Mentorship Journeys | Growth beyond Expectations

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.

Gordon Chen

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.

The self-imposed notion of ‘not being good enough’ was all too familiar for Andrew. He recalled having a bit of a culture shock himself as he started out at the agency.

“I was at a much more disadvantaged stage because I did have a design education, but that was in digital animation and so there was absolutely no module in user-centered design or UX design,” he shared.

Empathising with Sharifah’s concerns, Andrew opted for a paradigm shift. He took the focus off of ‘being qualified or not’, and highlighted to her how this was a big achievement; receiving the offer itself already signified the agency believed she was good enough.

Andrew had been the beneficiary of advice and guidance from various senior figures in his life. From animation school, the design agency and Grab, many happily obliged when he sought them to take counsel.

In his own way of ‘paying it forward’, he strives to replicate that with his mentees as well. Encouraging and enabling them was Andrew’s main aim, providing them with both the trust and support they needed.

He felt this was the best way to interact with his mentees as he shared, much to our amusement, “My approach has always been to imagine the most ‘Asian tiger mom’ you can think of, and be the opposite of that.”

We all laughed, and so did Sharifah, bashfully yet heartily. This was telling of the comfort she enjoyed with Andrew and the genuineness of his statement.

Through his guidance and advice, Sharifah eventually turned the offer down. It was a good opportunity, but it wasn’t the only one that would come by. She understood there’d be other chances in future, and she could take this time to focus on projects first. Upon graduation, Sharifah went on to complete a design project with Mediahouse, Hatch’s digital and design consultancy arm, where she was able to put her skills to use and acquire work experience.

A genuine desire to guide

Beyond big decisions, Sharifah has often consulted Andrew for tips and advice as well. She’s grateful for all the help he’s given her, stating how he consistently goes above and beyond, and then some.

“He’s been the only one I can go to for advice, and he really goes the extra mile with his research,” Sharifah said. Andrew also helped analyse her options when she wanted to return to school, researching both courses she was interested in, and ways to apply for financial aid.

“From the way he presented himself the first time we met, he showed that he’s really open and outgoing,” Sharifah said. “From there, I felt that I could trust him and go to him for anything.” Having someone be a pillar of support for her to depend on was revitalising, and encouraged her exponential growth.

The Hatch Customised Immersive program builds learners up in preparation for a capstone project, where they apply the skills they’ve learnt thus far. In groups, they work on problem statements posed by partners within Hatch’s industry network to devise a prototype or solution.

Learners then share what they’ve developed in a graduation presentation, during an event called Demo Day. In attendance are their loved ones, Hatch partners, and prospective employers, who all look forward to witnessing the fruits of the learners’ labour.

When it was Sharifah’s turn to present, she could sense how happy and proud Andrew was of her. “Even though he doesn’t show much, to have someone who was really proud of my milestones, that just says something and leaves an impact,” Sharifah said.

On Andrew’s end, he felt that with every interaction, the relationship continued to strengthen. During her presentation, he was really happy to see how far she had come. “I could tell that through that presentation, Sharifah was someone who’s willing to take charge and is able to produce high-quality work. With more experience and refinement, she’ll definitely grow into the designer she wants to be in the future.”

Sharifah receiving certification and a package from the Hatch team on graduation day
Sharifah with the Hatch team during graduation

The pair had been smiling sheepishly for the most part of our time together. Though they share a close relationship, it was the first time they both heard each other explicitly express their appreciation.

On embracing mentorships

To aid mentors and mentees out there, the pair shared what they thought was important to keep in mind.

For mentors:

“Have more compassion for yourself, and don’t put such big pressure on yourself,” Andrew said. “If you truly believe in what you have to say, and you have the purest intentions, don’t be afraid of saying it. That’s always better than holding back and not saying anything.” As long as you learn from your mistakes, you can only go up.

For mentees:

For Sharifah, she shared: “Make full use of your relationship with your mentor, because it doesn’t come all the time; it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so just make full use of it. Because if your mentor’s here, they’re here to help you. So don’t be afraid to ask.”

Writer’s note:

Another wonderful thing resulting from this mentorship was the growth mindset I felt Sharifah had gradually developed. One of Andrew’s favorite terms — something he lives by himself — seems to have resonated with Sharifah. She’s grown to be even more willing to try things out, and she can handle hard choices and situations with aplomb.

Sharifah is now pursuing a diploma in design and hopes to return to the field for internships and work in future. But she’s also open to opportunities of all sorts. If the timing’s right, she’ll grab the chance if it’s what’s best for her. To me, that seems like an approach befitting a promising individual with a growth mindset!