How to build your learning culture
At Teachers Pay Teachers, we've been experimenting with a novel social learning format for the past two years. In this article, I discuss the motivations, design, and results of our experiment: reserving 10% of engineering time for personal growth.
Why does learning matter?
We learn to keep up with an evolving world that's changing quicker than ever. Consider the mobile landscape: iOS and Android didn't exist 15 years ago, and a rich mobile experience felt exotic. Just ten years ago, releasing software monthly was considered moving fast; continuous delivery was considered a bleeding-edge approach reserved for only the boldest engineering teams. Around seven years ago, Oculus was virtually unknown and mainstream VR was a pipedream. That's not to mention the rise of social media, emerging markets on the Internet, and the evolution of digital privacy and security.
There's an acronym that succinctly describes the world we're living in: VUCA
- Volatility – the world is constantly evolving;
- Unpredictability – it's challenging to predict with any degree of certainty what the next several months will look like;
- Complexity – the world has many interconnected parts and variables, which make it difficult to understand and analyze;
- Ambiguity – it's tough to grasp the bigger picture and put much of what we're observing in context.
VUCA affects employees uniquely. If you consider agriculture, excelling is primarily a matter of owning land that you can use to produce goods. For manufacturing, you focus on acquiring capital that you can use to produce goods. Knowledge work on the other hand is about acquiring information that you can use to produce goods and services.
As technology advances, the value of agriculture and manufacturing skills tend to decay more slowly. For employees, every time there's a new tool, platform, or even social norm we must revisit our assumptions and potentially rethink everything. For example, in 2011, 28.5% of websites relied on Adobe's Flash Player and less than ten years later, that figure has fallen to less than 3%. Most Flash developers had to acquire an entirely new skillset in that time to stay relevant. As another example, in 2019 alone, demand for engineers familiar with blockchain rose 517% according to Hired.com's 2020 State of Software Engineers report. If you have a few years of blockchain experience, that puts you in the 99th percentile.
As companies evolve continuously to keep up with the pace of innovation, employees must learn continuously as their teams adopt new strategies, technologies, and best practices. In a VUCA world, teams that learn well, perform well.
What makes learning at work challenging?
Beyond learning to keep up with a changing world, it's been demonstrated that learning is a great use of time.
The 2019 Edition of LinkedIn's Workplace Learning Report compared heavy learners (people who spend 5+ hours per week learning) to light learners (people who spend fewer than one hour per week). LinkedIn Learning reports that heavy learners are 47% less likely to be stressed at work, 48% more likely to have found a sense of purpose in their work, and 74% more likely to know where they want to go in their career. Despite the benefits of learning, people typically struggle to make time for learning at work. In the same report, LinkedIn Learning found that 74% of people want to learn using spare time at work and 94% of respondents would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career. Despite this, the number one reason employees feel held back from developing is due to a lack of time to focus on growth.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of companies struggle to engage their employees in learning programs despite consistent increases in L&D spend globally as companies attempt to close skill gaps. As a result, a whopping 75% of employees invest in their own work-related learning. Furthermore, employees spend up to 5x more time on self-directed learning than employer-sponsored learning.
It's been demonstrated that learning is a good use of time and companies are investing hundreds of billions in professional development every year. But the vast majority of professional learning continues to be self-directed. What's the disconnect?
A learning community is a group of people who share similar learning goals. Companies tend to emphasize solo learning experiences, which may be a contributing factor to the above trends; 87% of employees say sharing knowledge is a critical part of the learning experience yet only 34% of companies are investing in social learning. It seems like there's a big missed opportunity here. Could adding a social element to learning help increase employee engagement with L&D programs?
We can look to the DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) team for a clue about the value of social learning. They've conducted the single largest study of DevOps best practices in history, with more than 31,000 survey responses collected over the last several years. One of their goals is to identify the practices that separate elite performers from the rest of the pack. Their conclusions are based on data rather than conjecture, and anecdotal evidence. Their research is so good, they were acquired by Google in 2018.
DORA's 2019 State of DevOps Report concludes that:
'High performers favor strategies that create community structures at both low and high levels in the organization, likely making them more sustainable and resilient to reorgs and product changes. The top two strategies employed are Communities of Practice and Grassroots.'
They define Communities of Practice (CoP) as:
'Groups that share common interests in tooling, language, or methodologies are fostered within an organization to share knowledge and expertise with each other, across teams, and around the organization.'
The term 'Communities of Practice' was coined by Jean Lave, a cognitive anthropologist, and Étienne Wenger, a computer science Ph.D., and educational theorist. They were studying the apprenticeship models across various cultures, spaces, and times including Liberian tailors perfecting their craft; Yucatec Mayam Midwives learning prenatal care; and U.S. Navy Quartermasters learning how to navigate. They noted many groups relying on informal community structures for training and decided to call these self-organizing, knowledge-sharing groups 'Communities of Practice'.
The following four factors distinguish a Community of Practice from other types of groups:
- Purpose. The primary purpose is personal growth and building expertise.
- Membership. Members self-select based on interest or personal goals.
- Cohesive force. Shared passion and commitment of the group's members.
- Duration. CoPs last as long as there's interest.
Consider the differences between CoPs and professional networks, which may appear similar at first glance. Professional networks exist primarily for the exchange of business information; include friends and business acquaintances; are held together by mutual needs; and exist as long as people have a reason to connect.
You likely already have Communities of Practice at your company. Why is it so important to study, understand, and nurture these communities? To maximize the impact of your CoPs, you need to find ways to connect them effectively to broader business activities.
'Although communities of practice are fundamentally informal and self-organizing, they benefit from cultivation. Like gardens, they respond to attention that respects their nature. You can't tug on a cornstalk to make it grow faster or taller, and you shouldn't yank a marigold out of the ground to see if it has roots. You can, however, till the soil, pull out weeds, add water during dry spells, and ensure that your plants have the proper nutrients.'
- Étienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier
CoPs in practice
At Teachers Pay Teachers, we recognized many of the pain points of employer-sponsored professional development within the engineering team. We had varied and nuanced learning needs with many going unmet; we offered a learning stipend that was frequently unused; engineers on the team started groups resembling CoPs, but they typically had low engagement; and internal experts were struggling to scale their knowledge.
Two years ago we began experimenting with reserving 10% of engineering time for personal growth and introduced two types of CoPs for structured social learning.
The first kind of CoP we introduced was the Learning Guild, consisting of a group of engineers with shared interests. They're focused on learning priorities set by the engineering management team. To set learning priorities, we, as engineering management, reflect on the gaps and weaknesses we want to turn into strengths and core competencies. That includes hiring needs, shifts in our technical strategy, product performance, and various feedback channels such as engagement surveys.
The guilds pursue their learning goals using 2-3 week sprints. Each sprint consists of reading assignments and practice exercises to help members learn more deeply. At the conclusion of each sprint, the guild has a meeting consisting of a presentation by a member of the group followed by an open discussion.
This format has worked incredibly well for us with our most successful guilds seeing 100% retention; high scores for self-perceived learning; and a 97% speaker preparedness rating, which is a metric we use to ensure presenters are leading high-quality guild discussions. Ultimately, we've built a healthy iterative loop around learning that's directly connected to the broader needs of our company.
The second kind of CoP is the Project Guild, which is how we structure self-directed learning. Project guilds consist of small group projects chosen by the group themselves. The primary requirement is that projects are connected to Teachers Pay Teachers in some way. Teams use Friday afternoons to make progress and frequently demo their work when they hit major milestones. So far, project guilds have been an excellent way to turn impactful work into learning opportunities such as experimenting with the introduction of a new user flow, formalizing process for our internship program, and exploring the introduction of a major new piece of infrastructure. Our longest project guild has been active for longer than a year! Most of that work simply wouldn't have happened without a structured learning and development program.
We've observed several other benefits for both CoPs, including the following:
- A new cultural institution of learning has been firmly established among the engineering team;
- Other functions at Teachers Pay Teachers have adopted similar approaches to L&D;
- We're seeing greater recognition of internal experts now that they have a natural forum to explore in;
- Engineers at every level have relied heavily on this program, from new grads to engineering directors.
Growing your learning culture
If you're interested in growing your learning culture, it's possible to start with a small, existing group such as tech leads, and invest less than 10% of your time at first. The most important factors are getting buy-in (use this write-up!); relying on business strategy to guide your learning priorities to ensure you're focused on the highest leverage skills; measuring and demonstrating value; and identifying an internal champion to launch and iterate on the program.
January is National Mentorship Month— the perfect time to focus on growing and building important relationships with mentors that will positively affect your professional career.
Research shows that mentorship greatly improves career outcomes by providing professional guidance, skill development, and support through major work and life transitions.
We asked some of our partner companies to tell us about the mentorship opportunities they offer. If you’re ready to unleash your full potential by joining an impactful mentoring program, keep reading to hear what they said. (Plus, they’re all hiring—check out their open jobs under each entry!)
“Clarus Commerce has been running a mentorship program for the last 9 years. Here is how it works:
- Senior leaders nominate mentors within their department.
- The program lasts for about 6 months.
- Those who are interested in being mentored provide 6 topics that they’d like to discuss in mentoring meetings, which help us pair people up. Mentoring topics should focus on topics such as: leadership, how to manage up, presentation skills, communication, work life balance, etc.
- We leverage our Insights and Discovery profiles that each employee has to help better understand each other’s communication styles and help facilitate great discussions.”
Learn more about Clarus Commerce here.
“PwC professionals are provided learning opportunities, supportive career growth and unique mentoring opportunities to help them to fulfill their potential. The firm has several programs that include intentional mentorship and focus on building representation, inclusion and development of their people. For example, the firm launched Enrich, an experience designed to support the development and leadership skills of high-potential female and racially and ethnically diverse senior managers and directors. There is also Thrive, an innovative two-year experience for Black and Latinx entry-level new joiners that helps lay the foundation for a successful career through culture workshops, networking, connectivity and leadership engagement.”
Learn more about PwC here.
“At CallRail we have a program called Connection Point where individual contributors are paired with members of the Senior Leadership Team. Each pair is together for a full quarter and are given topics for their meetings, topics range from; career stories, situational advice and feedback, etc. At the conclusion of the quarter the individual contributors that have been in the program have a round table lunch with the CEO. This has been a great way to foster deeper connections within the organization, demystify senior leadership and help individuals see a path forward.”
Learn more about CallRail here.
“Automattic’s Design Mentoring program is a mutually beneficial partnership providing development opportunities for all. Mentees pick up new skills or get guidance with a project. Mentors practice communication, leadership, and knowledge sharing. The organization benefits from more engaged, productive employees, who have increased job satisfaction because mentorship encourages meaningful work that aligns personal and professional goals. In our distributed work environment, mentoring provides a human connection and a trusted space to grow. Tapping into all of the design experience and skill that our organization has is a powerful way to grow individually … and collectively."
Learn more about Automattic here.
“Relativity Women of the Workplace (RelWoW) Mentorship Circles is a group mentoring program that brings together women at varying stages in their careers and from every department at Relativity. The program sessions are curated by our team and include materials, talking points and action items to help create open dialogue, build connections and develop skills for personal and professional development. The program runs around six months, and includes a kickoff, mid-point event exclusive to program members, and a closing celebration. Relativity also plans to pilot a new mentoring program with broader reach across the company in 2022.”
—Yvonne Frazier – Executive Assistant
Learn more about Relativity here.
“CDW Business Resource Groups are a key source for networking and mentoring opportunities. In 2019, our BeU BRG launched a formal mentoring program through their Project IMPACT initiative aimed at recruiting, retaining and promoting Black coworkers. It has been a successful program that has brought coworkers together across departments and roles, sharing new experiences and perspectives for both mentors and mentees.”
Learn more about CDW here.
“BRIDGE is Kinesso's reverse mentoring program bringing together senior leaders and future leaders globally. Our program pairs employees with Kinesso's Senior Leadership Team, but rather than leadership mentoring employees, our employees mentor our senior leaders!
Through mentorship programs like Bridge, Kinesso's brings together employees across generations, cultures, territories, and job levels. Giving our future leaders the opportunity to share fresh perspectives and innovative ideas allows our current leaders to look at inclusion, capabilities, collaboration, and connectivity from a completely different lens.
"(Bridge) is immensely important for many reasons, but most of all, it shows that no matter where you are in your career, you should never stop learning and growing."
—Arun Kumar, CEO at Kinesso and Global Chief Data & Marketing Technology Officer at IPG”
For more information on Kinesso, please visit Kinesso.com/careers.
Learn more about Kinesso here.
"At SoundCloud, one of our core behaviors is to embrace the challenge- but that doesn’t mean that you go at it alone. We encourage SoundClouders to ask for help and to give help to those who it need along the way. Over the past few years we have offered a mentorship program that connects rising SoundClouders with under-represented identities (gender/race/ethnicity) with more senior level employees around topics of professional branding and career growth, influencing and emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking. In 2022, we aim to launch 2 cohorts of mentorship/coaching targeting different ranks of women of color."
Learn more about SoundCloud here.
“BlackRock has nine employee networks and four professional networks – all of which offer mentorship programs or opportunities.
Our employee networks: Mosaic; Ability & Allies Network; Asian, Middle Eastern & Allies Professional Network; Black Professionals & Allies Network; Families & Allies Network; Out & Allies Network; SOMOS Latinx & Allies Network; and Women's Initiative & Allies Network.
Our professional networks: Analyst Alley, Associates Arena, Global Administrative Initiative Network, and VP Village.”
Learn more about BlackRock here.
“Having both formal and informal mentors is crucial to elevate any career. At Lockheed Martin, mentoring is the development of meaningful relationships to transfer valuable knowledge and understanding from one person to another. It is a personal enhancement strategy through which one person willingly facilitates the development of another by sharing known resources, expertise, values, skills, perspectives, attitudes, and proficiencies. Our mentoring program is tailored to the individual employee to give them the right tools, the right resources, at the right time.”
Learn more about Lockheed Martin here.
“Autodesk is a place where you can shape your future and help others do the same. The Autodesk Mentorship Program empowers employees to take ownership of their careers and build on a mindset of learning from each other by offering mentorship opportunities for professional and personal development, peer-to-peer learning, and focused networking. The program helps you identify your goals and recommends matches for a mentor or mentee to help you accomplish them. Through the Autodesk Mentorship Program, employees can make connections, grow their skills, explore opportunities and build their career paths.”
Learn more about Autodesk here.
“Cummins Women’s Empowerment Network (WEN) focuses on a mission to create the right environment by advocating for equal representation, empowering women, and fostering inclusion for every employee in all work assignments at all levels.
As part of the work to achieve such a mission, WEN focuses on mentoring and development initiatives designed to foster mentoring relationships, broaden employee networks, and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth. Initiatives include Speed Mentoring Sessions, Personal Development & Networking Events and WEN Mentoring Circles Program. This annual Mentoring Circles Program provides a monthly opportunity for exempt employees to participate in a forum for open discussion, explore new perspectives and learn from peers and leaders.
Within the Europe region we also have the Cummins Business Services mentoring program which is open to all employees at all levels.”
Learn more about Cummins here.
“Meet a pairing in Millennium’s Mentorship Program: Cari Smalley, Co-Head HR Business Partners, Americas, and Jasmin Zirino, Operations Specialist. They say, "The mentorship program is a fantastic experience for anyone who wishes to join. It allows you to meet someone you do not directly work with and grow your network. It is invaluable to have the ability to work through solutions to problems, use one another as sounding boards, and occasionally just blow off steam in a supportive space."”
Learn more about Millennium Management here.
“Mentorship is about stepping out of our comfort zone, taking charge and acting upon our ambitions, opening doors for others and learning more about the skills that make our own success.
Expedia Group has a volunteer-led program allowing every employee to have an equal chance to grow and succeed. The program has brought together a group of 1,700 Expedians from all over the world who believe in skills development and the power to elevate others while creating Inclusion at Expedia Group. Through a self-service marketplace platform and organized meetup sessions, EG’s Mentoring Program enables all employees to ask for help and embrace their own identity while belonging to a community that thrives through diversity.”
Learn more about Expedia Group here.
“At Equinix, our employee connection networks (EECNs) play an important role in bringing together communities for learning and growth opportunities, including mentoring. While mentees gain much from mentors, we often find that mentors also discover growth opportunities.
By asking these questions, we instill best practices for a successful mentorship:
What does each party want from this experience? How often to meet? Confidentiality: What’s shareable and what isn’t?
Feedback: What are the expectations around giving and receiving feedback?
And remember, a mentoring relationship is like any other relationship—it takes time to develop. Build trust by getting to know one another.”
Learn more about Equinix here.
"At Unstoppable, it is our commitment to having a crypto forward culture. Every new team member is matched with a Crypto Buddy who acts as their first point of contact outside of their direct team, guides them down the crypto rabbit hole, and welcomes them into Unstoppable’s culture. As a fully remote company, making cross-team collaboration a key part of onboarding strengthens our community. This is also an opportunity for the buddy to hone their mentoring and teaching skills. When the new hire has been with the company for six months, they will then become a mentor themselves, driving a continuous cycle of mentorship."
Learn more about Unstoppable Domains here.
“Mentoring@Uber connects employees who are passionate about helping and up-skilling others with those who are seeking guidance and development. It is a way of connecting and sharing challenges on a mutual and reliable relationship —and trying to get another perspective from an unbiased source. It’s also an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, or collaborate together to come up with a solution to professional problems that arise. People with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and even maintain more work-life balance. And mentors benefit, too.”
Learn more about Uber here.
“MongoDB has offered two pilot mentorship programs to support underrepresented groups. One program focused on promising first-line managers and ICs from underrepresented groups and the other focused on providing executive mentorship to women & nonbinary leaders at the director level and up. In both programs, participants were matched with a mentor with who they regularly met to discuss career planning and personal development. Feedback from both pilots was hugely positive with participants indicating that they received helpful support from their mentors. Members from our ERGs have also served as mentors to our summer class of interns.”
Learn more about MongoDB here.
“Our Black and Latinx ERG, Array, offers a mentorship program pairing individual contributors within Array to C-Suite and VP level mentors, including PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada. Dedicated to leveling the playing field for Black and Latinx employees, the program is structured so everyone can learn from each other. Mentees are paired with mentors from within or outside their department for a nine-month term, which includes check-ins, themed discussions, and monthly one-on-ones. Bri Solorzano, an Array mentee, explained that this mentorship program allows her to build bonds with higher level executives, and share her personal experiences as a Latinx employee and individual contributor at PagerDuty.”
Learn more about PagerDuty here.
T. Rowe Price
“Due to the highly collaborative culture at T. Rowe Price, the firm understands the value of relationships and the opportunities strong mentorship can provide. It is committed to not only developing talent within its walls but developing the next generation of talent within communities.
The firm will launch a new global mentorship program in 2022, which will offer associates the opportunity to connect with colleagues, agnostic of location or business unit. T. Rowe Price also provides leadership development to youth in the community through strategic partnerships such as the Baltimore Ravens Leadership Institute, a program aimed at high school students.”
Learn more about T. Rowe Price here.
“At Pluralsight, we take growth seriously. Which is why we offer a six-month long mentorship program for all of our employees. Our mentorship program is facilitated bi-annually by Women@Pluralsight, one of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and aims to empower participants to recognize their full potential. We intentionally pair mentors and mentees to create connections that encourage the development of skills crucial to success, and foster personal and professional growth. In our most recent cycle we paired nearly 200 participants and have plans to continue growing that number. Because at Pluralsight, your growth is our growth, and vice versa.”
Learn more about Pluralsight here.
“At Yelp, we value and actively foster an environment focused on learning and development. There are a variety of mentorship opportunities available, such as:
- New Hire Mentors — new employees are paired with a team mentor to help them onboard and get settled in.
- Engineering Mentorship Program — any IC engineer can sign up to become or get a mentor within Yelp Engineering.
- Manager Mentorship Program — new engineering managers or proto-managers can get support from experienced managers at Yelp.
- Awesome Women in Engineering — This employee resource group’s mentorship program helps AWE members find mentors or mentee within the group.”
Learn more about Yelp here.
“At Turo, we help each other. We collaborate. We challenge each other. And we create the tools to succeed independently and as a team.
When you join Turo engineering, you’re assigned a mentor, a reliable, single point-of-contact to help you set up your environment, navigate the codebase, and acclimate to Turo’s culture and workplace. Mentors have a great responsibility to ensure new Turists feel welcome, offer encouragement, and provide advice and guidance on complex matters of systems and architecture. Engineers who demonstrate our core values of efficiency, pioneering, and being down-to-earth and supportive have an opportunity to mentor new engineers. Mentoring engineers is a great way to build the skills necessary to further your career at Turo.”
“Mentoring has allowed me to deepen my technical understanding and team connections.”
– Lauren Kroner, Senior Software Engineer
Learn more about Turo here.
“In the US, Moody’s has an intergenerational mentoring program, our Pride BRG members coach youth in the Queer Coders program. Our Women’s, Veterans, and Multicultural BRGs have a variety of mentoring programs, including summer intern mentorship, our Asian Leadership Initiative and our ConectaMos Hispanic/Latinx 1:1 mentoring program. Our Women’s Group Mentoring Program just celebrated its 10th anniversary with over 800 mentor-mentee participants over 10 years. In EMEA, Moody’s offers Power to Act reverse mentoring, mentoring through the Women’s and Pride BRGs, and a parental leave mentoring scheme. In APAC, Moody’s has various cross-BRG and cross-department mentoring programs.”
Learn more about Moody’s here.
“At Condé Nast, we are focused on providing positive career development opportunities. We recently launched a Global Mentorship Program as an option for employees to connect and learn from one another. For six months, employees participate as a mentor and/or mentee to develop their careers, grow their skills and guide one another. The structured framework creates and sustains an inclusive experience that empowers everyone’s growth.
The MentorcliQ platform we use lets us create mentoring pairs based on their interests, experiences and personality compatibility. To date we have had 473 active mentorship pairs.”
Learn more about Condé Nast here.
“Thornburg Small Group Mentor Program was created to bring employees of various tenures and experience levels together in order to cultivate organic relationships and opportunities for influence in a low-pressure environment.
The program consists of six small groups comprised of one mentor and three to six mentees. These groups meet for one hour every month for six months. The series concludes with a virtual event where all participants from every group can meet and share takeaways from their experiences.
- Small group format (not one-on-one)
- Low cost, low maintenance, light structure
- Flexibility for mentors to lead through individual style"
Learn more about Thornburg here.
“Women@Okta’s upcoming mentorship program:
W@Okta’s vision for the year is to empower, develop and support women-identified employees in order to ultimately improve gender diversity at Okta. One of our key methods is to empower the next generation of female leadership by providing a platform for women to connect and learn from one another through group and 1:1 mentorship opportunities. Our Professional Development branch is launching a pilot mentorship program with an initial cohort of 32 mentors and mentees.
Goals: Career, personal and organizational
Share your needs, desires, goals, and challenges; career choice and mobility.
Explore people, resources, information, expertise you need – but don’t have – to speed up, enhance, and ensure your results.”
—Professional Development Lead Christina Ghallagher (Senior Sales Development Representative) & Partnerships Co-Lead Sarah Schiff (Senior Manager, Customer First Recruiting)
Learn more about Okta here.
💎 Get some top tips before your technical interview with Uber! Don’t miss the valuable advice from a company recruiter. And get to the end of the video for the most important tip!
📼 Play this video to get three top tips that will help you ace your technical interview with Uber. You'll hear from Kelly Hay, Senior Technical Recruiter at Uber, who shares everything you need to know if you’re aiming for a technical role with the company.
📼 Tip #1: Communication Is Key. The first tip to nail your technical interview with Uber: You must articulate your approach to the various problems the interviewer will put in front of you. Also, you should demonstrate that you have the knowledge and the skills necessary to thrive in the role. So, think out loud and explain your thought process as you code! This helps fully communicate your solution and allows your interviewer to correct any misconceptions and offer high-level guidance.
📼 Tip #2: Share Your Experience. The second tip for a technical interview with Uber: Clearly illustrate your current role and projects to convey your efforts and accomplishments. Be able to describe how you've been managing various aspects of a project, from planning to completion, and how you've used your problem-solving skills to guarantee project success! Make sure that you focus on projects that had the biggest impact on the organization, where you’ve had a pretty large scope. Share all the details, including the budget timeline and why certain decisions were made. It's all about building and telling the story from the beginning of the project to the end: Why and how you got specific requirements, how you translated those requirements into engineering terms, what types of challenges you faced, and how you solved those challenges.
Tips for a Technical Interview with Uber: Be Prepared!
Take the time to read the interview prep that the recruiter provides. Also, focus on revisiting fundamentals. While it's great to impress the team at Uber with your in-depth knowledge, it's just as important to nail the basics! It may sound obvious, but Kelly highlights that recalling things you haven't revisited for a while can be incredibly tricky.
📨 Are you interested in joining Uber? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
More About Uber
We are Uber. The go-getters. The kind of people who are relentless about our mission to help people go anywhere and get anything. Movement is what we do. It’s our lifeblood. It runs through our veins. It’s what gets us out of bed each morning. It pushes us to constantly reimagine how we can move better. For you. For all the places you want to go. For all the things you want to get. For all the ways you want to earn. Across the entire world. In real-time. At the incredible speed of now. We welcome people from all backgrounds who seek the opportunity to help build a future where everyone and everything can move independently. If you have the curiosity, passion, and collaborative spirit, work with us, and let’s move the world forward together.
Cehrin Elyas spends a few hours each week with the imaginary characters she’s dreamed up. One of them is Donald, a 55-year-old man with dementia. Another is Mia, a support worker who cares for people like Donald and regularly takes him to get coffee or lunch.
Cehrin works in pre-sales at scheduling platform Skedulo, and Donald and Mia are two of the personas she’s built to help her understand her prospective clients. “I think of them like movie characters,” she says. “I put in lots of data relevant to the industries I’m pitching.”
If you’re unfamiliar with what someone who works in pre-sales needs to be like—aside from a burgeoning screenwriter—Cehrin’s got a 30-second elevator pitch that sums it up:
“You just need to be an out-of-the-box thinker, a problem solver, and a good storyteller. You need to be confident and curious and have the thirst to learn more. The other things will follow,” she says. “You don’t have to be technical. You can always learn that.”
The India-born, Australia-based Solutions Consultant sat down with us to unpack more about the field and what she loves about it.
The Art and the Science
Cehrin studied chemistry in college, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s in the field. “I was interested in knowing what happened in the world around me,” she explains.
But she stopped short of getting a PhD because she realized she needed more interpersonal engagement.
“I had a light bulb moment where I felt I’m not meant to be confined within four walls, talking to chemicals,” she says, smiling. “I’m not that person. I needed to be around people. So I shifted my career path and I started again from scratch.”
Cehrin had been a leader in AIESEC, an international student organization, while in college, and had experience building a team. She applied for a role at a call center as a team lead, where that experience translated quite well, and later took a job at a SaaS company where she was in charge of communicating with clients after they’d purchased the product.
“It was post-sales, but it wasn’t advertised like that,” she says. In that role, she ran workshops, taking just-onboarded clients through the product’s capabilities.
When she came across a posting for a pre-sales role at Skedulo on LinkedIn, she was intrigued by the opportunity—and Skedulo’s work to support billions of deskless workers, including care workers and other healthcare professionals. Cehrin is especially passionate about work that impacts the disability sector.
“I enjoy working in that space; I understand the lingo, and I understand what goes on in real life, because I have friends and family who have encountered disabilities, or who work as carers,” says Cehrin.
“Solving problems for [care workers], making their life easier, is great work,” she says.
She applied and went through an interview process that included a role-play pre-sales presentation, which Cehrin enjoyed, and she got an offer.
Now, with some experience under her belt in an official pre-sales role, Cehrin can look back and see the connections between her original field of study and her day-to-day work.
“I come from a science background,” she says. “I know how to research my work. If you don’t know something in pre-sales, you go and look for it. That’s one thing I take from my degree that helps me every day: the research mentality.”
That being said, she’s certainly learning the importance of staying adaptable. “Sometimes you write a protocol to run an experiment. You know that if you follow it, these are the results you’re going to get. In pre-sales, you can apply the same methodology, but you need to tweak it a little bit. You need to add in your own flavor, otherwise it doesn't work.”
A Week in the Life—and the Skills That Support It
In any given week, Cehrin’s activities include:
- Doing 3-4 demos for prospects
- Meeting with the 4 salespeople she supports to better understand their expectations and needs
- Researching and updating her personas
- Staying up-to-date on Skedulo’s products via release logs, newsletters, and other updates
Across the board, she relies on her ability to be a good storyteller.
“You need to be able to make decisions on the spot. You need to have the presence of mind and the independence to work, because no one’s going to tell you what to do,” she says. “And you need to be able to tell a story. Understanding your client’s challenges and requirements is great. Knowing the product you’re selling is great. But the key thing is how you’re going to marry them together. It’s the art of telling the story in a way they’ll remember and that has an impact on them.”
That storytelling focus is why she thinks you can build technical expertise on the job in pre-sales. “If you’re worried about having a degree or a diploma or a certificate, don’t be,” she says. “I’m not technical at all, but I’m still in this space and flourishing. Experience is more valuable.”
For those brand-new to pre-sales, Cehrin suggests getting some baseline familiarity by listening to the podcasts produced by The Pre-Sales Collective.
“It’s very experienced pre-sales people coming and talking about how they went about handling a prospect, what were the challenges, and tips and tricks for pre-sales people in that space to implement in their work,” she says. “If you have the attitude to learn and be curious, you can be in this space.”
At the end of the day, what Cehrin most enjoys about her work is her ability to lean on all of her skills to bring people together. “I get to be the advisor, which I love,” she says. “The clients come to you, your salespersons are counting on you, and you’re driving the solution that’s best for them and for the client, making sure everyone’s happy. You just get all the attention!”
💎 Get ready for a competency-based interview with these valuable insights from a Netskope recruiter!
📼 Have you ever heard of a competency-based interview? It’s also known as a structured, behavioral, or situational interview, and it’s designed to test one or more skills or competencies. Watch this video, where you’ll meet Nicole Wilczynski, a member of the Talent Acquisition team at Netskope. She’ll review Netskope’s application process and give you some insights on how to best prepare for this type of interview.
📼 The best way to prepare for a competency-based interview is to review your resume and think of some projects and situations you’ve encountered in previous roles. When asked behavioral or situational questions, always provide a brief example to back up your answer. Think of something specific and unique to yourself, rather than delivering something generic.
📼 Apart from preparing the best answers for a competency-based interview, you should consider polishing your resume. Recruiters see a ton of resumes every day. Yours must stand out to make it through the first round of the selection process. You should use a few keywords in your resume. Look at the job description and make sure that your background aligns with what the company seeks. If so, you should probably already have those important points in your resume. For example, if you're a software engineer, list some technologies and programming languages that you know. If you're in sales, throw in some metrics: numbers are your friends!
Competency-Based Interview: Netskope Recruiter’s Go-To Questions
Nicole’s go-to question for a candidate is always, “What do you know about Netskope?” It's so important to research a company before the initial recruiter call because it shows your level of interest. Nicole also always asks the candidate, “What are three things that are most important for you in your next role?” It helps her understand what the candidate prioritizes, whether that's a great culture, high salary, or good work-life balance. As Nicole says, there are no wrong answers for this one! She just wants to make sure it's a mutual fit.
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Netskope? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
More About Netskope
Netskope is the leader in cloud security. They help the world’s largest organizations take full advantage of the cloud and web without sacrificing security. Their mission is to evolve security for the way people work. They believe that people and companies should collaborate without limits, working safely across the cloud, web, devices, and locations. Their patented Cloud XD technology eliminates blind spots by going deeper than any other security provider to quickly target and control activities across thousands of cloud services and millions of websites. With complete control from one cloud, their customers benefit from 360-degree data protection that guards data everywhere and advanced threat protection that stops elusive attacks. At Netskope, they call this smart cloud security. Founded by early architects and distinguished engineers from security and networking leaders like Palo Alto Networks, NetScreen, Juniper Networks, Cisco, and VMware, Netskope’s team is the strongest.