Mentorship program proposal

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.

Basic structure

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.

Time commitments

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

Matchmaking

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.

Important note

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.

Privacy

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.

Feedback

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.

Orientation

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.

Mentor commitments:

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.

Mentee responsibilities

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.

Mentorship basics

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

Recommended reading:

https://www.pennmedicine.org/-/media/academic%20departments/department%20of%20medicine/division%20pdfs/making%20the%20most%20of%20mentoring.ashx


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.

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A couple of notes of thoughts that come up

  • To support good matchmaking, we could do some type of digital speed dating process. I have done this for the startup community, and it was a great success.
  • For inspiration, this is one of these mentoring platforms : https://mentorly.co/en
  • Outside the scope of 1on1 mentoring, doing randomly matching groups of 3-5 people every 2 weeks to get to know your community can be lots of fun. A good moment to share your thoughts about different topics within technical art.
  • Another great plaform is braindate. It allows to set topics and allow anyone to reach out to setup a video call to have a conversation about it. : https://e180.co/
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Is there any place to sign up as a mentor?

Also, can be include some diversity initiatives? I’d like to give priority to those with circumstances that create barriers for them. I’m not sure how that exactly can be done, but perhaps some dedicated slots for minorities? Can we also put effort into ‘recruiting’ diverse mentors too? I’d love to be able to contribute as part of that.

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Definitely want to reach out to as many kinds of folks as we can!

Mentor availability will be the limiting factor for the first run: In the preliminary poll we were running a bit over 2:1 would-be mentee to mentors, so want to get all kinds of mentors lined up.

I’m not sure of a good way to handle the diversity issue in matchups. From things people have said, I think we’ll have plenty of people who want to step up on that front – but with the numbers imbalance the odds are against us having the ideal matches for everyone who is looking (on either end). My initial idea (in the draft above) was that the mentees would be the ones to state their priorities rather than us using demographics directly (ie – it’s possible that some female TA really wants a female mentor , but equally possible they’d really like somebody with experience in AAA more) so my first pass idea was “say what you want and we’ll try show those (anonymized) preferences to the mentor volunteers and see who thinks they’d click with you”. But we could certainly include demographics too.

Robb’s speed-dating idea approaches the same thing from a different angle, I’d be curious to see what others think cause, honestly, it’s a lot less work :slight_smile: But I’d worry a little bit about it being too like real dating, ie, the candidates who get picked first will be the self-confident, high affect, extroverts.

The big thing is that we’ll definitely not be able to serve everybody right away, I’m very reluctant to let anybody take on more than one person for their first time (I do this sort of stuff for a living and 2-4 is a lot of people to really try to get involved with even if you do it all the time!) I’m open to any proposals about how to do it well – my hope would be that a year from now we have enough momentum and community experience that the wait times and quality of matches get better as people get used to the idea.

As for sign ups – the form it takes will depend on the outcome of these conversations; this is a good time to suggest practicalities!

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I don’t have any previous experience with a mentor, so I can’t make comparison or suggest best practices.
Reading the proposal I think that the idea is shaping up very well.
The Entry level program seems very helpful for beginners and I agree that a class approach of sort could work: I suppose that the needs of mentees will be quite similar so a n:1 relationship could suit.

It’s the Early Career program that gets my full attention, of course :slight_smile:
I like the fact that this mentoring is not a techie one but more a career guidance, at higher level.
In particular the how to mature as technical artist. I think this is really the key here: for various reasons it could be hard to meet and talk with more experienced people, we’re all so busy and expereinced people probably even more (and speaking for my personal case, it could be also a geographic issue because simply there aren’t more experienced people around). This should be, imho, the core aspect of this program.
About time commitment I think that 1.5 h/month should be fine. I wouldn’t go lower (of course, if possible) because I think that a quick 30 min chat every 10 days or so could help to keep both mentor and mentee updated and on point.
Longer period could trigger forgetfulnes (maybe more probable from the mentor side) or loosing of focus (from the mentee).
What’s your idea about emails-chats and so on? We’re talking about hours for live calls here: what are your expectations on this side? Something like “let’s call every X days but chat/email in the meantime”? Maybe something like “up to 2 written exchange between 2 calls” could work.

Hmmm… thats an interesting point. It’s 2020 so I was assuming zooms but there are written comms that are better for some things. I think it might have to be up to individuals, since some people are very happy with a keyboard and others are not great at making themselves understood in text. But if other people have benchmarks we could use for setting expectations I’d love to hear them.

Mr Thread Bump sez:
I’d like to start moving on the next step – that is, putting together the infrastructure for signups and so on – by the THIRD WEEK OF NOVEMBER. So please – if you’re interested in the program in any capacity (as a mentor, mentee, or interested community party) please add your thoughts to this thread soon!

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On that note, btw: what would people think about an extra “insta-mentor” program: basically, a setup where people could post a fairly compact problem (“I don’t know how to deal with my boss who is a jerk” or “I want to learn houdini but I don’t have any support nearby”) and get a single zoom session ?

Is that too close to what we already do via slack and the website? Alternately we could add a zoom integration or similar to the slack and/or website so people could volunteer for a realtime chat.

This was just a passing thought, I’m not sure I think it’s a good idea but I put it out in the interest of sparking discussions.

I think it’s a good idea, and whilst feasible on Slack (minus the integration), we don’t currently have an “official” process for it.
I think it’s worth investigating and making an option, whether through mentorship program or Slack (or both?).

Although it may be worth reminding people of any NDAs they are under - I can imagine it being all to easy to end up screen sharing and showing something they shouldn’t if they’re in the habit of screen sharing in the safe space of their work environment.

Good point! I’m gonna make a note to include that in our guidance to both sides…

Been following this idea for a while now and can’t wait to see how it goes!

I am hoping on being mentored. I am very new to the industry and would love to get more guidance throughout my career. Feeling lucky that this opportunity is happening!

It would be a cool idea for people like myself to learn from a mentor and one day I hope I can give back to the community in the same way.

I’m just spitballing here, but what about 2 text or voice channels somewhere for metors and metees?
Like 2 community chats where metees could talk each other and compare their experiences and share ideas…and the same for mentors.

The insta-mentor stuff looks nice, but yes it could end to be similar to what already happens on the slack or forum, where one posts a question. I don’t have ideas about how to really make it a different thing.

So the way I have looked at it has been that a mentor is 2 things:
Someone to talk to privately about abstract subjects like how to approach work as a whole, how to build career and how to deal with workplace scenarios. But not as concrete well formulated questions necessarily. Sometimes it’s just having someone to back you up emotionally in a decision or help you see a bigger picture.

The other is more for those who are not really started yet. It can be hard to get that pesky portfolio going and start applying for jobs. The mentor can act, not as someone who tracks time or judges the work, but just checks in on the progress and gives advice.
I include this one because for many, becoming i.e. training to be a TA is something that happens in spare time and the motivation can be hard to keep up.

So that is why I see mentorship as a longer lasting relationship and maybe not so much a thing that can happen in an instant.

As for structure, I feel it would be good to have an expectation of regularly scheduled talks between mentor and mentee, set from the program’s side. Otherwise, if it’s too much up in the air, people might slowly let it slide.

I agree, a longer lasting and formulated relationship would be beneficial for a majority of those who want a mentor/mentees.
That being said, I can absolutely see the appeal in a “instant mentor” who may be available to assist on a specific problem whether technical, social or career based.
I also imagine those that fall between being a mentee or a mentor might fall in this gap - perhaps even some mentors might.

Great plan, I’m looking forwards to joining. I’d stress again the importance of diversity and outreach - maybe something in the image of https://www.accessvfx.org/ ?

This looks awesome! I am a beginner and would be interested as a mentee. Someone mentioned a chats for both mentors and mentees, that does sound useful. As someone who does not have a ton of experience, the guidelines are very useful.

I also think that mentees will come with very diverse experiences, such as leaning more towards art or programming. So coming from either kind of background might be something to consider when making pairings.

Hi! I second what MBaadsgaard said, I’m a TA student from Brazil and we lack resources and guidance around here, it’s still a very foggy area of game development in my country and I feel that people that want to join it are brushed away by the lack of content or mentors. As a beginner, what I’m looking for is literally guidance on what I need to do in order to land a job in this field, as well as feedback on personal works and career tips for us that never had a job in the games industry, so the Entry-Level mentoring structure proposed by Theodox looks great to me. :slight_smile:

I’m interested in the program- as a mentor and mentee.

This sound like a great endeavor. I can share my experience in other mentorship programs as a mentee:

  • The relationship officially lasted 6 months, but we continue to check up on each other
  • Mentee has a responsibility to be proactive and reach out to their mentor, while for mentor it is a long term time commitment they need to take into account (will they be able to consistently meet\call with the mentee once a month for 6 months?)
  • My mentor helped me to analyse which field I could go to within the gaming industry: apart from general checkups on the plan we made together in the beginning for creating my portfolio, she introduced me to a few people for informational interviews.
  • While we were in different spheres at that time (me as a 3D Artist just starting out and her as an backend project manager), the program worked out great and by the end of it I had a good portfolio and found a job.

Currently I am gradually transitioning from 3D Artist to Tech Artist, however I am at the early stage of building my TA portfolio and learning more about this aspect of the industry. I am very interested in being a mentee in a small group!

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