Thursday, 12 February 2015


This week LocalGov Digital launched unmentoring. Based on Nesta's Randomised Coffee Trials, you sign up to committing to having a conversation remotely with a random person over a cup of your favourite refreshment (non alcoholic of course), for around 30 minutes to 1 hour once a month.

With a background as a developer I usually deal in the tangible, the doing and sharing bit of  LocalGov Digital's "Think. Do. Share". So why have I signed up for unmentoring?

Coding out loud

The first port call when you get stuck coding are often sites like stackoverflow, an open compendium of public questions and answers about all sorts of coding problems. If you can't get an answer from here then talking through your problem with someone else is usually next.

Sometimes, working through the code, or rather the intention of the code helps you spot the problems with it. The solution might be something as simple as removing a stray speech mark, right though to having to re-write your solution. Explaining your code to someone else means you're assessing your own work in a way you probably wouldn't on your own.

The person you're talking to doesn't always have to be a developer, just willing to listen and ask questions if needed and I think you can apply this concept to most thing in life. This is why I'm signing up to unmentoring, to talk, and more importantly, listen and hopefully ask the right questions.

A different perspective

The concept of pair programming has been around for a while, two people working as a Lennon and McCartney or Beavis and Butthead to create a product. This approach can work well, particularly in agile development as it's a constant quality check for what's being produced.

The pair are likely to have a similar skills and can often have the same perspective on many things, or the same background. Whilst this might be useful for the production of digital applications and services, you're unlikely to get a radically approach to problem resolution.

I'm signing up to unmentoring because I want to talk to people with different skills and backgrounds to myself, to get a different perspective on things.

Opening up

Unmentoring is a good challenge for me, to make sure I can open up the things I'm trying to achieve and explain them in language most people can understand.

Last year I wrote about how some of the jargon used by "digital people" might be hindering progress in getting good things done online. For example, the Guardian published an article explaining what "digital transformation" is, to people who might not understand the concept. If you need a page to explain two words, you probably need to change the words.

I'm signing up to unmentoring to make sure I'm opening up the things I do to everyone, not just those who understand the digital jargon and buzzwords, because if they don't understand, I need to change.

So if someone like me, who you'd probably find coding on a keyboard (though increasingly less these days) more than chatting over a coffee can sign up to unmentoring, you can too.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.