My Buddy & Me – Jan Van Wassenhove and Nele Vanreyten


Since we love to see our Tobians learn and grow, we thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at our TOBuddy (two-way mentorship) programme. So, we caught up with Jan Van Wassenhove and Nele Vanreyten. They are respectively TOBuddy and Buddy, as well as colleagues within the same business unit at Tobania.

Jan Van Wassenhove – Lead Architect, Founder of the TOBuddy programme and TOBuddy

Can you briefly introduce yourself, Jan?

I have been working at Tobania for 15 years now. Initially, I started as a Java Developer and in the meantime, I have become Lead Architect within the business unit Tobania.Development. Before all this, I was a naval officer in the Belgian Navy.


You are not just a TOBuddy, Jan. Along with some other colleagues, you also founded the TOBuddy programme yourself. Can you explain exactly what it entails?

TOBuddies (neither a CSM nor HR BP) are first and foremost a reference point to their Buddies. We do not consider them technical coaches, as the match is not primarily technology-based. Rather, we refer to them as “travelling companions”.

For example, if there are questions about Tobania or specific projects, a TOBuddy can assist in making the necessary connections to find answers (if they cannot be solved among Buddies themselves). Since there is no hierarchy between a TOBuddy and a Buddy, community openness is encouraged.


Why exactly did you set up the TOBuddy programme?

We wanted to ensure a Tobania bond among colleagues to bridge the “gap” that can arise when working remotely or at different customers. Although we all work on similar projects and technologies, it remains difficult at times to connect with each other.

The programme also encourages people in their personal development, e.g. by sparring with other colleagues (with different experience backgrounds), improves “thinking outside the box”, and opens up opportunities for new ideas to be contributed.

““While a standard mentoring programme usually assumes a hierarchy, a certain seniority or background experience to coach or mentor a fellow employee, our TOBuddy programme focuses on open dialogue and two-way conversations.””

What makes the TOBuddy programme any different from a mentoring programme?

By default, TOBuddies and their Buddies are not selected based on their technology background or skills. Since there is an open dialogue, the conversations work in both directions. TOBuddies help (or coach) their Buddies, and Buddies can do the same. They are both partners in this journey, whereas a standard mentoring programme usually assumes a hierarchy, certain seniority or background experience to coach or mentor a fellow.


For whom is the TOBuddy programme intended? Can anyone participate?

The programme is intended for all internal employees of the Development community within Tobania. Everyone is a Buddy at least, and anyone can become a TOBuddy (which we strongly encourage). For the community to transcend the Development unit, we avoid pairing Buddies from the same team.


What are your (initial) findings of the programme? Is it delivering what you envisioned?

We have already received quite positive feedback, as the community is growing and effectively taking place (where older initiatives were lost or discontinued after a very short time). Especially for new Tobians, it is good to know that they are not alone. For senior Tobians, like myself, I find that there is still a lot to learn from each other and that it motivates us to take the next steps in our personal career path.


What do you consider your biggest strength as a TOBuddy?

For me personally, that is having already worked in many different types of projects (and technologies), as well as in different types of roles (Developer, Technical Lead, Scrum Master and Architect). Of course, being a ” senior” at Tobania does help too.


How would others describe your buddy style?

With Nele and my other Buddies, I always have open and spontaneous discussions, and it doesn’t take long for other topics to emerge (either way). The dialogue we strive for in the community is definitely well represented during these conversations. We consult with each other about certain practices or situations and look for solutions together.

I love being able to brainstorm on a variety of topics and engage in discussions with Nele, from which we both learn a lot.

““The fact that we regularly get together and discuss all sorts of topics that have helped both me as a TOBuddy and the Buddies, shows the necessity of the programme.””

Can you give an example of a moment (during the TOBuddy programme) you are most proud of?

I personally wouldn’t mention one specific moment, but actually the fact that we regularly get together with all our Buddies and discuss all kinds of topics that have helped both me as a TOBuddy as well as the Buddies. It shows the necessity of the programme and also ensures the continuity of the TOBuddy community.


Nele Vanreyten – Project Manager and Buddy

Can you briefly introduce yourself, Nele?

I have been working at Tobania for one and a half years now as a Project Manager within the .NET Development team. Prior to this, I worked for several years as a Project Manager in a small SME, after obtaining my degree in Applied Economics (TEW).


What were your first thoughts when you heard of the TOBuddy programme?

Above all, I hoped that it would be something that would be “continued”. In other words, that it would not extinguish on its own after a period of time. I must say that my TOBuddy Jan and I always keep our conversations going and make full use of our hour, so in our case there is definitely no such thing as an extinction scenario, quite the contrary!

““Jan provides insights that might be harder to attain within the team, as he is not biased.””

What are the benefits of the TOBuddy programme for you?

I find it immensely valuable to be able to spar with someone else – separate from the team in which I am active – about ideas and applications. After all, Jan provides insights that might be harder to attain within the team, as he is not “biased”. After a conversation with Jan, I always feel inspired.


Why do you think relying on a TOBuddy in the workplace is so valuable?

Apart from your immediate colleagues, there is always someone to fall back on to listen and think along about all kinds of topics within our job.


How would you describe Jan as a TOBuddy?

Jan is a tremendous listener, provides a lot of input and is open to everything. You can have an open discussion with him on various topics, in which his insights are immensely valuable to me. In addition, he always actively asks for my thoughts and perceptions as well. This together produces great results that we also apply effectively in the workplace.


Can you give an example of a moment (during the TOBuddy programme) you are most proud of?

Being able to test and realise discussed practices on the work floor. To Jan it was advantageous to receive feedback from me during the test period, to me it was a privilege to be able to test it out. More than that, it became a way of working which has now been rolled out across the entire unit.


Do you aspire to be a mentor for others as well?

Of course, I hope to be as valuable to a Tobian and inspire someone in the future as well!