About this doc:
This is a public draft, ie, it’s a proposal not a done deal. As tech artists we recognize that more eyes on a problem is better. We’re making it available so we can collect feedback and improve on it before we turn it into a full program.
Once there’s a solid consensus behind the formats described below (or, alternatively, if everybody hates this structure and we have to pitch a different idea) we’ll set up the infrastructure for connecting mentors and mentees on a small scale and run a test iteration. Hopefully we’ll have incorporated feedback and formalized the plan by around the second week of November, at which point we’ll announce the sign-up mechanism for mentors and mentees.
Please remember: this first pass will be, essentially, a beta test – and like a beta our first run start small to keep it manageable. Hopeful after our first few months of learning we’ll have found some useful refinements and be able to set things up for further growth. We’ll do our best to share what we’ve learned to set future mentors and mentees up for success. We’re tech artists, we never get anything right on the first try but we do best when we’re open about our learning.
In what follows, the default text is the actual draft proposal – the text callouts (like this) are notes to help understand the intent behind the design.
Please add comments or suggestions in the thread.
The goal of the TA mentorship program is to help younger tech artists build the foundations of their careers. We want to help newcomers who may not have any connections inside the industry navigate the confusing early steps of building a career, and to help TAs in the early years of their career to build great professional lives.
One thing to stress is that we see the program as fundamentally about relationships, not about technical advice or programming problems: the website and the slack are great at providing how-to’s or creative approaches to tech problems. This initiative is designed to grow the field by encouraging, supporting, and connecting new people. And growing the field is more than just addressing professional education: we also want to help people who don’t have role models or social connections inside the industry yet, which will help us include more perspectives and backgrounds into the field.
The mentorship program has two distinct halves:
Entry Level Mentoring
The Entry Level Program is for people who have never worked as technical artists. This program is oriented around common situations that almost every beginner encounters: How do I find technical resources? What kinds of skills will I need to find my first job? How do I prepare a resume and a portfolio? What should I expect as a beginner?
The entry level program is organized around small groups with a defined syllabus. We’ll match groups of new TAs with one (or two?) experienced TAs who will give short, interactive online classes in the following areas:
- Overview of the TA field
- Where to find educational resources
- Preparing a portfolio
- Applying for jobs
- Getting started at your first TA job
The mentor(s) for the group will run through the basics of these topics and then be available for 1:1 questions and feedback.
The total program will run about 10 hours online over two months, including about six hours of “class” time and another four hours or so of online availability for one-on-one assistance.
Note: The numbers here are first-pass guesswork, if commenters have good models to help us find a better format, please suggest them!
Entry Level mentor responsibilities:
- Provide well organized presentations on the main topics
- Be available for 1:1 QA as needed
- Portfolio reviews
- Code / tool reviews
- Job hunting advice
- Help us refine the program for the next round of newcomers.
Rationale for the entry level program:
Currently we have about two people looking for support and help for every one person who has volunteered to help – but a full 1:1 mentorship can be a significant investment of time and energy and we’re leery of asking first time mentors to provide that much support to more than one person at a time.
So, the proposed small-group format is intended to maximize the reach of the program by making more efficient use of our limited pool of volunteer mentors. The problems facing first-timers are usually quite self-similar: we have more than a decade of questions and answers on the website which help show how the breaking into the field confronts new folks with some common issues. We hope we can address those problems with a seminar-style format that is interactive but also allows a smaller number of volunteers to reach a larger number of new TAs. We don’t want to miss the personal element in mentorship – but we also recognize that getting started has some problems we can parallelize.
Early Career Mentoring
The Early career program is for people who are already working as technical artists and who are looking for guidance in specific aspects of professional development. This program is intended for technical artists who understand their craft but who are not sure how to grow their careers, how to network, or how to mature as technical artists. This program is designed around regular 1:1 meetings between a single mentor and mentee, talking on a regular cadence.
Technically focused mentorship (“how do I become a better shader programmer?”) tends to involve meetings once or twice a month. Career focused mentorship usually involves meeting at intervals of two or three months for a longer, more in depth conversation. We suggest a commitment equivalent to 12-18 hours per year, or about an hour to an hour and a half per month. The details can and should be adjusted to suit both sides. it is, however, required that both sides come to an explicit agreement about how much time they are willing to commit to – hopefully it never comes up again – but both mentor and mentee need to set firm boundaries around their valuable time.
The explicit formal commitment we will ask from both parties is 6 months (probably, a total of 6-9 hours, more or less) of face-to-face time. At that point it’s up to both parties to decide if and how they want to continue meeting on their own.
Again, these numbers are subject to adjustment but they’re based on some research about other mentorship programs. It’s important to set some expectations because we don’t want either to under-serve mentees or to let mentors sign on for an open-ended commitment of time and energy
Because this is a very individualized relationship, we’ll try to match individuals on a variety of axes – a mentor’s life experience may be more important than technical qualifications for many mentees. We’ll ask mentors to provide a brief resume of their interests and skills, and we’ll also ask mentees to give us a short statement of what they are really looking for out of the mentorship program. This is by definition a highly personal process so we can’t guarantee a “first come, first served” match for everyone but we’ll do our best to find help for everybody who is interested in participating.
This is an area where community feedback on the draft will be critical – there’s a lot of sensitive topics involved in setting up these meetings: everything from time zone to gender to ethnic origin to native language will influence people’s desires and goals and it’s extremely hard to find a way asking for that kind of thing in a way that wont’ send some kind of unintended message.
This draft assumes we’ll ask a very general short answer question of mentees (“what do you want in a mentor?”) along with only the most limited personal information (age, physical location, professional background). For mentees who have more personal criteria (gender, ethnicity, etc) we’ll ask them to specify what they want rather than trying to guess from some kind of form. Those mentee requests will be made shown anonymously the volunteer mentors. So, would-be mentors will choose particular individuals based on as much or as little as the mentees choose to disclose about themselves.
We’d like to find a way to prioritize helping folks from under-represented communities but we don’t have hard and fast rules. Since this will be an all-volunteer effort, the ultimate choice will fall on the volunteer mentors not on the TAO board.
This proposal is far from perfect, so community input can help us refine it into a form as open and broadly acceptable as we can make it.
The mentor-mentee relationship is supposed to be a private conversation. We don’t expect and don’t want “reports” from either party about those private conversations. Neither party should share their conversations with the wider world without mutual agreement.
The only exception is for cases of harassment, intimidation, or abuse of trust: if your mentorship partner is behaving in dangerous or unethical ways we do want to be informed immediately so we can take steps to limit the damage and ensure other people are not subject to similar problems.
The essence of mentorship is conversation: both sides need to be willing to listen to and respond to feedback – we hope this will be a learning experience for both parties.
However we also want feedback on the mentoring program as a whole so we can improve it. However we recognize that this sits uneasily with the confidentiality of the mentor-mentee relationship. So:
- Feedback is requested, but not required
- We’ll provide an anonymized feedback mechanism so we can accept feedback without compromising privacy. The aim of the questions will be to help improve the program – not to pass judgement on individuals.
Remember however that abusive behavior is not covered by confidentiality.
We’ll try to provide some training and backup for first-time mentors. Hopefully as the program grows we’ll develop some community expertise and best practices which we can share. Members of the TAO board will be able to provide some “mentor-mentoring” to help first-time mentors approach thornier questions.
The key responsibility of a mentor is to learn about the mentee and assisting them as best you can. This is a relationship, not an algorithm: you’ll need to be a good listener as well as dispensing sage advice. Be helpful and supportive, but also be willing to give feedback that a mentee might not want to hear. The larger community has a lot of channels you can use to help formulate your own approach to feedback.
Above all don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know the right answer: approach those as a shared problem and don’t worry that not having all the answers somehow detracts from your status.
Although the relationship more than a lesson plan, you will also need to respect some simple rules:
- Reliably provide about 1-1.5 hours per month of availability for conversation
- Respect appointments and respond to communications in a timely manner
- Keep all conversations confidential
At the end of the formal six month you should have a rapport with your mentee which accurately reflects their career goals and abilities. Hopefully you’ll have helped the mentee make connections with other TAs who have similar interests, connected them to relevant sources of information both on technical and career issues.
As a mentee, you have a unique opportunity to grow as a TA. To make the best use of this valuable resource, make sure to bring the right attitude to the conversation. The right attitude is not just listening and taking notes – mentorship is not a form of test prep. Be an active learner: ask questions and be willing to question the answers too. Don’t be afraid to let your mentor know if you’re not able to make use of what they tell you: if you don’t speak up they won’t be able to course-correct.
An important part of making the relationship work is respecting the time and effort your mentor is making available to you. So:
- Respect appointments and respond to communications in a timely manner
- Make concrete plans and stick to them.
- Ask what you need to know – don’t hint and hope!
- Keep all conversations confidential
Hopefully, at the end of six months you’ll have a new perspective on your work and an ally you can still call on for advice and counsel in the future.
There’s a lot of literature on the web about mentorship, and we’d recommend that both parties do a little reading up before their first meeting. However you’ll find that the following advice recurs consistently:
- Be supportive and encouraging
- … not judgmental
- Keep conversations confidential
- Listen, don’t lecture
- Set a concrete agenda before every meeting
- Set goals and track progress towards them
Last minute legalese
Please remember this is a volunteer effort on all parts: it’s trying to organize an effort to give back to the community. It’s not a for-profit business, no money is changing hands, and as such the commitments in this document are personal pledges and not a formal legal contract of any kind. We’ll do our best to deal fairly with everyone in the program, but please remember this does not create any binding relationship on any of the parties.