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Mentorship Journeys | Growth beyond Expectations

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

We sat down with a Hatch graduate and her mentor — Sharifah and Andrew — to explore how they navigated their mentor-mentee relationship. What transpired was a heartening narrative about trust that led to the duo forging a lasting bond. This is a story of faith and encouragement, and how one flourishes in the presence of it.

Header image, illustration of individuals on their journeys

The sun had begun to set as we made ourselves comfortable around the table. We chatted happily, waiting for food to supply our interaction with satisfaction and sustenance. Eager for our pizzas' grand entrance to help us unwind, we thought it’d be best to first break the ice through an informal conversation.

We soon found there was not much need for it; right off the bat, Sharifah and Andrew had great chemistry together, chuckling as they shared about their day to each other and to us.

This was the first time Hatch Customised Immersive Graduate Sharifah Safwaa and Andrew Chen, her mentor, had reconnected in a while. They had known each other for only a little over a year, from the time Sharifah attended the program in July 2020. Yet, their interaction displayed comfort and familiarity often exclusive to lifelong friends. The pair had established a great rapport in a rather short time, and they had lots to catch up on.

We were seated metres from where Sharifah had her classes just a year ago. The Hatch Customised Immersive is a unique employability program that helps learners jumpstart their careers in the digital and design industry, specifically in Digital Marketing or User Interface, User Experience (UI/UX). Over the course of 10 weeks, learners are guided by industry professionals who teach them relevant technical skills, which they hone through hands-on assignments in class.

Aside from acquiring technical skill sets, learners often face additional socio-emotional obstacles that may hinder their growth in the program. To help them overcome interpersonal barriers, the Immersive program matches learners to industry mentors to provide them with an additional layer of both emotional and technical support as they embark on their digital design journeys.

Save for a chat over Zoom we had a week back, this was the first time we all met in person. All of us shook with amusement as we exchanged pleasantries and enquired about each other’s day. It certainly helped that both Andrew and Sharifah were extremely affable and open to sharing.

As we delved deeper into the pair’s experiences, we got to learn about their thought processes, expectations, and most notably, their appreciation for each other.

Big decisions and considerations

Making decisions is tough for anyone. Having to weigh your options and evaluating opportunity costs can induce lots of stress. For some of us, we’ll also fret over our choices, unsure if it was the right one to opt for.

Sharifah had her fair share of concerns as well, though it was hard to tell. With Andrew around, she gave off both a sense of collectedness and confidence. As she recalled her experiences as a learner, Sharifah shared that she was cornered into multiple dilemmas throughout the entire program. The first one happened early on in the program when she had split her time between two places.

Deeply passionate about writing and journalism, Sharifah had been pursuing a diploma in mass communications when she discovered Hatch’s program. “I found out there was an opportunity for me to learn about design and coding,” she shared, as picking up coding was the selling point for her.

Sharifah originally intended to join the Digital Marketing class. After orientation week, however, she decided to specialise in User Interface, User Experience (UI/UX) instead because learning about user-centered design piqued her curiosity. UI/UX was also an area unfamiliar to many, and she was excited to gain more exposure. Whilst navigating her way in both diploma studies and the Hatch program, Sharifah decided to commit fully to the latter as it appealed to her more.

Hatch Graduate Sharifah working on a task in class with her peers during the Hatch Customised Immersive
Sharifah in action during the Hatch Customised Immersive

After graduating from Hatch, Sharifah received an offer to work at an agency — this was her next big decision to make.

Sharifah remembered feeling surprised upon receiving the offer. “I was shocked that my portfolio really went through and that they wanted to interview me for the position.” She had planned to pursue it, but several factors kept her on the fence.

She questioned her capability to thrive in a potentially pressurising work setting at the agency, as she performs best in a serene environment.

This was where Andrew entered the picture to offer her a different perspective.

Prepared for the worst, greeted with the best

Hatch mentors are industry professionals who seek to empower the next batch of digital and design talents. Learners and mentors are matched not just by field, but also on whether their personalities would be a good fit.

Sharifah had never had a mentor figure prior to meeting Andrew. Understandably so, she had some reservations. She remembers feeling slightly nervous about the mentor-mentee arrangement, explaining: “Sometimes their relationship [might be] a bit intense; sometimes the mentor is scary.”

Then, Andrew was a senior product designer at Grab, and Sharifah was his second mentee since he had started collaborating with Hatch. To date, he has mentored four of Hatch’s learners.

Though it was my first time meeting Andrew, he left a strong impression on me. Speaking to him was effortless and enjoyable, with how well he verbalised his thoughts and experiences. Andrew exuded a refreshing air of authenticity, with a contagious excitement in his voice as he talked about his experiences as a mentor. He could toggle his bubbly, animated self as well, taking a composed approach when sharing his genuine belief and confidence in his mentees.

Even then, he too had felt uneasy at times. “There’s this fear on my end,” he shares, explaining his main concerns whenever embarking on a new mentorship: “Am I qualified, am I good enough? Will whatever I say lead them to trouble?”

Both of them went in with certain expectations for each other, and had steeled themselves to handle things professionally should the relationship go south.

“My thought process was just to go along with it,” Sharifah said. “If [he’s] not a good mentor, then maybe it’ll just be for these ten weeks.”

Andrew had braced himself mentally with the worst-case scenario. He knew he could live with it, should things go awry. “(I know that) I tried my best, and gave what I felt was right — it just didn’t work out,” he explained. This, however, gave him the ability to freely speak his mind as nothing could faze him then.

It was fortunate that the duo had their fears abated upon meeting each other.

Andrew was pleased to find that Sharifah was a great communicator, as she could articulate her motivations behind pursuing journalism in a persuasive manner.

“Something I realised about the mentees was that deep down, there is this inherent need to tell stories, or make an impact,” he explained, adding that they don’t necessarily recognise it well themselves.

Sharifah’s initial fears also dissipated upon interacting with Andrew. “He understood where I was coming from — what he suggested to me was exactly what I wanted to do,” she shared. They had found an intersection between both fields: to incorporate UI/UX into storytelling.

Realising they both had that intersection as the ideal goal, Andrew said, “That made me very happy, and showed me this was going to be a very fruitful journey for the both of us.”

Changing perspectives through lived experiences

Regarding the offer from the design agency, Andrew flipped how they should make the decision: rather than let Sharifah race to match the pace of a high-pressure work culture, they should instead consider whether working under pressure was something she looked for in a job, as a way to grow. This was important to think about, especially since that would be her first foray into a full-time design position.

A digital animator by training, Andrew had his sights set on working at Pixar one day. “But, you know”, Andrew quipped, “life had other plans for me.”

In a school project, he designed an exhibition aiming to engage participants in a particular way and evoke certain emotions. That was when something in him clicked.

“I realised this is a lot more meaningful to me as opposed to creating animations. With an animation, someone might watch it, and best-case scenario, they’ll cry. But they might not remember it next month.” Andrew said.

With user-centric design, on the other hand, he could solve real-world problems with designs, which could have a long-lasting impact on people. He added, “What I really like is I’m able to quantify the impact I’m making, and I really get to understand how these are solving people’s problems.”

After graduation, he served his National Service and went right into emailing various design agencies, hoping to get his hands dirty and gain valuable, first-hand experience.

By pure happenstance, the agency where Andrew kick-started his career was the very same one looking to interview Sharifah. That was also his first professional stint in User Experience (UX) design. It was as though life was a play, with a series of orchestrated events unfolding by script.

With prior experience there and a good understanding of the industry, he knew working in an agency can prove tough for those just starting out. This was due to a mix of reasons, such as having a larger workload because the agency was small in size.