Sunday, August 11, 2013

Job Shadowing

Recently, I had a high school senior job shadow me for a day.  It was a neat experience and I thought I'd share it here, along with some advice/tips for how you can give someone this invaluable experience!

Why Should You Have a Job Shadower?
I think job shadowing is a great experience for students, especially if they don't have a clear direction career-wise yet.  When I was a kid, I didn't have any close relatives or friends whose parents worked in tech and could show me what it's like, and I was a latecomer to the industry.  I'm a big believer in 'you can't be (or have a harder time being) what you can't see', so I think it would be great if more tech women could offer this opportunity to younger women considering (or not) a career in tech. 

The Setup
A few weeks before the actual job-shadow date, we checked with HR and made sure all the necessary forms were signed (i.e. NDA).  I checked with my managers to make sure it was OK too.  An added benefit was that they knew my job shadower was coming and welcomed her when she arrived.

A few days before my job shadower arrived, I figured out what we would be doing that day and arranged three 15-30 minute 'interview' slots where she could meet with female interns and employees to ask questions about how they got into technology.  This worked really well, since there were some tasks I needed to complete that I knew wouldn't be as interesting, and I could work on those while my job shadower was in her interviews. 

Key Takeaways: Keep managers/HR in the loop so you don't get in trouble when your job shadower shows up unexpected, and so they can welcome her to the business.

The Day Of
We started off with an explanation of my role, how the different parts of our team/org work together, what areas of the product I own.  My plan was to have my job shadower manually re-test a feature (since without any experience coding it would take too much time to ramp up) I had tested a few days earlier, and see if I'd missed any test cases or bugs. 

I printed off copies of the functional design spec and the test plan and gave her a OneNote with a checklist of the existing manual tests.  I provided a phone with the prototype on it and let her play for a while.  At the same time, I was working on some other investigations and reports.  I explained what I was doing and my job shadower asked great questions.  This combination of tasks worked well because report-writing can be kind of boring to watch, so having her own small job to do kept it interesting.

The interviews worked out really well.  I had several enthusiastic interns volunteer to meet my job shadower as well as one full time employee.  I made sure my job shadower had questions prepared so their time wouldn't be wasted and the discussion would be productive.  It turns out my job shadower does not like science in school, but I hope these women showed her that careers in tech are exciting and will maybe get her to think about these subjects in a new light.

Key Takeaways: Give job shadowers their own task so they don't get bored watching you, but make sure you make it achievable and they understand the point of what they're working on.

For Next Time
If there was one thing I wish I had more time for, it would be to talk more about my own background and why I chose this field, and how awesome it is.  Unfortunately one day is not enough!  If you can swing it, I recommend two days so you can work more outreach into the experience.

Have you had someone job shadow you before?  I'd be curious to hear of others experiences, what worked and what didn't.

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