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Coaching and mentoring for tech professionals

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Introducing Undeveloper Coaching Academy

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A new way for tech professionals to get the support they need, Undeveloper Academy blends coaching, mentoring, accreditation and community into a year long personal development package

I'm going to keep this blog post fairly brief, because I don't want to repeat too much of the content on the Academy home page. Please do head over there and take a look when you can!

I'm thrilled to be finally launching Undeveloper Academy in 2022. For some time now I've been talking to people out in the community about how much responsibility is being heaped upon people in the tech sector, many of whom are relatively new to their roles, either being new to the world of work entirely or — increasingly — having bravely decided to switch careers. Throughout all these conversations, some common themes have emerged:

  • The tech 'hiring crisis' we find ourselves in today means that more and more companies are forced to hire less and less experienced people.
  • Consequently, when those people are in position, they often don't feel that they have enough support of more experienced peers from whom to learn or to ask advice.
  • Often the business of simply delivering product and value to an employer is as much as tech workers can focus on. They don't feel they have enough time or resources to grow as professionals. Employers' progression frameworks can help, but without sufficient support employees find the onus is on them to both deliver business as usual and take full responsibility for their personal growth.
  • This puts employers in a tight bind: they can hardly afford to lose their valued tech workers to competitors at a time when hiring is so difficult, but their first priority has to be getting value from the people they have.

It's hard to see any winners in this situation. Tech professionals get overwhelmed and burned out. Ballooning salaries don't really compensate for this — they only fuel the volatility in the market. When workers inevitably churn to new employers they find exactly the same problems they saw in their last role. Employers have to decide whether or not to spend their limited budget on senior hires (often contractors) at many multiples of the salary of junior hires. That small number of senior workers tend, by virtue of their rarity, to get funelled into management tracks automatically, even if it's not something they particularly want. Either way, it's very rare for new managers to receive any formal training, and as level of seniority increases, the lack of support from above becomes even more exacerbated.

Who supports the supporters?

Undevloper Academy in a nutshell 🥜

The idea behind Undeveloper Academy is ridiculously simple:

We offer a package of mostly one-on-one coaching and mentoring support for all your tech professionals over an entire year.

Let's break that down into the salient details:

A personal development package...

Coaching is all too often remedial. For example, an employee is struggling so their employer funds them for six coaching sessions over six weeks and expects it to be a silver bullet.

Mentoring is all too often sporadic, despite best intentions.

In any case, you can't really mentor someone you manage; and you certainly can't coach them. Being measured against and responsible for the productive output of a team, while attempting to support the members of that team who each need their own time and space to grow and learn and make mistakes is an enormous conflict of interest.

Mostly one-on-one...

How much one-on-one development support have you ever had? For most of us the answer is almost none. If we're incredibly lucky we have at least one attentive parent for a few short years of our lives. Regardless, we then get bundled into a classroom with dozens of other young people with their own minds and needs and troubles for ten or so years. Some of us then go on to higher learning establishments where the classes are even bigger and where we need to work overtime to complete our learning as well as paying our way through an increasingly expensive system. Then we hit the world of work and we're straight into a team working at the coal face.

The luckiest of us have at some point either experienced what transformational stuff it is to work with a talented counsellor, therapist, coach or mentor in one-on-one converation but such experiences are fleetingly rare and often — wrongly — associated with pathology, behavioural remediation and ultimately stigma. So basically when things are going well we're put into bigger and bigger groups and left to sink or swim, and only when we start to struggle are do we grudgingly "resort" to one-on-one relationships.

Sometimes it feels like we've got the whole business of growth and learning back to front!

Undeveloper Academy guarantees a minimum of 38 hours of one-on-one time: 18 hours of time with a qualified professional coach, and at least 20 hours with a technical supervisor around a personal project running throughout the year.

In addition to the one-on-one time, there are also 36 hours of guided group mentoring circles throughout the year where delegates in a cohort come together to discuss relevant issues and offer each other support and advice.

Coaching...

The programme provides 12 monthly 90 minute professional coaching sessions with a coach who, at a minimum, has completed an ACTP-qualifying coaching course and is registered and in good standing with the International Coaching Federation. All our coaches themselves receive regular supervision to help them refine their own coaching techniques.

The coaching element of the programme focuses entirely on the delegate and tools they can use to achieve their own professional goals. The time is confidential and delegate-led — nothing whatsoever that is discussed in coaching will be shared by the coach with sponsoring employers, other delegates or any other member of the Undeveloper team. These strict boundaries avoid the conflicts of interest inherent when managers or other partial members of employing organisations try to provide coaching; and helps foster a highly trusting and safe environment in which the delegate can develop.

Mentoring...

Mentoring is different from coaching in that it typically involves the sharing of experience. The Undeveloper Academy programme achieves this in two different ways:

  1. Group mentoring circles, where delegates can discuss as a group real-life situations and support each other.
  2. One-on-one Technical supervision, where an experienced technologist works with delegates on their year-long person project.

For all your tech professionals...

The programme is designed to apply to all technology roles. Our goal is to maximise diversity within each cohort across all parameters, including job role, in order to help delegates build empathy across different roles and to discourage exclusive behaviour patterns.

Group sessions are focused around general topics relevant to many specialisms to ensure they feel inclusive to all. One-on-one coaching, as a non-advisory environment, doesn't rely on the coach having experience with the field in question. Conversely, delegates are free to make their personal project as role-specific as they choose to.

Over an entire year

I get it. We all need well-rounded, competant, confident technologists in our business and we need them yesterday! That's why we've seen the proliferation of coding and other bootcamps in the last few years, which give people a crash course in something new and shove them out of the door into the world of work.

Don't get me wrong. I've not got anything against bootcamps, in fact I think they do some amazing work, but some things just can't be rushed, and professional growth is one such thing. Pacing the Academy programme across an entire year is intentional, to allow space between each contact point for delegates to breathe — literally space to think and to grow. One of the pillars of the programme is a personal project and we encourage delegates to select a project that is expansive enough to provide at least a year's worth of growth opportunity. This acts in direct contrast to the extremely short-term projects that many agile environments favour which, while great for team output, often leave employees heads spinning and little chance for consolidated learning.

And then what happened?

I haven't really talked much about two more of the important elements of the Undeveloper Academy programme — accreditation and community — as I want to devote more article space to dealing with them directly, but in short, a really exciting part of what we want to achieve with the programme is to introduce a role- and experience-agnostic, respected mark of excellence to the tech sector. By the end of the year-long programme we think everyone will have grown to an extent that they will be objectively more excellent individual contributors, managers, team-mates and indeed members of a wider tech community. In addition to celebrating participation, we will also allow those who chose to undergo a formal assessment process to validate these qualities.

Many professional specialisms, such as project managers, agile practitioners, certain engineering disciplines, etc. have either certification or accreditation; but we believe the offering of a general mark of excellence for the tech sector will be a much-needed first for our industry, especially given the rate at which it's expanding.

The second aspect of the Academy programme, which kicks in straight away but continues long after the formal year is over, is the community of alumni. It's well established that networks are one of the most powerful tools we as professional individuals have at our disposal, but networks in the tech industry tend to be disperate and fragmented. By building a community of excellent professionals with a shared experience of the academy programme, we're hopeful we can provide a truly useful ongoing network that will be as valuable to delegates as to the industry at large.

Over time, we'll be building out the Community section of this site to house content and projects generated from within the growing Undeveloper community, so watch this space!

More information & pre-registration

It's been truly inspirational talking to people out there in the industry about Undeveloper Academy, and I've been so grateful for all the encouragement and pointers I've received from those who've helped me so far on this journey.

Now that we're in a position to open the programme up to some test cohorts, I'd love to hear your thoughts about whether you think it could work for you or your organisations.

I'm hoping to find at least two or three test cohorts of 10 delegates each to run from Summer of 2022 and assuming the feedback is positive will open the program to general availability from Spring of 2023.

If you think your company might be interested in putting delegates through the programme, or if you're interested in getting involved in whatever form, please do take a moment to fill in the pre-registration contact form; or get in touch via email or LinkedIn.

— Will