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Hobnobbing With 'Givers' Mike Gamson and Alaina Percival

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A year ago, I came across Adam Grant's Give and Take, and it changed my life!

At about the same time, I was working with Samir Malik at his telepsychiatry startup 1DocWay, and that he selflessly invested in my development was gratifying. Wanting to pay forward his mentorship was the primary motivation for me to become an entrepreneur, and in turn, invest in my team members to help them achieve self-awareness and success, however they define it.

Soon after, I was lucky to meet Mike Gamson and Alaina Percival. I highly admired them for the infinite efforts they put into "giving," and especially, into mentoring students and professionals. Mike is based in Chicago, and is Senior VP, Global Solutions at LinkedIn, and San Francisco-based Alaina is CEO and founder of Women Who Code. They kindly share their motivations and thoughts on "giving":

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Mike Gamson (Photo courtesy of LinkedIn)

Q: Why is giving back to your community important to you? How do you do it?

MG: Investing in my community is something I do because I genuinely enjoy it and think it's an important thing to do. I tend to invest my time in causes that focus on education, and serve on the board of two fantastic organizations that have very different approaches to changing the lives of students. The first, called OneGoal, focuses on helping urban students get into, and then graduate from, college. The second, called Green Schoolyards America, helps communities enrich their school grounds and use them to improve children's well being.

Q: Why do you invest time in mentoring students and professionals?

MG: I have benefited from having profound mentors in my life. Their investment in me has greatly impacted what I do and how I live, and taught me it's my responsibility to mentor others as well. I find that kind of investment in people to be very personally satisfying and rewarding and would love to be a similar force of good in the lives of people around me.

Q: Can you think of a mentor or two who invested in you and inspired you to pay it forward?

MG: Absolutely. Jeff Weiner, for example, introduced me to the idea of aspiring to manage and lead more compassionately. Up until I met Jeff about five years ago, I had aspired to manage with empathy. In one of my very first meetings with Jeff, we ended up in a long conversation about the differences between managing with empathy and managing with compassion. Empathy is feeling another person's pain while compassion is understanding why they are in pain and striving to reduce their suffering. Prior to that conversation, I would not have been able to define the two words accurately enough to debate the difference between them. After that conversation, I understand their unique meaning more profoundly and I committed to changing my focus for my career. Ever since then I have been in pursuit of improving my ability to manage compassionately.

Q: Is "giving" the secret to success? Does this incentive motivate you to give?

MG: I don't think there is a single secret to success. I think success is defined differently by different people and achieved via so many different routes that there is no single path. I do believe, though, that those people who define their success by intrinsic standards via extrinsic milestones tend to appear more fulfilled and happier.

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Alaina Percival (Photo courtesy of WWC)

Q: Why is giving back to your community important to you? How do you do it?

AP: Giving back has always been important to me. Growing up, I didn't have a lot of money to donate but I was still able to give back to my community with time. I really loved animal and nature focused organizations, and when I moved to San Francisco I fell in love with an incredibly supportive community. I now run a non-profit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers -- Women Who Code. I work to provide an avenue for women to move into tech, give them the tools to move up in their careers, and provide a place that is just for them to help them stay in tech.

Q: Why do you invest time in mentoring students and professionals?

AP: I focus on professional women who either have a CS degree, or have the desire to make the transition to programming. There's a real need for engineers, and this is a great time for more women to get involved in tech.

Q: Can you think of a mentor/s who invested in you and inspired you to pay it forward?

AP: I look up to many people and have always wanted a professional mentor. I accepted my first full-time position at PUMA, because I would directly report to the most senior woman in the company. My personal desire for strong female role model has been a major inspiration for my efforts to provide guidance to women in their careers.

Q: Is "giving" the secret to success? Does this incentive motivate you to give?

AP: My incentive to give comes from how rewarding it is to see my community succeed and be happily working in a field they love.