Tales of the Mentors Who Made Us Who We Are

Published: October 23, 2014

When I was 22 years old I was a nighttime writer, reporter and occasional copy editor for the Boston Herald sports department.

I was a pretty quiet kid, particularly when I was intimidated, and that was absolutely the case surrounded by grizzled newspaper men who didn’t hide that they didn’t particularly like me.

I remember one time, after I enthusiastically filed an article about Boston College’s athletic director stepping down, one of the sports desk copy editors read my lead loudly and mockingly and then referred to me in the third person (although I was sitting a few feet away) as “a writing schmuck.” I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but it definitely didn’t sound positive.

I loved what I was doing — writing articles about college and high school sports, embracing any assignment or task I could get and taking calls from columnists and reporters I grew up reading — but being in that environment was a spirit-stifling, career-crushing experience.

There was, however, the high school sports editor, my boss, who was also relatively quiet compared to the raucous room. She was a good writer and a smart editor. We never had a conversation about it, but seeing how she approached her job — successfully and with obvious enjoyment — made me think beyond that copy desk and it made a career in journalism feel more tangible for somebody like me.

What About You? Tell us about a mentor who inspired you.

There is a parallel, I think, to integration firms that struggle to make young, tech-savvy professionals envision a career in this industry. “Integration firms are concerned about where they’ll find qualified people,” says Duffy Wilbert, InfoComm’s VP of member services. It’s not just about finding them, though, he adds. “The challenge is how do we get the young people not in the industry, but how do we keep them.”

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InfoComm has launched a formal mentoring program to try to connect young professionals with veterans who might be able to provide some career advice.

“A lot in this industry are my age, Baby Boomers, and we’re getting to the point where we want to give back,” Wilbert says. Whether it’s in a formal mentoring program or in simple conversations, there is evidence that young integrators benefit from colleagues’ experience.

More: Are Tech-Trained Millennials the Right Hire for AV Integrators?

Jay McArdle certainly benefited. McArdle of Normal, Ill.-based Zdi, who along with brother Aaron was recognized in CI‘s 40 Influencers Under 40 coverage, enjoyed an unofficial mentor-mentee relationship with Dan Doolen, chief instructional media engineer at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Doolen, a prospective client who eventually did hire Zdi, essentially challenged Jay McArdle.

“I was young and naïve,” he recalls of his first meeting with Doolen. “I asked him how I can do work as a union contractor for the University of Illinois. He told me about all these certifications, a whole list of credentials for me and my company to have. I was too young to realize he was essentially telling me to buzz off.”

A couple of years later, McArdle returned to Doolen’s surprise with all the credentials. “He looked at me like I had three heads.” That exchange kicked off a decade-long professional relationship, one that had a significant impact on Zdi and the McArdles’ decision-making.

Doolen, who retired from the University of Illinois in July, emphasizes that he wasn’t trying to be a formal mentor, but he does see a lot of value in this sort of dialog.

Posted in: Insights, News

Tagged with: InfoComm, NSCA, Zdi

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