Overtaking your Mentor
This blog has come about through a discussion with another community member and it got me thinking about my career progression.
https://blogs.sap.com/2018/07/30/how-not-to-blog-in-sap-community by Anish Menon (https://people.sap.com/anish.menon)
I started out in SAP just after the Dot-Com crash as the ICT sector was recovering. Suddenly, SAP was this new kid on the block skill set that was difficult to recruit. I was fortunate to have just graduated university and obtained my first professional job supporting an SAP system. It’s a job that put me on my career trajectory and gave me a solid grounding to where I am today. It’s was a job that was impossible to do without the help of my colleagues whom I consider to be some of my first mentors.
These colleagues taught me some of the most basics of SAP. Here’s me leaving university thinking I know how to switch on technical names for transaction codes and SM04 skill user sessions. Suddenly, I’m chatting with end users to help them solve issues with a financial impact to the company. It was my colleagues that helped me understand what the important questions were; where to look for the information and how to identify the appropriate solution.
I slowly got better. I mastered the basics. The team workload could be distributed more evenly as I was no longer in training mode. I started finding ways to improve content and automating the workload. My interactions with my colleagues was less relating to seeking clarification and more sharing ideas.
For me, it was time to move on to my next challenge. In my career pathway, I had overtaken my first mentors. But it didn’t mean I had mastered all that they knew. I only scratched the surface of the collective wisdom of that room and If I was to work with them today, almost 15 years on, I’m certain they’d be able to humble me with new information and ideas.
In my next few roles, it was a bit of a rinse-and-repeat. I walked in on day one with the knowledge of my previous job (quite like the attitude of exiting university) thinking I’ve got this. I know this. And then, it’s a different system along with more structured work practises. Turns out what I’ve been doing the past couple of years isn’t the best technical approach and there are better ways of working. I’m now back re-learning the new methods.
And so, I start again by seeking out those more knowledgeable to mentor me (whether they are aware they are or not). But this time, I realise I it’s important to continually learn the new content to avoid another repeat of turning up and finding out I’m working with outdated practises. What I didn’t realise in my first job, is their practises were valid for the system they were supporting whilst I’m not on the next generation of software and things change (R/3 to ECC).
15 years on and I’m now finding myself working with people I’ve previously worked with before. At some stages, they may have been senior to me, but our career pathways have been different. It’s taken a bit for me to recognise that I’m not the junior in the room anymore. But then again, it’s sometimes a great way to remain open to new ideas when you treat yourself as a less experienced person in the room and be open to ideas. And sometimes, it’s hard to speak up and disagree with the person who first mentored you all those years ago.
Getting back to the initial blog that inspired me, there’s also the negative aspect of “over-taking” your Mentor. What do you do if you discover how you’ve been trained is not the best way and possibly you have no obtained a level of seniority to speak out? How do you reconcile that your skills have surpassed your mentors, or you want to improve but cannot in your current role? Even worse, how do you market yourself with these outdated practises to change workplaces and find the right mentors to continue your learning journey? I’ve witnessed the interaction in our community when people ask for assistance to do something and the replies they receive as questioning why they are using an outdated approach. Some members take the advice and improve; others will ignore it and just want their answer; and then there’s another group who know what they do could be better, but they must follow the standard enforced by a more senior respected colleague. Quite a difficult position to be in.
Regardless of your situation, the best you can do is continue to learn. Keep on top of the technology; participate in courses; have conversations and debates with your colleagues; be active in the community to share and validate your understanding; self-fund your training if your employer will not invest or seek out free content (open.sap.com, YouTube, community blogs, etc); set up your own demo system (cal.sap.com). Take control of your learning and be your own mentor. Even if you are unable to implement these new ways of working in your current job, they will help prepare you for future opportunities.
As someone who finds themselves a mixture of N00b, expert and everything in between the reality is we will “outgrow” our Mentors. That’s partly the point of being Mentored: to help you develop and grow your skills. But as I write this blog, I realise that perhaps it’s not a case of ‘overtaking’ your Mentor. This implies some competition and no room for more knowledge in a room.
And maybe that’s how we need to look at it: my Mentor and I are on different paths with different priorities and values. What I learn from them will always be of value. I’ll always be humble to the person who is willing to share their expertise and appreciate they role they play in my career progression. And I’ll always listen because you never know what trick they still have!