The Stupid Question Buddy
By Jennifer Ellison on May 23, 2012.
As someone still relatively new to the corporate and professional world, I’ve received a lot of advice from well-meaning veterans of the trade. I’ve gotten advice on everything from the best way to program a PLC to how I should book my travel and what to wear to a client meeting. The best advice I have received up to this point actually came to me from a college professor, before I had even heard about the automation industry and Avanceon.
Find a Stupid Question Buddy.
My first thought when I heard this advice was WHY do I need a stupid question buddy? After all, don’t most companies assign you a mentor and a supervisor? Shouldn’t they be able to answer all my questions? In theory, yes they should; in reality, maybe not. It might be that your supervisor hasn’t been in the company a whole lot longer than you or they are removed enough from your day to day tasks that they’ve never had to think about some of the things that crop up. Or maybe you have a question that you feel like you should already know the answer to and don’t want to appear stupid in front of the folks deciding the fate of your career.
I went to school for Chemical Engineering and have for the past few years been stumbling through the obstacle course that is the automation industry. After a month, I had very little problem asking anyone, and probably just about everyone, a stupid question (mostly because I was unaware of how stupid they were at the time), but, I realize this is not the case with most engineers.
Enter the Stupid Question Buddy.
At this point, I have said very little about WHO this stupid question buddy is. Just as each job, person and career path is different; each person will find their own stupid question buddy. In general all stupid question buddies will have the same core traits. They will have been around for a while, at least compared to you, but almost definitely have been with the company for more than 5 years. In short, someone you look at and think “That guy knows everything.” They are someone who will not have ANY effect on your career path, in fact in a bigger company you may never work with them directly. Most importantly, your stupid question buddy should be someone who actually IS your buddy and will put up with all the stupid questions you will inevitably ask them.
I know the person I’m describing sounds a lot like a mentor. In a lot of cases, your stupid question buddy probably IS your mentor but doesn’t have to be. Your mentor is someone who is there to help you grow into the next phase of your career and more likely than not, knows all the answers to the silly day to day things that make you raise an eyebrow. That’s why they are a mentor after all. The beauty of a stupid question buddy is that it can easily turn into stupid question buddies (Plural). In fact, I ended up with several stupid question buddies before I realized I should even try to get one. If you think about it for a while, you’ll probably realize you picked up a couple of office friends along the way that already are your stupid question buddies. The relationship probably started somewhere around the coffee pot and ended up with you asking something like “What the heck is that thing hanging off the top of that tank?”
Avanceon recently revamped our own mentoring program. I was slightly amused to see that a lot of the mentor/mentee pairings were pairs that I would have already pegged as being stupid question buddies. Was this by design? Maybe, but I’d like to think it was more a result of the culture we have. In Avanceon’s engineering department, you aren’t expected to know everything on Day 1 (or even day 30) of the job and its completely OK to ask a stupid question so stupid question buddies are able to evolve more organically than names on a mentoring list.
Now, I’ll admit that I forgot all about this piece of advice for a while after I got out of school. I was young and thought I knew everything after all. But a few years have passed, I’ve heard and seen the concept of a stupid question buddy pop up every now and then and have really begun to appreciate the value of such a person.
With all that being said I would like to give a very, very big thank you to my all my stupid question buddies that have taken time to answer all of my stupid questions and encourage all you veterans out there to keep taking a few minutes out of your day to help out your favorite new(or old) hire.