Speed Mentoring with Yahoo! Women in Tech

Vivek Sharma chats with participantsVivek Sharma chats with participants

Vivek Sharma chats with participants in one 5-minute mentoring session

“Speed mentoring” is an evocative name for an event. Is there anyone who hears it and doesn’t think of the venerable institution of speed dating, and possibly an awkward two-minute conversation with someone entirely incompatible with you? The big difference between speed dating and speed mentoring is that in the latter, you can completely control for the quality of the people on the other side of the table – and in its popular annual event this week, Women in Tech did just that. The WIT committee enlisted the participation of ten exceptional executives for a hour and a half devoted to short, small-group mentoring sessions:

  • Rusty Berg, VP, Service Engineering, Platform & Data
  • Olga Braylovskiy, VP, Corporate Applications
  • Dean Chabrier, VP, Talent & Development
  • David Diangson, Director, Business Development, Yahoo! Mobile
  • Kevin Doerr, VP, Mobile Products
  • Suresh Hosakoppal, VP, Chief of Staff, Technology & Operations
  • Helen Kim, VP, Operations Management
  • Elissa Murphy, VP, Engineering, Cloud Services
  • Shashi Seth, SVP, Connections Business Unit
  • Vivek Sharma, VP, Product Management – Mail, Messenger, Membership, Profiles

I have to admit, I was a little bit intimidated by this all-star list. I’m more accustomed to seeing these folks from the back of the room at a large all-hands meeting than across the table in an open discussion. And what exactly is the right career question to ask a VP with a power resume? The event’s format, though, put me at ease – as did the approachability of each of the mentors. Every table had one mentor and seven attendees, and the conversations flowed easily in the five minutes we had to chat. I had a chance to ask my own questions, and I listened with interest to the questions of my colleagues. When the five minutes were up, we all stood up and scrambled to a new table, with a different mentor and different attendees. I met a lot of great people along the way!

Our mentors tackled questions with openness, insightfulness, and sometimes humor – questions ranging from how to effectively manage a team to how to achieve work/life balance. What impressed me most about the event was not the specific questions and answers, but the many admirable qualities I saw in our leaders in these close personal interactions. I left feeling a new, personal confidence in the upper echelons of management at Yahoo!, and also feeling inspired to try to cultivate in myself the qualities I saw in them:

  • An eagerness to help: These execs took genuine interest in the questions, goals, and challenges of each participant. Every question was treated thoughtfully; I was impressed by just how approachable each mentor was.
  • A strong work ethic: In every moment in the conversation, I saw a hard-working crew. It’s not about hours, though dedication in time is meaningful -- it was also about being completely present at work, following through on all tasks, constantly seeking feedback on how to improve.
  • Discipline: A theme that came up in conversations on work/life balance was the importance of discipline – of setting limits for where your work time ends and your personal time begins. In order to do that, discipline in the work day is essential; if you need to leave at a certain time, you need to have everything finished, and that means being more focused in every moment.
  • Articulateness: Maybe this one is on my mind since it’s presidential debate season, but I really admired our mentors as speakers and moderators. Their unscripted answers showed remarkable intelligence, diplomacy, and an ability to improvise.

It really was a privilege to get to rub shoulders with our most senior leaders – and I left the event feeling inspired. I can’t wait for next year’s version!

Mentors pose with WIT committee membersMentors pose with WIT committee members

The event's "Mentors" pose with WIT committee members