Management Interviews and Transitions with Brad Pinkston

Welcome to episode 84 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 interviewing for management positions and management transitions with Brad Pinkston ([@virtualgumbo]).

Original Recording Date: 06-24-2020

It’s Me Austin!

Topics – Management Interviews and Transitions with Brad Pinkston

2:31 – Making Yourself Known in the Management Chain

  • Instead of Brad telling an employee what his boss might think, he asks the employee what they want their skip level to think.
    • It’s a great way to help someone figure out where their gaps might be.
    • John speaks to the idea of mapping out an organization and understanding what is important to the person in each role. This works well to expose gaps and is a good exercise for anyone to become more relevant.

5:31 – Differences in the Interview Process for Managers

  • The first management job Brad interviewed for was his dream job. He was devastated when he didn’t get it.
  • The strategy for treating interviewing like you would a certification test did not evolve until later in Brad’s career.
    • It developed quickly when he saw the gaps.
  • If you’re an individual contributor, the next dream job will likely come up sooner as there are more individual contributor jobs than manager jobs.
  • In the lens of gaining experience interviewing, don’t pick a bunch of jobs at the company you really want to work for to use as training. Likely you won’t get many more interviews at a company after saying no to them multiple times.
  • Nick floats the idea of asking others who are managers to mock interview you for a manager role.
    • Brad has helped set this up for someone on his team right now who has shown interest. The person is interviewing with Brad’s boss and some other leaders to gain experience.
    • It seems like people in higher places are willing to offer time to help develop talent within the organization.

10:25 – Transitioning to a New Manager

  • Brad has changed managers twice in the last year.
    • As an individual contributor, he had 4 bosses in 4 years. In 5 years as a manager, he’s had 5 bosses.
  • If your manager is changing, it could be a sign that the company is growing.
  • Brad found a way to turn this into a good thing.
    • He likes to treat this change the same way he would want a new direct report to treat it.
    • What do you want to do, what are you good at, and how do you like to be communicated with?
      • One of the first questions Brad asks is about how the person likes to be communicated with?
        • Some people expect video on for virtual conferencing, for example.
        • This is a good ice breaker and shows the manager that the employee is trying to make it easy for the manager to adapt.
    • The faster the relationship can be productive, the better it is for everyone.
  • A change in manager is a good time to not be so humble. Talk about some of the good things you have done so the boss knows you’re confident.
    • "A confident SE is a good SE."
    • This helps the manager understand what you’re good at and the type of work you really like to do.
    • Take the opportunity to set the stage instead of waiting for it to be set for you.

16:29 – Layers of Transitions in Brad’s Move to Globals

  • Brad gives a shout out to his former manager, Yvette Edwards, for all the support when he wanted to pursue the change.
  • He’s been lucky enough to have that type of experience every time he has wanted to make a change.
  • It was very hard for Brad to leave his existing team. Without the support of his manager at the time, it would have been even more difficult.
  • Good managers are going to encourage your career mobility…even if it causes the manager short-term pain.
  • Listen to the best advice Brad has ever received from a manager and the story surrounding it.
  • Brad realized the team was not going to collapse if he left. It created an opportunity for someone else.
  • Brad learned when he first started in management that he needed to trust and have confidence in the people who picked him that his skillset was right for the job.
    • People management is just solving problems, which is what we do as engineers.
    • Assess the current state, figure out what the future state needs to be, and put together a plan to get to future state. That is the way Brad tackled the move, and he is continuing to execute on the plan…even with current circumstances around COVID.
    • Stay the course, lead the team, and celebrate the wins (even small ones).
    • It wasn’t a big transition because Brad just tried to fix the problems.
  • Brad took over management of a team of people he didn’t know / had not managed during the time of COVID.
    • He’s tried to prioritize 1-1s with video on each time.
    • This team of people Brad is managing was newly formed (taken from other teams to create a new team). The people on his team didn’t even know each other in the beginning.
    • Brad had to focus on team collaboration / team building than his collaboration with the team. He had an incorrect assessment of current state in the early stages and had to modify the plan.
  • To add to the challenges Brad was presented, his new team happens to be spread across the United States (people in Pacific, Central, and Eastern time zones).
    • It’s been important for Brad to start his day at 7 AM and not end until 7 PM to be involved, support the team, and build relationships.
    • Before our interview, Brad was on a call that did not end until 7 PM Central.
    • John comments on getting used to consistent camera-on meetings when making a move to Google.
    • Building new teams, growing teams, and taking over troubled teams are likely all experiences a manager would want to have as part of their career.
    • John speaks to handling greenfield accounts at Google instead of accounts who were already customers like at VMware.
      • Brad mentions the relatable experience that can help here (take a tool used before and tweak it for the situation).
      • John mentions letting go of being perfect, and Nick chimes in with an experience along those lines.
  • Brad also had to adapt to being on a new team of peers.
    • He was new to a group of peers (which was also a new team that was forming).
    • Brad’s boss was also new to managing the team Brad transitioned to in Globals.
    • Brad needed to balance being new and sharing previous experiences with his teammates.
    • The dynamic of the team was a little different, and Brad had to adapt quickly.
    • Brad knew a few of his teammates (at least somewhat) before making the move to this new team.

39:28 – The Difficulty in the Decision

  • If you don’t acknowledge some fears and doubts in making a move like this, you are lying to yourself.
    • Brad was not afraid of whether he could do the job and felt like he understood the expectations.
    • Will what you learned in the hiring process hold up after you make the change?
      • Sometimes a mismatch here can impact success in a major way.
    • Brad felt the change would inspire a renewed energy and help build his brand. This outweighed the fear of the unknown.
    • The emotion of leaving a team that he built was even more difficult than the fear of the unknown.
    • "I love these folks. I love this team. That was what held me back."
      • You cannot always allow this to prevent making a decision to further your career, and Brad wasn’t really leaving those people behind (still at same company).
  • Closing thoughts:
    • Decide what you want to do, make sure people know about it, and don’t be afraid to be bold in figuring out what to do.
    • Go with your gut, and go for what you want.

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