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Mary He – Meet the Mentor

Hi I'm Mary, a Senior Product Design Manager at GitHub. Professionally, I've been designing web and mobile experiences for companies including Modern Health & PagerDuty for the past 9+ years. I live in San Francisco, California with my 4 parrotlets. In my free time, I love to play board games like Everdell and Scythe, take nature walks to unwind and de-stress with muay thai and pilates.
Mary He

Senior Product Designer Manager, GitHub

Why did you decide to become a mentor?

I decided to become a mentor/coach because I was inspired by a book called the Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier and it sparked an early interest to become a leadership coach. Plus, over the course of my career, many designers or engineers would seek me out for career advice, and over time, I realized that I had the enthusiasm and skills to be a mentor. Three years later, I still enjoy what I do. Besides, engaging in weekly coaching and mentoring sessions has not only sharpened my design acumen but also reinforced my leadership skills, and likely contributed to my career growth and advancement to a design manager position at GitHub, which I'm very grateful for.

How did you get your career start?

After I graduated with a Psychology and Business degree from University of Waterloo in 2015, I felt lost and confused about what I wanted for a career. My peers were really successful, landing full-time positions in Product Design at prestigious companies, with some moving to the Bay Area after graduation. This made me put more pressure on myself to figure out my life. At the time, UX/UI bootcamps didn't exist and there was very little awareness for UX/UI. Despite this, I somehow found parallels to UX through my Psychology background and started to use YouTube, Lynda.com to learn how to learn UI/UX on my own. It required studying the fundamentals of UX on my own, learning UI and how to use design software including Illustrator and Sketch. I studied for design interviews by reading books from Don Norman, and O'Reilly books such as Articulating Design Decisions. I prepped by studying articles on Medium and asking for feedback after the interviews were completed. I also improved my communication skills by practicing mock interviews with friends who volunteered to be interviewees. None of these things were anything special, except that I had to learn all of these skills on my own, without any schooling or mentorship. After a few years of bouncing between design internships, and contract roles I finally landed my first stable full-time job in 2019 and then landing subsequent full-time roles at other companies including Modern Health. None of it was easy-- breaking into design required hustling and very hard work. What I learned is that it's really tough to do all of this work on my own, and if I had a trusted mentor who I could lean on for support, advice and experience, that would've made all the difference for me especially early on in my career when I needed support and more confidence in myself.

What do mentees usually come to you for?

In the past 3 years, mentees have approached me for a range of topics including: job search, transitioning career paths into design, portfolio and resume reviews, compensation negotiation, mock interviews, how to succeed within a product design role at a startup, or a mid-sized or a large company, asking for a raise, conducting design reviews, resolving conflict, how to move into a Senior position and day-to-day design process questions. In a typical mentorship session with me, my superpower is listening and asking questions so I can dig deeper to understand how best to support you. My hope is that I can provide a safe space for you to share your experiences and unpack what's been on your mind, so I can help steer you in the right direction by helping you achieve clarity, gain energy / motivation, and unblock your day.

What's been your favourite mentorship success story so far?

In the past 3 years, I've worked with a handful of mentees, and many of them have had their own success stories during our time together. Here's a story that I'll share: Two and a half years ago, a mentee requested me to be their mentor and support them with reviewing their resume, and critiquing their portfolio so they can find an associate product design position in the US. 

From the start, I could tell immediately that she was an ambitious, talented and hard-working person and I wanted to do everything I could to guide and mentor her so she can achieve her goal of securing a full-time design position. We reviewed her design portfolio on a weekly basis, making sure that every detail of the slides, talking points, storytelling capabilities, and time management skills until it was ironed out. We did the same thing with the resume. We also rehearsed many rounds of mock interviews until her portfolio presentation was completely nailed down. 

After several months, she landed two, not one, but two associate product design roles, one with Microsoft, and another with her current company. It came as no surprise that she would secure these offers since she worked incredibly hard and we were both very rigorous in making sure that all aspects of her portfolio, resume and interview skills were nailed down. After she accepted an offer, which she was very happy with, I assumed that we would conclude our time together since I was no longer needed. I was very surprised to find that she continued her mentorship with me and began to use our time together to seek guidance and support around her new design role. We began to review her work designs together, discuss challenges at work and ways to resolve those issues, and offered her support and guidance when difficulties came up. Since I met her two and a half years ago, it's been an absolute blast to mentor her weekly and watch her flourish into a strong and confident woman. I'm so proud of her and it's been a joy to personally witness her grow in her career and personally. Since we started mentorship, she interviewed and landed two associate product design roles, accepted one of the offers and got promoted at her company, she also got accepted into a post-graduate program and overall she is flourishing. As a mentor, it is extremely satisfying to watch my mentees grow. I personally feel fulfilled in knowing that our mentorship has equipped them with the knowledge and skills they were seeking so they develop more confidence throughout our time together, and become less reliant on me as they mature more and more in their careers. It's been an absolute joy mentoring her and my other mentees. As always, I hope to impart skills and knowledge that continue to support their life even beyond our time together.

What are you getting out of being a mentor?

Being a mentor is one of the best decisions I've made to develop my career as a leader and reaffirm my knowledge and expertise as a designer and manager. As I've grown in my abilities to listen, guide and unblock others in their professional growth, I've developed a deeper sense of competence and confidence in my abilities to provide support to others. As a result of being a mentor, I've grown significantly in both my technical design skill and my ability to lead and guide other designers. It has deepened my comprehension of collaboration and working effectively with diverse individuals. Moreover, it has instilled in me greater patience, flexibility, and adaptability in navigating various work scenarios.

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