Rachel, thanks for the time to respond to us all.
To address your first question to me - the "train down to move up" scenario is generally specific to within a company. I am in that exact spot right now - cannot move up because there is nobody to replace me just yet. I think mentoring is very similar, with just a different incentive - altruism and the desire to help others - is generally the motive. I think being able to cross polinate our experiences within the network, or within a mentoring program, helps both the mentor and the pupil. While it may not have the same effect as within your company, mentoring others is still a great practice.
As for the willingness to help those that help themselves, and others - is fairly common here. I tend to answer all the questions I can - even if the answer is "you need to research that on your own - and here is what to look for". I tend to gravitate towards questions geared towards education and certiifcation, simply because I am not a paid support engineer here. I will offer opinions, but not solutions. I too am paid for that kind of expertise and it does me an injustice to offer up those services for free here, too often.
I think the problem with the incentives is that Cisco has a lot of resources, we all know that, a LOT. There are many of us here who spend a great deal of time studying for certifications, training for our careers, spending hard earned money on training to get where we are. Our ROI is found in our salaries, and our career progression. To take time away from those efforts, there should be some kind of benefit for those who devote that time. I will continue to participate in this community regardless, but mentoring is a significant time commitment, above and beyond the participation on the message boards. I do not want to sound ungrateful, or greedy, at all - far from it - I am very thankful to have this community to interact with other engineers across the globe. However, if we as participants are going to start doing things where generally an internal employee would be undertaking that task, we should have some sort of compensation for that effort - whatever it is. The flip side is - all that time money and effort we have invested is then transferred to the pupil via the mentoring program, and they reap the rewards of our investment and their investment at the same time. Maybe that is just me........
Either way, I think this is a great program, and I'd love to be a part of it, whether as a mentor or pupil. I know I have a lot of work to do myself to get where I want to go.
"- Paul: It’s incredibly insightful to learn that you are more likely to help someone out who is visibly helping others in this community. But how might that cycle of giving be for someone who truly is new…or just a few years into this field and wants to be mentored?"
I understand where this question is coming from. However, I think that most have something to offer. Even if it is person very young in the field, this is the case. For instance as if an individual posts a question or scenario, do they repost as they figure it out. Others are helping, but the original poster can tell us what made it click "or work" for them and even add additional clarification. This is certainly participation and very beneficial to the community.
Additionally, it is pretty easy to determine if the user does some research independantly or and ask CLN to fill any gaps or questions, or if the individual just throws every question that enters their mind to CLN. Both can stimulate discussion, but the former is a much more responsible use of the resources than the latter. I think we'll find that the person that does more independant research (possibly even on CLN) will have a much better scope of knowledge. That independant research will become a basis for helping others in the future. It is my opinion that if one is serious about their studies, it doesn't take to long to reach the point that they have cleared topics that others may be struggling with. So I think even those new to the field and not yet familiar with all topics, have enough knowledge about some topics to be on both sides of participation fairly quickly.
- Finally, most of you seemed to be responding from a “potential mentor” perspective, except Matt called out both roles and Erick, you said you saw yourself as a mentee in the role of “devoting yourself to the mentor.” Is the thinking that the mentee devotes his or her time and energy to the mentor (assumedly responding to and researching the questions or challenges posted, reaching milestones, etc.) common among others reading here? Is it more a two way thing (which would be about the time constraint on both the part of the mentor and the mentee)? I would love to hear from more who have an interest in just the mentee role.
This is really interesting. I had not considered this aspect until I read this. I do see that the mentoree must devote his or her time to the mentor. However, it seems that the incintives for doing this are more personal and obvious. As others have said, you can learn from both roles. However, it is typically the mentoree that is seeking the learning for certification, salary increases, or personal satisfaction. I think it is important that the mentoree devote himself to the mentor. I can see potential cases when the mentoree would not understand where a question/discussion is going and may not put the requisite effort into it. The mentor may have a holistic view and believe that this will lead to full understanding of a topic and may be right on track. However, failure to participate by the mentoree would discouraging for both parties.
The final thing that I wanted to mention was in regards to what incintives there were beyond material based incintives. I know that I am grateful for the knowledge I have slidified from helping others. I also am very greatful for the relationships I have built with others as a result of this community. CLN is trending toward 120K strong, and even the regularly participating portion of that is a lot of people to know who you are.
I think we need to return to the question what is the function on a CLN-mentor?
Matt refered to a maven defined in wiki as is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others.
I am sure there are many other terms such as the sage on the stage but in this modern age of multimedia learning and most famously www.cisco.com then CLN-mentor has to provide more than knowledge or an instuction to read page x. CLN is really about Cisco certification but the work place is far more complex than simply Cisco world even if you have only Cisco equipment. The CLN-mentor needs to stimulate and motivate his students. Hence I believe the CLN groups should be their own learning unit each person helping the group. The CLN-mentor should simply be there as a guiding hand. I do not see the need for CLN-mentor worshiping even if that might be a traditional local behaviour. Where CLN-mentor can bring workplace experiences to the CLN-groups it will be advantageous especially in the design arena.
The other issue is points and prizes. If we wish to reward people why not reward them with Cisco hardware or training material.
I think it is worth remembering we are building something revolutionary with CLN-mentor so let us keep our minds open.
I'll toss my two or three cents in here...
"Paul: It’s incredibly insightful to learn that you are more likely to help someone out who is visibly helping others in this community. But how might that cycle of giving be for someone who truly is new…or just a few years into this field and wants to be mentored?"
I don't think it's so much an aversion to talking to people who are brand new... but there is a distinct difference between being new and asking a question about something that's difficult to conceptualize versus asking a question that takes approximately 2.3 seconds to Google an answer for. And after a while, it becomes easier to spot the folks who are doing one versus another. I'm with Paul on that one though. Not necessarily only helping others, but making some consistent effort to help themselves rather than relying on CLN to be a crutch for them.
"Besides material incentives, what other motivations exist? Cisco's various internal programs require mentees to later on commit to being mentors themselves- which is a wonderful example of the “give back,” or rather “give to the next” cycle Paul talks about- thank you Paul! And what I hear over and over is that both the mentor and the mentee learn and grow from the association."
An interesting idea, but I'll point out (and I've seen it internally as well!) that not every mentee is truly capable of being a mentor. While it's a nice way to learn and reinforce learning (the old addage of "see one, do one, teach one") but there should be a differentiation and distinction among mentors. Or perhaps some structure/rewarding those who are truly "a cut above". While I'd love to see everyone involved in that process, it isn't something I will hold my breath on.
I'll go read the responses on the second page now.
Echoing Travis here (and what I noted above), you can spot people who "use" the system. And it makes no sense for those of us around here to give away what we typically bill for every day all the time.
There are a number of people on the older NetPro forums where you can pick that out. While it's a great group of people and I've learned a thing or two there, I can also see some people who, merely from the quantity/content of posts, are using that in order to bolster their own success rather than being successful by themselves.
What is very true as well, is that many folks are spending their own time trying to constantly learn or better themselves. Perhaps the motivating part could be some incentive where based on 'x' metrics of metoring/helping other folks out that you can be awarded something like Cisco Press books, or Cisco courseware, or exam vouchers, or CLCs, or whatever. That way it's a motivation to help others in order to help ourselves.
I know for me personally that I could mentor in the CCNA area, but would love to be mentored in the CCIE R&S area. I think offering cisco press material or huge discounts would be a great incentive. Especially if you want us to mentor through a certain book or materials. Providing those materials would be great. I do agree that if the CLN started mentoring that it would develop in areas that would be different. But I think the possibilities are great.
I see you guys have covered every aspect of this topic. I'd like to apologize from the start if my opinion appears to be somewhat tart.
I've been somwhat 'hit and miss' for the last so many weeks. I come into CLN for a quick minute from time to time to see the 'topic of the day' and try my best to throw in a cent or two on topics that aren't already exhausted with good information that you guys have provided.
Giving most of the post a quick once over on this subject, there is one very large point that everyone has expressed and I whole heartedly agree with...the question of perk, compensation, reward...give it a name.
The major contributors on CLN have come from across the world to make this environment a place of sanctuary where anyone with a technological need is able to obtain 'the answer to it all' whether it be certification, work related issue, gainful employment, knowledge enrichment...etc. Their perpetual stride of excellence in technology is proven with every post.The major contributors on CLN assist with the growth of not only future 'subject matter experts', but individuals that are making billions of dollars for organizations with their new aquired knowledge and in turn, the road leads right back to quite a bit of money for Cisco.
I'm trying my best not to come from what appears to be a money grubbing/hungry aspect, but when you have something good that everyone is providing for FREE, the corporations try to squeeze just a little more blood out of that 'TURNUP'. Doing the math, it always adds up to Cisco getting a FREE service no matter how it's sliced...whether it's what these contributors are doing presently and/or this new mentor program.
I am a minor contributor on this site, but when i witness the overall CLN effort of the individuals that have replied to this posting (among a few others), it makes me wonder if they've even been offered a 'T-shirt' (to date). Cisco should join the 'give back program' as well.
All in all, being a mentor is a very large undertaking and requires a commitment in this day and time that only a person with no family or job is able to produce.
If you'd like the 'war and peace' version of my meaning, just inquire...i'll even add graphs and charts
I am very new to the Cisco Learning Network, but I have been a member of online forums and communities that have gone through this kind of discussion. There is a ton of great research out there about online communities and the whole idea of rewarding high contributors has been addressed many times.
My personal opinion is that doing something like commercializing rewards for high contributors would be a disaster. The reason is that there are multiple types of relationships. The relationship a maven/forum leader/high contributor has with the online community is one of status, prestige and is social in nature. That is very different from a commercial relationship. Once you try to morph or change from one to the other, the motivations change. The reasons that high contributors post now are there own, but if you change that to a commercial relationship, then it becomes a job and not an act of altruism (or whatever the motivation can be). The reward changes from one thing to another. That is a great way to lose high contributors that the community currently has. Of course, you might be able to draw in people who are only interested in the reward, but will they be as good and if they are incented by # of posts, will they be quality posts?
There is a good book about decision making called: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisionsby Dan Ariely. He discusses moving a relationship from social to commercial and how that negatively impacts performance.
Overall, I think a reward system that is commercial in nature will backfire, of course, maybe someone has pulled it off successfully. Even so, if you have a good thing, why would you change it in such a fundamental way?
I think this is a good article on building participation in a community, although that is my opinion of course.
Anyway, my 2 cents.
I do understand your point.
My thinking has always been that sometimes bad comes with the good in a lot of situation. It's funny how you mentioned the quality of post may suffer if we go to some sort of reward system...I've seen quite a bit of poor quality postings to date without a 'reward system'.
Although, the book you listed is probably very good, there is more than likely an author out there that would refute this information to a degree. Also, I'm quite sure the author didn't donate this book.
I do believe in giving back, but under what guise and cost. At this point, contributors can come and go as they please with the newly formed groups and postings. More power to the individuals that are able to share dedicated time to those in need. I'm not at odds with it.
The majority of major contributors have spoken...can we discount that?
There is a fine balance between these points that I think would have to be worked out if there were material rewards given for participation. Honestly, I raised some of these exact concerns privately. The last thing that I want to see happen is the purity of participation tainted by those participating for the wrong reasons. I think participation should continue to happen because of the desire to learn and the desire to help. The challenge is that this stuff is very time consuming. Cisco Systems does not pay my bills in any manner. Now I do make money from supporting Cisco gear independantly of Cisco Systems. So my time spent here is to 1). help others, and 2). personal learning. As far as I know, I have not worked with any new customers or made any more money directly or indirectly as a result of my participation.
If the current point system were used, I can see individuals posting simply to drive points up for the rewards. No one wants to see that. That would be catastrophic for the site as a whole. What I can say is my gut tells me that there will be enough budget limitations from Cisco that this will not develop into a problem. I'm not saying that Learning@Cisco doesn't want to give back, but that I don't see monetary rewards growing to the point that it is a real problem in regards to the purity of the site's participation. I do think that if there is a fixed value like "x" points = a free "insert prize here", that there will be some need to address how points are obtained.
I too can see both sides of this coin.
If it were to go to some sort of reward situation, it would be up to Cisco along with contributors to figure out the logistics to set realistic parameters.
The point of how to make this work has not been considered in whole yet. Who knows, there may not be a way to gage how to allocate benefits for participation with the current setup.
I think there's a wide gap between "rewarding contributors" and "commercializing" the venue... I agree that if you set the goals there too much you'll get people doing things purely for the attainment of those goals.
My main goal when I started was to have my "title" match what I believed it should be (e.g. expert), and I knew there was a level to hit for that. What happened after that, however, was largely immaterial.
If the rewards (I believe I listed a few) stick in line with promoting a learning environment, I don't necessarily see that as bad. But there has to be some system in place not simply due to "quantity of posts". All we need is someone to come in and spend most of their posting capacity saying the same thing over and over, only reiterating what other people have said, or spouting marketing stuff everywhere solely to get points. That accomplishes nothing for the community and I'd agree with the backfiring of commercialization at that point.
What if it were community-based? Can we vote on things? What if we set things up such that there were a pool of prizes or something, and we voted on either who got what, or voted on an "order of choosing from the pool" kind of thing? That way, the community gets a voice in the whole thing.
If too many people felt that (pick me for example) didn't add much value around here despite having a high number of points, then I would most likely not be voted in on a reward. That way "the community speaks" and avoids much of the commercialization aspect.
Just doing what the voices in my head are telling me to.
Here's my take on point systems, voting, etc.......it's all a race/competition. I do not think that normal participation in the forums should result in any sort of compensation. I do not participate because I think I'll get something in return - I do it to help others an learn.
However, if you set up a dedicated mentoring program, where there is 1-on-1 interaction, and there is directed teaching to a few individuals, then you need to compensate folks somehow for their efforts. The pupils gain knowledge, experience and technical abilites - the mentors need to gain something as well. I think discounts on Cisco certification products/exams, learning credits, etc would be great - to keep it in spirit of the community.
I've been involved in the voting systems, the point based systems, etc all before. It typically isn't equitable and usually leaves animosity on the table. I think mentoring will involve a significant commitment to your pupil, and if the mentors and CLN come to an understanding, I think part of that understanding needs to be benefits(whether compensation, access to advanced Cisco learning resources, etc). I'm not sure it needs to be a public endeavour.
Does the CLN-mentor have to be a single person. Can a mentee have a troop of mentors. Are mentors going to disagree fundamentually on how to perform a task . I think it is worth saying mentees will be intelligent people who can research on www.cisco.com and come to the mentor when needed. So I do not think there is a need to sit at the masters knee. I have said before but I think it is worth repeating I believe CLN-mentor will be something revolutionary as CLN has been. Think wide, Think new.