise in your own conditions. My initial approach is to get a newbie started with a project that is suited for their skills (as much as possible). Either in terms of complexity, area of action or responsibility. From then it's important to get an apprentice to work himself into the team. To learn his place by earning it with great ideas and great solutions to the team’s individual or collective problems. That's how he's going to earn his place of trust among the rest of the team.
When it comes to tackle specific nuances such as telling if the person is able to manage a whole project by himself or to converse with a client about project decisions, I try to gradually pass them to the apprentice as well. I also try to open the level of responsabilities of this new person to the client. I keep all cards on the table to ensure that some responsability is absorbed by the apprentice. I may do all the talk at first but outside the meeting room he knows that I'm counting on him. He's part of the team and he's there not to be teached by me but to learn from life experiences I throw at him.
There's a whole lot more to this topic than what I just described. The devil's in the details and so if you have any specific question about my process of taking in apprentices please be at ease to tweet me