Nerd Journey 043: Ethan Banks on Podcasting and Turning a Hobby into the Packet Pushers

Welcome to episode 43 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two VMware Solution 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 talk to Ethan Banks, co-founder of the Packet Pushers technical podcast network about becoming a podcaster and turning that hobby into a business.

Original Recording Date: 05-28-2019

Topics – Beginning to Podcast and Turning Hobby into Business

1:47 – Getting into Podcasting

  • Podcasting for Ethan was an evolution of blogging.
    • He started a CCIE blog in 2007 as a study guide while he was working through the certification.
    • There were not many networking podcasts out there, so Ethan thought it would be good topic.
    • At the same time Greg Farrow was looking to recruit writers for his blog. Ethan didn’t want to write but wanted someone to help host the podcast. Coincidentally, Greg had been talking to someone named Dan Hughes about recording a podcast.
      • The trio started recording together as a result.
    • Ethan had done some audio work for the church he attended and even mixed an album for a friend of his. He had enough experience to put a good product out the door from an audio standpoint.
    • Early on, Dan had to leave the podcast due to his role, leaving Ethan and Greg to move forward together.
    • Fun fact – Ethan took a brief break from co-hosting the podcast to take Divinity classes but decided it was not for him. A friend that filled in for Ethan on the podcast stepped aside when Ethan was ready to return.
  • Managing work, blogging, and podcasting was brutal.
    • "Committing to a weekly show means you need to have a show every week."
    • Coordinating schedules with guests can be challenging.
    • Shows have to be recorded and then edited before released. An edit can take time depending on how comfortable the guest is on the air.
    • Ethan had a long commute on top of all of this (more than 2 hours per day).
    • Ethan was doing contract blogs for extra money as well as maintaining personal blogs.
    • The podcast numbers took off, taking the subscribers from hundreds to thousands. They felt pressure to get good guests and good content to avoid disappointing listeners.
      • People may not consider the burden to listeners before starting something that has potential to be very successful.
    • Being married with children on top of all of this made for a VERY busy week.
  • Missing the cadence with a podcast has a different impact than missing the cadence with a blog.
    • People who like a show like it because they bond to the personality of the hosts. It’s more personal than writing. "People feel like they know you."
    • Ethan gives the example of Network Break missing its scheduled release and the impact.
    • Check out the Heavy Networking Weekly Show # 200 Ethan references.
      • In this episode, Greg and Ethan had an open conversation about the struggle to keep up what they were doing.
      • This resulted in community feedback telling Greg and Ethan how valuable their content has been to others.
    • There are many podcasts out there. Once you lose a listener, likely they will not come back.
      • It’s difficult to commit the time to something that does not come out regularly and predictably.
      • Ethan uses these same criteria when he’s selecting a podcast for listening.
      • Show length can also impact the audience’s willingness to listen. Over an hour may be too long.

21:56 – Turning a Hobby into a Business

  • Most of Ethan’s work identity had come from being a hot shot Network Engineer.
  • IT Operations can wear down a person over the years.
    • Ethan speaks to the logistics of technical side gigs, the time demands of being on call, and always being prepared to fix a problem for a customer (even if it interrupts family time).
  • Ethan needed to narrow down the things on his plate to one thing.
    • He remembers sitting at his desk one day and physically locking up because he had reached his breaking point. It was like a wake up call.
    • Money was a big factor. Finances have to be in order to go out on your own.
      • Ethan pumped nearly everything he had made from extra endeavors into his mortgage, which greatly reduced the risks of starting a business.
      • He had previously turned down the chance to start his own consulting firm due to financial situation.
  • Ethan’s employer (a medical startup) would not fund internal projects, and he was unhappy.
    • At the same time, Greg was ready to make a move as well. Their motivations were enough to pour all of their energies into Packet Pushers.
    • "It needed us to pay attention to it full time."
  • John thinks we’re about to wrap up, but there’ more…on lessons learned
    • Ethan thinks maybe he should have taken a shot at being a business owner sooner. It’s possible he could have been bought out by a larger company. But he chose to be conservative.
    • He should have gone for the CCIE sooner. The intimidation got to him.
    • Ethan wishes they would have figured out pricing faster when they started Packet Pushers.
    • Being risk averse has benefits too. No fund raising or investors were needed to start the business (which is debt free).
  • How does Ethan keep Packet Pushers fun?
    • He still enjoys writing and podcasting, especially script writing, as well as talking to people and researching. There is no lack of challenges.
    • Breaking down complex topics in a way people can understand is not so much fun as something Ethan really enjoys that doesn’t seem to get boring after doing it for 10 years.
    • Some of the administrative tasks of running a business just aren’t fun (nor will they ever be). The core of the job makes up for the operational drag.
      • As an owner, you are legally on the hook to make sure things are done right.
    • Ethan loves talking to people and enjoys having people on the show who have never previously been on it. He emphasizes that everyone has a story to share.
    • Ethan taught Cisco classes at one point and was a school teacher for a year. The education background factors into his current role as well.
    • What is John White’s superpower?
  • How do people engage Ethan?
    • Send an e-mail to ethan@packetpushers.net to pitch a podcast topic, or use the Contact Page on the Packet Pushers site. Cloud, security, networking, and other technical backgrounds are welcome.
      • Be sure to communicate the core idea of the reason for your episode (i.e. a story worth telling).
  • Final Thoughts…
    • Pick your battles carefully. Do a few things well.
    • Learn to say no. When you say yes to everything, it is tough to excel in anything.
      • Choose the opportunities that align with your own goals and priorities.
    • If there is too much on the list, work in a linear fashion to complete things one at a time.
    • Control social media usage. Understand what it is good for, and know it is not conducive to finishing tasks.
    • Money is not as important as everyone says. Once you reach a certain point, more money will not move the needle.
    • Family comes first. Do not sacrifice family for career success.
    • You are a machine that needs regular maintenance. Don’t neglect your physical health. Peak physical health affects mental ability to perform.
      • Get sleep. It makes a difference.
  • More Fun Stuff

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

image sources

  • Ep43 – John White, Nick Korte, and guest Ethan Banks: John White

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