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    Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network

    Rachel D

      Greetings Cisco Learning Network Community!


      We are looking for your thoughts and ideas on how we can inspire deeper connections between individuals here in the community. There have been many requests in Discussion forums in every area of the site asking for mentors or guides as people here in the community plan their career paths, get ready for exams or simply build networks in their jobs.


      • If you could have a mentor to help you with any of these kinds activities, what kind of program would you want to be available?
      • What tools would you expect to be available as you engaged in your role as either a mentor or a mentee (mentee is being defined here as someone being helped by someone more senior or experienced)?
      • Would group mentoring situations be something you would participate in or would you expect one-on-one interaction with your mentor? Or would you like to have the options for both?


      There are wonderful examples of people helping people happen every day on the Cisco Learning Network. We recognize this and want to grow the culture of giving back even more. You are invited to share your thoughts and feedback in this discussion forum.


      Looking forward to your input!



      Cisco Learning Network Community Manager

        • 1. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network

          "What tools would you expect to be available as you engaged in your role as either a mentor or a mentee (mentee is being defined here as someone being helped by someone more senior or experienced)? "


          I think this could be a really good application for Webex (I was going to say telepresence, but that might be out of the budget of a typical mentor!)

          • 2. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network

            Hi Rachel


            There are clearly a number of indivuals who contribute to the CLN constantly I am thinking of course of Scott, Paul, Grant, Travis, Toor, Chetan, Darwin, Mike, Chris and the new people such as Cristian but equally others have left CLN. I think Paul said this movement is quite nature. Also most of us do have day jobs. We have have the various group leaders but I think they are focused on their individual groups. Although the security group leader raise the question about stimulating the security group it has been Paul and Cristian who has done most of the work on the recent security.  I am not convinced we can have a traditional mentor/mentee system because although CLN does focus on Cisco Certification there are other skills such as project management and problem determination which are not included and no one person can cover all these areas. So I propose the group leaders take on the mentor role within their group and we have a mentor team of the existing major contributors. This has the advantage that when one is unavailable the system continues. Now we are making the assumption that high skill equates to good mentors and this may not be the case so some may not enjoy mentoring and may wish to withdraw. I think there are two types of question namely how do I do this and can you explain this. I do not know if we want to differentiate between the two. I have a tendence to throw in open questions such as the CCXP which are intresting especially since Cisco seem to be reading them. Somebody ask the question if we could discuss real world design and although these would have to be simplified I think we could treat them as a mini-CCDE with people contributing ideas and others analysing them.


            I think that is my longest contribution ever.


            Regards Conwyn

            • 3. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network



              I total agree!  It was my understanding that the group leaders were going to act as mentors.  Paul has actually done an excellent job with the CCNA Security Group.

              • 4. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network
                Paul Stewart  -  CCIE Security

                I think the discussions and threads lend themselves pretty well to mentoring.  My biggest problem is time.  I am typically traveling or with clients for about 12 hours a day.  Beyond that my CCIE Security studies are fairly consuming.  As a result, I usually only respond to question that I can provide a solid answer or solution with little or no research.  Even with that being said, CLN has probably been at least as big of a benefit to me as it I have been to it.  While explaining things to others, you really can solidify your own understanding.


                I still think of  the group the standard threads one.  Maybe it is because I spend enough time on CLN that I can drink from the firehose without missing a whole lot.  So as far as tools go, I think the ability to discuss openly in this forum is the single best mentoring tool one could have anywhere.  I have thought about other things.  However, in my mind the next step is something that is real-time interactive.  Things like mentoring sessions with whiteboarding or WebEx style conferences.  However, I just don't think the time/benefit ratio is as good with the truly real-time options as it is with forums. And again, I think my time is my biggest limiting factor.


                Another thing that I think is an issue, but I don't have a solution for is access to equipment.  Cisco now has Packet Tracer, but it is not universally available and it is not completely consistent with IOS.  As a result, people that have been in the field long enough to have real equipment lying around have difficulties supporting issues that may just be limitations within Packet Tracer.  Access to IOS images is also an issue.  In my opinion, there should be a legal way to obtain software for non-production use.  I think online access to real equipment could possibly be a benefit. However, that may step on the toes of companies that allow access for a fee.


                I have also often pondered about how far CLN will go.  I love the concept of helping people get started.  However, Cisco has partnerships with companies that technical training is their main source of income.  What Cisco Learning Partners offer is more exam blueprint centric and focused on getting people quickly up to speed on a topic.  CLN puts the individual in the driver seat.  While that seems to be a good thing, a true one on one instructor should lead the students to ask the questions that they aren't asking, but very relavant to the topic being discussed. For this reason, I think a good classroom instructor can bring students up to a more complete understanding faster than they can on their own.


                I know that I tend to get nervous when we get a lot of questions that are more related to consulting than educating individuals on the technology.  I am fine with giving away some free advice on how to fix things (especially to other active contributors).  However, that is something I do every day and charge money for.  The reason I bring that up is I wonder how Cisco Learning Partners feel about CLN.  I guess I am just curious how much better CLN can become before it starts to effect the revenues of its Cisco Learning Partners.  I certainly don't want that to happen and I don't think that is the intent.  They work hard providing a service and deserve to be paid. I think CLN should continue to focus on getting individuals started.  Ironically enough, I think that is where true mentoring is needed the most.  Just my two cents.

                • 5. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network
                  Scott Morris - CCDE/4xCCIE/2xJNCIE

                  I'll agree with Paul (and others)...


                  I think there are a lot of cool benefits, and there COULD be a lot of cool things to be added in...  But when it comes down to it, there are only so many hours in the day, and unfortunately CLN doesn't pay the bills for us.


                  Now, could there be Cisco employees cycled through and tied to it in some sort of mentoring?  Sure.  Could there be tools like the whiteboarding or webex or stuff like that?  Absolutely.  And you'd get some great attraction because of it.  But Cisco already "owns" them, so it's a lot easier to allocate the time to it.


                  Even though training IS part of my "real job", there's not a direct business correlation to my being here.  There's many fine lines being where I'm at as well, and not being part of the Cisco 360 program.  Then there's others who take advantage of being part of the 360 program for marketing as opposed to helping. 


                  Not saying I'm going anyplace, so don't get me wrong!  But the more mentoring that Cisco would like to do, especially with the "home grown" folks you see around here, there needs to be some sort of incentive program on our side (in otherwords, investment from Cisco as well as from us).


                  People need mentors.  People need TIME with mentors.  Time is a finite resource that we all do not have nearly enough of.  (That and fair chances to win obscene amounts of money from a lottery, but that's a different issue entirely!)


                  My two cents...



                  • 6. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network

                    Scott and Paul bring up some very good points.  One of them is one that I asked about myself in an earlier thread about CLN vs Netpro fourms on cisco.com.  As CLN's membership grows and boy has it grown, I have seen thread subjects that have morphed from the Learning aspect to the support aspect.  Now one could argue that providing support is a way to learn and I do not dispute that at all. Paul said it nicely that providing some support helps solidify his own skills and confidence in his abilities.


                    I feel the same..... however, do support threads really belong on CLN?  If CLN is the Learning Network is meant to help others to learn networking and possibily certifying in the process, then maybe those posts that are asking for support ( I am just as guilty as the next man) don't belong here, but belong on the NetPro Forums on Cisco.com or some other support forum.


                    There seems to be a gray line there...  but one thing is certain.... time is a factor that makes mentoring hard.  Does CLN have paid employees?  Are the community managers paid or are they volunteers?  Are the mentors paid or volunteers?  I know that some that have helped me in the past are all just a part of the CLN community and all have their own jobs that they do outside of CLN.

                    • 7. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network

                      I mentor technicians and engineers every day as a part of my job - I find it to be a very rewarding experience. It also provides a tangible benefit to me -  train down so you can move up.  Much easier to get let go within a company when they know they can replace you easily enough.


                      Cisco has a lot of excellent tools they could implement into a mentoring program, such as WebEx, whiteboard, Cisco documentation, cisco experts, et cetera.  Unfortunately, as Paul and Scott have mentioned, we all have day jobs.  I'm currently in Afghanistan - and work 12 hours a day minimum.  I would love to be able to devote more time to accessing this web site and helping others.  However, considering my current situaiton, there does need to be alternative incentives aside from my own altruism.



                      This is a unique opportunity to take the CLN one step further and really help junior techs and engineers out, but I think to make it successful, you need a fine balance of the right tools paired with the the right people.  I think you'll find the "right people" already are the most active contributors here at the CLN - so what else do those select individuals gain from spending more hours of their day contributing on top of what they already do?


                      I look forward to the response, and would love to help however I can, but the process needs to be time efficient and easily scheduled or else I fear it will not take off the ground.  Structure is key here.

                      • 8. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network
                        Paul Stewart  -  CCIE Security

                        I don't want to overstate my subversion to providing support.  I think there is going to always be some and real problems can be the best place to learn.  I can only recall one instance that I really felt like someone was taking advantage of CLN under the guise of learning.  If I recall correctly, they didn't even seem to know what equipment was needed and almost demanded an end to end solution under the guise that they would learn from it.  While I agree they migh learn, that's what I do for a living.  I work with people to make sure they get the right equipment and proper implementation for their needs and get an overall working solution.  If someone needs a gap in their knowledge filled, that's one thing.  When someone expects a full end to end solution over a forum, that's another.  I'm not willing to put the time into that to ask all of the right questions to qualify an end to end solution.  Nor am I going to throw a solution out there that might not be the best fit because I failed to put the time into asking the questions.


                        All in all, I think this forum has stayed on track very well.  When someone is active in helping others, I certainly don't mind helping back.  If they are new and need direction, I'm fine with that.  However, if it is your first post and the question is "I have 40 location independent of one another and I want to install a complete VoIP solution", that's a different story.  That individual needs to call a Cisco Partner or consultant who is familiar with that area of technology. 

                        • 9. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network



                          I think there are many mentors on CLN.  I also believe there are many levels of mentoring already in place.  As far as a deeper connection with a mentor, I would think that would have to be between the mentor in question and the mentee in question.  When I think of a mentor, I think of someone who can devote TIME to the mentee and really show him/her the ropes of the business and is willing to help that person meet their goals and stick with them until such times as those goals are met.  Every person is different  and I am sure every person perspective of what a mentor is and what a mentor's role to the mentee is will be different as well.


                          As others have said, time is a factor for both mentor and mentee.  I also hold a full time networking job and with family and currently CCNP study obligations I have set for myself, I find it difficult to devote X amount of hours to a mentor.



                          I have to agree with the statements already made that most questions posed on here have been for learning new technologies and filling gaps in knowledge.  However, there are some cases where people come here and pose their question when they should have just opened a case with a TAC engineer or consulted their local Cisco representative for the answer.  I have been on the side where someone asked me for a DHCP configuration and I was happy to give it to him, but it wasn't for learning purposes, it was to implement into his/her production environment.  I have to say that these situations are pretty rare to say the least.


                          I think CLN is going in the right direction and I make sure I come here daily to read, learn from the best and yes, sometimes gripe a little if I see companies use this resource for learning as their sales and marketing platform.


                          I think Paul has done a great job with the CCNA security group, but I think the leaders of each group should be setting the example and stimulating the mentoring process.  If a group leader has volunteered to be a leader of that group and does not stimulate the learning process and take a lead role, maybe they should not have volunteered to do it in the first place.


                          Just my $0.02



                          • 10. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network

                            To join in the mix, I see the argument of the time factor.  if mentoring is going to be something offered on the CLN, there needs to be some kind of agreement.  When you implement a mentoring program, it's on the mentor and mentoree.  To help it work I definitely think there needs to be some incentive (discounts, free software, access to vRacks from xcompany) in order to make it worth people's time.  Most of the top contributors on the CLN have day jobs.  I know I do.  Sometimes I wish I could devote more time to answering questions to the newer people.  I know I can't be a lot of help to the high end, but to the new CCNA level people I concentrate on.  But with a day job, that is hard to work into the schedule.  Especially when I'm working on my CCNA Voice and I'll be beginning my CCIE R&S studies next year Q1.  I would LOVE to see a mentor program implement.  I just think that there are things that need to be ironed out before it will work properly.


                            I think finding the individuals to mentor once the program got off wouldn't be that hard.  of course that assumes things have been worked out and the incentives have been placed.  I know I devote my saturdays to teach CCNA curriculum, so a webex or something for my sessions would be a quick easy way to do something like that.  Making webex open was another thing brought up and I think that would be a good idea.


                            I HOPE the idea of charging the mentoree wasn't an initial idea.  I don't think the CLN is ment to bring in revenue.  I THINK some companies like INE and IPX offer mentor programs at a charge.  I hope the idea isn't to outsource to those company


                            I think the CLN is a great utility and I hope it keeps heading in that direction.  I know I take a lot of pride knowing that I am in the top 10% of contributors.  I enjoy this type of outlet for knowledge.  Of course I could read about Cisco stuff all day.  I would like to see more CCNA or CCNP TV episodes and of course more tech wise TV episodes.  Maybe there is a way to corelate those things that are already available to help mentor.  I know when I talk to my class about spanning tree I always show them the CCNA TV about it.  I think it helps a ton.



                            That's my long and probably bad 2 cents.

                            • 11. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network

                              This is a very interesting thread to me. A mentor is a very valuable thing. It is something I think could benefit everyone. Having said that, I don't think CLN can really provide mentors easily. The reason is that it is more difficult to build a real relationship over the wire and that relationship is critical. When you are working via email or forum posts with limited time, I don't believe you can build the necessary relationship. So, what can be done? Here are some thoughts:


                              1) CLN can provide some information on how to find a mentor that is local to the user. There are lots of sources out there for this kind of information but it doesn't hurt to reiterate. Besides, some members haven't seen or haven't thought of a value of a mentor related to developing their skills and career.


                              2) CLN could help facilitate small peer groups for self development. There are study groups on CLN, but once they reach a certain size, they become impersonal. I am thinking in the 7-12 range. Similar to a mastermind group. This would allow deeper relationship development and over time would allow them to build a network of people they can turn to. You could get volunteers who are more experienced to facilitate. Similar to http://www.htgmembers.com (Arlin Sorensen's IT company peer groups but instead of being geared toward business are geared toward developing Cisco skills/career)


                              3) Encourage and help develop the mavens in the group. The folks who post to help are invaluable. They come and they go and they do a lot of good as members fo the community. They usually don't have time for building deeper relationships and that is OK.


                              4) I would suggest you look at other communities and see what has been successful and what has not.


                              5) I haven't really dug into everything that is available in the community, but I do seem to see a lot of the same questions. Maybe a FAQ or some guides would help. People will still ask the question, but then they can be pointed toward the guide. For example, which simulator should they use? Here is a list of all the simulators. Which books should they use? Here is a list of what is out there. Et cetera et cetera et cetera...


                              Anyway, this is a great community and great resource without any change. I think it is awesome that you are thinking along these lines because if you can find a way to help in mentor development, you really can help some take it to the next level.


                              Thanks for providing a great resource!



                              • 12. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network

                                Hi Matt


                                I think I disagree. One of my favourite rules is that you always underestimate technological change and over estimate socialogical change. I sit here with my animal skin shoes, wool suit, cotton shirt and silk tie. There has been concern expressed that social networking sites allows  you to have thousands of friends so if you have an argument you simply delete them and find a new one. This may lead to people not forming deep relationships but there is also evidence these people also have normal friends so I do not think we should be too concerned.


                                So I think CLN-mentor will be very different to a traditional mentor. The CLN-mentor will not be there so you do it their way but the CLN-mentor will be there to simply stimulate the CLN-group to discuss amongst themselves and form collective solutions. I think if we de-generate into tribal mentoring we loose the global nature of CLN.


                                So can I describe the CLN-mentor. Well No. I think CLN-mentor will evolve similarly to the way CLN has evolved. I think a CLN-mentor will have high emotional intellengence so he will want people to grow without being afraid of loosing his status. I expect him to stimulate the group in the subject area but also introduce new subjects.


                                Paul has done a fantastic job with the security discussion but has been open enough to include other subject such as SNMP and CBACL within a securtity environment.


                                Paul and Toor did a fantastic job discussing DMVPN and IPSEC and I learnt a great deal.


                                So in summary CLN-mentor will not be a traditional mentor. And one final point I think we need to encourage the girls.


                                Regards Conwyn

                                • 13. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network

                                  Hi Conwyn,


                                  Thanks for disagreeing! In the immortal words of Voltaire, "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms." His point being that if you agree on terms, then you can get onto the important points of a discussion.



                                  I think we are talking about two different things which is fine. Maybe we should figure out what a mentor really is in this context. What you are describing, I would call forum leaders and mavens just doing what they do. They do a fantastic job, of course, and create a lot of value for the members. However, I, personally, wouldn't define it as mentoring, although I can see how any kind of input could be considered a type of mentoring/teaching. The big difference, in my mind, is whether there is a real relationship or not. I also see a difference in how lasting the relationship is...does it last beyond attaining a CCNA or the next job or beyond the participation in this forum and community?



                                  Anyway, if you start with the end in mind, i.e. what would a mentor be in this context, maybe we could work backwards from that. I was just throwing out suggestions for how to build additional connections for people that would help them with career and life.









                                  • 14. Re: Mentoring on the Cisco Learning Network
                                    Rachel D

                                    Thank you all!! You have provided some great feedback and wonderful ideas here.I'll bold my questions in response to your questions in hopes that saves time.


                                    I want to make an effort to reply to some of the good observations you have made in this great “group think” (apologies to all those of you who would have preferred that I take on each post with its own reply- I wanted to let discussion flow):


                                    -  Lack of time, the day job, incentives- I understand you and hear you. Thank you for all the ways you’ve articulated these things.


                                    -  To answer Conwyn:  We definitely aren't looking at a traditional program; we simply want to encourage learning connections, with an emphasis on the “connection” part.


                                    - 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?


                                    - Travis: You present the idea “train down” so you can move up- but that’s within your company, right? What might Cisco be able to provide so that in this forum you feel like your contributions are doing exactly that- but for someone in another corner of the world, working and learning in another time zone for another company in another industry? Is that even possible?


                                    - 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.


                                    - 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.


                                    Thanks all again for your great inputs! I'm in the early stages of scoping out what we could do to make mentoring connections possible and your thoughts have validated a lot of the thinking to date on this.



                                    Cisco Learning Network Community Manager

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