Find Your Gratitude, Find Your Joy with Chris Wahl (2/2)

Welcome to episode 149 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 Chris Wahl, discussing how Chris grew as Rubrik grew and his life as Chief Technologist, the genesis and end of Datanauts, decision trees for bringing more joy to your life, and how Chris builds connections through writing.

Original Recording Date: 9-23-2021

Chris Wahl is a Senior Principal at Slalom. He leads a team of consulting technologists who solve complex problems related to public cloud, DevOps and many other items under the technology umbrella. Check out part 1 of our interview with Chris in Episode 148.

Topics – A Career Time Machine, Datanauts, Maximizing Value and Joy, Building Connections, Parting Thoughts

3:28 – A Career Time Machine

  • Slalom came out of a bunch of things. Chris had been at Rubrik for almost 6 years and did not feel like he was adding much. He’s self-conscious of the inputs and values he provides.
  • Eventually Chris decided he needed to build something else and left Rubrik. He did not have another job lined up and decided to take a break.
  • Chris had talked to Slalom back before Rubrik in 2015 but turned it down for Rubrik.
  • Out of the blue he got an e-mail from a recruiter at Slalom. It was a really nice, personalized message.
    • The role at Slalom had the things that he wanted:
      • A local team in Austin
      • Wanted to work in cloud architecture with no on-premises stuff
      • The company valued diversity and inclusion, and Chris has been able to hire people with a broad range of unique perspectives and backgrounds (i.e. building the team he wanted to build).
  • At Rubrik Chris was a Tech Evangelist and flew all over the world doing tech shows.
    • When he went to Europe people would think he was a minister of some sort based on the title of Evangelist.
    • They eventually changed his title to Chief Technologist based on his suggestion.
    • The role was (aside from presentations and meeting people) running Technical Marketing (which included Developer Relations, competitive teams, etc.).
    • It was a miniature department with subgroups. He wanted to write blogs and make videos and made a lot of mistakes as a manager.
    • Chris was a senior director at the company and had to learn a lot of things for the first time. He felt he made some mistakes but ended up with great people.
  • As a company grows you’re expected to take on more responsibilities.
    • Chris felt his biggest mistake as a manger was too much time not managing / not thinking about his strategy. He gathered a group of people, said "let’s go do some cool stuff," and figured that was enough.
    • Sometimes it was enough, but overall this was a humbling time for Chris.
  • Chris had never worked for a vendor startup before Rubrik, and all of it was very new.
  • The biggest advice Chris would give his former self would be to remember that he has control over his destiny.
    • He felt he was too passive and should have taken a more active role in building his future. That’s good advice across the board to be a more active participant in your own role.
    • In the situation at Rubrik being a people manager was inevitable. He might have decided (if he did it over) to build a team that was more on the engineering side of things and less on the marketing side.
    • Chris feels he made the right wrong decision there. The experience working under the Chief Marketing Officer at Rubrik and running Technical Marketing gives him a lot of advantages over his peers.
      • At the time Chris wanted to be a little more hands on with the technology like he had been before joining the company.
  • There were many ups and downs, and it’s never black and white but rather shades of beautiful gray.
  • At Slalom Chris is less technical comparatively speaking. He can architect a solution but expects his engineers to put the pieces together for implementation.
  • Chris still writes Python and Terraform code as a hobby to stay sharp and up to date with how things work. Everything else he expects the capable engineers working on his projects to deliver.
  • John makes a good point about architecture still being technical but a different kind of technical.
    • Chris said the tools he uses have changed to LucidChart ,spreadsheets, diagrams, etc.
  • Because of the vast experience Chris has, he is not afraid of challenges he faces stumping him. He knows he has a great team, he knows he is not alone, and there is always some way to solve it.

14:19 – Datanauts

  • Chris met Ethan Banks(see also Episode 42 and Episode 43) at Cisco Live in 2013.
    • Chris was a big Packet Pushers fan, and they happened to be at the same table for influencers. Chris made it a point to strike up a conversation with Ethan, and the two became fast friends.
  • Chris and Ethan wanted to make a show about breaking down silos. The original name was called IT Engine Builders but was later changed to Datanauts.
  • Chris liked talking to people and building show scripts, but it got to the point where it was not fun any longer.
  • They built a successful show. If Chris was no longer into it, people were going to notice.
    • Chris wanted to start a family, move, and had some personal ambitions.
    • In the beginning the two of them agreed that when one of them wanted to leave the show, it would be perfectly ok.
    • After Chris communicated his desire to leave the show, they recorded a nice final episode.
  • Chris definitely misses doing the show but not all the other stuff that comes along with it.
  • Ethan and Chris created a show made of love and wanted to tell stories of people building better IT because they wanted to work together. The concept of breaking down silos and working together was pretty new at that time.
  • We (Nick and John) are just being a little selfish since we loved Datanauts so much.

18:24 – Maximizing Value and Joy

  • What about difficulties people have letting something go even if the time is right?
    • Chris says ask yourself the following:
      • Does this make you happy?
      • Does this bring you joy?
      • Is it doing something for you and your mental wellness?
      • Is it helping you hit your goals?
    • If the answer is no, it’s not the right thing…period. You need to pivot into something else.
  • Chris has been doing this across the board lately. Anything that is getting in his way, not bringing joy, not enabling what he wants out of his life…has to go.
    • The pandemic has really created a focus on how to get the maximum amount of value and joy out of life for Chris.
  • This paring down goes back to concepts discussed in Deep Work by Cal Newport.
    • Check out Episode 141 for part 1 of our 7-part review of this book.
  • Nick mentioned this methodology also sounds similar to the approach Jonathan Frappier took to fight back against burnout (i.e. the focus on self-care).
  • The problem with FOMO (fear of missing out) is that comparison is a direct road to sadness. Comparison is the death of joy.
  • I don’t want to compare my real life to your highlight reel.
    • This is the kind of thing that happens when you look at social media or investments you had to make to be part of the social media community.
    • It’s all smoke and mirrors. There’s not a lot of tangible value there.
    • About 1.5 years ago, Chris backed out of using social media, coming to the realization that it did nothing for him. He was contributing content on other people’s platforms and looking at people’s perfect lives through their distorted lenses. He was unhappy and depressed.
    • Chris still maintains his blog. He doesn’t use Twitter, is barely on LinkedIn, and is the happiest he has ever been. There is no FOMO, only joy.
  • Now Chris focuses on him, his people, solving cool problems, and writing it down, and waking up the next day wanting to do it over again.
    • Chris got back 3-5 hours per day after giving up social media.
    • Chris feels super productive and has been laser focused this year.
    • The distractions are now gone. It’s been years since he has felt this creative and sharp.
  • It’s almost like Chris read Deep Work before this episode.
  • "You know what social media doesn’t do? It doesn’t build connection. I can’t have 1000 friends." – Chris Wahl
    • The people Chris interacts with regularly that he can connect with on a personal and professional level provides more value in his life than the 14,000 people following him on Twitter.
    • We keep judging the value of a message based on hearts and thumbs up which does not provide a context. It’s shown to us through a certain lens.
    • We need to connect with other humans.
    • This is something Chris has come to in the last couple years in his own journey.
    • So many people are suffering from depression and burnout through social media and the comparison lifestyle, and Chris doesn’t need any of that.
  • John speaks to how the sentiment Chris expressed aligns with the Deep Work Hypothesis proposed by Cal Newport. There are deep and shallow connections with others much in the same way there is deep and shallow types of work.

28:11 – Building Connections

  • Chris wanted to work where his coworkers would be local. There is a level of safety and comfort around those he works with to be together in person.
  • Every organization is struggling with building connections. Up to 50-60% of the market is looking to switch jobs because they want to feel more included with the company, its mission, and their peers.
    • Connection is driving people to analyze their values and be introspective of their own lifestyle.
    • The upheaval is causing rippling waves throughout tech. The connections are where the joy is.
  • If you’re watching LinkedIn, you may see people leaving your company. It can start to impact you in a negative way or make you think others know something you don’t.
    • The pandemic has put some extra stress on us in that it has forced us to think about what is really important.
    • Some people have left jobs they enjoyed for something even better.
  • Chris says everyone he is working with on the client side is just slammed trying to hire people.
    • We’re seeing remote work opportunities no longer being bound to a specific area.
    • We should find our gratitude first. The fact that we have these opportunities is fantastic.
    • Once you have found your gratitude, find where you want to find your joy and your lifestyle (i.e. what employer, what role, etc.).
    • This is about setting yourself up, having the skills people need, going through the process of making yourself valuable, doing good work, documenting, etc.
    • John says he’s not certain the cycle is going to end of being able to learn new technologies quickly and being able to execute on them. Knowledge work jobs are going to be some of the most valuable out there.
  • Taking the time to focus on making real, valuable connections like Chris has done can bring renewed energy into your work.
    • Remove the distractions of being highly connected. Then make choices of who you connect with.
  • Start with having the gratitude every day.
    • When we talk about learning and knowledge work, it’s just patterns. There are all these patterns that have to do with building, designing, and dealing with tech.
    • Once you identify the patterns, it’s about applying them in the situation you’re in.
    • It will always be about learning new things, finding the patterns they fit against, and then making them work.
    • Chris very much enjoys today’s tech stacks and can do without loading floppies in mainframes.
      • Aspects of the modern tech stack allow us to add more value to the business and in a way breathes more energy into us as a result.
      • Now, the joy comes from all the options we have to build whatever we want to build. It’s not like back in the day when we were the API.
      • There’s no excuse not to be thrilled about what’s going on in tech these days. It’s either shift your perspective, find your gratitude, or this isn’t for you.

39:49 – Parting Thoughts

  • Frequent writing is a big deal.
    • On Chris’s team at Slalom they all blog (every week) to share experiences, learnings, challenges, etc. It’s an open forum to collaborate.
    • If you’re looking to build connections and become a better writer, start a blog with your team or the people that work for you. Use it as a way to build the connection and to document things you have done for performance reviews.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

image sources

  • treasure-map-g03aa6a4de_640: Pexels

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