Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mentorship and sponsorship

I think I saw a tweet passing on my twitter stream planting an idea of the difference in having a mentor or a sponsor. The goal of both these is similar: supporting you with your goals. At first, when I stopped to think about it, I was convinced that I've had many mentors but very little sponsors. And that I have always acted as a mentor, not a sponsor.

Edit: here's the tweet that inspired me.
Looking deeper revealed another truth. And as usual, looking deeper needed a friend to point things out that should be obvious.

Sponsors are people who will advocate for you when you need to be more visible. Mentors are a source of guidance, advice and even inspiration. Mentors advice, sponsors act. And surely people have acted for me.

Some of My Sponsors

Thinking about this makes me think about the people I feel have made significant differences in my professional career through their actions that I never had to ask for.

There's an old boss who was willing to go to court with my previous employee to get to hire me. He supported me while we worked together, spoke positively of me to me and to others. Often the positive words directed at me were the most powerful. They nurtured me from potential insecurity to trusting on my skills and my potential. When I was reminded of a Cindy Gallop quote: "Men are hired and promoted for potential, women are hired and promoted on proof.", thinking of this boss makes me feel he always saw the potential in me and played a big part of making that potential develop further.

Similarly, I can recognize two other jobs that I've ended up because I've had powerful sponsors. I ended up with a great consulting gig (and later a job) at an insurance company, because there was a woman I studied with, and in particular mentored to new studies on her first year in a position of power and she worked hard to hire me. And when offered with the idea of my latest job, I never realized to appreciate the actions of my significant other negotiating a higher salary on the spot and making sure the job, if it would emerge would fit my dreams and expectations better in relation to not giving up my speaking. He spoke for me, so that I did not have to. I did not even consider changing jobs while in that discussion, which made it easy to dismiss his contribution. The job I ended up considering was one he helped create. To start to consider, it took me another month, making it even easier to forget the connection.

Another set of sponsors are the people who have taken me forward in my speaking career and those people I want to mention by names, as they are more known in the community. Helena Jeret-Mae gave me my first keynote a few years back. Rosie Sherry started picking articles from my blog to share and taught me that there are people who make things easier for others. Rosie Sherry and Anna Royzman invited me to do an opening talk for TestBash NY and Anna Royzman later allowed me to do an opening keynote for her conference. Giving people stage is an act of sponsorship and I've been very fortunate with that.

While I have never had a named mentor or sponsor, I've had plenty of people in both roles teaching me and supporting me.

Paying the good forward?

Similarly, I could easily recognize that I've been a mentor. I've mentored quite a number of new speakers, now both local and international to smooth their way into speaking or delivering just one talk. Trying to support the dreams of people (both testers and developers) around me at work is a big part of what I do.

I often go well beyond mentoring into sponsoring. I work a lot to raise money for helping people with things that have been hard for me, like the financial side of speaking in conferences. I share my extra-free-entry-as-speaking-fee with people I feel need the nudge of inspiration a conference could give. I've sponsored both people in my organization making room for my employers to allow me the time to speak, but also people with criteria "your organization wouldn't pay for your entry".

I hope I've opened a few doors with recommendations, and soothed someone's professional journey there.

Active seeking of sponsors and mentors

The tweet made me realize I've never actively had a mentor or a sponsor. Not doing so actively means it's harder to name and recognize them, but they still most likely are there.

It's great to see there's programs for mentorship, but as sponsorship includes acting on your behalf, it takes more trust. But it's a fascinating thought experiment if there would be more we all could be doing for one another. Encouraging, mentoring and sponsoring.