Of mentors and mentoring

While reading through the mailing list archives I chanced across a new Mentoring Proposal for Fedora Ambassadors. The list has seen some discussion going on around the topic of “How to be a mentor” and, the current proposal is part of a thread about New Ambassador Mentors.

To me a mentor is a “trusted counselor who serves as a teacher” and, mentoring or, mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person (this is from the Wikipedia article which I’d recommend as a reading material).

Why would Ambassadors need a mentor anyway ? There are two answers. The simple and cop-out answer is that “everyone does”. The more complex and somewhat thought provoking answer drove the then FAmSCo folks to think through this issue. And that is because the Fedora Project puts the Ambassadors squarely in a public facing role. Over a period of time the profile of fine folks who stood up and signed-up for an Ambassador role varied. With the complexity and depth of issues that the project brings forth and, the need to always “be excellent” resonating through every activity within the project, it was a good idea to request some of the older/wiser/experienced heads to spend some time coaching the newer ranks. At no point in time was this responsibility thrust down to unwilling hands and, yet at the same time, these groups of mentors spent an inordinate amount of time ensuring that as the number of Ambassadors increased, time and effort was invested in maintaining to the high standards.

Additionally, FAmSCo has made it quite clear that it is agreeable to looking at newer mentors and, which is why there is a reasonably clear path available to any Ambassador who wishes to work with a current mentor and, thus be peer reviewed and accepted as a mentor. Having a group of one’s peers reviewing one’s performance and skills, especially soft skills is indeed a daunting experience. However, each of the newer mentors have been excellent Ambassadors and would eventually become wonderful coaches as well. In that context I somewhat like Christoph’s response. And, while the process might seem to be very “secretive” to few (it isn’t if you check the workflow), it does work because of the formal workflow that it has. Including the fact that discussions about new mentors have a section where the contributions of the Ambassador are discussed and the mentor peers provide their comments.

I don’t see a reason to keep a list of mentors-in-waiting. And, I certainly disagree with the disingenuous hint that being a ‘mentor’ is an honor or, a special title (do the mentors get a special button ? :)).

Mentoring, in my book, is a responsibility and it pleases me to see the Ambassadors who take time and make effort to coach new Ambassadors and also take time to select new mentors thus helping the project recognizing talent and appreciating contributions. Everyone can, and should, help the other person find their feet within the project and encourage contributions. Coupling this facet of a FOSS project with the idea that ‘mentor’ is a title is not only plain wrong now but wrong forever. And saying that someone who volunteers to spend time and effort to coach and help another person become a better contributor doesn’t possess any special skills (what skills are special anyway ?) is also being facile. I could draw analogies from various everyday situations at home where the “this role doesn’t require special skills” would lead to volatile situations, but you understand what I am talking about.

It is not in the special skills. It is in the special person.

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