Podcast audio transcript

DrupalEasy Podcast S14E2 - Alison Jo McCauley - How to be a mentor

Audio transcript

[0:00] Music.

[0:08] Hey, now welcome back to the drupal Easy podcast, This is season 14, episode two.

Today I'll be talking with Allison mccauley from Cornell University about how to be a mentor.

Allison has been a mentor at drupal events around the country and is one of drupal eases, paid mentors for our clients.

We do provide professional mentoring services for organizations to help junior developers advance before we get to the interview, Let me tell you about drupal easies long form training courses.

If you listen to episode one of this season, you heard all about professional model development, our newest long form training course, that's 90 hours of curriculum over 15 weeks, you can learn more about that at drupal,

dot com slash p m D.

But I also want to mention our beginner focused class which is now unbelievably in its 12th year and that is drupal career online that runs 12 weeks, we meet twice a week and there's office hours thrown in there as well,

that class begins on february 13th and if you're interested in that but you want to learn a little bit more then by all means join one of our upcoming free,

one hour taste of drupal webinars so you can sign up for that and learn all about drupal career online at drupal easy dot com slash D C.

O. For drupal career online.

[1:37] Hello Allison and welcome to the drupal Easy podcast, how are you today.

Thank you. Hello Mike, I am doing fine, I'm doing fine, how are you?

I'm pretty good. So let me start off like, so what do you do day to day for drupal because as cool as it would be to be like a full time mentor for drupal and drupal people, I don't think that's,

I don't think anyone has that job yet, so what's your kind of day to day gig?

It would be cool. I am a drupal developer at Cornell University, I work for Central I. T. And we do Cornell Central I. T. And we do.

[2:13] It's a custom development team, we build websites and web applications for various units around the university.

So but my, you know, I work in drupal all the time.

So that's what I do at Cornell. So would you classify yourself as you know, front end, back end site builder, project manager like what or just a little bit of everything, how would you, what bucket would you put yourself in?

I consider myself, Yeah, I consider myself site building and back end.

I do a lot of twig which gets into front end, but I'm definitely not, you know, client side programmer with javascript and CSS and things like that,

but I do like working in twigs, so that's probably the big overlap but and I'm also not, you know, high level custom module developer either.

So it's it's I'd say site builder slash back end, I think there's some front end in there as well, I think you can probably add that as well.

Yeah, I think if I had to pick from a list, I often pick full stack, I guess, I think that's what people call those things, but it's blurry, you know, it's blurry.

Yeah, so knowing that you participate at drupal events as a mentor, so how did that come about? Like what was the first year first foray into mentoring other drupal folk.

[3:37] My first foray into mentoring was with the drupal associations discovered? drupal program and I found out about that on drupal on drupal slack.

So that was uh yeah it was, it was last fall, yeah, so that's when I got, I found out about it on drupal slack.

Um, and from there, so that was the first time I've done any mentoring.

And then from there I was offered the job to be a mentor through drupal easy to do that as a paid position, which was just the coolest thing I've ever heard, the idea of being paid to do that.

And I loved the fact that a company was.

[4:24] Investing in their junior developers like this, not just to send them to training, but then also to,

invest in them through providing mentors for them and that, I mean that seemed so special and cool and important and then also it takes some of the,

I love that it also acknowledged that senior developers aren't gonna, there's only so much of their time, they're gonna be able to put into mentoring junior developers and still,

also do development work, so it just seems like just a wonderful program all around, I love the idea of being a part of it, so,

and to be paid, I mean it just just really, really cool and then after that I also, I did my, for the first time, I've done mentoring,

at a conference, I got to do that at drupal Con in Portland this past year, I've gone to mentored contribution several years ago at drupal Con as a, as a mentee, I made my first,

contribution to drupal through that, um but this year was the first time I had been a mentor at drupal Con. It was it was really awesome, I loved it.

[5:31] So I know that as we were prepping for this, um and I shared a google doc with you with some potential questions. You gave me some feedback. Something along the lines that you weren't crazy about lists.

Yeah, like a top three. This Yeah, which,

you know, I said that's fantastic, but we're still doing it because, you know, I think it's cool and,

you know, I think you can handle it anyway, so I'm gonna limit them, but,

so let's not say, I won't say top three, but like what are let's say, what are some of the primary skills that a mentor should have thinking,

I see the little beach ball spinner.

[6:15] No, on my, on my computer, it's just a, it's an hour class.

Uh no, I don't even know if it is anymore, I think everything just stops uh let me ask you a different way and maybe this will, this will trigger um something,

when you are talking to people at like a drupal event or well that's let's limit to a drupal event.

Is there anything that you might notice in someone that said, wow, that person to make a really good mentor.

So certainly listening and being the kind of listener who,

listens to the entirety of what someone says um,

and lets it all sink in and process what they said,

and think, you know, think about, think about the entirety of what they said and even doing some, you know, stuff I learned in an empathetic listening class, you know, saying some stuff,

back to them, that kind of a thing that kind of really active listening, making sure that your.

[7:17] On the same page with them or finding out if you're not on the same page with them or what they're trying to describe, that's that's really important.

I think I agree with that. Well, I know I agree with that because I'm a big believer that a lot of mentoring isn't necessarily conveying technical information.

Yeah, but rather, you know, providing confidence to the user. Sure. Yeah.

Right. So, so if there is no one form of mentoring might be, as you said, listening, taking it all in and then just acknowledging that yeah, what you're thinking is correct.

That's a great way of doing it off you go.

And so there's not, there's very little technical information exchanged, but that bit of confidence, just someone knowing, okay, I'm not doing something crazy here.

I'm I'm going about this right away. That's that's a pretty big deal.

I think yeah, I think it's also important to.

[8:15] To listen to everything that they're saying so that so that you really are understanding what they're going for because sometimes when someone starts explaining something to you think it's going to be about one thing and it ends up being about another.

So especially when you're feeling energetic and excited, it's really natural to just like to already your wheels are spinning and maybe you even,

like totally unintentionally interrupt somebody or anything, but even if you don't,

you might your wheels might start spinning even if even if they're still talking and it's it's like really important to hear,

everything they say and and make sure that you're fully understanding what they're going for and what they're working on, or enough to be able to have a conversation with them about it, right? Yeah.

And to convey back to that person that.

That, you know, a subset of that information to to let them know that yes, I have been listening, I do hear what you're saying and so that the person that you're,

that you're mentoring actually has a level of comfort that okay Allison is is, you know, she gets what I'm trying to say.

[9:23] The conversation go from there.

So one thing that I see um and I've been guilty of in the past for sure is when, when I'm in a mentoring situation, whether it's like a one on one thing,

you know, uh you know with a client or with a with a developer or with a student,

um or at a community event is providing too much information or too much hand holding and rather than mentoring it kind of crosses over into teaching and.

[9:54] Even further than that like doing it for the person.

So so how do you judge like where that line is? Like how where's the sweet spot for a mentor?

Oh it's so hard and I definitely definitely go into that sometimes definitely slip into teaching sometimes.

Uh you know, some of that just comes with practice for for me anyway, figure, you know, trying to think about how a session went after the fact and thinking about um yeah just sort of,

reviewing it in my head.

So something that we do as drupal mentors it is,

we keep notes together all of the different mentors contribute to the shared,

notes, documents that are really helpful, but when I'm doing those notes, it certainly helps me, you know revisit the way that the session went and what we covered and and how it how we went from one thing to another and the way that.

How much I was talking, how much they were talking.

Uh, and you know, did I all of that together.

So that that's that process is helpful to me to to think about how, how I handled each thing and.

[11:07] Whether, yeah, just just just think it through to to reflect on it. It helps me reflect on the session.

So that's, you know, practice definitely. And practice definitely helps with that, I would say.

Simply having it in your head to think about teaching versus mentoring.

Having that, having that in your mind in itself is useful so that when you are reflecting on a session that, you know, you're taking that into consideration.

[11:37] I would say that the toughest times to not slip into teaching or when it's a topic that the mentee is just less skilled with less knowledgeable about.

So it that's that's when it can get tricky and honestly sometimes sessions end up being a little Tichy and and just try to be mindful about it to not let it,

get completely teaching and like a full on lesson, but um sometimes some teaching happens,

uh but but it's I guess ideally you end up sharing with people,

you help them find the tools to learn what they need to learn to get, you know, to get a task done to to learn to do a thing.

[12:25] And even better how to find those tools themselves.

So I know I do and I see other mentors too, you know, helping these mentees with Googling, like literally what would I search for in this case or what would you search for in this case?

And let's let's see what those results look like, and let's see here are some other terms that are helpful to include in your google search if you're looking for whatever it is.

Yeah, that's a big one I think is how to find stuff, right, how to find stuff.

All right, so let's take a step back, let's say um,

let's kind of put ourselves in the shoes of a new a new mentor with a new mentee, um you know, they're gonna start meeting, like how do you number one? What's a good way to start?

[13:19] Like when you're when you're when you're introduced to someone that let's say you're going to mentor, like what's a good way to start and then also how and that's probably gonna be different depending depending on the context, but who should kind of be at the steering wheel of that?

Who should be kind of dictating the maybe not dictating, but you know, driving either the pace or the topics or just the conversation in your opinion?

Is that more of a Something that mentor should be doing? Or should the mentor be more reactive than proactive?

And I asked 14 questions in there, so just I'll just pick the ones I want to answer. No?

Part of it is, you're just starting a new relationship with someone as two people.

So at the beginning you're just getting to know them and they're getting to know you something I really liked.

That meant he did was to ask me what my strengths were, what,

I really like doing in, you know, the drupal universe, uh that kind of thing, so that they had an idea of the kinds of topics to bring to our sessions, which which gets to another one of your questions there,

I think it's really great when a mentee brings topics or, you know, a specific task or roadblock or project or whatever to the session, I think that that can work really well in a different context.

[14:46] It can also be connected to, you know, lessons or something that,

the mentee is going through, that's the way it was discovered, drupal there'd be, they'd be at a certain part of the training program as mentors, we were there to supplement that or to just Yeah, to complement that,

um at drupal con it was, you know, we had some,

issues, some drupal some issues on drupal dot org that we were gonna either either people were gonna bring issues that they were interested in working on or we'd have some ready to go to work with people on, you know, that was a contribution,

we were contribution mentors, so it's definitely helpful to have some specific stuff to work on and then in the context, I think you can decide,

what makes more more sense, as far as who brings that specific stuff to the session, Right?

I don't think there's a hard and fast rule for this.

I know personally, I like it when the person I'm mentoring has a challenge that they're facing.

A problem to solve, so to speak, right, and that doesn't mean that.

[15:57] You know, we sit down, they're telling me the challenge and I we immediately like dive into it, but it provides kind of the mission for the meeting, right?

Like I want to get this person, it doesn't necessarily mean this part is important, I think it doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to solve the problem in during the meeting.

Um a lot of times for me when mentoring, I just want to get the person unstuck or get them moving in the right direction.

[16:30] So that's you know, I think that's a very, I've had success with that, let me put it that way.

But on the other hand, I also think that if you're regularly meeting with someone as a mentor and you start with the meeting and the mentee, you know, starts things off say well I don't really have a whole lot going on this week,

I think there's plenty of opportunities for the mentor to just,

start asking general questions and kind of like,

you know, step back from a tree and start looking at the forest a little bit,

and ask some of the questions like you just mentioned about, you know what that meant, he was asking you about, like you know what what what aspects of drupal you know, are your strengths or weaknesses or is there something you have a passionate about that, you'd like to learn more about and things like that.

So um I actually like the idea of of of some type of mission that has to be, you know, that has a goal.

Yeah, I think that's I like the idea of the goal.

I like the idea of shooting to help them be unstuck if they bring a problem to the session. I think that's that's a great way to think about it, right?

And I actually think it's a,

it's a healthy way to go about it, like I don't want to think about, I have to fix this for them, like that's the trap right there, The mentors job is not to solve all the problems.

[17:57] The mentors job I think, and it's, you know, I could replace the word mentor with, with, you know, teacher, you know, when I'm, when I'm doing trainings is, You know, it's 50% technical and 50% building confidence.

Yeah, no, yeah, but yeah, I agree with that and it's really hard to have confidence when you're new at something and the crazy thing is you might technically know what you're doing,

but you don't know if it's the right way to do it,

yep, yep, so let's talk about real quick, so long term mentoring, you know, maybe like weekly bi weekly meeting, something like that versus like a drupal effect, where it's one day, you know, once or twice a year,

um like how do you approach, you know, how do you approach each of those kind of, the really short term versus the really long term, are there advantages to one or the other?

I'm sure there's disadvantages to one or the other kind of, what's your, what's your big picture on that stuff?

So the being a, being a contribution mentor,

at a drupal event, that's, that's the kind of mentoring I've done, that's the short term, that's definitely the cool thing is getting someone over the hurdle of never having contributed to having contributed.

[19:13] And that is amazing for everyone, I mean, it feels great, it generally feels great for them, You can see it and feel it in the moment.

It's really cool and it's a pretty daunting thing to dive into.

So being there to work with people one on one or in small groups.

That's just, it's so fun and it feels great.

That's so so, another awesome thing about it is that if,

there's a chance that you'll end up working with,

numerous people, you know, over the course of 1 to 2 days and that's really cool uh that it's not always like that, you know, maybe you end up working with one person for the entire afternoon and that's also,

awesome, but that's still pretty short term, but either, you know, so maybe you end up, I I got really lucky at Portland's this year, someone who came in,

to learn how to contribute on the first day, came back and was a mentor the next day, and that was just the coolest possible thing to happen, you know?

Uh So that was that was really awesome, that's yeah, can't really get any better than that.

[20:25] And then how how about long term.

[20:28] Yeah for long term you know getting really building a relationship with someone or you know or several people is is really valuable as you know for me and hopefully for them,

getting to work on things for you know over the course of time, getting to revisit topics and,

you know strengthen skills, it was really neat when I've, it was neat the times that I've gotten to have be part of,

conversations about people picking you know what kind of a path they want to take,

professionally that's really really neat and yeah getting to be part of that conversation with them while they're working through their thoughts about it and talking about different aspects of these things.

I think the long term type of mentoring really makes me a much better short term uh not so much the other way around for some reason.

[21:28] At least in my yeah but I think just the,

just the patients that you need um as well as the the like get the goal should be to get someone unstuck not to do it for them.

[21:46] Uh huh and you know I can see that that's yeah so I think that for me it makes it makes short term like the drupal con events a lot more fulfilling for me I think that's interesting so if you could,

you know that's interesting, I hadn't thought of that.

Yeah for yeah I'm just thinking ahead if you want to agree with me we can you can agree with me all you want.

Yeah no I don't disagree with that when I'm thinking about it, it also just it's also just more practice to be a mentor.

So like you know doing it long term and you're doing it a whole lot over the course of time and learning more about yourself and and mentoring and working with different people and all of that.

So that that's also so that's that's what comes to mind for me, which isn't really what you're saying, but that's that is what comes to mind for me.

[22:38] So what happens when you're mentoring someone in any context and they ask you something that you're not super comfortable with from a text?

So that's that's it's a it's something that I was nervous about, especially when you're when you're having the mentee bring topics to a session, you know?

Absolutely, and you know, it depends of course, but so I found,

and I wouldn't have thought this beforehand, but I've found that especially with practice you realize that you really can help someone find or learn how to find some of these answers or or,

get unstuck like you said, even without being an expert, so I have found there are certain aspects of object oriented programming that feel to me like when.

[23:35] I was so so so good at math in middle school and high school right up until calculus,

even in pre calculus, I was just awesome at it and then something happened, I hit this wall, it was so disappointing but I just couldn't get over it.

I don't know it just I guess hit a wall and I've heard this happens with people in certain kinds of areas of learning.

Anyway there are certain aspects of object oriented programming that I've just struggled to,

get my head around and I keep hoping I haven't given up, I gave up on calculus, I haven't given up on this but,

it's some really cool things have happened while I've been working with Mentees on this that helping them learn how to learn about this even though I don't actually understand it.

Uh you know I've I've learned about it so I had a a session working with someone on.

[24:32] Routing and controllers that I don't know how to use,

for you know in my own code but she did you know, especially after you know especially after our session but like you know she already knew it a little bit more than I did but still was stuck.

I mean she was stuck so working with her getting her unstuck like that.

It really it and and I I felt just a little bit nervous about me but I felt this little bit of I don't know how to describe it.

Just a little, something moved,

just a little bit in my head for understanding this, that made me,

feel like that, like, I, you know, I might get there at some point and I'm, you know, I've moved on from stressing about getting there, but I would like to be able to to move forward with that for my own professional, you know, whatever, anyway,

and I wouldn't have ever seen that coming, you know, I wouldn't have anticipated that happening and being able to do that.

[25:35] And talk about confidence, the fact that that came up in the last few months,

and not the first few months that I was working on this, you know, thank goodness for all of our sakes, but I mean, you know, nothing, not that the stakes are that high, but that, you know, it certainly the fact that I had already been mentoring for a while.

[25:56] And felt more confident as a mentor like that I had whatever that confidence is to, to,

not just say, I'm not gonna be able to help you with that today, just you know, can we do a different topic which also by the way, sometimes that happens to, we try a little bit if,

we continue to both hit a wall and it's just not just not getting there, you know, that, that that happens and that's okay, it's you know,

anyway, well, I mean we're, you know, with, with what we do with drupal easy, we're in a nice position where we have a team,

and we've got most of the bases covered, so if one of us doesn't know something, chances are there's going to be another mentor that can kind of, you know, come in and save the day.

Absolutely, I do think there's a big misconception,

and I've seen this at drupal events as well that people don't feel qualified to mentor because they feel like they don't know everything absolutely right and I think that's,

like that's that's a big trap because first of all, no one I would argue knows everything about drupal because that would be almost impossible.

[27:06] I think we're mentoring one of the lessons I learned pretty early on that I was afraid of at first, but now I almost embrace it is saying, I don't know.

[27:21] I don't know the answer to that. Um, but I'm confident enough that in the next 45 minutes,

we can make some headway, we can figure out how to figure out what we're trying to accomplish.

[27:38] And honestly part of that might be let's, let's see if we can understand the basics, let's see if we can understand what actually, you know, is being asked for.

And you know, I think one of the things that being a good mentor is, you know, saying you should ask that person over there because I know that they know their way around technology, why,

and they have that kind of infrastructure that, you know, the people who set up mentor contribution at drupal con are just incredible.

They've, you know, they've done it a few times, but also it's just they've had that set up,

so you know, to try to triage people when they come in and then even if you do that and then it turns out it wasn't the right fit, you know, wherever, whichever table they get sent to or whatever.

You know, you just adjust, you know, who, who, hey can someone work on blah blah and I mean we drupal easy.

We have a slack channel, you know, we post to each other,

when we have questions, you know, it's not always in the moment, but still we share, we share what we're talking about our questions that we have and yeah, help each other through it. Absolutely.

If you had a time machine specifically a DeLorean that can get up to 88 miles an hour and you can go back in time.

Um and about, it would be about a year when you when you first got your first taste of mentoring um and give yourself some advice.

[29:02] And you know, there's a lot of advice that we've just talked about in the past 30 minutes or so, but I want you to,

just focus on one, like if you could just give, you know, past Allison, one little nugget of advice about how to be an effective mentor, what would that be?

[29:21] I'm between two, so I'm gonna say two and then you can decide what you want to use.

So one of them, one piece of advice I'd want to give past Allison is to be thinking about teaching versus mentoring a little bit sooner or something or to have that in my head from the start,

so that when I'm thinking about sessions and just to have it in my head, not to add any stress or pressure to past Allison, just just to have that in my head to keep it in mind and reflect on it.

[29:51] Another piece of advice that I would give to past me is that the more that you do it, the more comfortable you will be and then after that the more confident you will be and,

even though it was scary and felt like it was over my head or something at the beginning, I really was nervous, I I definitely had that worry, I was really worried that I didn't have enough expertise and enough different things.

I felt all of that stuff, all of those things that are normal things to worry about.

[30:26] Just kind of do it anyway, and people are really nice, the people who you're working with are really glad that you're there and.

[30:38] You'll be glad that you're there and you just keep trying and keep practicing, I can't think of.

Yeah, it's, it's just over time you get more comfortable and then after that you get more confident and it's worth it.

[30:52] Yeah, I think, you know, I'm just thinking about thinking back about our conversation here and one word that we haven't used a whole lot that I'm just realizing is kind of silly is like communication.

Um I I think it's you know, it's way more important to have, you know, good communication skills than good technical skills and mentoring. Yeah.

[31:18] I would agree with that. Yeah and yeah and compassion and empathy you know like is it like really,

like of course yeah exactly you know just yeah be a good listener or you know listen,

be a empathetic, active listener and,

thoughtful and compassionate and empathetic to yourself and the people you're working with, you know, are you ready for the final question?

Let me think, let me see if there's anything else.

[31:52] No, yep, I am ready. All right Allison so here comes your final question,

and I kind of know the answer to this but I'm just wondering I want well I think you're going to know you're going to know the answer as well when you hear the question imagine a Venn diagram between people involved in drupal and,

another group of people that I'm gonna tell you about a second and I'm just curious how much,

how much intersection in these two groups of people is there.

[32:23] And the other group people is choir singing.

[32:29] Are you aware of the intersection between those two groups of people or how large that mike I'm not aware of that.

I don't know the answer to that. Is it only you?

It can't be only me. Well no okay well no that's a mentee.

Okay, well but maybe a future mentor I don't know.

Well no not just mentors anybody, anybody in the community. I beg your pardon?

It's not it can't just know there's no way it's just me,

but you're not aware specifically of anyone else is what I'm getting.

[33:04] At, this is like one of my favorite activities of drupal cons and drupal events is to find out, you know, drupal friends that I have or acquaintances get to know them better and find out like what do they do on,

drupal because holy cow, it's, there's so many fantastic things that people do that,

you know that I've known for years and then suddenly I find out that you know you're a glass blower yeah, oh my God, absolutely,

there is the, you know there was always, somebody always made me think of some sort of troubadour but I can't remember their name and that's, that's a bummer because I know that I would know it if I heard it, but he was always singing and playing the guitar during lunch at drupal con,

I almost want to say that because if I can't say their name, that's just, that just sucks but anyway, if you think about it,

okay, I know, I know, I will definitely find out their name,

that and that was always such a wonderful addition to lunchtime oh my goodness, it was so,

it was just lovely, so I like it because I like learning stuff then I feel like okay, well now I have something to talk to that person about that isn't absolutely, yeah.

[34:19] No, I don't know any other choir singers in the drupal community,

that is your task yeah, I'll have to ask on slack, are you going to be in Pittsburgh,

I am not, I am not, we're rotating at my office, so I got to go last year, other people will get to go next year, so that's fair,

yeah, yeah, yeah, I have been to Pittsburgh once before, I enjoyed it a lot.

So another time are you?

[34:50] Yes, I am and I guess, I mean by the time this podcast I'm gonna take a little bit of a risk here. By the time this podcast comes out, I think it will be announced that we're providing a training.

[35:03] Development, training Yeah, so I'll have to find some other contribution mentoring opportunities for myself since, I mean that was only my first time and I don't want it, I don't want a whole another year to go by, like I don't want it to be a two year gap to when I do it again.

So I have to go find and make some opportunities for myself, which I can do on drupal slack, highly recommend anyone interested in mentoring to check out the mentoring channel on drupal slack, it's not just for people who have done it before.

[35:35] Well, thank you very much for time. Thank you, mike, this was really fun.

[35:38] Music.

January 03, 2023