When project engineer John Sochacki started at Viasat in 2015, he knew the tech industry but was a stranger to Viasat.
Through the company’s Facilitator Program, longtime systems engineer Don Crockett helped Sochacki learn the ropes at Viasat’s Arizona campus.
“It was nice to talk to somebody that had more experience and knew about electrical engineering, the company and the people we interact with,” Sochacki said. “It helped to have somebody to bounce ideas off and who I could ask tough questions. It was like having a friend from day one.”
Although their two-year connection has concluded, Sochacki and his facilitator still meet occasionally.
The program so helped Sochacki that he recently became a facilitator, and he’s awaiting his first assignment.
Viasat has three mentoring programs available to its new employees. The Facilitator Program focuses specifically on newly hired engineers, the Mentorship Program is available for all employees, and the Buddy Program caters to new hires.
All are designed to help employees deepen their connection to the company and its culture.
Sharing know-how and experiences has benefits beyond the two employees involved. In the long run, it improves market knowledge and products, and that helps our customers.
The Facilitator Program requires a two-year commitment from the facilitator and new employee.
“For a lot of our new grads, this could be the first corporate job they have,” said Learning and Development Specialist Lana Barendse, who manages the program. “This gives them an individual to connect with for mentoring outside of their direct manager. I think it’s incredibly beneficial and helps us offer development opportunities to our employees.”
“We realize engineering is a little bit different at Viasat,” she added. “This program isn’t only about figuring out Viasat culture, but what their role is and what their goals are.”
Mentors & Buddies
The Mentorship Program is relatively new, having launched in 2016. It’s open to any employee who wants to learn more about the many facets of the company’s business. Similar to the Facilitator Program, mentees learn from more experienced Viasat employees.
“The Mentorship Program is definitely designed to enhance that professional and personal growth in Viasat. We really want to promote companywide knowledge sharing, while giving people exposure to different business areas,” said program manager Jordyn Case, a learning and development specialist at Viasat.
The Buddy Program is specifically for new hires, and unlike the other two programs – which allow employees to choose their mentor or facilitator through an online platform – a buddy is automatically assigned to new employees. The employee can choose if they’d like to participate in the program and meet their assigned buddy.
Buddies and their assigned new hire can meet for lunch or coffee, or a tour of the campus.
“A lot of our new hires express that it really does help them get acclimated,” said Meagan Thiesse, Buddy Program manager. “It’s just having someone who’s almost a friend right away that you can ask any of those questions you might have.”
Administrative assistant Barbara Schaeffer has served as a Buddy for 21 years. In that time, she’s been paired with more than 50 new employees and has seen them make a career at Viasat, retire and in some cases move on to other companies.
“My very first new employee in 1999 had done an internship here; he still works here and is a manager now,” Schaeffer said. “I’ve had buddies that I see when I’m out and about on campus. Especially today when everybody’s heads are down and their thumb is on the phone, I think that human connection is important.”
Starting a new job can be overwhelming, and a buddy can help make those first days easier.
“Our orientation is a full day; people get a lot of information shared with them in a short amount of time,” Schaeffer said. “As a buddy, you can help people navigate through what could otherwise be kind of confusing.
“I’m a big advocate, especially since we’re growing at such a rapid rate. Hopefully, it sets a good tone for their work experience here at Viasat.”