Shaping Expectations Part 2 "The Guru"

What should an apprentice expect from a 'guru' mentor?

During different phases of my career I have had different types of mentors.  Some experiences were good and some experiences were bad, but I learned from each of them.   Every mentor will approach their task in a different way and their approach affects you, the apprentice, directly. In the following paragraphs I describe a few different classes of mentors, what to expect from them, and how to work with them. As with the apprentice classes in Shaping Expectations Part 1, the guru mentor described below is not meant to be comprehensive and definitive.

The Guru

In general the guru will be technically brilliant but socially inept. Gurus always consider themselves to be in a time crunch and as a result they rarely spend time actively mentoring. Tasks will be delivered to you, tersely, via some form of electronic communication and will, occasionally, be incomprehensible. This mentor expects a lot of work done quickly, and often does not understand why you have trouble with complex ideas. Any work generated for the guru will mercilessly reviewed under extreme scrutiny. This mentor's respect can only earned as reasonable doubt is never given. Guru mentors are generally argumentative when their design, implementation or philosophy is questioned.

An apprentice under the tutelage of a guru must be prepared at all times. To gain the respect of this mentor questions must be researched, well thought out and timely. Your work must be verified from every angle before turning it over. Be prepared to have any work product you turn in to be completely re-worked by the guru without explanation. Redoing other people's work is one reason the guru has so little time.

What can you learn from this mentor?

For all of the guru's faults, this mentor is still technically brilliant. There is a wealth of knowledge that can be learned, you just have to work a little harder to get to it. Once the guru accepts you as a productive team member, you will have an open door to learn.

One of the great things about this mentor is that they force you to verify your work. As a student in primary school you were always told to double-check your work. How often do you apply that principle in your day-to-day activities? Being an apprentice to the guru will make verification a habit.

The guru's social inadequacies will demonstrate how important social norms can be. Observe how other team members interact with the guru. Observation will allow you to learn what interactions work and do not work with the guru and other colleagues.

This mentor knows everything and expects you to know everything too. Musicians often say "Make music with people who are better than you, if you want to get better".  Working with the guru will be frantic and you will struggle to keep up, but the amount of knowledge gained will be tremendous.