Mentoring in I.T. and in the kitchen

One of the Women in Tech essays that has been published so far was about mentoring and inspiring young women who are interested in tech. Nelly Yusupova tells an amazing story about how she was so overwhelmed after day one of a computer class in college that she almost quit the class. But she decided that somehow she would overcome her terror and challenged herself to not just take the class but to get an A. And the rest is history. 🙂 She also talks about the importance of role models and mentoring.

I was really touched by her essay.

A few days later, I experienced a different type of mentoring and realized that, in a funny way, it had a lot in common with what Nelly was talking about.

I have a lot of tomatoes in my garden and wanted to make sauce and freeze it. Some friends said I should can it. I tried canning a few quarts and you could see that after two days they look like something that could potentially get me arrested for crimes against humanity.

My friend Geri spent 1/2 hour on the phone with me explaining how to really do it properly. I still thought I would be better off just freezing as I just did not have the confidence to try it again and didn’t want to ruin my whole summer’s bounty of tomatoes. But I talked myself into it and called my neighbor to borrow what I had learned from Geri was one of the key tools for canning – a big canning pot. My neighbor, Michaela, said she had finished her canning and loves to can and loves to share the knowledge.

So she brought down her pot and a notebook of pickling & canning recipes (and tips & tricks) that her mother in law had lovingly assembled for her as a Christmas present, then came back after I had gotten the water boiling (it’s a BIG pot). Michaela spent a few hours with me while I played assistant (that’s like code-monkey, I guess) as she canned the laughably small output of 4 quarts of sauce I had cooked. Everything but the tomato paste was from my garden – basil, oregano, thyme, chives, rosemary. When all was said and done, we listened to the satisfying pops as each jar sucked it’s lid in. That’s a pretty good indication that I won’t be the cause of family wide botchilism this winter.

I realized that this is an age old type of mentoring  – not just limited to a mother passing knowledge on to daughter. Sure, I had plenty of places I could read about canning in books and on the web. But having Michaela show me was more like sharing secrets and there is something intimate about it – the little things that you don’t get by reading. For example, watching her constantly tossing each tool she used for the canning process back into the boiling water without thinking about it – perhaps a trade secret. 😉

So much in history is about women passing knowledge to women, and men to men. Of course that’s changed a lot. (Like, duh! :-)) But there is still something very instictive and natural about it. In I.T. it’s a little harder because there are not so many women for younger women to seek out for that intimate passing on of the little secrets to our success.

Obvioulsy we all learn from and share with each other and I always fear that my thoughts will be taken out of context and challenged. I am not trying to poke anyone or start a debate. I’m only thinking out loud about how my canning experience made me think of Nelly’s essay and wondering why I was drawing that connection.

After I had cooked up the sauce I decided to throw in the gobs of sun-gold cherry tomatoes that were sitting on the vines in my garden which I just couldn’t eat quickly enough. Here’s a pic of them from before I destemmed them and threw them into the sauce.

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