Engineer Brain and Career Philosophy with Josh Fidel

Welcome to episode 76 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss career philosophy, certifications, and the engineer brain with Josh Fidel @jcfidel.

Original Recording Date: 04-23-2020

Topic – Engineer Brain and a Career Philosophy

2:30 Before We Hit Record

  • John, Nick, and Josh talked for at least an hour about all kinds of things before the recording started.
  • Josh is a Principal Solutions Architect at Rolta|Avizex.

5:12 – Thoughts on VCDX

  • Josh has considered going for it a few times, but he realized if he can already do the work, he may not need to pursue it.
  • He has helped mentor VCDX candidates who were successful in achieving the certification and will likely try for it at some point.

Check in on COVID times

  • Josh said very little has changed due to the pandemic. He is somewhat introverted and does not go out much.
  • Before quarantine, he had not been to the office for 3-4 months.
  • He has many different communication channels (Twitter, Slack, Hangouts, etc.) but does not feel any one meets all his needs.
  • John has recently been exposed to TikTok and mentions each communication medium is a little different (built for a different purpose and used differently in our culture).
  • Our parents primarily use Facebook. We started off on IRC in the early days.
  • Our kids are using Discord, TikTok, Instagram
  • Josh had to take touch typing in school.

12:11 – A Brief Career History

  • Josh has been in the Marine Corps, was a bartender when he lived in Japan, a body piercer in Mexico, and even a cab driver in New Orleans (where his tech journey began).
  • In the early 1990s, the state of Louisiana was incentivizing technology jobs, and this is how Josh ended up with a Windows NT 4 certification.
  • He built whitebox computers and did some web programming on the side, and eventually landed his first professional gig as a desktop administrator for an insurance company.
  • Josh was a big science fiction fan and recognized the dystopian future we’re headed toward some day. He decide to ensure he understood technology to properly prepare (would rather learn to control technology than be controlled by it).
  • For while Josh did some consulting and then worked for a hospital in 2007 / 2008 during the economic downturn. That is where he met two of his current co-workers!
    • The consulting company he was with went bankrupt.
    • Josh learned a lot about security while at the hospital and did training for Certified Ethical Hacker.
    • In this role, he worked directly for the CTO, was the only systems engineer, and built an EMR from the ground up (entire infrastructure).
      • There was a team of 10 developers working with Josh. He learned SQL Server and database administrator.
    • The hospital wanted the application but did not want it to affect anything else in the environment. The system brought in data, ran it through a transformation engineer, and dumped it into their database to be called up when needed at over 140 different practices in the area.
    • This is where Josh cut his teeth at being an architect.
    • After leaving this position he went back to consulting. The system Josh had built ran for 4 years with no downtime after his departure.
    • John mentioned EMR systems can often be a competitive advantage.
  • Think of infrastructure like a "crystal palace" that could withstand all sorts of external forces.
  • Josh would advise others to get hands on to understand the technology before you seek to become an architect.
  • He was an implementation engineer at an east coast consulting firm after leaving the hospital and had to clean up a bunch of messes that architects left.
    • After hard times at the consulting firm, Josh was picked up by an even larger consulting firm. This afforded him the opportunity to grow the scope of the projects in which he was involved (different regions across the United States).
    • He spent several months in New York and then Dallas doing work for a construction company.

28:05 – Inside the Engineer Brain, Adapting, and Certification

  • The engineer brain (the desire to solve problems) is what pushed Josh to new heights. Big Weld from the movie Robots says "see a need, fill a need."
    • Maybe you start with the immediate fix and then proceed to trying to prevent it from happening.
    • People may not always want to be told they are wrong.
    • Josh wanted to be an architect to prevent the same problems which happened to him from happening to others downstream, taking responsibility for the problem and fixing it.
    • As an individual, a move to an architect is growing your sphere of responsibility / accountability. Josh gives some great examples of the sphere in different roles.
    • A problem Josh has seen is as people advance their sphere of accountability doesn’t grow like it should. He needs and wants the accountability.
    • Own your mistakes, but learn from them.
    • The change felt organic to Josh.
    • We learn from our manager’s mistakes even if they don’t for example.
    • Some engineers / systems administrators may not want to let go of being an implementer.
      • There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a small sphere of accountability as long as you want to do it the best you can.
    • Josh and John give an interesting example of Cobol programmers and the cycle of need for this role.
    • Josh mentions airlines and the challenges of keeping airline systems running. Does this reflect a problem in leadership or with incentives?
    • Josh references Joe Onisick and transformational modality.
    • Adapt and overcome. You must be willing to adapt. That is the caution for folks with a very small sphere. Will what you’re doing today be a viable technology in 10 years?
      • Would we have thought 5 years ago that a Microsoft SQL certification would go away (just recently)?
      • Engineers and systems administrators pay a great deal of money for certifications.
      • We started to debate the cost of continued certifications. Check out this blog and the FAQ on the same page for more on VMware’s recertification requirements.
      • John and Josh get into a friendly debate over the value of certifications. What do you think?
      • Are high level certifications making people too specialized?
      • Josh cites this as a reason he left VMware.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

  • Find Josh on Twitter @jcfidel.
  • He likes meeting people, networking, and helping where he can.

image sources

  • Ep76 Josh Fidel3: John White

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