Stories

Mentor spotlight: Kayla on Discovering The Dual Nature of Mentorship

This four-time Co.Lab mentor shares what keeps her coming back and the effects of mentorship not only on her team but on herself.

Tiwatayo Kunle
March 9, 2022

On some level Kayla has always been a mentor. She was the person in elementary school with multiple reading buddies and the one that teachers paired with the kids who needed extra help. She enjoys the feeling of helping people see their worth and what they bring to the table. As an adult, mentorship to her is like “professional therapy” where people come to you with their problems and then you help them find ways to move forward and gain self-confidence.

When she decided to get into mentorship as a way to give back to the community, she reached out to a colleague who was involved in the community and experienced in mentorship. He recommended Co.Lab to her as the perfect opportunity she could use to accomplish these goals.

After looking into the work Co.Lab was doing - giving people real life experience to work as a team to deliver real products, she was sold. It was clear that the program really helped people and it aligned with her goal to help others gain confidence in Product Management and to give back in whatever way she could. Co.Lab’s mission really resonated with her so she was excited to get involved. She applied to be a mentor, interviewed with one of the co-founders and she joined her first cohort as a mentor in January 2021.

Image of Kayla
Kayla Mujkanovic

Initially, she was curious as to exactly how Co.Lab planned to have users ship real-life products by the end of the 8-week program because she knew first hand how difficult this could be for newcomers. However, when she got in and saw the curriculum, what the teams learn, the fact that they actually learned how to write a Product Requirement Document and that designers, for example, learnt how to work with developers to handoff Low-fi and High-fi designs and generally just did things as they would in a real tech workplace, all doubts were completely cleared.

“I haven’t seen any other program that is at this level. These are actual skills that people can put on their resume. It’s literally like working on a tech team, but outside of work, and it's just bridging that to your professional life. Other programs that I know, you have to work really quickly and you work in isolation so you don’t develop these skills. Speaking as a Product Manager, this program is amazing. It teaches you how to actually be a Product Manager.”

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Kayla finds it rewarding to be a mentor at Co.Lab. She’s grateful to be able to support the teams she mentors toward the production of their Minimum Viable Product. In her most recent team, she was able to lead them out of the serious cross-functional issues they were facing and they were able to completely turn around the situation and develop a functioning prototype in six days. The team had reached an impasse and did not know how to move forward. Everyone had to step back, put their ego aside, and as their mentor, she had to coach them through the process, query decisions, and help the team really visualize what they were creating. Each member of the team was so proud when they realized that they had worked their way out of their initial issues. 

That serving as a mentor would have an effect on her team was a given; what she didn’t expect were the changes that she’s noticed in herself. She has seen her life evolve with the program and observed changes in her approach to things. While she was excited to begin the mentorship program, she was initially not super confident in her ability to lead or influence others. She wondered whether or not her experiences would be meaningful to others or whether she would be able to offer anything that would make a difference. Mentoring at Co.Lab is also unique in that she’s leading adults so it requires diplomacy, leadership without being too imposing; generally a delicate game.  

But as she shows up each day for her mentorship, she’s seen that she can lead people, that she’s good at making them feel heard, guiding them to solve their problems and raising their confidence in themselves. There has been improvement in her confidence levels, she’s learnt skills such as conflict resolution, and has been introduced to new tech tools that help her stay on top of her job.

“I grow more confident in my skills as a mentor each time I help my mentees out in a way that’s meaningful to them or guide them through problems. Now, I’m also more likely to be the person who speaks up to ask for clarification on an issue.”

 

Kayla's badge as a four time Co.Lab mentor
Kayla's 4th Mentor Badge

Stepping up to the plate at Co.Lab has also helped her step up to the plate in her workplace. She is now more inclined to assist cross-functionally across her organization instead of focusing solely on Product Management. She brings over experience from Co.Lab to provide designers and developers with feedback and suggestions that makes their work more harmonious. 

On one occasion when a colleague in marketing expressed difficulty in carrying out a task, she was in the position to coach and break it down with her, help her determine the problem she was trying to solve, tailor an approach that would resonate with stakeholders and work the way she would make a meaningful delivery.

Kayla describes the Co.Lab community as special. It’s supportive and uplifting and she’s noticed that everyone wants the best for each other.  Even on the Discord community and the other channels for communication that are available to Co.Lab members, there’s so much support to be found. It feels good to work in an environment where if someone is having a hard day or expresses difficulty figuring something out, at least one person will help out. Additionally, she feels valued because the founders always take into consideration mentors as well as students feedback and constantly seek out ways to improve. This is what keeps her coming back.

“I keep coming back because I truly believe in what Co.Lab is doing and what has been built. It makes me feel supportive and I’m grateful to be a part of it. Also, the experience is never the same. Every time I've done this, it's totally different, like the team dynamic, the problems that they're solving, the tools that they use to solve that, or the tech that they use to solve that. It keeps me on my toes but it helps me learn more”

In the same spirit of community, she keeps in touch with the people that she mentors and has many proud mom moments seeing them make professional developments. She loves that they feel comfortable asking her questions like “Is this typical in industry?” and that they remember that they never have to work in isolation.

Kayla thinks everyone who is a Senior Product Lead or Senior Product Manager should apply to be a mentor at Co.Lab. In her opinion, it encourages one to take some sort of accountability for the growth of others and learn tools that are always relevant both at work and outside of it such as conflict resolution, teamwork and confidence. For those who get the opportunity to be mentors, she finds that it is more impactful if it is approached with the same passion and attention as all other professional engagements. She believes in the importance of showing up with one’s full self. So if it won't be possible to make the class or if you'd be distracted, communicate that. Ask for some time to get yourself together and then show up. 

Ultimately, she recommends Co.Lab and is a recurring mentor because she appreciates the importance of the real world experience that the program provides, the environment that has been created for teaching and learning, the variety of teams she works with and the things all the ways that mentorship adds to her life. “I’m happy to be a part of it and would love to keep coming back”

To find out more about how you can be a part of the Co.Lab community, click here.


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