We interviewed Karo Hajduk, head of Recruitment and HR at WATTx, to get insights on Jolt, the project she recently launched: Jolt is a mentorship program for people in tech who want to learn new skills or improve on existing ones.
We are happy to report this initiative because the talent shortage in tech is a big matter of concern and there are actually few initiatives attempting to tackle this issue.
Jolt relies on peer-to-peer learning. A mentor and a mentee work together in pairs on a project of their choice for an initial 3 months, meeting twice a month to track the progress. Right now there are 12 mentors recruited from WATTx ranks. Their areas of expertise cover a full scope of skills needed in a tech company including software development, embedded engineering, UX design and research, and business development as well as people operations subjects such as leadership and management.
Additionally, two co-founders of Snuk (one of the WATTx ventures) are willing to share their experiences of building a tech startup. Jolt is open for applications right now. The most important requirements to join are of course genuine interest in tech, passion and commitment! As of mid December, Jolt will also open for applications from mentors – tech experts that are happy to share their knowledge and skills with the high potentials from the tech community – so keep your eyes open.
Where did the idea to launch this program come from? What was the initial need?
The initial idea to launch this program was born as an initiative to increase gender diversity at WATTx. A couple of months ago I realised a bitter truth – we had 5 women in our ranks against 45 men at WATTx and the ventures combined! Not sure why it took me so long to realise it… Luckily it didn’t take me long to act. I jumped on the project as soon as I wrapped up other commitments at that time.
The idea quickly evolved into going far beyond the initial scope. As I started establishing partnerships with organisations committed to increasing diversity in tech, such as WWG, Geekettes, Pyladies, and WTM, I thought about involving other underrepresented groups in tech, such as LGBT people.
And then I thought, hey ho – why should we limit ourselves to any specific groups? Let’s be open for everyone who wants to learn and has drive and commitment to do so. Learning and knowledge exchange is important for everyone in tech – for individuals that want to upskill or change their career paths, for tech companies that struggle with hiring talent, for talented specialists who want to develop as educators and gain some coaching skills, while teaching others. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made.
I recalled endless discussions with managers about talent shortages, struggles of recruiters to fill the roles with quality hires, and strong competition on the talent market – all those problems the tech scene has been struggling with since its emergence – and I thought if there are not enough good quality professionals out there, let’s grow them.
That’s how Jolt was born – the initial idea aimed at tackling diversity problems in tech evolved into a knowledge sharing platform that could help people connect, exchange experiences, grow and help address the problem of talent shortage in tech.
What do you think will be the main challenges in the program development?
The program is still in its infancy with major key learnings still ahead of us. The decision to start small with twelve mentoring pairs was a conscious choice. I wanted to launch and test the program flow on the go, reacting to continuous feedback and adjusting on the go according to principles of lean development. That way we can learn quickly and be richer in experiences for the next phase of the program that will involve more mentors from outside of WATTx.
As of now, my main concerns are related to the scalability of the program. The interest to participate is quite high, so I wonder how we would manage large numbers of mentoring pairs. Another challenge I can anticipate now is related to ensuring the quality of mentoring sessions. Anyway, experiences of running the first phase will show whenever those concerns were justified. We might encounter completely different challenges along the way. What’s important is to remain alert to potential problems and solve them as quickly as possible.
Why did you choose mentorship over the other forms of learning (e.g. online courses)?
I wanted to leverage the power of knowledge exchange in personal interactions between people and facilitate their connections. There are many online resources that are a great source of knowledge, but not that many opportunities for human interaction.
Also, I used to live in San Francisco for some time and got inspired by the mentoring culture in Silicon Valley. The scene is very strong there – many people I met there were willing to share their knowledge.
As Berlin’s scene is still relatively young, I thought about mentoring as a good way to bring people together to collaborate, exchange their knowledge, and, as a result, grow Berlin’s capacity as a tech hub.
What are the goals of this program? What kind of candidates do you expect to apply to become mentees?
A great thing about Jolt is that everyone can apply. All we expect from mentees is genuine interest in the expertise area they want to be mentored in, lots of commitment, and passion!
During the application process, we ask prospective mentees why they would like to join the program and what they are hoping to gain from it in order to evaluate their motivation. We also check how clear they are about their expectations.
We don’t want to disqualify complete beginners, but I’d rather expect applications from people that already gained some initial knowledge in the field they want to progress. This is related to the form of learning Jolt facilitates. Mentoring pairs meet once or twice a month for check-in sessions to get feedback and track progress. The main responsibility of completing a project sits with mentees. They are in the driver’s seat and the initiative belongs to them. The role of mentors is structured around guidance and advice, rather than laying down the foundation for mentees. I’d imagine that this form of learning won’t fit complete beginners that normally require a solid baseline introduction before starting in the area of expertise.
How did mentors react to the initiative when they first heard about it and what motivates them?
People were very keen to participate. Actually, it’s been really amazing seeing people stepping forward and willing to share their knowledge!
Recalling the beginning of my career, I wish I had someone willing to share their experiences with me. That would have helped me navigate my next career moves more smoothly. When talking to prospective mentors, I discovered that the majority of them felt similarly and that’s what motivated them to join the program. Another motive was an opportunity to grow personally – as educators.
For some of the mentors, Jolt will be a first mentorship experience. They are great experts in their fields, so I’m sure they will be of great help to their future mentees. Surely, they have lots of questions on how to be good mentors, how to communicate effectively, and how to pass on their knowledge. All of those concerns are completely justifiable – they just want to be the best mentors they can. Jolt has been designed in a way to address those concerns and support mentors in their endeavours.
We have planned for a number of sessions that cover subjects relevant to effective mentoring, including SMART goal setting, time management, and providing feedback. We also have a dedicated slack channel and weekly syncs to enable frequent communication, as well as lots of online resources for reading. I’m confident that such a smart and dedicated group will make excellent mentors.