LISA15 interview with Larissa Brown Shapiro, Mozilla

Mentoring: a reward for both parties

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Photo by Jen Wike Huger

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Are you a mentor? Or, maybe you're someone who identifies as a bridge builder, just looking for the right opportunity to help someone out—because working in tech can, well, be hard sometimes.

One of Mozilla's senior engineering program managers, Larissa Brown Shapiro, wants to show us how mentoring in tech communities can be rewarding for both parties. She plans to give two talks on the subject at the practical tech conference, LISA15:

  • Being the Bridge Builder: Mentoring for Individuals, Communities, and Organizations
  • Explicit Invitation: Mentoring and Community Building for Inclusion

Read more in this interview.

Do you think people are mentors and they don't even know it?

Yes, definitely this can happen, though most of the time to have a really great mentoring relationship there needs to be a lot of intentionality. That said, I have experienced several people as being my mentors who didn't know that they were in that role in my life for quite a while.

What do you hope attendees get out of your session? Will they get actionable tips for how to mentor?

The feeling that they can be the person who reaches out and creates welcoming, inclusive development experiences for people. Both sessions will have a lot of actionable ideas, specific processes, and an overall framework for how to build a mentoring program (in the first session) and how to make sure you're making your program as inclusive as you can (the second).

I'll be offering guidance for individuals, companies and organizations. The first workshop (Being the Bridge Builder) will go through individual benefits of mentoring and being mentored; and we can talk through how to set up a mentoring program if the specific audience wants it. This is a workshop, so I will tailor the content to the audience. The second workshop (Explicit Invitation) will go into more details about how and why mentoring for diversity and inclusion is important for building an inclusive workplace; it will also review core diversity concepts such as unconscious bias and impostor syndrome as well as how to design mentorships and community development to be specifically welcoming to women and underrepresented minorities in tech.

How many open source organizations have you been a mentor for?

I've had a formal or informal mentoring relationship at three open source organizations, and also on an open source project at a company that was not all open source, and on a myriad of projects.

My favorite mentoring program I was a part of was TechWomen. I have worked closely with six women through that program and less formally with many more. What I'd say about that experience is that I am always learning at least as much as the other person. I've mentored women from all over for that program, from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Cameroon, Kenya, and Lebanon. Some of them have been in my same career track, some not.

I've learned from all of them and I'd like to think they've learned from me. Every person has something valuable to teach.

What has your career been like?

My own career has followed an unconventional track. I got my degree in Womens Studies, and while doing so I learned UNIX, basic sysadmin, and HTML in the labs at school. When I decided I didn't want to be an academic ethicist and left my graduate program, I came home (I grew up in Silicon Valley, albeit Silicon Valley of the 1980s) and found myself an entry level web dev job (basically straight HTML... this was 1996). I worked my way through web development and then got into beta program management at Sun Microsystems, which is also where I got my first taste of open source and had my first awesome mentoring experience. Later on, after a career-family break, I ended up at Cisco and then was incredibly lucky to get a product management gig at Internet Systems Consortium working on the nameserver (BIND) that was on 90% of the global DNS. I was mentored there, by several people, especially one senior protocol engineer and one specific engineering manager. Later, I moved on to Mozilla where I've done a combination of program and product work as well as specific commuity building and mentoring work in several contexts.

Does being a mentor vary depending on who you are mentoring?

It does vary, but some things that are consistent no matter what are:

  • the importance of keeping your commitments
  • the importance of being respectful and honest
  • the importance of understanding the value of the relationship (what is being taught and learned, why it is worth both of your time, and making sure you're keeping that value alive)

What do you most look forward to about LISA15 this year?

I love LISA. It's so... pragmatic.

LISA is about hands on DevOps and sysadmin work. Its a very practical conference. I feel like mentoring is useful in many skill sets, including deeply pragmatic ones, and I'm looking forward to diving into what that looks like here.

What I'm most looking forward to at LISA15 is refining the learnings and experiences I have had with a new audience. And I'm hoping they'll bring their DevOps pragmatism to me so I can learn more from the experience.

About the author

Jen Wike Huger - Jen is the Content Manager for Opensource.com. She manages the editorial calendar and coordinates with new and current writers. Follow her on Twitter @jenwike, and see her extended portfolio at Jen.io.