Everything Has a Lifecycle with Ethan Banks (1/2)

We often talk about lifecycle management in technology, but every job and personal or professional project has a lifecycle that needs managing from beginning to end. When we start a job or a career, we don’t know when the end of that lifecycle will come.

This week in episode 276 we’re joined by Packet Pushers co-founder Ethan Banks. As we talk through the lifecycle and evolution of podcasts on the Packet Pushers Podcast Network, we relate that to technology projects and personal experiences. Ethan will also share details on the new Packet Pushers Job Board and how it can be a helpful resource that pairs up the job seeker with companies needing specific technical talent.

Original Recording Date: 04-19-2024

Topics – Ethan Banks Returns, Pandemic Impact on Packet Pushers, Staying Broad and Going Deep, Longevity and the Lifecycle of Everything, The Packet Pushers Job Board

2:35 – Ethan Banks Returns

3:25 – Pandemic Impact on Packet Pushers

  • In the past couple of years, John’s podcast listening has been pretty sparse. But how has Packet Pushers changed before and after the pandemic?
    • The business model at Packet Pushers is monetization through sponsorships. Packet Pushers creates and provides podcasts for technical people, and often times technology vendors will want to sponsor a discussion or an ad to air on one of the shows on Packet Pushers.
    • During the pandemic, technology vendors could not longer attend Cisco Live or VMware Explore because these kinds of events were cancelled, removing a major marketing channel for vendors. Packet Pushers became one of the outlets used for marketing during this time, and there was an influx of incoming sponsorships for probably a solid 2 years.
      • “We went through a two-and-a-half year period of just absolute insanity trying to keep up with demand.” – Ethan Banks, on the influx of Packet Pushers sponsors during the pandemic
      • As the pandemic died down, Packet Pushers went back to a more normal state, acting as one of many different marketing channels a technology vendor might use.
    • As a result of this, Ethan and team realized there wasn’t enough inventory (in terms of different podcasts airing) on Packet Pushers Network.
      • For example, if a podcast releases weekly, that is one show released per week that could be sponsored (i.e. one episode per week considered inventory).
      • Some shows were being booked for sponsorship weeks, months, and close to years in advance during the pandemic. It did not make sense to increase the release cadence of any existing show, so they worked to add new shows to provide more sponsorship opportunities.
      • “We’ve been trying to grow by adding more shows to the network so that there is availability for sponsors that want to work with us.” – Ethan Banks
  • Did the flood of potential sponsors change the vetting process for sponsors in any way?
    • Ethan says the vetting process for sponsors has been pretty standard since the very beginning. Packet Pushers works with sponsors in different ways:
      • Is the topic something the audience will care about because of a technology they work with, something they might be buying, or something they might be interested in? Would the audience care? The focus of the shows is enterprise technology, service provider technology, infrastructure, etc.
      • If the company who wants to sponsor a show is someone Ethan and team have never heard of, they might want to do a briefing to understand more detail on who the vendor is, what they are selling, and who the target audience / target market is. Based on these details, can Packet Pushers actually help the sponsor based on the audience of shows on their network?
      • Ethan gives the example of companies who make tooling for software developers. That isn’t really the audience of Packet Pushers shows and may not be a wise investment from the vendor whose target market is software developers.
      • The vetting process actually got even easier. The business was healthy financially even before the influx of sponsorships during the pandemic.
      • “We had so many companies that we were very familiar with and very comfortable working with that it was even easier, if anything.” – Ethan Banks, on vetting vendor sponsors during a time of high demand

9:11 – Staying Broad and Going Deep

  • How did they decide which shows to develop next based on some that have run for hundreds as episodes? How did they decide whether to pick a more focused channel within a topic they might already cover on a show in some form, and are there concerns about dilution?
  • Heavy Wireless and Network Automation Nerds are two shows from the Packet Pushers Network, but some of the topics from these shows could have been discussed on Heavy Networking.
    • Ethan tells us there is never a lack of content or topics to discuss.
    • Heavy Networking is the original show that started Packet Pushers (despite a change of name over time from Packet Pushers to the Weekly Show and then to Heavy Networking). It was the one that back in the day Ethan and Greg Farrow started, but its name needed to change as other shows were added.
      • Heavy Networking is a little bit of a catch all and allows for discussing anything network technology. They can discuss HTTP/3 and QUIC, for example, or go all the way to discussions of optical networking and DWDM. Anything in between is far game too.
      • “So what happens when there’s a show like Heavy Wireless? Do we never talk about wireless anymore just because Keith Parsons is over there, and he’s this globally renowned expert on wifi stuff? …Even though Keith…covers all of those topics thoroughly there’s still room on Heavy Networking to talk at some point this year in 2024 about Wi-Fi 7 because it’s coming to market and it’s going to have a bearing on network architectures…. We could run that show on Heavy Networking…. Now, what they might get into on Heavy Wireless, they might get deep into radio theory. They might get deep into the nuances of how client authentication works. And maybe we’re not doing that on Heavy Networking because we’re going to do the broader shows, something like that….” – Ethan Banks
      • There’s a show called Packet Protector that focuses on security, but it doesn’t mean they can never talk about security on Heavy Networking.
      • “There’s no lack of content topics to talk about. There’s different depths you can go into depending on your audience and what your focus is. There’s different people that come up, and there’s not room on every show for everybody. But if you have enough shows you can kind of make room for everybody who’s got a voice and something to share.” – Ethan Banks

13:12 – Longevity and the Lifecycle of Everything

  • Nick likes the broad overview and the chance to go deeper if the listener wants and speaks to where we should place our effort. With all these shows, how does Ethan decide when to end a show and stop putting effort toward it but into a new area?
    • Nick feels the technologist can learn from the reasoning here as we work on and put our efforts toward different projects. Ultimately we will have to decide when it might be time to stop something.
    • “Everything’s got a lifecycle. Technology has a lifecycle. Podcasts have a lifecycle. Our jobs and time with a company has a lifecycle – there’s a beginning and an end to it. And it’s not bad that something ends if it’s time has come…” – Ethan Banks
    • Ethan mentions the genesis of the Datanauts podcast that he once co-hosted with former guest Chris Wahl for 3 or 4 years.
      • Chris and Ethan met at a conference, had a great conversation, and immediately hit it off. They decided to start a podcast together, which became Datanauts.
      • At some point during the time of Datanauts airing, Packet Pushers became Ethan’s full-time profession. Chris was working for Rubrik at the time, which was a startup in hypergrowth mode. It was a very demanding job.
      • “It kind of got to the point where Datanauts was too big a rock to push uphill for us…. Sometimes the hill is too steep or the rock’s too heavy to keep pushing it.” – Ethan Banks, on deciding to end Datanauts
      • Even after slowing the release cadence a little, Ethan and Chris were unable to keep it going.
      • Ethan looks back on so many great conversations had on this show. The idea was to bring two technologists from different areas of expertise together. Ethan specialized in networking and security while Chris had expertise in virtualization and cloud technologies.
      • “Podcasting is not something you have to do for the rest of your life just because you start something….” – Ethan Banks
  • At Packet Pushers, they try to create shows that will have longevity. It takes time to build an audience. Longevity gives you the ability to cover a lot of topics with depth.
    • One thing Ethan and team are looking at as an option in the future is creating shows that are limited run series. These are not design to run forever but might be 20 episodes from beginning to end.
    • “…Kind of the same idea. It’s got a lifecycle, but we know from the beginning what that lifecycle is going to be. It’s more like delivering a course…but in podcast format.” – Ethan Banks, on the idea of limited series shows
      • Ethan says limiting the run of a series relieves the pressure to release something every week that a normal show brings.
    • Nick mentions when you have worked on something for a long time, it can become part of your identity. It could be a podcast, a blog, a project at work, a focus on a specific technology, etc.
      • Ethan built datacenter and campus networks for the better part of 20 years, and as he went from job to job, he stopped working on certain technologies. He gives the example of working on F5 at one company, getting very good at it but not working with that technology at his next employer.
      • Ethan mentions a Cisco AS5301, a router that was a bank of modems. It was a piece of technology he had to learn how to use quite well in the dial up days of internet service. With the advancements made with broadband internet, the technology became obsolete.
      • “Why do we need this any more? We don’t. And you shut it down, and you’re a little sad because…I was really good at that. Lifecyle again.” – Ethan Banks
  • John mentions as content producers we often get influenced by other content. We see limited run television shows, for example. But these usually come on a platform that allows informing people of the upcoming limited run series. Likely Packet Pushers can leverage their network in a similar way for limited run shows.
    • Ethan says there are many ways to amplify these series exist. Packet Pushers could publish them as part of the normal catalog, do promotional adds for the series on other shows, and even share in newsletters or on the website.
    • Nick thinks no matter what, doing a limited run series allows for learning because it’s different from a normal show.
      • Ethan says some of the shows they have the room to do a limited run series if needed. We discuss the example of some very long episodes that were released on a specific topic which in hindsight maybe should have been released in multiple parts. In a sense, a multi-part episode is a limited run series.
      • Right now the limited run series is in the ideation phase, so Ethan is excited at the potential for new learnings if they decide to do it.
  • What’s Ethan’s all-time favorite Packet Pushers show?
    • To this point Ethan has recorded well over 1000 shows, so it’s hard to pick a specific one.
    • Ethan does have a favorite type of show. Because of his networking engineering background, he loves the shows that involve one or multiple expert guests going deep into how technology works…but in a practical way.
    • “A conversation where you can get into the why of it all and then go deep on what’s actually happening under the hood that’s making it all happen and fulfilling that why, giving you the answers to that how you’re actually going to get it done are my favorite sorts of shows. And not every show that I record is like that. It all depends on what the topic is…. The really hard core nerdy engineering stuff is where I’m happiest….” – Ethan Banks
      • Some shows are more survey type shows. Others are a roundtable format, which can also be fun. Some shows are about career and career opportunity shows.
    • Ethan mentions people often use the type of shows he likes to produce (the ones that go deep on a technical topic) as references.
      • People use the shows to learn something new and often times to learn something they can’t get from a product manual. The deep technical discussions give them consideration points for using and operating technologies.

25:19 – The Packet Pushers Job Board

  • You can find the Packet Pushers Job Board at jobs.packetpushers.net. How did the board come to be, and how can it be a resource for people impacted by tech industry layoffs?
    • The job board was launched in January 2024, and Ethan feels it an extension of what they were doing in their Slack group (which you can join for free). There was a jobs Slack channel that encouraged job seekers and employers to find one another through posting about their needs.
    • Ethan mentions network engineers, especially those who are more senior, seem to be harder and harder to find.
      • Many older network engineers are starting to retire, and there are not many junior network engineers coming into the industry focused on networking.
      • The network stack is increasing in complexity, and it’s hard for companies to find talent to fill the job vacancies.
      • If you’re a network engineer who has been laid off, it can be difficult to find a role. Job seekers will consider options such as working fully remote, hybrid (some work from home some work from office), and full-time in office. Companies have differenct policies
    • “The jobs board was just an evolution of all of that. The idea is let’s give the community a place to find people with very particular skills because that’s the thing. If you’re a network engineer, if you’re a cybersecurity professional, if you’re a cloud guru…you got a very particular set of skills. How do you find a job that’s looking for your skills? If you’re looking for those people, do you just go to a recruiter and hope…or do you talk to the community that’s doing this stuff for a living and has those skills?” – Ethan Banks
      • If job descriptions and requirements are written well, the qualified people will read them and understand exactly what hiring managers are wanting.
      • The jobs board is an alternative to scraping LinkedIn or going to Indeed or some other similar site that allows posting job openings.
    • The jobs board is free for anyone who is looking for and wants to apply for a job. There is a low cost to post a job opening on the site.
    • The idea is to grow the job board into “a resource that helps people with very specific needs find people with very specific skills.”

Mentioned in the Outro

  • Nick really enjoyed the discussion of podcast lifecycle and the mention of Datanauts. He would like to give a HUGE shout out to Ethan Banks and Chris Wahl for creating that podcast which was so valuable to many of us (especially for Nick).
  • When something does end or reaches the end of its lifecycle, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It could be the chance to do something new and different that you have wanted to do for a while. It could be an opportunity in disguise.
  • Ethan’s statement about the lifecycle of something being unknown when we begin is very profound. We don’t know when our job at a company will end when we start it (not usually anyway) or when a project we’re working on personally or professionally might end due to life circumstances.
    • This is part of the reason we encourage people to document their accomplishments and use it to update LinkedIn, their resume, and create publicly accessible proof of work to stand out in the industry.
  • Nick says Ethan is right about podcasts like Packet Pushers provides providing a referenceable point for people to come back and learn something.
    • One way to become a top tier individual contributor and stand out is to educate yourself on what is happening in the industry by listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and being involved in a technical community in some way. You never know when something you learned in one of these areas could help you stand out in having an answer to an important problem. It doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time educating yourself, but you should spend time doing at least some.
    • This also goes back to lifecycle. There is a lifecycle to communities. We may participate in different communities over time based on our job and our focus. We might even participate in a different way after developing expertise (i.e. moving to a contributor in addition to just a question asker).

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