“The more we support fresher Solitans, the quicker they’ll be ready for bigger boots and more challenging customer projects.” That idea initiated a discussion on how to develop talent at Solita in the best possible way.
Solita is a community of highly skilled experts geared for impact and customer value. To maintain that position, in the long run, it is necessary to recruit new talents and to ensure all the existing expertise is easily available for them. To enable that smooth transfer of knowledge, it is important to create a bridge between the experienced and newly arrived people. At Solita, one bridge has taken the form of mentoring.
What is mentoring and how is it applied at Solita?
Mentoring is a relationship between an experienced person (mentor) and a person (mentee) who has the goal of professional and personal development. Mentoring is also learning from experience. It is professional guidance where an experienced colleague serves to the less experienced person who has a growth mindset and eagerness to learn.
“Mentoring is a journey where mentors are not simply providing actors with a road map and travel tips, but also walk some of the journey together with them. The co-journeying enables both mentors and actors to develop; and they experience a new journey that is full of surprises.”
-The Psychology Of Coaching, Mentoring And Learning. Law, Ho. 2013.
At Solita, that setting is applied in a dedicated mentoring program. Fresh Solitans can volunteer for the one-year program where each of them is assigned an individual mentor. During the year, mentors and mentees have regular meetings and workshops to discuss the mentee’s career aspirations, growth areas and other professional topics.
Meet the people
To get a more concrete idea of what mentoring is at Solita, here are Satu, Reetta, Otso and Aarni to tell you more about their experiences in the mentoring program.
Satu & Reetta
Satu and Reetta were matched as a mentor and an actor. Satu’s background is about 20 years consulting and being in project lead roles with different customers and industries. Solita years she had about 5 at the beginning of the mentoring. Reetta is working as a Data Engineer and was having four months at Solita at the time mentoring started. She was quite at the beginning of her career, so she didn’t have much experience in consulting and working with customers.
Otso & Aarni
Otso joined Solita through Data Academy and started working as a Data Engineer. After the academy, he was approached by his manager with the opportunity to take part in the first-ever mentoring program at Solita. At that time he didn’t have much practical experience from data engineering related data doing at Solita. He had hopes of getting better support for combating the rather steep learning curve related to data engineering. After joining the mentoring program Otso was matched with Aarni as his mentor. Aarni has 5 years of experience as a Data Developer/Data Engineer with multiple customers and both in on-premises and cloud-based development environments.
Expectations and prejudices
Stepping in the shoes of a mentor or an actor is often a new experience to people as mentoring is not necessarily something that is used in the academic world. Mentoring is a big commitment for both the actor and the mentor so before joining the program one might have doubts about pulling through the program.
“When I first heard about the program it didn’t really catch my attention as something that I would necessarily enjoy doing. At the time I was also really busy because I had started on a new project and I was writing my thesis as well. However, I’m always intrigued about new ways of learning so when my manager suggested this program to me, I accepted. “ -Otso
“Joining the program felt like a bigger decision than it actually was. I had some doubts whether I was senior enough to act as a mentor for someone who just graduated. In the end, my concerns were unfounded as the conversations we had were very interesting and diverse.” -Aarni
Our mentoring journey
In the respective first meetings a rough-level plan – “mentoring agreement” was formulated. This included:
- We discussed the goals and targets of the mentoring. The purpose of this was to clarify the direction of the journey such that we would get the best out of the mentoring experience.
- We agreed what are the main themes and issues to talk about. Once the goals and targets were set, we constructed the steps needed to get there.
- We set the schedule of the meetings and we agreed on the ways of communication between the meetings.
- We also made a confidentiality agreement. We decided what are the subjects that we are allowed, and we want to talk about, and what should be excluded from the discussions.
- We agreed to commit to mentoring. We agreed that we would meet each other regularly and we would be prepared for each meeting.
After the mentoring agreement was in place the formal mentoring process was started.
Overall I think that the mentoring journey was really interesting. Sometimes it’s good to paint the bigger picture about what is going on in your field and what kind of technologies and directions are taking place. Usually this can be done by having talks with your colleagues but I think this is approached differently in mentoring because the mentoring sessions are devoted time to actors learning.
I think this enables a different perspective to learning as it gives a lot of responsibility to the learner, but it also makes learning more concrete and organised while still having the same kind of atmosphere that you would have when talking with your colleagues.
I think this is the substance of what makes mentoring great.
I think mentoring does also support you when you are met with acute challenges in your (project) life because you can choose to talk about those with the mentor too. If the mentor has been in the same kind of situations, you will gain valuable insights of how to approach certain types of situations and if there is something that could or should be changed with the approach.
Normally it is quite easy to find help in technical matters. But for problems related to “soft” skills such as time management, challenging client situations and professional identity, I am more likely to be alone since I don’t have the courage to ask for support. Those were the areas in that I needed help from a mentor, who ended up being Satu. Basically, we were matched by my hopes and needs. We had multiple good discussions with Satu where we focused on some pre-selected topics, but the most valuable conversations were those that focused on my ongoing challenging situations. It was super nice to get to know Satu and get perspective from someone who has as broad working experience as Satu has.
All in all, mentoring was a very valuable experience for me. It provided me with skills to deal with challenging subjects and gave me the courage to reach out for support if any problems arise.
Our mentoring relationship was non-technical, it was more like supporting Reetta with different kinds of challenging situations and talking about professional development and paths we are having at Solita. I felt it was very nice and interesting to talk about challenges we all face in every assignment no matter what. I did not aim to tell “the right answers” (I wouldn’t have had them anyway) but more shared my own experiences with the same kind of situations, relevant tools to try, books to read and persons to contact.
Most of all I hope I could give Reetta some courage to raise the difficult issues with the team and the customers also in the future (it’s totally ok!), trust herself as a professional and as a person. Most fruitful for me was as I saw Reetta had been having dialog or discussions about the issues and found her way to handle those. They were not anymore as stressful as before.
I could recommend mentoring relationships to everyone, I think it will give you a lot, no matter if you were a mentor or an actor.