Even Self-Starters Benefit from Coaching
Last December, I read a book that completely shifted my approach to experiential learning this year: The Memo by Minda Harts. It offers real career guidance to Black women and other women of color, who often find themselves navigating their careers (including workplace politics) without support.
One section of the book, “A Winner Needs a Coach” struck a chord in me. Minda writes:
“One untapped resource I discovered not being used by many women of color was career coaching. I wanted to understand why so many of us weren’t investing in ourselves this way, so I interviewed over one hundred women of color and asked them if they had ever used a career coach. Only five said yes. I asked them how they found out about executive coaching and they said their white colleagues had one.”
“ Unfortunately, the reality is that if you don’t have someone other than yourself invested in your career, then you must identify your blind spots and figure out where there’s room to improve. Have you noticed that every professional athlete has a coach? Why would you be any different? You are the captain of your team.”
How I Captained My Own Team
This made me think back through my career trajectory. There were times where I was lucky to have a manager who served as a mentor or “coach”, but for the most part, I did things on my own. I sought out internal growth opportunities on my own, took charge of my professional development by attending graduate school and conferences, and determined the next best step careerwise. I even made the case to an old employer why we needed a content management role, and I was promoted to content manager. I’m proud that I’ve done those things; a lot of good came from following my own curiosity to unexpected places.
But to Minda’s point, there’s something about having an “expert” be a sounding board. Executives—and government officials—have advisors. Athletes and entertainers have entire teams. When they have a question about a legal matter, they call their counsel. A financial matter, they call their accountant. A business matter, they call their manager, and so forth.
Many working professionals have to figure out so much on their own; that includes the mundane, like writing professional emails, facilitating a meeting, designing a PowerPoint presentation, and delivering feedback. Indeed, many of us weren’t formally trained in any of these things; we learned on the job, often without feedback or opportunities to improve. It’s like having to learn the lines of a play half an hour before the curtains go up. Ready or not, you have to perform.
This revelation made me realize that no matter how driven I was, I could improve with the right guidance. So this year, I worked with an executive coach (which led to a promotion), I hired someone to re-do my resume (instead of reading how-to articles and hoping I applied their tips correctly), and I hired a business coach (to help me get out of my own head). These investments paid off—I started a new business and my career prospects improved. But they also gave me a different perspective about myself and taught me a new way of doing things.
“A Winner Needs a Coach”
We’ve all found ourselves in the position of “coach” at one point or another. In my last role, I was both a content strategist and a “coach”, offering guidance to developer advocates who worked on a wide range of content activities. I came into the role with various perspectives: that of a content consumer, a marketer, and a user experience professional. I spent years learning as much as I could about content — from technical writing to UX to marketing. In my role as a “coach”, I was called upon to assist with everything from pitches to publications to navigating book deals to explaining how blog post syndication works.
And this year, developers booked one-on-one sessions with me to discuss promoting their podcasts and newsletters, to creating their personal blog, and developing a writing practice. Each person and scenario was different, and my approach was tailored to each. But they all had two things in common: they were all motivated and had spent a lot of time learning and doing on their own before seeking me out.
“When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears”
When we seek out a coach, an instructor, or a mentor, we’re seeking a few things. We want someone who has experience in a wide range of situations and someone who cares enough to listen to us. We’re seeking personalized feedback and someone who can help us improve. We’re also seeking focus and direction.
Developer advocate Sam Julien said it best: “Content fatigue is real.” The great thing about today is that we have access to content on all sorts of subjects, making self-teaching more available to many. But the downside is that there are also endless options available, all clamoring for our attention, like the never-ending list of items on a diner menu. And sometimes, we have a very specific question or need that we’re seeking out that can’t be readily answered in a one-size-fits-all solution. Who or what do we turn to for those questions?
Coaching—and by extension university courses and mentorship which offer 1:1 opportunities and individualized feedback—is something I intend to continue for the foreseeable future. There are simply things I’m not the best at and want someone else to handle. And there are also things that I can develop and get better at under the tutelage of someone who has invested time and effort into becoming the best they can be at that same thing. And we don’t need a coach forever, just until we’ve learned what we need. But there is always something we can improve. (By the way, many employers will pay for coaching. Check if your company offers a professional development stipend and what types of activities are covered.)
Developer Advocates, I’m Here to Help
In this vein, I’m excited to share that my content program for developer advocates is a coaching program first and foremost. Developers do benefit from online courses and eBooks—I’ve written eBooks that thousands of developers have read. And participants in my coaching program will have access to an exclusive library of content on a range of topics. But many online programs and even eBooks don’t give you personalized feedback. They don’t track your progress. They don’t offer best practices, templates, and frameworks that you can adjust and make your own. That’s where DevRel CMS comes in.
If you’re a developer advocate who creates content as part of your job, you probably have a lot of questions. You're learning content marketing on the job and often on your own. You look to other developer advocates for inspiration and advice, but there are few resources internally guiding you toward the next best step. If that sounds familiar, know that you're not alone—and you don't have to go at it alone.
Learn more about the program at www.devrelcms.com and fill out the application form by 8 November (takes five minutes). There are only five spots in the program and one of them could be yours.
DevRel Teams: Work with me 1:1 via DevRel CMS, my content coaching program. And purchase The Developer's Guide to Content Creation for templates, best practices, guided exercises, and resources to help your team become better content creators!