High Flyers, Solid Players, and A Good Manager with Jeff Eberhard (1/2)

Welcome to episode 115 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 1 of our interview with Jeff Eberhard, discussing his path to management, team career progression, and what makes a good manager.

Original Recording Date: 04-01-2021

Topics – Early Career Path, Motivations and the Move to Management, Characteristics of a Good Manager, Career Conversations, New Talent, Academy Team

Our guest this week is Jeff Eberhard, a Sales and Solution Engineering Leader at Oracle focused on Oracle Cloud VMware Solution. Contrast what we hear from Jeff’s path with that of Brad Christian in Episode 113 and Episode 114.

2:30 – Recounting the Career Path

  • Jeff resides in Austin, Texas with his family. He grew up in California and moved to Austin after college.
  • Jeff’s first job out of school was with a ticket resale company doing Systems Administration.
    • The back end systems comprised of hundreds of hosts that purchased tickets from Ticketmaster.
    • He racked and stacked servers, worked with proxies, and did some scripting.
  • Jeff decided to move to a slightly different field with a longer career path.
    • He started working for Dell selling personal computer equipment.
    • Jeff’s peers in the Enterprise group were selling servers, storage, and networking. Jeff decided to go and learn how to do it as well.
  • He eventually moved to HP and sold servers and storage to customers in the UK and Ireland.
  • After HP, Jeff got a job at VMware after many tries. He had originally tried to apply for a role as a sales rep, but when he got the job it was for a Solution Engineer position.
    • A Solution Engineer talks to people in technology and explains what VMware technologies do.
    • After about a year, Jeff moved into leadership, starting a team that supported small to medium businesses.
    • Over the course of 9 years he worked in a variety of segments, including Enterprise, and then moved into a management role related to VMware Cloud on AWS.
      • This experience allowed Jeff to understand and work with people at AWS via the partnership between VMware and AWS on this solution (learning all the good and the bad that comes with this).
      • This translated well into Jeff’s current role as a leader at Oracle, where he has been for about 8 months.

07:07 – Understanding Motivations and the Move to Management

  • What made Jeff go into full sales?
    • It was the hours and the money. Jeff had an interesting schedule at the ticket resale company, having to start at 6-8 AM to ensure servers were up and running during times of special sales. It was low paying at $12 / hour and required working overnight shifts.
    • He had some friends who had started at Dell working the day shift and making more money.
    • He loved the technology was getting well versed at scripting. "But when you are 21 and want money, you go where it is." – Jeff Eberhard
    • Jeff had no hesitations about stepping away from the keyboard. His interests are in technology, but he prefers understanding the technology, what is cool about it, and then moving on.
    • This is likely why a move into leadership made sense for Jeff. As a leader he needs to be more than just the suit in the corner, and he does not want to be someone who plays in a lab or fiddles with the technology all day.
      • He got to chase down a passion of talking about technology and understanding it at a 200 level rather than having to go super deep.
  • What made management interesting to Jeff?
    • First, Jeff was on a very strong team of Solution Engineers at VMware, most of them very well experienced.
    • When Jeff first started in Solution Engineering, it was very new to him. He had been in Sales for 10 years previous to this.
    • The team was far more technical than Jeff, but he had a lot more success than many of his peers.
    • After 9 months in the role, Jeff went to his boss and asked to be considered to lead a new team that was forming but was told no. The boss did not feel the team would take him seriously after 9 months in the role.
      • After this conversation, Jeff called his peers and asked their opinion of him being their future boss. The answer was a resounding "that’s a good idea." They were open to learning from him as a leader.
      • If Jeff could help improve the team but learn from them at the same time, it was an ideal scenario.
      • This prompted Jeff to go back to his boss and mention he had his peers’ support. After being put through the formal process, he got the job.
      • Jeff knew the move would be beneficial to himself and the team he would be leading. He knew he would never be as technical as those he would manage.
    • Asking your boss to go into leadership depends on the leader and your relationship with that person.
      • Jeff has had many of his team members express a desire to go into leadership, and his goal is to try and help the person get there.
      • If someone has the drive and desire to move into leadership it makes your job as their manager easier.
        • Consider giving the person some managerial tasks to complete so they can dip a toe into what it’s really like.
        • In your career if you do not take chances and ask for things, you are not going to get the things you want.
  • Jeff had to learn how to manage people significantly older than him. *How do I lead someone who has been doing this since before I was born?
    • If you get the opportunity to try it, you will learn what works and what does not work quickly.
    • In general, Jeff feels that people have not had issues with having a younger manager…as long as they felt he was competent.
    • Jeff has been able to use positive peer pressure to help influence members of his team he might have trouble influencing initially.
      • A manager may suggest a methodology the employee tried years ago that did not work. The question is…will they be open to trying it again since time has passed?
    • Most external candidates come in knowing technology companies like Oracle and VMware are hard to get into, especially leadership positions.
      • Where Jeff ran into some minor challenges was mostly with internal moves.
  • Experience is not just a function of time.
    • Jeff’s current boss has moved up quickly in the business and has very good business sense.
    • Jeff sees that his boss has been able to accomplish many things and is looking to try and emulate that level of success.

22:26 – A Good Manager

  • Jeff has liked having managers who are interested in a personal connection.
    • Before COVID, Jeff would spend more time with co-workers than his own family.
    • A boss can have more of an impact on your life than probably anyone except your significant other. Much of our work livelihood relies on our boss.
    • A good boss will take the time to get to know you on a personal level – likes, dislikes, etc.
    • Good bosses should send presents to their people. It shows they care as does remembering birthdays.
  • Good bosses recognize people have their own skills…some very useful and some that need work.
    • Help people working for you by strengthening the good things while helping to improve the weak spots.
  • It is important for the boss to have a good grasp on the business.
    • In the end, from senior leadership’s perspective, they are not necessarily looking at what the front line employees are doing but see employees as a member of the boss’s team.
    • If the boss is not thought of as competent, knowledgeable, etc. leadership will have a similar perspective of the entire team.
  • Career Conversations
    • Some people are happy where they are. If you hit an employee that is a solid A- player and extremely happy in that spot, this should be ok.
      • These folks may not want to take on a next position with extra travel or other requirements and may not even be interested in a big raise.
      • Probably 1/3 to 1/4 of a team falls into this category of solid players.
    • The next group is high flyers / those who expect to be high flyers with excellent work ethics.
      • Jeff’s goal with this group is to put them in a spot where they can showcase their work to the rest of the organization.
      • Listen to an example of someone on Jeff’s team who is a high flyer that had no interest in leadership.
        • This person wanted to remain technical.
    • Another quarter of the team will struggle a little.
      • Are they comfortable being seen as a B or C player on an all A team?
        • Some may be fine with it. Others will be willing to work to improve. Perhaps it makes sense to find the person a role that allows them to bring more passion.
        • Don’t sit somewhere for 20 to 30 more years where you’re not really into it.
        • Maybe the person needs a shift in role or responsibilities to generate some excitement.
    • Then there are the new people.
      • They come in with excitement, and some want to have a career conversation immediately, seeking to get promoted right away.
        • Listen to how Jeff helps these folks understand where they are without completely deflating and discouraging them.
        • The key thing is to hook these folks up with a mentor of someone in the solid players group. The solid players are content and won’t be threatened by the newcomers, even if new team members eventually reach higher than them at some point. They will mentor like crazy.
        • It may be hard to get the high flyers to mentor.
    • If the only real path forward is management and you don’t think you want it, don’t do it.
      • If people management is not something you enjoy, see if they can create a next level individual contributor role for you, or find an organization where it exists.
      • Jeff has seen highly technical people get promoted and continue to be the technical expert without truly relying on the team and allowing them to shine.
      • The individual contributor path upward may be through taking on a project or a product instead of a team.
      • At small organizations the only way to move up may be to move on.
      • A move, even after a number of years at the same place, can energize you.
        • Every time Jeff took a new job within the same company or at a different company, it energized him.
        • There is something good and something bad about having no idea what you are doing for the first 6 months.
          • Jeff recounts not knowing very many people even when making the internal transfer over to the VMware Cloud on AWS team within VMware.
          • That six months is a little stressful but can produce a new high of energy.
  • How do you focus on your own career as a manager?
    • It’s easier to criticize someone else than yourself. When you point out things others need to work on to get better, you start to reflecting on yourself also.
    • Jeff mentions a team member of his that needed better time management eventually teaching him a better system to use.
    • Look outside your organization within the company.
      • A manager needs contacts in other business units to help employees make a move over to those organizations. Jeff gives an example of building connections that helped him get a different job.

40:58 – Building The Academy Team

  • Many technology companies are trying to "build their own." They go after college juniors and seniors for intern-like programs.
    • They go pick very lucky, very intelligent recent college graduates to get trained on technology, how to sell, how to demo, how to be technical, etc.
    • Jeff was responsible for the Solution Engineering Academy at VMware, which was extremely fun.
      • These folks know they are special and know they are coming in to learn. They understand it is a great opportunity to get a career head start.
      • You love the passion these folks have because it builds the team up.
      • Everyone starts off jealous.
      • The Academy members come in and are so excited people just want to help them.
      • Some of the best interviews Jeff has conducted has been with candidates coming into the Academy program. They have the passion and the excitement.
      • It may take some time for the new employees to be effective (i.e. need training), it raises everyone’s level on the team.
      • Having this new energy on the team can even get the B / C players fired up and motivated.
  • From a business perspective, having an Academy program supports diversity and inclusion (a big issue in technology).
    • You’re hiring based on schooling, passion, and excitement and not based on an existing pool of candidates that may not be diverse.
    • Jeff gives the example of an Academy team class with 7 women and 1 man on it, the opposite of what we might normally see on a Solution Engineering team.
    • The dynamic of this team was completely different than other teams Jeff managed at the time (one with 13 men and 2 women, for example).
      • All of the women on the Academy team mentioned have been promoted and are doing really well.
    • Many of the folks Jeff has hired as part of the Academy program came through Industrial Engineering, which has a lot to do with process improvement.
      • Jeff gives a great example of some of the responses people had in interviews with the Industrial Engineering background.
      • Initially, the Academy team recruiters started looking at Computer Science majors. These people like to code, but Jeff and team figured out they needed people who could present and talk and had interests in making customer’s lives better.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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