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Denis Salnikov – Meet the Mentor

Denis Salnikov is a Professional Scrum Master, LeSS & Agile Coach actively consulting, coaching, mentoring, and teaching cross-functional development teams, companies management and Product startups.
Denis Salnikov

Agile Coach & Consultant, Agile Expat

Why did you decide to become a mentor?
To be honest, my first mentoring request came to me as a surprise. My journey started with serving as a mentor for my colleagues who believed I had some specific knowledge or experience to share with them. I didn’t practice it beyond the boundaries of my employment until late 2019. Since then, I was lucky enough to work with about a dozen individuals whose locations spanned from Asia to North America occupying such roles as Scrum Master, Product Owner, Engineer and Engineering Manager. Many of them have managed to utilize the acquired knowledge and skills to address challenges at their workplace and advance their career.

How did you get your career start?
I am one of those people who have tried various stuff before discovering the profession that fits them. Before joining IT, I studied to become a lawyer, tried myself in sales and even spent a year and a half serving as a back office manager in the local branch of a big international bank. It all changed after I joined a local web development agency to work as a Project Manager and understood that is something I enjoy. Very soon, I applied for the Master’s program in Project Management at the local university and opened the world of Agility for myself. Discovering more and more information about such things as Scrum, Kanban, Lean and many others, I started actively experimenting with them at my workplace and saw the benefits they bring to the world of software development. A year later I made a switch to the Scrum Master role and this is how I still identify myself now, almost 10 years later. The diverse knowledge and experience I gained before finding my vocation still help me in my daily life and business.

How do you usually set up mentorships?
Over the last five years, I have experienced different kinds of mentor-mentee interactions but all of them fit into one of two categories: structured mentorship with a defined final goal and clear roadmap; or a kind of freestyle interaction providing a safe environment where people feel comfortable to discuss various topics and ping-pong their ideas and observations. I feel comfortable with both of them and have value to bring in both cases according to my ex-mentees.
Still, I usually try to help my mentees shape their requests and ways to assess their fulfilment in order to ensure that our interaction will be beneficial for both sides. If we are talking about long-term mentoring interactions, it normally starts with an intro call where I and a potential mentee get to know each other, discuss their working context and the challenges they face. This usually helps to better identify the request and come to an agreement on whether we can be helpful to each other.

What’s been your favourite mentorship story so far?
One of my mentees, whom I worked with over the course of two years, was able to significantly advance their career in this short timespan.
Initially, they worked at a medium-sized retail company which had IT as a support department playing a secondary role in the business. Meeting regularly and having deep discussions on challenges they were facing, we managed to come up with many experiments they have tried out at the workplace. Then the breakout of COVID happened and led to the massive curtailing of opportunities for offline retail businesses. The maturity of processes my mentee has established in the IT department enabled the company to rapidly scale up its product and have positively contributed to the business.
Though I don’t attribute their success to myself, the success stories of my mentees motivate and inspire me to keep doing what I do.

What are you getting out of being a mentor?
I am very fond of a famous Latin quote “Docendo discimus” attributed to Seneca the Younger. It is translated as “by teaching, we learn”, literally meaning that the educational process benefits both a teacher and a student.
When we dive deep into the challenges my mentees face and the context they operate in, I earn the experience which would take many years to be earned by myself. By brainstorming solutions together, discussing underlying patterns and behaviours, and sharing our experiences we both get better. This is my sincere belief.
When it comes to practicalities, the mentorship experience I have gained over the last five years helped to develop and kick off internal Mentoring programmes at two companies. Overall, I believe that being a mentor requires acquiring new skills in human interaction and further enriching one’s domain expertise which automatically makes you better both as a professional and an individual. What else can you ask for?


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