Career Insight from the Manager Lens with Brad Christian (2/2)

Welcome to episode 114 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 insight from the manager lens in part 2 of our interview with Brad Christian.

Original Recording Date: 03-16-2021

Topics – Becoming a Manager, Managing Up, Safety Nets, and Finding Talent

Brad Christian is a Solution Engineering Manager in the Networking and Security Business Unit at VMware. Catch part 1 of our interview with him in Episode 113.

2:06 – Individual Contributor to Manager

  • Brad received a call from Sean Howard asking if he wanted to come work on NSX at VMware. Brad found out he got the job and knew he could not continue running VMUG despite loving it.
    • He felt like he had been drafted for a pro sports team.
    • Brad got in and worked on a new product (NSX) and learned a ton.
    • It was like climbing a mountain. You rest at the top and catch your breath a little.
  • Going to work for a manufacturer like VMware is not for everyone. You have to enjoy working with people.
    • Brad understood he liked being in Sales and got energy from meeting with customers and more importantly solving their problems.
    • If meeting with people in this way takes energy away from you, this field is not for you.
  • There are many paths to pursue to get more money. At the end of the day we are taking care of our families. Brad ended up in leadership.
    • Brad would have laughed at someone who told him he should go into leadership 10 years ago.
    • In the Dallas County days he went through leadership training.
      • He came to understand that with a team you can widen the impact and scope of what you can accomplish, especially with a high performance team.
      • At the county the biggest problem is people just being there for the paycheck.
    • Brad learns a great deal from his current team and considers himself a servant.
    • He and warns against being pushy or having the idea that you’re going to be the "big man." Regardless of the company, no one is going to put up with that.
    • Brad’s goal is to remove impediments from the team and help them do their job better. If you can do that and enjoy it and hold onto your technical skills a little, you can be successful.
  • Cross over skills from the VCDX?
    • Brad re-emphasizes the need to understand how the tech helps a business.
    • Right now Brad is trying to understand how SaaS and subscription affects revenue bookings. It’s a challenging problem compared to perpetual licenses.
      • You will still keep learning technical things, but enterprise architecture hammered into Brad that there must be a justification for everything to the business.
    • He could not have done VCDX without all the folks who helped with feedback on his design. It was humility to take advice that directly translated to leadership.
    • John mentioned being a manager means you give up on being the best at everything. The people interactions Brad had also helped.

12:22 – Managing Up and Safety Nets

  • When you become a boss, it’s not like you think it is.
    • When you are highly technical and high performing as an individual contributor, you are not being watched as carefully as you might think.
      • It’s important to learn to manage up. You can’t just leave it up to your boss to get you a raise or pay bump. Help him / her realize your worth.
        • Be able to draw attention to what you are doing. If you don’t sell yourself, no one else will.
        • Make sure people know what you’re doing and update accomplishments on LinkedIn.
        • Brad struggles with getting his people to cheerlead for themselves. He tells his team to make a folder and call it I Love Me. Every time you get an e-mail complimenting you, save all of that to help you remember what you did successfully, and use it to help your managers.
        • Managers have to manage up as well. Brad’s management chain has been great to work with.
        • John mentioned there is a perception that documenting your work is just extra work, and people may not know how to do it well.
        • Brad recommends Getting Things Done by David Allen.
        • If you have not updated your resume in years, it is extremely stressful when applying for a new job. Follow a system, and as part of it update the resume consistently.
        • Many people may not apply for a job because it’s too much work.
        • When you finish a cool project, write it down and track it in some kind of system (like Evernote, for example). Make this part of every Friday’s routine. Take screenshots, etc. Save that stuff, and updating your resume is easy.
        • You need to be planning for your next job NOW!
  • You can’t rely on a company as a safety net. You’re not going to get a watch in 20 years like it used to be.
    • Brad gives the example of his dad working for Eastman Kodak and getting laid off at one point. He did not have a plan of what would be next.
    • Have an exit strategy, and be thinking about what is next on the ladder for you, even if not management.
      • Firing someone is incredibly hard to do. Not everyone is meant to have that.
      • Don’t think that the next step needs to be manager.
      • Consider the project manager role and other options in the industry.
      • It’s not the company that will be your safety net but the people you develop relationships with over time.
      • Remember to also ask your network what you can be doing for them to keep the connections warm (i.e. don’t make every contact you asking for something).
      • Constantly pay things forward. Brad’s current role was the genesis of raising his hand at that VMUG years ago.
      • Find ways to directly give back to others, the community, etc.
  • In-person training is Brad’s biggest problem with COVID. The best thing you can do when the pandemic is over is to train in person.
    • Brad remembers getting energy from experiences with training and listening to people talk about their experience, share ideas, etc.
    • He cites the NSX Ninja program as something extremely beneficial also.
      • Hearing the best in the world teach networking helped him finally get it.

23:23 – Finding the Right Talent

  • Finding the right talent for his team was way harder than Brad anticipated.
    • He had been a leader before but did not have control over who got hired (seemed to happen at a level higher than him). Normally he was the technical interviewer.
    • If someone does not know the tech, Brad doesn’t really care. If they have experience as a customer and can share that experience, it will be helpful in the role.
    • Brad has managed SEs who specialized in Networking and Security as well as HCI (i.e. vSAN, Cloud Foundation).
    • As soon as someone gets into a role like this, there is a ton of training.
    • There are things which cannot be taught – getting along with others, for example.
      • One test is to ask yourself if you would want to be in a car with the person for 3 hours.
    • Diversity and inclusion is hard as well.
      • Finding female engineers is challenging, and the process has to be different.
      • Guys will lie about their accomplishments and exaggerate skills, while ladies won’t do that.
      • Some may see a list of requirements in a job description and decide not to apply based on them.
      • There are way too many dudes in our industry.
      • John mentioned it is now more culturally acceptable for women to be nerds.
      • Sometimes you have to dig for the nerds. Brad likes to ask what people nerd out on in their spare time. He reads a great deal in his spare time.
      • Dig for what people are passionate about in the interview, and learn about what makes them a good fit for the role.
      • Brad wants to help the person in the interview relax and feel at ease. And in his conversations with people he is trying to sell them on the role.
      • A good manager will stay in touch with people who made it deep in the process but did not get the role.
      • Little things like sending a thank you note are helpful. Connect with the hiring manager on LinkedIn.
      • Not getting a job in one instance doesn’t mean you are out of the running forever.
      • At VMware there are panel interviews. The process goes like this – discussion with HR, discussion with the manager, and then the panel process.
      • Remote interviews are a challenge and require a presentation. Brad encourages presenters to choose a topic other than the technology.
  • How do you mitigate risk in hires?
    • Some of this is tied to the segment where you work (in Sales, at least). Each has a unique challenge. Brad is in the commercial segment (the mid-market).
      • Maybe you are new, inexperienced, and want to make the jump. If you have the experience it may take you a while to train to standards, but as long as you have the social skills and are a nice person, Brad will take that chance.
    • Try different companies, different segments, and look at Value Added Resellers.
      • Brad learned a ton about how the business works from someone at Sigma.
      • The real risk is managing customer outages.
      • Work at all different sizes of companies to gain experience.
      • Don’t give up after one try.
    • Brad says he has a hard time finding people to hire. Not enough people will apply, and many may self-select out of the process due to lack of confidence.
    • Brad gives the example of a recent hire he made where the person was not an expert at NSX and gives an example of his employee’s expertise in other areas of the VMware portfolio.
      • Brad explains why he took a chance on this particular person.
  • Don’t send more than 1 page on a resume.
    • Brad shares what he looks for on resumes during the hiring process.
      • Job hopping does not look good.
    • There are so many resumes that there is little time to spend too much time on each one.
    • Keep in mind HR filters resumes based on key words. You need to get through that to get to a hiring manager.
    • Make sure the resume says who you are and what makes you stand out.
    • Show enthusiasm about the job if you talk to the hiring manager. The hiring manager is a human who wants you to be excited about the company.
  • Ask questions during the interview!
    • If you show you are worried about the culture, you are most likely a fit.
    • There are genuinely nice people at companies.
    • Ask questions about who your teammates will be.
    • One of the hardest things for leaders right now is building a high performing team when no one gets together in person.
      • Brad is managing a team of people who for the most part have never met each other and expecting them to be a cohesive team.
    • Don’t hesitate to bring your experience on teams in the past (sports, military, etc.)?

40:52 – Parting Thoughts

  • Don’t be afraid to dream big.
  • Brad plans to go back and teach (PhD in History) after finishing his career.
  • Really Brad has enjoyed the teaching aspect of all of his roles. He mentioned it took a long time to figure out his life’s task. There are tips for helping you figure this out in the book Mastery.
    • He enjoys building others up, teaching them, and giving them the chance to advance and make more money.
    • It will be something else for you. Figure out what that thing is and what the next steps will be to get there.
      • Find systems and networks to get you there.
      • Don’t be someone who does break / fix for 25 years.
      • Find out what your life’s task is and work toward it.
      • Brad went for the VCDX even though he was cautious at first, but it got him to where he wanted to go.
    • Listen to podcasts, go to user groups, and rely on the people around you to get to that next level.

After the Recording Stopped…

  • Nick and Brad had an interesting discussion about fitness and stress relief. Brad wanted to emphasize the role physical fitness played in stress reduction for him.
  • Recommended reads on this from Brad are
  • It would be good to follow up with Brad on these items at some point in the future!

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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