Haefele RISE. Train. Mentor. Coach
At the end of 2018, it became clear to me that we are built for more than just developing software for our clients.
Looking beyond the obvious growth over the past 3 years, something special stood out. Not just that we had pulled together a solid base of talent across 43 individuals, but that almost all of us enjoy teaching and mentoring. Most companies would be fortunate to have a handful of such teachers, those willing to share and coach those around them, but it is truly special when nearly everyone walking the passage enjoys putting up their hand and sharing knowledge to enhance their team and others.
I’d like to think this is a product of our culture, but in reality its a combination of factors starting with the individuals themselves, who have the knack of being the mentor and the mentored, seamlessly and sometimes simultaneously, each carrying sufficient humility to listen knowing you don’t know everything, and at the same time, being sufficiently skilled and prepared to step up and teach when the time calls for it. This is something special and it became clear we need to both protect it and harness it. And so, we introduced the initiative RISE.
For us, RISE is all about teaching, coaching and mentoring and brings together all our mentoring efforts under one umbrella, providing some structure to those efforts that need it, and otherwise a place to explore new ways of mentoring in software and business, both internally (for team members, interns) and externally (for clients, students, broader community). As Stephen King puts it, “Talent is never static. It is always growing or dying” and RISE is one of the ways we prepare that talent for growth.
At present, RISE represents 8 efforts:
- Skills & Development
- Blogs & Articles
- TECH Talks
- Meetups & Events
- Courses & Series
Below, we’ll outline a little bit about the first 5, which are underway. The latter 3 for development in 2020 so will make that the target of another blog later this year, or early next.
With the pace of the industry, career progression in IT can be very inconsistent in the market, across Business Analysis, Development and Testing disciplines. It’s often very subjective and context-dependant to determine whether a developer, analyst, or tester is in intermediate, or senior, or neither. From our perspective, it’s a mix of hard skills, soft skills and experience – importantly quantity and quality of experience – that makes for progression.
This in isolation isn’t rocket science – most professions call on a mix of hard skills, soft skills and experience (quantity and quality), but what’s harder is determining that definitive, objective list of hard skills and soft skills, and what’s even harder is trying to determine where the line is e.g. between intern/junior, and junior/intermediate, and intermediate/senior, and senior/lead. Each company draws these distinctions somewhere, either explicitly or vaguely, making it inconsistent across the industry.
The closest thing we have to an “industry standard” would be “a senior developer has a degree qualification and 8 years experience” which is wholly inadequate. E.g. a developer that has 8 years’ experience in a single stack, with limited exposure, on unhealthy teams, surrounding by poor process could very well be less experienced than a developer with 4 years’ experience, engaged in 3 different solutions on healthy teams with good process, with exposure across the development cycle. Does that make the latter developer a senior too, or does it make both of them just intermediate developers?
There are a lot of blurred lines, making this confusing to clients, who have their own expectations on what senior means, and additionally confusing to the software professional who is interested in progressing their career. We feel that companies who don’t have a clear sense of progression, indirectly contribute to the already-high levels of staff turnover among software professionals, as the only way for an individual to advance their career is to move companies.
So what did we do?
As part of RISE, our approach to this has been to engage across developers, analysts and testers to each unpack the set of hard and soft skills needed for healthy software development teams, and tease out the quantity vs. quality of experience that is demanded as someone progresses their career from junior to lead. We’ve taken a few months to do this, discipline by discipline, team by team, building a set of attributes/qualities that developers, analysts and testers themselves have defined and grouped as expected at progressing levels. This has become our Progression Guide, giving a guide to each individual’s progression, which now facilitates positive and constructive conversations about what important skills and attributes are missing, conversations focussed on mentoring those missing pieces, by avoiding subjective opinion, and talking to a standard that the team members themselves have set.
We’re committed to improving this guide iteration by iteration, ultimately to provide high-quality mentoring enabling each and every software professional in the business to RISE.
Skills & Development
As touched on above, part of career progression is about hard skills, so we’ve worked to increase our annual budget for Skills & Development year on year since 2016, trying to provide more access to formal courses for individuals in the company, either those where a gap has been identified, or where a qualification or skill will play to a competence we’re looking to build in a team or the business as a whole.
This starts out as a Wishlist trio from each individual, providing 3 software/technology/business-related courses they’d like to improve themselves with (1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice), and from there, as far as possible, one choice of each individual is prioritised to best fit their career, team, and business direction. We are currently working to up-skill at least 1 individual per month, hopefully building to 2, then 3 over the coming year.
Blogs & Articles
We’ve finally launched our blog introducing a platform for the business to share key stories, technical and opinion pieces on technology, coding, business, and our approach to building teams and solutions. So far, we’ve published a few covering a range of topics and excited to keep this growing with anyone in the company invited to write and share a relevant topic.
Below is a summary and link to a few topics we’ve published so far:
This is an important part of RISE as many blogs expects to teach and coach others (internally and externally) on a relevant technical topic or challenge in the industry, and equally, the research and preparation involved from the author to publish a piece, provides a great opportunity for mentoring and growth, in itself.
While we’ve hosted many internal TECH Talks since 2017, this is first year we’ve begun to formalise (and film/stream) each talk into a library, building a body of tutorials and teachings across a variety of topics, soon to be published on our YouTube channel.
Below is a summary and link to a few topics we’ve published so far, and we look forward to building this library, one talk at a time, every second Friday.
Much like Blogs & Articles, our TECH Talks are central to RISE as many talks aim to teach and coach (again, both internally and externally) on a relevant technical topic, and again, the research, preparation and the additional presentation involved from the speaker, provides an incredible opportunity for mentoring, confidence building, and growth, in itself.
RISE isn’t just about teaching, coaching and mentoring ourselves, but stepping out and looking for opportunities to mentor in our community.
This idea became clearer and clearer through our last two Steering Committees – where some 12 individuals cross-cutting the company, across disciplines, across teams, across seniority, take a joins us for a half-day to work “on” the business, not just “in” the business). In these sessions, our collective appetite to teach started to go beyond a purely inward focus with suggestions to get more involved in the community, starting with schools, to share more with learners in IT who are eager to learn from professionals a few years ahead of them.
After scouting a few schools, The Settlers High School around the corner from our N1 City offices emerged as a leader in understanding the value of mentorship and coaching, already seeking all kinds of opportunities for their grade 10, 11 and 12 IT classes. After exploring some ideas and our collective vision for the students, we set our first initiative in motion for 3 Open Days, one per class, to open our doors to approximately 15-25 students at a time.
Each Open Day involved a 2 hour visit on-site in our N1 City office, providing a walk-through and semi-structured forum to cover some key topics in IT and our business, our guideline agenda below:
10:00 – 10:15 (15m)
Intro to Haefele Software
10:15 – 10:30 (15m)
Intro to Business Analysis
A day in the life
Real recent examples
Panel: Jonathan, Alan
10:30 – 11:00 (30m)
Intro to Development
A day in the life
What are our clients building
Panel: Guy, Shahn, Johan, Brad, Paul, Harley, Darian (varied by day)
11:00 – 11:15 (15m)
Intro to QA
A day in the life
Real recent examples
Panel: Clint, Lucky (varied by day)
11:15 – 11:30 (15m)
Paths into software
Various career paths
Various study options
11:30 – 11:45 (15m)
How to prepare yourself
Pace, Trends, Mentors, Play!
11:45 – 12:00 (15m)
Grade 10 – April 4th
Grade 11 – April 10th
Grade 12 – April 16th
All in all, we had the privilege of hosting over 50 IT students, a trend-setting mix of guys and girls, aged 15-18 and were excited to engage with them, presenting aspects of Business Analysis, Development and QA, giving them a “day in the life” glimpse into the roles using real recent examples while touching on trends of the industry and exploring the different paths into software.
While each group was unique, leaning towards different questions, it was clear we have some smart kids and promising talent in South Africa. Within the group, it was inspiring to see some students having been involved in code from as early as 10, and hearing the kinds of questions you want to hear from the next generation of technologists – questions about trends, coding languages, qualifications, how to set yourself apart and humble seeking advice.
Personally, the best question of all, I received from a grade 10.. “so where do I sign up?”. While partly a joke, that is the exact attitude South Africa needs. That is the right question, and keep asking it. That is the exact reason Haefele Software changed strategy from growing our UK operation to build a team in South Africa, and I know, in that group of 50, we were looking at future developers, analysts, testers, scrum masters, designers, product owners, and employers, and I’m so proud to have had a small part in sparking their interest in our world of dev. And I’m looking forward to seeing some of their CVs in 2-3 years 🙂
Thank you to all our speakers for sharing and teaching.. Guy, Shahn, Johan, Brad, Paul, Harley, Darian, Jonathan, Clint, Lucky, Rene’ and Rihan. Thanks for giving of your time to inspire some young coders!
Thank you to their principle Ms. Gallie and their IT head Mr. Nieuwoudt for facilitating and sharing this vision with us, and being the teachers these aspiring professionals need. I’m excited to expand on this Open Day model with other schools in Cape Town building upon our shared vision for young South Africans.
We look forward to working alongside you again later this year to explore work-shadow and holiday-internship opportunities for some of your students!
And that is RISE. Well done to everyone behind each drive – I’m excited to see how RISE and each of these facets evolve and grow, providing more opportunities for high-quality mentoring in technology and business, both inside and outside of Haefele Software!
Written by Alan Haefele, Managing Director at Haefele Software