This month, we're thrilled to kick off a new Mentorship spotlight series. We interviewed Paula Sillars, a network administrator and infrastructure tech support professional in Australia who shared about her mentorship experience with Singapore-based mentee Kelvin Chua via the Humans of IT Community Mentors mobile app.
Meet our featured mentor from Australia, Paula Sillars:
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I am a network administrator and infrastructure tech support professional. I have been working on it pretty much since I left school. I was a bit of a computer geek at school, so I ended up working at a University in the library systems department and that was sort of my first real job. From there I moved into managed services probably about 20 years ago. Now, I am an IT Manager based in Gold Coast, Australia.
Q: What does mentoring mean to you?
A: Sharing my knowledge and experience with others – but also opening someone up so they don't feel like they are alone in their experience. You want to feel comfortable speaking with a person that is outside your normal work environment. Someone that you can bounce ideas off of and ask questions without fear of judgment from your colleagues. In some ways, it is like being a confidante, and a mentoring relationship should be a completely secure one. There is balance with having input from someone that is outside of your circle who can give you a different perspective. Maybe what I say will spark something new for this person.
Q: When did you first start as a mentor?
A: This is interesting because I always just shared my love and passion for tech with others and didn't realize until speaking at the last Microsoft Ignite conference that others would find that valuable. I had always been fortunate to have many male allies at work that were supportive in teaching me and never making me feel alone that I didn't realize other women could benefit from hearing my story and how I navigated my career over the last 20 years. When I discovered the Microsoft Humans of IT Community Mentors app, I knew that I wanted to get started. I think I've always naturally gravitated towards helping or mentoring others – even early on in my career I would take the junior engineers under my wing and help where I could. I always made myself available so people could have support whether it was "official" (i.e a formal mentorship) or not.
Q: What is the key to being an effective mentor?
A: Being empathetic - try to put yourself in that person's position. The mentee doesn't always know what they are asking. Don't be judgmental. Keep the responses open so that the person can think about the response and come to their own conclusions, while you are more of a guide. The format that the Microsoft Humans of IT community uses works great because it gives you and the mentee time to absorb and ponder about the feedback. That helps me to be the most effective with the information I provide.
Q: What has inspired you to be a mentor?
A: Two years ago, I spoke at Microsoft Ignite and I was surprised by how many people were encouraged and interested in my story. That was what first inspired me to look for ways to share my story and help others. The Human of IT community and their free mentorship app made it so easy to get started!
Q: How did you get matched with each other?
A: Kelvin found my profile on the app and reached out to me – on the surface, it seemed like we really didn't have much in common: Our backgrounds are different, we're from different countries (Australia and Singapore) with very different cultures. However, our unique lived experiences actually worked out really well since we can share our diverse perspectives. Plus, logistically it was great because Kelvin was able to ask me questions through the app in his own time zone, and then when I had time during my break in my own time zone I then could read, think about and respond to his question.
Q: Tell us about your experience mentoring Kelvin?
A: It was really quite rewarding – while I do help other people at work, I don't have any technical reports so working with Kelvin was amazing to have someone to share ideas with and formally mentor.
Q: What has been your experience with the app?
A: I am excited to do more – the process is not onerous; it was fast and convenient to interact when you have time. Plus, it was great to have something meaningful to do during my breaks!
What is your favorite feature?
A: The chat function – I used it the most, and it was the most helpful.
Note to readers: When you accept a mentorship request as a mentor, or have your mentorship requested by your mentor (if you're a mentee), a private chat window will automatically open and remain open for 30 days so that you can conveniently communicate with your mentor. The duration of your mentorship can be extended for up to 90 days total if you and your mentor/mentee wish to continue communicating on the app beyond the initial 30 days.
Who is an example of a great mentor that inspired you?
A: I have a few in mind. Example 1: This isn't necessarily a formal mentor, but I was working with a colleague, really looked up to him – a good bloke and a really smart guy. One time we were working at a data center and I didn't think I could solve a particular issue and I blurted something like "Oh, I am not sure about that, I am not very technical". He stopped me and said, "You're out of your mind – you bring so much to the table and to the team – you've got amazing communication skills, you do the documentation, customers love you, so don't put yourself down." I was stunned because I was always working on teams that were specialized and I personally felt like I was never the most technical. This was the first time that someone that had no reason to tell me this actually said something, and it made me realize that I do bring a lot to the team that the others don't have. After all these years, that has really stuck with me - it was so powerful that someone took the time to give me perspective and has greatly impacted my own outlook since.
Example 2: Early in my career, I was with a new customer – and he made totally inappropriate comments to me so I went back and told my boss. My boss called the customer and told him, "You made our associate so uncomfortable that we do not want to do business with you anymore." My boss went to bat for me - that really made me feel important and that what I was doing was important. I so appreciate that I've had people help stand up for me in my career, and so I wanted to do the same for others.
The Humans of IT Community also caught up with Paula's mentee Kelvin who is based in Singapore, and this was what he had to say about his mentorship experience:
Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, my name is Kelvin. I'm based in Singapore and have been in the IT industry for 18 years with a focus on end user computing. I'm married and have a 5-year-old daughter. I would describe myself as someone who is self-motivated and positive with a "giver" mindset, and always ready to "pay it forward". Personally, I am a firm believer in lifelong learning. Prior to starting my tech career, I was a Naval Chef during my national service (i.e mandatory military service in Singapore) where I got to sail to various countries in Asia such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China etc. I was able to experience many cultures and meet a lot of different people.
What does mentoring mean to you?
To me, mentorship is about building mutual trust between two parties- that is a key basis to start off with. Additionally, both mentor and mentee must play their part and as both parties often have different objectives and priorities. It should ideally be a mutually beneficial learning experience for both, and must be built on mutual respect.
Why did you decide to seek mentorship?
As someone who believes in lifelong learning, I'm always in search of mentors to learn from. Oftentimes, I specifically look to learn about diverse experiences from people of all walks of life. Topics I'm most interested about in mentorships typically revolve around career advice, family, and personal well-being.
What is the key to being an effective mentee?
Taking action. It's often easy to receive advice, but remembering to take action on the advice you've obtained is the hardest part. You can get tons of valuable advice, but if you do not take action, then nothing will happen or change.
What drew you to this mentor?
When I saw Paula’s intro, it really resonated with me. She mentioned in her profile that "Diversity is critical for tech to be effective", and that every IT pro is different. I sincerely believe in that as well and am glad to have a mentor that recognizes the value of diversity.
How did you get matched with Paula?
I approach Paula after discovering her profile story on the app. Since it really resonated with me, I decided to request mentorship via the app and to my surprise, she immediately accepted! I guess fate plays a part too - it's important to have a good connection with your mentor.
Tell us about your experience with Paula.
We started by sharing about our backgrounds and individual work experience on managing upwards and downwards. I talked about time management and topics on lifelong learning. I've picked up several valuable tips from Paula sharing during the 1-month period, and we decided to keep in touch after the official mentorship ended.
How has the Microsoft Community Mentors app helped you connect with the mentors?
It is a great platform! Currently the app lets you officially extend mentorships for up to 3 months, but good mentorships can always continue for longer. That said, for a start both mentor and mentee will have to have a mutual agreement and chemistry to start off with on the commitment and evaluate from there.
What is your favorite feature of the Community Mentors App?
I really like the feature where users can key in our respective reflections within the app.
Who is an example of a great mentor that inspired you?
Not a formal mentor per se, but both Satya Nadella and Jeff Weiner are two people in tech whom I really look up to as role models. Their focus on empathy and putting it at the center of everything that they pursue has greatly inspired me. Having good leaders who are focused on empathy and compassion is so important especially in these difficult times.
Would you consider becoming a mentor yourself?
Yes, I'm always ready to pay it forward and help others, just as I've received help from others.
Want to start your journey as a mentor and/or mentee?
1. Download the Microsoft Community Mentors app (make sure you're on the latest v3.0!)
2. Log in with your Tech Community credentials (Note: You will need to be a member of the Humans of IT Community). If you are not already a member, you will be prompted to complete your Tech Community registration and officially join the Humans of IT community.
3. Create your profile and look for your future mentor and/or mentee!
You must be a registered user to add a comment. If you've already registered, sign in. Otherwise, register and sign in.