About mentoring

I was recently interviewed by Nicola Owen for her blog “Nicky Tests Software”. Nicola writes about her journey in software testing and includes interviews with people in the testing field. I work with people in a wide range of tech roles but because of my experience in testing a lot of my clients are testers, or would like to be.

The interview was a good opportunity to speak about what it’s like mentoring to testers, hard decisions testers face and which soft skills are important to develop.

You can read the interview here: http://nickytests.blogspot.co.nz/2015/05/interview-with-shirley-tricker.html

Don’t follow your passion. Look for challenges.

I was sitting in a job interview and things were going pretty well, then the question: “So tell me what you’re passionate about?”

Hmm. I could say what it seems they want to hear – something about making customers happy, learning new skills or doing good work. Those are things I really enjoy and feel strongly about but … passionate? Do I really have intense and emotional feelings about those things?

I could say that what gives me the most intense and emotional happiness is spending time with people I love, reading bed-time stories to my niece, laughing with good friends. I don’t think those are the answers they’re after. I think they want to know what makes me come alive at work, what things I’ll be willing to stick at, what motivates me.

Feeling “passionate” means an deep enjoyment that comes easily. You can’t help feeling the way you do and you don’t have to put any effort into it. It’s like when you see someone you love after time apart – you can’t help how you feel. You don’t have to try to feel happy because you just do!

This is different to how I  feel about work. I thoroughly enjoy much of what I do but I feel the most satisfaction at work when it’s not easy, when I’ve had to push myself, or make sense of complicated things or when I’ve forced myself to be brave. Succeeding at a challenge (or at least attempting something difficult) … these are the things that make me feel happiest. Taking on challenges and overcoming obstacles – things that take effort and persistence.

You’ll often hear people say you should follow your passion. I believe the overuse of the word ‘passion’ (“follow your passion” or “do what you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life”) is misleading people into thinking that they should be doing work that doesn’t feel like any effort at all. The truth is that the most satisfying work won’t be easy. You will certainly do things that seem effortless but the reward will come from mastering the things that don’t come easily.

Do a quick experiment. Think of something you’ve done that you’re really proud of. Was it easy? Many of the most rewarding things in my life have been the things that at first seemed the most impossible.

If you want to find things that make you truly enjoy your work ask yourself:

  • Will this push me a little (or even a lot)? If you don’t feel some level of discomfort or uncertainty then you aren’t growing.
  • How would I feel if I succeeded at this?
  • Would I be willing to stick at this even if it was frustrating? (Persisting at difficult tasks is also rewarding).
  • Will I get to learn or practice something new?

Is there something in your current job that you find challenging? Think of the smallest step you could take to start overcoming that. Do that, then do the next smallest thing. Small, brave steps add up to giant leaps in how happy you feel about work and yourself. Each time you do this, you build trust in yourself and your ability to do hard things.

It’s knowing you’re stretching yourself that’s so deeply rewarding, and different to the feeling you have when you’re doing easy, fun stuff. You need both … too many challenges and you’ll feel burnt out, but only doing what comes easily and you’ll feel unfulfilled.

Look for challengesYou shouldn’t only take on things that are difficult, but it’s handy to know that much of your sense of achievement and your career development live in these challenges.

Who looks after your career?

One of the best things about working in tech companies are the people. Smart, interesting, funny, dedicated people, with diverse personalities and backgrounds who work hard to do great things for their employers.

Over the past few decades in many different companies I’ve seen these people working under pressure, in challenging and constantly-changing environments. They take on tough projects, they do overtime, they deal with frequent restructuring and too-small teams. They hold training sessions during their lunch breaks. They’re asked to justify the time they need to do their work. They’re the first people questioned when projects go wrong. They’re expected to keep up with new technology, to be great at communicating and to be excellent team players and if they don’t already over-achieve in these areas it gets noted during their annual review. Hard work and innovation are not always appreciated, sometimes not even noticed.

But … some people are promoted and given raises. Some get opportunities and cool projects to work on. Some companies train and develop their staff, and value their contribution.

It’s frustrating how much it comes down to luck. Are you lucky enough to work for a company where staff are valued and cared for? Do you have a good manager who has your best interests at heart?

Even if you are fortunate to work in a good environment, that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be rosy. There are still pressures and times you may feel neglected.

Right now, there is a large group of experienced and skilled people doing just fine in IT/tech roles, but they’re not happy with ‘fine’ … they want to be better. They want to keep learning, to improve and advance. They want to be noticed, get promoted. They want a more balanced life. What options do they have to be supported to get the growth and challenges they want?

This is the reason I started Elementum. I want to make it easy for everyone to move forward and achieve their goals, no matter where they work. I want people to be in full control of their careers. I want people to be able to learn how to improve the skills that make the most difference. I want people to realise how easy some of these things are – you don’t have to change jobs or make big commitments … small and steady improvements will add up over time and become life-long habits.

I’m learnt some shortcuts working in a range of IT roles for the past 20 years, but the most important learning for me was when I realised it didn’t matter if I was a permanent employee or a contractor, it didn’t matter who employed me or what my role was. What mattered was that I needed to take charge of my own growth and career happiness.

A job is the work you do for someone else. A career is what you own over a lifetime of experience and growing and doing awesome work. Even when my job wasn’t what I really wanted, I could still work on the skills and experiences I dreamed of for my career.

“You can apply for a job, but you can’t apply for a career. A job is given to you; a career is made by you.” Lynne Mattoon

imthebossofmeAlways remember that you own your career. The power is in your hands. Is there anything you need to do to take back control?