Mentors, you are needed! Interview with Gaia Armellin

We spoke to Gaia to find out more about being a mentor in the UX sector.

The role of the mentor is as old as politics. Plato famously mentored his protégé Aristotle; a century earlier Confucius was mentoring a host of men seeking to serve government in ancient China. Politics hasn’t changed a great deal since: ideas are still passed between one generation of leaders to the next, mentoring is still how you learn to lead. But business has changed, inexorably and exponentially. Apps as we know them now, through which more and more businesses launch, grow and are run, didn’t exist 15 years ago. In 15 years from now, apps will be unrecognisable or obsolete.

Finding a mentor in these newer, fresher, younger sectors can be a hard task, primarily because the line between budding programmer and experienced programme manager is blurrier, thinner, less established. For example, there are thousands of data professionals out there with the experience and expertise to mentor, who would initially balk at the idea of mentoring out of a lack of confidence or because they don’t fit the wise old sage stereotype. 

This needs to change: it’s time we see the mentor as a multigenerational breed. Gaia Armellin is a UX Consultant from Italy, now based in Amsterdam. She runs her own social enterprise helping changemakers and companies that want to make a change in their communities through workshops, projects, and online content. Eight years into her career, she now mentors those starting out on their career path. As a UX mentor, she listens to her mentees’ goals, reviews their work and job hunting strategy, provides suggestions on how they could improve with the resources they have or how they could leverage their skills to change their career.

What characteristics are important for a good mentor? 

Listening is the number one characteristic. As a mentor, you’re at the service of your mentees and you’re supporting and cheering for their agendas. The next is being ready to be humbled and learn every day. It’s your responsibility towards the mentees to provide the best service they deserve. Last but not least, be comfortable with discomfort. Humans tend to see patterns but each mentee is unique. Be ready to change your approach based on who you have in front of you at that specific time. If they cannot understand your advice, it’s your fault, not theirs - or you might not just be the right mentor for them. 

Why be a mentor? 

I don’t have a specific reason to be a mentor. I had – and still have – mentors, and have found that each one of them has helped me immensely in my improving as a person and as a professional. I just think now is my time to pay all that back to people just starting out, just as I was at the time. As for benefits, in most cases mentoring opens my eyes to how I should do things better because I’m learning while I’m teaching others, but definitely it makes me the happiest to know my mentees are reaching the goals they set for themselves - and they might eventually reciprocate to the next generation. 

Can you give an example of good UX design mentorship in practice? 

First off, always keep in mind the goal the mentees shared with you and provide feedback based on that. Then encourage them to find their own solutions with the resources and skills they have - don’t provide it for them. Your goal is to make the mentees independent and ready to take on the world. For that, provide them with inspirations and tips from other mentors or people you admire as a mentor. Anybody can be a mentor and a mentee. 

And the bad?

Pushing your own agenda on the mentee. Try to turn them into what you want them to be. Or just doing all the work for them. But worst of all, being nice and not providing valuable feedback. Diplomatic is one thing, sugar-coating is another. 

How can UX design candidates make a difference during the recruitment process? 

I cannot stress it enough, the recruitment process is like dating. You are there for the other person and company to make them fall in love with you - or at least ask you out for a second ‘date’. Do your research, be prepared, show your enthusiasm, listen, ask questions, say how others praise you (everybody likes confidence but nobody likes boasting), compromise but never lose sight of your needs. Have fun, and never ever ever take it personally if somebody says “Next!”. As in dating, you’re investing in them as much as they’re investing in you. Even if sometimes it doesn’t work out, you keep finding your own worth and be okay with learning, and the next time you might just find your match. 

What should UX design candidates ask about during the recruitment process? 

“What is your biggest problem and how can I help you solve it?”

You can find more about Gaia and her work on her fantastic website

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