Impostor Syndrome, Anxiety, and Effective Listening with Cody de Arkland

Welcome to episode 85 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 Impostor Syndrome, Anxiety, and Listening with Cody de Arkland.

Original Recording Date: 07-05-2020

Topics – Impostor Syndrome, Anxiety, and Listening

2:20 – Intro to Cody

  • Cody is in Technical Marketing for Consul at HashiCorp.
    • Cody creates technical content to educate folks on a specific product / set of products.
    • He was in Technical Marketing at VMware before this and also worked previously as a Solution Engineer (SE).
    • Tech Marketing has broad strokes, and Cody has been given the freedom to choose the content he will build and the way it is presented rather than being forced to write whitepapers all day.
      • Sharing the strategy behind his content creation is effective when speaking to leadership.
    • The level of customer engagement is less than when he was a SE, but he’s usually brought in for broader conversations (i.e. where do we start / how do we solve problems with the product).
      • Most customer-facing activities are paired with a SE.

7:13 – Career History

  • Cody floats the concept of being accidentally in a place and feels like some of the most interesting career stories happen this way.
  • In his twenties, Cody worked for Verizon Wireless, and a friend told him about a contract job at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) that could lead to a full time position.
    • He started as a help desk technician and looked forward to the day he would become a full-time employee. At first Cody thought he could someday be an internal product manager for wireless products.
      • "You build your definition of who you are based on your previous experiences." – Cody de Arkland
    • Things changed, and Cody got into the security space and was an Internal Product Manager for RSA SecureID. This is not the same as doing the same job at a vendor. He worked with the vendor and managed relationship and looked at ways to grow the product internally.
    • After getting involved with the remote access team he started working with Citrix and had the chance to refresh the infrastructure.
      • At this point someone spoke up for his abilities, confirming Cody could handle the new project to build a new architecture and implement it.
      • This involved building from the ground up – developing the architecture, learning about storage, administering the solution end-to-end.
    • Around year 4 at the company, Cody’s reputation as an automation subject matter expert gave him the opportunity to be the Windows guy on the private cloud team.
      • This was a much larger transition for Cody. He learned to chain automation together, and the world got way bigger, leading him to become the person who owned automation of infrastructure at his company.
    • At some point Cody had an opportunity to speak at VMworld in 4 different sessions in various capacities with one of them being solely about his work at PG&E.
      • He remembers the feeling of presenting something and watching lightbulbs go off. You see people building their own ideas based on the discussion.
      • " I don’t want people to do what I did. I want to give you the path to figure out what you’re going to do next with it."
      • Cody was hooked on the feeling. He felt like he could become a technologist within the power company who did the speaking thing.
      • Ultimately the company needed more of a power company guy. The project ended, and Cody’s team was broken up.
      • Once this happened things were not the same. Despite his leadership being very supportive of his speaking efforts, at the end of the day, it was a power company.
    • The next year at VMworld he saw a session with Anthony Burke and one other on Power NSX. The presenters had built the framework from the ground up.
      • Cody had a feeling of "that’s what I want to do. I want to go work at VMware." He did not know how or what it would look like but knew it was what he wanted.
    • He started by reaching out to some folks internal to VMware for advice and applied for a SE role in Sacremento. He got the job.
  • No excitement matched the feeling of starting as a SE at VMware.
    • Cody felt he was not a great SE and struggled with how actions translate to revenue.
    • People underestimate what it’s like to move from a customer to a vendor.
    • John spoke some training received while at VMware that would have helped him be a better IT Administrator in his past experience.
    • For Cody, the act of coming from being a top 5% employee at a power company to being a technical generalist SE (without an automation focus) and carrying a quota became a stressor.
    • With no guidance on this beforehand, Cody had some issues.
    • When the numbers are not hit, it makes you feel like you missed the mark.
    • If you’re failing technical validation, maybe there is a problem.

21:50 – Impostor Syndrome and Vulnerability

  • During the role as a SE is when Cody was hit with impostor syndrome, but at the time he didn’t know what to call it.
    • He began to think he should have "stayed in his lane" and stayed with the power company.
    • The roller coaster continued for about a year.
    • When Cody got into automation conversations he felt more confident.
    • Cody’s advice – "Identify the things that excite you and the places your confidence comes from, and build on those."
    • Find the things you are good at that make you feel good. Let that be the foundation, or you will crumble.
    • Be aware of what the foundation is and the ramifications of completely rebuilding it.
    • It’s one thing to go learn a new skill and try a different career path, but your confidence will be built from the ground up. Give yourself some room to not be confident if this is the case.
  • John comments on the talent market for certain roles like Sales Engineering and lack of a formal check-in for people making a transition to this type of role.
    • People making that transition need to watch themselves. It’s important to have a trusted person for support.
    • It took Cody a while to find who that was for him.
    • Leaving one life for another because of a career change may mean the people you used to work with cannot identify with your new struggles. Their knowledge of you was based on what they experienced from you.
    • Be aware of who you are, and keep listening to yourself. There must be a trusted person that allows you to be your most vulnerable self.
  • Being vulnerable is a struggle for many of us. People might not know how to respond in the way you need them to respond.
    • If there’s one thing to be selfish about, it’s what you need at your weakest point.
    • Be aware of going to people who support you in the way you need to be supported.
    • Communities are not always setup in ways that encourage this.
    • John speaks to toxic masculinity and how this affects our ability to be vulnerable.
    • Nick makes the point that we don’t want our managers to think we are complete head cases.
    • Cody states there is a difference in being successful and feeling successful. Good leaders would ask an employee what makes him / her feel like they are being successful.
      • For Cody, success is feeling trusted and depended upon by others.
      • Cody knows how to better communicate the way he’s feeling and his emotions now than when he was a SE.
      • Has a manager ever asked you, "what would make you feel successful?"
        • This provides a manager an opportunity to provide empathy to an employee.
        • Getting down into specifics is the only way to help both you and your manager understand what your needs are.

33:55 – Anxiety and The Importance of Being an Ear

  • Cody flips the script on Nick and John and poses a question about people listening without giving advice. Listen to hear the answers.

    • Know to ask for what you need when making a request of someone.
    • We have a tendency to automatically go into "fix" mode when hearing about others’ struggles.
  • 39:47 Cody says some very low times in the last few years would not have happened if someone had taken the approach he suggested earlier.

    • Cody made a comment that crossed the line with someone, and the realization of that along with many other factors triggered an anxiety attack.
    • The next few days was a period of loneliness. All he wanted was someone to talk to about the problem.
    • Everyone had their version of how Cody should deal with the issues, but that isn’t what he needed. All he wanted was someone to allow him to talk about it.
    • Many emotional moments from the past could have been so much better if someone had listened to hear instead of listening to respond.
    • Don’t underestimate the value of being an ear to someone.
  • Cody goes deep here and shares his fears that being vulnerable affects his brand or how people think of him.

    • Cody likes to be transparent, but there is a level of transparency for all of us that must be kept inside the circle of trust (i.e. stuff from the lowest moments).
  • Some of Cody’s biggest career advice for others is do the things that make you happy, and figure out what those are (not the job…the things).

    • For Cody, this is being a helpful technologist, someone good to put in front of customers, someone who is transparent with their feelings…not a guy who fell apart a bunch of times.
    • We have to expose our fears and talk through them to experience the healing.
  • We are trained to get over it and move on. We’re not ever trained to just let it happen and accept you will feel a certain way.

    • We don’t want to let people see certain sides of ourselves.
    • Find the circle of people you can trust, and let your guard down for them.
    • Maybe you say to yourself "I’m going to let this happen." Have your day. Have your anxiety moment. Letting the stuff happen will make you better for it.
    • Building too much pressure up in a water line causes it to explode.
    • John mentions the practice of a clearness committee within a community where he used to live. Listen to how the process worked.

51:31 – Giving Advice

  • Cody describes his decision to leave the Cloud Management group at VMware. A reset was required.
  • Cody has decided not to give advice to others unless they ask for it first. Another option is asking permission to give advice as a way to be considerate.
  • We all want to be needed by others and the self-confidence of giving others words to build them up.
  • It’s hard to refrain from giving advice in the moment. People often just need the opportunity to reflect what they’re saying / what’s happening so they can process it.
  • "If you want to be the person who is there for people, listen to them." – Cody de Arkland

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