Who do you want to be?


On the 10th July 2018, I gave a talk to the London Java Community on the topic “Who do you want to be?”. It was a talk that came out of my experiences with mentoring as part of Meet a Mentor, as well as an event on the topic at the Extreme Tuesday Club.

The slides are available online:

Because the slides are not easy to search, and most of the detail is in the speaker notes anyway, I’ve expanded on the detail here. The talk is broken up into three sections:

  • Goal Setting
  • Mentoring
  • Advice

Section 1: Goal Setting

Why do we go to work?

Before I actually touch upon what your goal is, let’s quickly talk about McGregor’s models of motivation: Theory X and Theory Y.

Theory X: This management style assumes that the typical worker has little ambition, avoids responsibility, and is individual-goal oriented. In general, Theory X style managers believe their employees are less intelligent, lazier, and work solely for a sustainable income.

Theory Y: Managers assume employees are internally motivated, enjoy their job, and work to better themselves without a direct reward in return. These managers view their employees as one of the most valuable assets to the company, driving the internal workings of the corporation.

A Theory X management style is at odds with knowledge work, such as software development. We are looking at enhancing people’s internal motivations, which under Theory Y assumptions will benefit everyone, employee and employer.


drive-coverIn the book “Drive,” Dan Pink discusses the three factors that make the biggest difference to individual performance and satisfaction. These are:

  • Autonomy: Our desire to be self directed. It increases engagement over compliance.
  • Mastery: The urge to get better skills.
  • Purpose: The desire to do something that has meaning and is important. Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose will end up with poor customer service and unhappy employees.

What gives you your drive? What’s your mission?

Joe’s Mission

I spent a long time thinking about what I wanted to do and get out of work. Mutual mentoring sessions with Andy Parker help me to focus on my core values and principles, and help me to decide on the practices that align with these. I eventually came up with the following personal mission statement:

Bring mutuality, mastery and respect to the process of making humane, impactful software systems

The full details of what my personal mission means is available at https://exubero.com/2018/05/30/the-joy-of-work/. An important thing to understand: my personal mission is not really transferable to other people. The important step comes from thinking carefully about your own preferences and values, so adopting someone else’s mission without doing that mental work is problematic.

What Do You Want?

If you’re just starting out, you probably don’t know what you want. You need to experience different situations, teams, companies, bosses … but always think about what makes you happy, what gives you purpose. If you’ve been around a bit longer, or have thought through this, you might have a better idea. Generally, you’ll be in one of three categories:

  1. I Don’t Know What I Want
  2. I Know What I Want
  3. I Have What I Want

We’ll go into the strategies for each of these categories now…

I Don’t Know What I Want

  • Your goal is to find your purpose
  • A good strategy: find ways to quickly and cheaply try lots of different things, and reflect on the things that resonate with you the most
  • Think about job experiments, or even shadowing friends or colleges as they go about their own job
  • Recommended reading: “How to Find Fulfilling Work”, by Roman Krznaric.

I Know What I Want

  • Your goal is to map your purpose to your job
  • Change your job, or change your job
  • i.e. Change the roles and responsibilities of your current job to match your vision, or change to a new job that matches your vision

I Have What I Want

  • Your goal is to maintain your vision
  • Did this happen consciously? Could you do it again?
  • As you learn and grow, your vision may change… make sure you keep on re-evaluating your job against your internal values

You Have a Goal

You’re not going to get there in a single step. You’re going to fail. That’s OK, it’s something you’ll have to learn to deal with. You’re not going to fail all the time, but… sometimes things will go badly. Look for small experiments, safe to fail. Failure is learning, which is a good thing! Celebrate failure! You’ve worked out one more thing not to do, and are closer to realising your vision.

Given that you have a goal, what can you do?

The GROW Model

The GROW model is one of many models that can be used to help break your goals into smaller, more manageable steps. The model name is an acronym with the following parts:

  • Goal: where do you want to be?
  • Reality: where are you now?
  • Obstacles: what’s stopping you?
  • Options: how are you going to deal with the obstacles?
  • Way forward: convert the options to action steps

It can be done individually, though my strong recommendation is don’t do this alone, fine a mentor to help you.

Section 2: Mentoring

What Does a Mentor Do?

  • Feedback
  • Encouragement
  • Perspective
  • Help formulate goals
  • Network and connections
  • Coaching

(Thanks to Hemal Verambhia’s tweet from the Extreme Tuesday Club Mentoring meetup)

Who Can be a Mentor?

  • Someone you trust (you aren’t likely to take advice from someone you don’t trust)
  • Someone you look up to (you aren’t likely to take advice from someone you look down upon)
  • Someone who shares your values
  • Someone with experience (hopefully, they have experience and insights about your problems)
  • Not your manager (your manager has conflicting priorities, you can’t guarantee unbiased opinions)
  • They don’t even need to know that they’re your mentor. Just ask to meet for a coffee and chat. Try it! 🙂

What if you don’t know anyone who fits the criteria, or is willing to help you?

Meet a Mentor

Website: https://meetamentor.co.uk/

Twitter: @RWmeetamentor

By matching mentors and mentees within the community, Meet a Mentor allows you to open a dialogue to discuss new technologies, career goals and troubles. Meet a Mentor also offers an approachable, friendly mentor matching service within the community. We run an active online Slack group, meetups and 1-2-1 mentorship opportunities. Now we think that’s pretty special. Meet a Mentor is a free initiative founded and run by RecWorks Ltd.

Section 3: Advice

Wear Sunscreen

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, Sunscreen would be it The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience… I will dispense this advice now…

Do Not Trust Me

This advice is filtered through the lens of my personal experiences. It probably won’t apply to your situation.

Advice to Juniors

  • Learn to build the thing right. Technical skills. Languages. Libraries. APIs. Techniques. XP
  • Find a mentor. Mentors can help you practice your skills and work towards your goals
  • Improve your communication skills. This gives you power and influence, which you will need in your career.

Advice to Seniors

  • Learn to build the right thing. You can’t be just told what to do. Your stakeholders don’t even know what they want (though they probably think they do). You need to partner with your client to discover their real needs, and work out how to deliver it to them
  • Become a teacher. Your job is not to beat everyone at the game, but rather to help them get better. In doing so, you will get better.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Improve your communication skills. This gives you power and influence, which you will need in your career.

Advice to Managers

  • Learn to influence culture. You don’t work in code any more, you medium of work is the connective tissue between other people, in the way that everyone communicates, interacts, and supports each other. This is a complex adaptive system, and can’t be mandated by fiat. Managers have an oversized influence on culture (that is, higher level access to metacultural forces)
  • Find a mentor. Mentors can help you practice your skills and work towards your goals
  • Improve your communication skills. This gives you power and influence, which you will need in your career.

Better Communication

  • Mutual Learning Model (Chris Agyris)
  • Non-Violent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg)
  • Clean Language
  • Feeling Good, book and podcast (Dr David Burns)

All the above (and more) are regular topics of discussion at the London Organisational Learning Meetup. Come along!

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