Written by Michiel van Staden July 29, 2021
"I did it … too, after you, and you and you…"
No matter how many times it has been done before, it still feels great when you finally manage to output 'hello world', using a new coding language or platform.
Initially none of the error message responses you receive makes any real sense. Churning through training courses doesn't necessarily resolve your specific challenge, as they are mostly more general and generic in their learnings. Searching online for references to the error or type of problem sometimes helps, but might also not fit what you are experiencing 100 percent.
It is only with time, through ongoing practical trial and error, that you start to understand what works within the specific environment and can increasingly adjust your programming accordingly. Each time you try something slightly different, new things can go wrong, but you increasingly learn how to figure it out quicker and easier.
In addition to my own personal experience, I have recruited and closely worked with many data specialists. Each one of those journeys have been unique, with different people coming from different backgrounds, holding different experiences, expertise and learning paths, having to figure out what works best for them within the specific environment.
When you start delivering data work, feedback messages are often also not very clear at all. In a lot of business setups the focus can mostly be caught up in delivery of projects or tasks and meeting of deadlines, limiting the time available for considered development guidance.
As somebody new, it can be really difficult to know whether you are getting it right. There is no one correct way of doing data. Much of the time those asking for a report, a piece of analysis or a model, don't have a clear picture of the best output in mind. Even if they do have an idea, there might very well be different and even better ways of delivering on or expanding on the task. Often what you present will lead to more questions than answers.
It is only with time that you increasingly figure out how to deliver on expectations. Much of it comes from reading between the lines, noticing what seems to resonate with stakeholders and what either doesn't get any response at all, or triggers a negative reaction.
Relationships are core to your success. Whereas a proposal, an idea or even a challenge might not be received favourably in the absence of a good relationship, once a stronger connection has been built, the same output can often go much further then you could have imagined.
Being on the receiving end of less than enthusiastic or negative reactions, can easily push one back into your shell, towards playing it safe and just going with the flow. It is however only when you try new things and push boundaries, that you have the opportunity to find out what works best for you, in your own way.
Much of what you try just won't work, but some of it will, and it is from these positive stepping stones that you increasingly build your approach to data work, and ultimately your career in data.
In my own career, I have had the opportunity to report into many different managers and work with a range of leaders. This has exposed me to a diverse set of opinions and pieces of advice.
Through my own leadership journey, having managed and led many others, I have also tried and tested many different approaches to the mix of situations and individuals I have encountered.
There have been occasions where very specific direction was needed and given, mostly to meet a set deadline, as the relevant manager or leader also had some skin in the game and needed to get something done in a certain way.
I have however found that over the medium to longer term, the type of guidance that is most effective in developing an individual towards ultimately delivering their best work and adding the most value to their organisation, is that given without attachment.
Suggestions based on one person's experience, can be extremely valuable to others, in keeping them from making similar mistakes and fast tracking their development, but no two people or situations are exactly the same.
What worked for one, might very well not work for another. That which has been unsuccessful in one setting, from one perspective, could possibly result in great results, for someone else, at a different time and place.
Additionally, merely the feeling of being told what to do, does have the potential of triggering a knee jerk rebellion.
Whereas a manager will often just not have the luxury of detaching themselves from short term pressures, an independent mentor can do exactly that. By bringing experience and guidance to share, without being attached directly to the immediate deliverables of their mentees, mentors can focus on sharing information, as and when needed for developmental purposes, whilst allowing those being mentored, to take what they need.
Secondly, a great benefit of working with an independent mentor, is the safe space they can create for a mentee, to be able to honestly and openly talk about their thoughts and feelings, without fear of it impacting their current job ratings or prospects negatively.
Some managers are great, with a focus on people development, and a willingness to allow those reporting into them, to express themselves freely. There are however always limits to what you are comfortable to share with your boss.
By incorporating coaching skills, mentors and coaches are able to reflect back key points raised, without judgement, whilst challenging their coachees with questions solely aimed at helping them think for themselves.
This is where the magic often happens.
By having access to experience and guidance as needed, being able to verbalize your thoughts and feelings, hearing noteable reflections played back to you and given time with pertinent, customized and relevant questions to make and help you think, it is amazing how you can find your own path forward, where there previously seemed to be no way through.
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