Mentorship: A Year In Review

Earlier in the year, I mentioned that Paul Randal decided to mentor a class of 50 database people.  I’ve appreciated the mentorship opportunity, and wanted to write a blog post on the topic, as a way of wrapping up that formal mentorship opportunity but also discussing additional doors which have opened up over the year.

Paul’s Mentorship

In my discussions with Paul, we focused mostly on work-life balance, working from home, time management techniques, and consulting.  Time management was especially interesting considering how many hobbies Paul & family have.  Over the course of the year, I’ve tried to implement some of those time management systems and practices to help myself out.  The things I’ve focused on include:

  • Know what you’re doing.  Look at what you’re already spending time doing, and see if that is what you expect.  If you’re complaining about not being able to do enough of something, see what’s eating up your time.  In my case, a lot of my time was taken watching TV/movies and playing video games.  Granted, a lot of my time is still taken up with those, but less than before.
  • Figure out times and schedules for activities.  An exercise I picked up at the Freecon this year was to figure out how long something normally takes and then determine when in the week I can do it.  For example, a blog post can take 1-5 hours, depending upon how much research I need to do, how complicated it is, and how high of quality I want my posts to be.  Most of my posts take well under an hour, but moving back to longer-form, more technical articles is bumping that average back up to an hour or so, at least a couple times a week.  That means that I need to carve out 5-7 hours a week for blog posts.  Presentations can take 10-40 hours, and heaven help me if I start writing long-form articles or book chapters…
  • Focus on what’s interesting.  I want to do a couple dozen things, but obviously I don’t have the time for all of it.  Instead, I should focus on three or four major things and cycle those things on occasion.
  • Multitask.  Something I’ve started to do is write blog posts while I’m flying to conferences.  I normally have at least a couple hours of downtime with nothing better, so that’s a good time to pull out the tablet and work on some posts.  I usually need to touch them up later on, but they provide a start at least.

Aside from that, we had some discussions about independent consulting.  I bounce back and forth on the idea, with some people recommending it, others recommending it with reservations, and still others who tell me things that make me want to shy away.  All things considered, I think I’d prefer a full-time job over being a full-time independent consultant, but thanks to Paul and David Klee, I at least know what I’m getting myself into should I go down that road.

Informal Mentorship

Speaking of David, the single best thing that has come out of presenting at so many SQL Saturdays this year is the people I’ve gotten to know.  People like David and Chris Bell have been great sources of information.  The important thing about mentorship is that you don’t need a formal arrangement to do it.  All you really need are the right questions and the right setting with the right person.  A lot of good mentorship ends up being done in the context of war stories, learning how people have dealt with problems.

Even in the Raleigh area, there are people with whom I have some level of informal mentorship.  As as the TriPASS chapter leader, I have the good fortune to be able to sit down with the previous chapter leader, with a former chapter leader from a different group, and with people who have been consequential in ensuring that our organization lived on through the years.  I also have good connections with leaders and members of other groups like TriNUG, so I can compare notes.  Mentorship doesn’t always mean sitting at somebody’s knee and listening to tales of yore; it is a learning experience and both sides can be both mentor and mentee.

Mentor Yourself

In the end, the value of mentorship comes down to how much effort you’re willing to put into something.  A mentor doesn’t make you who you are; mentors can show you shortcuts and help you avoid some of the painful experiences, but ultimately, you are the only person in charge of yourself.  I will happily listen to the advice of others (especially when it’s in the form of an interesting tale), and I’m a lot more confident in asking directly for advice than I was nine months ago.  Even with this advice, I need to drive myself.

So how do you mentor yourself?  Research.  Ask yourself the types of questions you want to answer:  for example, should I be an independent consultant, a consultant at an agency, or a full-time employee?  Then go do the research.  Try to find opinions and figure out how they apply to you.  A good mentor can help you clarify the situation, but in the event you don’t have somebody else there helping guide you, guide yourself.