A Time to Build with David Klee (2/2)

Welcome to episode 120 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 share part 2 of our interview with David Klee in which he recounts the birth of his business, how previous experience helped him succeed, how he keeps things fresh, and career advice for the IT Generalist.

Original Recording Date: 04-12-2021

David Klee is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP and a VMware vExpert. He owns two companies – Heraflux Technologies and SQLibrium. Catch part 1 of out interview with David in Episode 119.

Topics – Flying Solo, Drawing on Previous Experience, IT Pro Advice, SQLibrium, Keeping Things Fresh, Parting Thoughts

2:23 – Flying Solo

  • David was watching public cloud technologies evolve, and the company he was at wasn’t too interested in that. They were looking more at license assessments, and David wanted a more holistic approach.
    • Around this time he sought to do his own thing to explore various technologies and get back to the data lifecycle to help people
    • David was traveling almost nonstop and needed more control over that.
    • He had made a name for himself in the SQL Server and VMware communities.
    • He had a strict noncompete from the previous consulting firm to deal with as well.
  • David hoped word of mouth from technical communities would bring him customers, and he received his first project on day 3 after stepping out on his own.
    • His business officially started September 1, 2013.
    • He had to fly to Denver to help this new customer solve their problem.
  • David advertised with blog posts, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter. The connections he had made in the SQL Community really helped him be successful.
  • David would not wish owning a consulting firm on anyone who doesn’t understand what it really takes.
    • There is a lot of sacrifice that comes along with it.
    • Being self-employed brings concerns about healthcare, difference in processes of getting loans, etc.
    • His family was supportive of the choice, but they set a deadline at which they would re-evaluate and pivot if needed.
      • They had a backup plan (money saved just in case).
    • The act of getting the business up and running was not cheap, but really good projects came in early to help stabilize things.
  • Everyone’s perspective of going out on your own is different.
    • Some have customer lists and were moonlighting on the side.
    • David had a word of mouth reputation and a website. He had money for startup, money for a decent burn rate, and a list of events to get the word out.
    • If you don’t have a plan for making your first few sales, don’t jump in until you are ready. Listen to David’s simple example of the timeline of quote to cash.
    • All kinds of legal contracts need to be written up, all of which are custom to the customer.
  • David understood several things from experience at the previous consulting firm.
    • He found a very good lawyer to help in the beginning.
    • But this does not remove the need to have contracts reviewed by legal teams of his customers and any changes that are required to do business with them.
  • On day 1, David had his hands in most everything. His wife was kind enough to help with a lot of the back end items.

11:59 – Drawing on Previous Experience

  • David had done a lot of pre-Sales work before forming his own company and would often do some or all of the post-Sales implementation work.
  • What about being perceived as a Sales guy as owner of his own consulting firm?
    • David treats pre-Sales more as technical discussions. Tell me what you think needs to be done, and let’s brainstorm on what actually needs to be done.
    • David approaches things as low pressure. You either want his help or you don’t. He brings a set of candor to pre-Sales discussions. Pre-Sales is the discovery of what is needed to complete the task.
      • This approach validates concerns that something is a problem.
    • Many times David has to tell people the problem is layers deeper than they think.
  • What about changing the company specialty based on market need?
    • Listen to how David turns a question into an explanation of how his company was named (Heraflux Technologies), which actually answers it perfectly.
    • The answer is…he does this constantly by staying on top of technology trends.
    • If you are in IT, you must continue to evolve and change with the technology.
      • David shares a story about a friend whose specialty was eliminated by technological change who was not able to adjust.
      • David is neck deep in the Microsoft Data Platform at present but also learning about cloud database instances. The NoSQL database concept with MongoDB and CosmosDB is quite fascinating for the right use case. Listen to David’s examples of how SQL Server could still be used in conjunction with these.
      • David likes to read up on what is going on in the industry, looking for new technologies that can solve business problems in new ways. If he finds something useful he likes to conduct a 300-level hands-on overview before using for his customers.

19:27 – Advice for the Generalist IT Pro

  • Your interests vs. what you do for your day job could be different things. Hopefully those two line up.
  • David recommends thinking about what makes you smile and what you find cool. Start reading up on those things.
  • A hobby today could become a day job / side project tomorrow.
  • If you find you enjoy it in tinkering, there’s a high probability you will find out you really enjoy it once it becomes a full time job.
  • Nick makes the point that someone who enjoys blogging and presenting, for example, may like technical marketing as a career but may have less control over the content they cover than when it was a hobby.
  • How much of the day do I dread, and how much do I enjoy? If the positives outweigh the negatives, stick with it.
  • If you hit a point where the negatives outweigh the positives, revisit the hobbies and the things you enjoy about that job. Figure out if there is another role within the same company or at a different company that can get you back to what you really enjoy.
  • Many people don’t want the change that comes along with looking for a new job.
  • If you are unhappy in your job, the people around you can see it (peers, your boss, your family, etc.).
  • The blessing of COVID-19 is that it has proven many roles can be done remotely.
    • Even if you work somewhere with very few technical jobs in the area, COVID has opened the doors for you to look at larger companies without needing to relocate or step inside an office.
    • This also hurts people in the same town who might be looking for work, but it provides more options and directions for all of us. David sees it as a good thing.
  • Companies offered work from home opportunities before COVID, but many were forced to enable this because of the pandemic. Likely remote work becomes table stakes for an interview discussion.
  • David says many companies he worked with assumed people would work better if face to face in an office and that they would slack off if working from home.
    • Datacenters are not usually in the next room from us, even when we work in an office.
    • Before the pandemic David traveled 150 – 250 days per year for 11 years straight.
      • Ask about travel policies if you are going to become a consultant.
      • Travel for work is not glamorous like people think. You see an airport, a hotel, and an office park almost exclusively. One perk is local cuisine.
      • David’s travel during the pandemic went to zero during the pandemic, and he has proven he can do the job remotely despite some things taking longer.
        • In the past he would do a 40 hour boot camp with everyone in the same room to minimize distractions.
        • Now he has to schedule parts of days with customers because there are so many distractions with remote meetings. Knowing that going into it allows you to plan for it.
    • Moving to 100% remote work added more structure to his day to some extent.
      • He got weekends back. Usually every other weekend was doing some kind of travel.
      • When you and your body expect to be in different places multiple times per month it becomes a way of life.
      • Seeing the same 4 walls for so long can create the itch to travel again.
      • David does not think he will ever travel to the extent he did before the pandemic.
  • There will likely be a new normal for conferences and events. David used to travel a great deal for VMUG and SQL Saturday events.
  • He thinks there will likely be a remote aspect of events moving forward, and it will be an interesting shift in how the world reacts.
    • David is not traveling the rest of this year and doesn’t know about next year but is keeping an eye on things.
    • Maybe conferences will allow remote speakers moving forward?
    • For now, David has no in person commitments.

28:41 – The Birth of SQLibrium

  • David would do boot camps and training all over the world. The lack of travel from the pandemic has limited the in-person opportunities for training on various topics.
    • They decided as a company it was time to come up with an on-demand platform.
    • In-person training will forever change because of the pandemic.
    • People want the ability to watch a session, go look at their environment, and then take some notes. In-person offerings did not allow this.
    • With in-person trainings, David had to answer questions for people for months after the fact (does not scale well).
    • David took the best thing he is known for (SQL Server on VMware Performance and Availability Tuning) and chose it as the first 8-hour offering.
    • A sister company of Heraflux called SQLibrium was formed and launched February 4, 2021.
      • The domain name was something they bought and sat on a number of years ago.
    • There will be a SQL Server on Linux course to come, one on general database tuning, one on Hyper-V, and hopefully a couple on using SQL Server and IaaS across public cloud environments.
  • David wants people to call him for the hard stuff and share his knowledge of common patterns.
    • This allows him to go deeper than he could in-person, setup interesting labs, and really cover everything needed within the course.

33:08 – Keeping Things Fresh

  • David keeps his eyes open on where the industry is going, where the bleeding edge front runners are going, and looks at how this might be beneficial to business.
  • In addition to consulting and making courses for SQLibrium he has a start on 2 commercial products around performance and availability tuning.
  • If you study where things are going and where they have been in the past, you can anticipate whether you might need to incorporate something new into what you already do.
    • Virtualizing SQL was taboo ten years ago but is now a given.
    • How do you get an IT person into the mind of the business and figure out where they need to go, and how do you understand what technology to push them into to ensure they land appropriately?
    • It’s easier for IT personnel to swing the business in a certain direction is easier than it used to be.
    • Be consistently on the lookout for opportunities to modernize with new technologies.
  • Today at Heraflux, there are 3 full time employees (David, his wife, and a Sales and Business Development professional).
    • They have started a referral network among experts in the industry and can act as subcontractors for one another based on the specialty need.
    • They can scale as needed without overhead of having full time people on board.
    • The scale out model in place works very well for them right now.
  • David had not really managed people before starting his own company.
    • He does not like to micromanage or second guess his employees and doesn’t have to do either of these things.
    • "We all just want to fix stuff and make things better."

38:30 – Parting Thoughts on Career

  • The best career advice David received was run with what you enjoy because what you enjoy is the intersection of multiple distinct things. The act of specializing in how multiple distinct things work together is really rare.
    • If you like multiple things that work together for a business running well but that many don’t understand, run with it. David received advice from others that this kind of thing was going to get some attention.
  • The worst career advice was from his high school English teacher who called him a moron and said he would never amount to anything.
    • David feels he has made an impact and that he has fun with what he does.
  • How do people get started building a body of work?
    • Generally speaking, IT personnel are introverts that like knowledge but don’t like being around people.
    • Networking with others is something you have to force yourself to learn to do.
    • Get networking with people around you with similar interests (regardless of career field).
    • So many user groups are virtual now.
    • Find people with like minded interest. If you are interested in starting to specialize, start to explore what you really enjoy.
      • For pieces of your job that you like, read up on it. Learn it well enough to explain to others how to do it.
      • There are always 5-10 presentations that take place at user groups. Start there.
      • "Find something you enjoy. Tell somebody about it." – David Klee
      • Find a junior person in their role, and show them how to do a couple things.
    • David gets a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment from hearing people say something is cool and that they will take it and use it.
  • The technology discussions David has have become the marketing avenues for him and his company.
    • People remember people who talk to them.
    • Ask others if they have side projects you can work on (assuming your employment agreement allows it).
    • Find someone to learn from. Apprenticeship is something we need more of in our country as it allows people to find out if they will really enjoy a line of work.
    • Mentor others, and be mentored.
    • Get out of your comfort zone and network.
    • People will call you if they need something. Build up that network.
    • If you are interested in going out on your own, the generalist side of you will help you understand what you’re coming from. The specialist side will help you figure out where you want to go.
      • Being a specialist with the generalist background allows a pivot as your personal situation changes.
  • If you want to start your own business, contact David to hear the good, bad, and the ugly.
    • There are many ways to do it.
    • Do you have healthcare, money saved up to get started, a drop dead date to allow yourself to do something else, etc.?
      • It’s always a challenge. David loves it, but it is not for everyone.
    • You need two things…
      • Something that makes you special enough in what you do that people would be wiling to pay you to do it.
      • You need a personal situation to allow personal instability to be able to do it.
    • Contact David on LinkedIn, Twitter, or the contact pages on one of his sites to setup a call (no strings attached, no marketing):

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

image sources

  • Architect Building Joy Planning: jarmoluk

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