Exploring the Beginner Mindset with Steven Murawski, Part 2

Welcome to episode 106 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. Today’s episode is the second in our three-episode discussion with Steven Murawski, Principal Cloud Advocate at Microsoft. We dive deep into a discussion of Steven’s philosophy and experience with learning new things by embracing being a beginner.

Original Recording Date: 11-17-2020

Topics – The Beginner Mindset, Theory and Applied

2:46 – The Birth of the Beginner’s Mindset and Its Effects

  • Despite Steven’s role today, he continues to embrace this beginner mindset.
    • One of his current projects at Microsoft is to build up a DevSecOps open hack.
    • DevSecOps is an area where he is very much a beginner. Code scanning and penetration testing are new experiences, but this is opportunity for him to learn which is adjacent to other skills and experiences he has already built.
    • A willingness to be a beginner and ask the dumb questions has been an enabler for finding and moving forward in his career.
    • Being a beginner does not necessarily force someone into an entry level role. You’re bringing experience with you. The totality of the experience and knowledge brought in by the individual can enable quick learning and the ability to integrate into a broader set of scenarios than if someone had started learning only one specific field with no additional experiences / skills.
    • There’s a fear of being a beginner. Hopefully a future employer and manager can see the total package brought to a new role that is the summation of past skills and experience.
    • Over time and looking over a broader scope, it could be changing companies, working from a different place, etc. Look at and be willing to explore other options.
  • Steven has been fortunate that his wife has been extremely supportive of his extracurricular activities.
    • For example, he self-funded conference passes and travel to teach a class / give a talk. He knew it was working toward something.
    • It’s easy to have an honest conversation about risk vs. reward and whether he should pursue it with his wife.
  • There is a difference between spending 30 years on 1 thing and spending 30 years doing 1 year worth of work on something.
    • Diving in deep in an area enables exposure to adjacencies and pick places to spread out. If you haven’t spent time branching out, you will have more difficulty.
    • Listen to Steven’s examples.
    • There are very few things that have in return in terms of looking at that next thing / next skillset.
  • At the end of the day, there is not a lot of difference in the types of jobs Steven has had. There are levels of things, but he still leverages things he learned back at the police department.
  • Nick makes the connection between this conversation and the premise of Range by David Epstein.
  • Be careful ascribing motive to situations where we can only see behaviors (i.e. someone in the same field for many years).
    • 10:45 It’s harder to make a change after doing something for 31 years than if you did it for 30 years. It’s never too late to start!
    • It is tough to argue against the current state. We do not often evaluate the risk of staying where we are. This is a challenge in having a DevOps conversation as well. When exactly will the tipping point be for an organization?
    • John has heard the phrase that we underestimate our ability to see 6 months in the future and overestimate our ability to see 5 years into the future.
    • There will always be factors external to our organization’s control. Ask yourself what you are doing to put yourself in the best place for tomorrow.
    • A thought from Pat McNamara If you were cloned today, could you tomorrow kick your clone’s butt? That is what you train for. From a career standpoint, will you be more skilled and capable tomorrow than your clone from today?
    • Steven doesn’t have to beat John or Nick out for a role or get more skilled than Kelsey Hightower or Donovan Brown. But he does need to be better today than he was yesterday.
      • Joseph Griffiths had mentioned one hour per day can help you accomplish just this.
      • There are no shortcuts.
      • Consider systems over goals. Setup a system – a little code today, a little tomorrow, etc.
      • Setting a goal to accomplish something in 6 months could lead to procrastination (i.e. a goal to write a C# program). Listen to Steven’s take on this, and consider "what’s good enough for today to make progress."
      • "It’s not that I need to be perfect tomorrow. I need to be a little bit better than I was today." – Steven Murawski
      • John says Steven gets the full Nerd Journey bingo for his mantra of Process over Outcomes
  • Steven reads and listens to many sources. It is eerie how similar they are. Steven mentioned Manager Tools, which of course made John happy.
    • Much of the stuff they say tracks well with what others in radically different areas. The terms may be different, but it is still similar.
    • Steven makes some additional book recommendations here.
    • The patterns we build to work with and interact with software are not so different from those familiar models built to work with people.
    • There are relationships between all these fields of study. Not everything maps to manufacturing, but much of it does.
    • "There is nothing new under the sun." – Ecclesiastes 1:9
    • When we look at things in a different way, it feels new.
  • John remembers hearing "do something every day" from a Jerry Seinfeld documentary.
    • Stand up comedians take a systematic approach to getting better as well.
  • Analogies are not great for convincing people. It’s more of a tool to help you learn.
  • The job of a sales rep is to build relationships, which Steven sees as hard. He would much rather do a random list of difficult tasks than make cold calls.
  • "It’s not the tool. It’s the system. I’ve tried all the tools. But I have to stick with a system." – Steven Murawski
  • Steven likes the mantra behind Getting Things Done, but you have to do the work to make the system work. None of the systems will fix you. This is the idea behind changing patterns.
  • Sometimes we have to not care as much about a particular thing.
  • The thing about systems is you do not have to succeed every day, but you do get better and more effective over time.

36:30 – A Podcaster and Community Manager

  • When Steven got into IT, he consumed all possible resources. One of the podcasts he found early on was called A Couple of Admins Podcasting.
  • He remembers giving the hosts (Keith and Rich) some feedback at one point and was invited to be a guest on the show for an episode.
    • Steven was invited to be a regular host.
    • With 3 hosts, the name no longer truly fit, so after running a podcast, they ended up with Mind of Root.
  • Steven used the podcast as a venue for talking to numerous people across the industry. For example, they got Tom Limoncelli on the show at one point to talk about one of his books.
  • Due to job changes for some of the hosts, the podcast fizzled out.
  • The show was about different technologies. The need to have something to talk about on the show gave Steven a reason to dig into "what’s next."
  • A lot of Steven’s career is a result of what he has gained from the tech community. He feels it part of his responsibility to keep putting things back to help others build skills, learn new things, and find the next job that makes them happy.
  • John mentioned giving back to the community is what we wanted to do with Nerd Journey. It’s a little selfish in that we do it to conserve our own thoughts and ideas. But the giving back part is the sharing of lessons / missteps.
  • Steven was also manager of a PowerShell community around the same time of getting into podcasting.
    • He had been active in the PowerShell community since it was in beta.
    • There was the .NET community, some SysAdmin user groups (though sporadic), some programming language-specific communities; they wanted to provide a centralized area for people looking for PowerShell blog posts, forum content, and related podcasts.
    • Don Jones (a fellow PowerShell MVP) was one of the drivers behind the creation of this community (and the formation of powershell.org).
    • After a while, the community fizzled, and powershell.org came along to help steward a sense of community and organize various events, etc.
    • Steven was kind of thrown into the community by some well meaning friends. He learned a lot about what works and what does not from a community standpoint.
  • Steven spent time in several different communities in practice starting with the PowerShell community.
    • This got him speaking opportunities, chances to talk to product teams, chances to do training, etc.
    • The stuff for LOPSA got him exposed to a number of in-person conferences at which he would do PowerShell trainings. This is where he got to know the folks at Stack Overflow, which then led to a job down the road.
      • One of the folks there took his training class.
    • The connections built at these events built awareness and his network at the same time.

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