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Welcome to episode 219 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 a discussion with Jason Langer, exploring his various stints as a people leader and the reasons for doing it, his move into product marketing and what that means, being technical in the tech industry, and how a leaving a job that made him unhappy and taking a break helped him bounce back even stronger.
Original Recording Date: 01-12-2023
Jason Langer is a Solutions Marketing Manager at Pure Storage who focuses on Pure Storage products as they relate to both VMware and cloud solutions. You can also catch up with Jason on Twitter – @thejasonlanger. If you missed the first part of our conversation with Jason, check out Episode 218.
Topics – Reflecting on Multiple Experiences as a Manager, Another Type of Management, A Move to Product Marketing, Marketing is Like Cloud, Being Technical In Technology, A Break in the Action, Boundaries and Going Back to Work
3:24 – Reflecting on Multiple Experiences as a Manager
- Jason was managing those business relationships with technology partners for the VAR at the same time he was managing the SE team (sales engineers / solution engineers).
- Jason has managed people a few times in his career and is something he’s never aspired to do. Some people want to be in leadership and want to climb that ladder. It is not something Jason has ever felt compelled to do.
- The times when Jason has managed people, it was sort of asked of him.
- When Jason was director of the SEs within the datacenter space for the VAR, it was a mixture of him being asked to do it and him basically asking for it.
- He had spent so much time trying to build the practice for end user computing. Now instead of focusing there Jason was focused on anything that landed in the datacenter.
- The goal was to try and replicate some of the same processes, type and format of documents, etc. they had created for the end user computing practice in this new area.
- Being a people leader too was more of a meeting in the middle that just made sense.
- Another time in his career Jason was asked to manage people, and he agreed to do it.
- Jason says he enjoys doing it and is happy to do it, but he does not feel like he must do it.
- "Right now I am an individual contributor in my current role, and which is totally fine. It’s great." – Jason Langer, on people leadership as a career path
- Jason shared that when he went to interview for his current role (an individual contributor at the time of this recording), he was asked about being a manager and had to help the recruiter and others understand he was completely fine with taking an individual contributor role.
- Jason feels like he did ok at people management (but is also a pretty humble guy).
- When he became a people leader, Jason reached out to his own mentors (people he trusted and looked up to), leaning on his professional network, for advice and some recommended books to read.
- Jason kept thinking about what he did and did not want from his previous managers.
- Jason didn’t want a micromanager, but he also did not want a manager that was not engaged.
- Jason wanted a manager who would support him, someone who will defend him but also let him know when he has done something wrong.
- After thinking about these things they sort of became Jason’s core systems / guiding principles of managing people.
- Jason tried to be as open and honest with people as he possibly could, giving people straight answers and not tapdancing around important concerns.
- Jason never tried to micromanage people. He would often give people a task / something the company wanted complete and then share the due date, not minding so much how people got there. He also understood life happens and that team members need flexibility in their schedules (i.e. the illustration of needing to go pick up your kids, etc.).
- "I get it. Life happens. Especially managing a team during the pandemic…whoa. That was tough. That was mentally tough." – Jason Langer
- In addition to being empathetic to not making the assumption people would be working every second of 8-5 every day, Jason did communicate the expectation of hitting due dates for task completion (flexibility with some accountability).
- Jason also made himself available for questions or help if people needed it. Some might need extra assistance or a midweek check in.
- Jason always did 1-1 meetings with people who reported to him, scheduling for every 2 weeks but making himself available if people needed them more frequently.
- One thing Jason never liked (and still does not like) was managers consistently cancelling or moving 1-1 meetings. It made Jason feel like he was not a priority. Managers and employees know the agreed upon time for these meetings.
- Jason is sure he had to cancel a few 1-1s when he was managing people, but he never tried to cancel them. He kept them when he and the employee said they were going to do them at the agreed upon frequency.
- The 1-1 meeting was not meant to be a status report (keeping track with other tools). People could talk to Jason about whatever they wanted. It was their time. They owned the agenda.
- "Let’s have a conversation….It’s their time (the employee). It’s not my time to dictate the conversation to them. I want them to come to me with whatever they want to talk about." – Jason Langer, on the purpose of 1-1s
- Jason also tried to protect team meetings. He considered it his 1-many platform to communicate priorities for the team. The 1-1 was more about what people wanted / needed from him and how he could help remove obstacles for the person.
- Nick suggests a manager could come to a 1-1 and have a couple of things they need to address, but there should be more time for the employee to go through their list.
- "Don’t suck the air out of the room as a manager. You have enough opportunities to usually do that." – Jason Langer, in context of 1-1 meetings
- There are cases where it’s a performance issue (i.e. people not completing work as expected).
- Jason has always had really good teams and has always really liked his teams. Hopefully they have liked him as well.
- Jason says he tried to promote having fun now and then and does not feel you must be serious all the time as a leader.
- Jason kept thinking about what he did and did not want from his previous managers.
11:33 – Another Type of Management
- Was it easier to make the move to a manager role (something less technical) because Jason had an interest in business and wasn’t concerned as much with deep details on the technology? Nick’s hypothesis is that when you’ve been extremely technical, it can challenging to take what is perceived to be a "less technical" role.
- Jason isn’t quite sure. Maybe he did subconsciously.
- If you recall, Jason likes writing documentation (which his 14-year-old self would balk at) and structure. At the VAR, he was driving the need to follow standards and processes, and to ensure those were followed it made sense to slide certain people under Jason’s management.
- When Jason became a manager at VMware, he thinks it was different. This is what Jason calls act 3 of his career where he switched over to marketing.
- Jason says he had a great boss at the time who he still keeps in touch with to this day.
- When Jason joined this marketing team at first there were 5 people, and it grew to 15. No manager can have 15 direct reports.
- Jason’s boss and the VP above her approached him about managing people. He was grateful to be presented with an opportunity and agreed to do it because they asked.
- At the same time he agreed to make the move to manage people, he asked for things.
- Jason asked for his manager’s full support. He also asked that they meet to determine success criteria.
- "Managing marketers is probably completely different than managing SEs. It’s not really because it’s still just people management, but I didn’t know that until I got into it." – Jason Langer on managing a team of marketers
14:05 – A Move to Product Marketing
- We’ve talked to a number of guests who went into technical marketing, but that’s not the kind of marketing Jason pursued.
- When Jason shares with other folks in the industry that he is in marketing, they often assume he means technical marketing. It does not, however, mean Jason is not technical. There is a difference.
- Putting in 8 years at the VAR, Jason had built his career around VMware and the surrounding ecosystem. He wanted to go work at VMware specifically (or the mother ship as some call it, where he and Nick eventually met).
- Through working at GCSIT (the VAR) and attending VMware PTAB (Partner Technical Advisory Board), Jason developed a lot of relationships with people who worked for VMware.
- Once again Jason used that network of connections to reach out to people and make it known that he wanted to come work at VMware.
- A friend of Jason’s was a vSAN solution engineer (or SE) who was about to move to a new role. This friend told his boss they should hire Jason as his backfill.
- After going through the interview process Jason got the job as a vSAN SE and did it for about 18 months.
- Jason wanted to work at the mother ship but didn’t want to work within a sales organization the entire time.
- At the time this was the easiest path to get into the company to later try to get into a business unit.
- Many times it is easier to get an optimal role within a company after getting in first (then moving around).
- Jason truly believes any good SE (solution engineer) is a good marketer and feels it is part of the job (knowing how to market yourself and the company’s products).
- Jason wanted to take this to the next level. He wanted to get into a business unit to focus on the positioning of products and the messaging around them as well as the personas that buy software and outcomes they are looking to gain from the software.
- These are all things Jason was already doing at the VAR and as a solution engineer at VMware. Ultimately you are trying to help someone get to a business outcome.
- Jason went to the VP of the business unit in which he worked and a woman named Ishen. He told them if there was an opening he would be really interested in speaking to them about what it would take to get into a product marketing role.
- After a few months they reached out to Jason and mentioned there was an opening. The specific role was directed around sales enablement for products like SRM (Site Recovery Manager), vSAN, and other products in the storage and availability category.
- Jason had so much experience in these areas already it was an easy transition for a first product marketing role.
- Jason knew the VP (Lee Caswell) and would take him on customer visits when he was in town. Jason had a comfort level with the VP before he reached out to "take his shot" to try and get into the marketing world.
- Jason refers to this as the start of act 3 of his career.
18:20 – Marketing is Like Cloud
- Jason says every company does product marketing a little different. He has exposure to how it was done at both VMware and Pure (each one slightly different from the other).
- In product marketing (if done correctly in Jason’s opinion) you’re kind of in the middle of sales and product management. You work with different business units also when you’re crossing the portfolio or solution boundaries. You also work with different product marketing managers as well as with technical marketing.
- You need to know where the messaging is coming from (product marketing teams).
- You need to know things like product features and the roadmap on what is coming from product managers.
- Then you put these things together and work with sales to come up with enablement plans. You also need to decide the mediums for these enablement plans (i.e. recordings,, webinars, tests, etc.).
- It’s similar to the scenario of having many masters like when Jason managed the business relationship with partners.
- You’re sort of in the middle because you get to work with these different teams. You get different pieces from each. Remember that Jason likes to build things.
- Jason might talk to product teams to see what the market is driving and what the feature set is.
- Then he would work with product marketing to work on messaging and positioning.
- What about making pretty slides? Doesn’t Jason have to make pretty slides?
- Jason does create a lot of slides (presentations), and he likes making diagrams.
- It makes Jason smile when he sees a slide he created used by someone else.
- Being in product marketing and having all of these interactions gives you a feel for how all the different layers of the cake are being made.
- To Jason, marketing is like the word cloud. It can mean many things and reminds him of the cartoon The Smurfs and their use of the term "smurfing" for so many things.
- The marketing Jason did at Vmware was all internal marketing. The things he and his team produced was for the audience of internal sellers or sales engineers (SEs).
- There are marketing teams that do outbound marketing as well. This would be things such as coordinating webinars, blog posts, promoting conferences / participation in them, etc.
- Marketing doesn’t mean any specific thing to anyone. It’s about how the company or organization within that company implements this function.
- Technical marketing teams at VMware, for example, do internal work but also do a lot of external things too.
- In Jason’s role at Pure in Solutions Marketing, it’s still marketing, but he is focused on solutions (VMware and Pure Storage in this case). He does things like webinars, makes blog posts, creates the content for infographics (which someone else will make look prettier), etc.
- Some of Jason’s content is also used for internal enablement at Pure. Knowing VMware technologies is helpful to Pure employees, but it is not their main discipline.
- For example, Jason might share content on how VMware SRM (or Site Recovery Manger) works with Pure Storage solutions both from an outcomes standpoint and also some technical stuff.
- Marketing can mean cloud depending on how different organizations treat different things.
- You could have true outbound marketing consisting of people who are creating content for the company’s website. This still comes from a marketing team.
- Marketing might also create campaigns. They might use data from a CRM (or Customer Relationship Management) tool and use it to create 3 different e-mail templates that target decision makers, technology practitioners, and one other type of persona. There’s a lot that goes into this.
- Sometimes people will tell Jason "oh, you’re in marketing. You’re not technical." Jason says he is still technical, but he doesn’t have to do the practitioner level of technical any longer.
- "I still need to know how the solutions work. I still need to know the problem that it’s solving…kind of like an architect would, which would be viewed as technical. But now I’ve got to communicate it in a different way." – Jason Langer, on being in marketing and still being technical
- Jason tells us going into marketing does not mean you have to give up your technical hat to focus on things like website impressions and Twitter statistics.
24:44 – Being Technical In Technology
- What would someone who is quite technical as a practitioner right now but applies for this kind of role (i.e. product / solutions marketing) need to communicate to the hiring team to demonstrate the person can do the job? Or maybe there is some step in between?
- Jason says he feels like the person would have already made steps in that direction without realizing it.
- For example, early on in his career when Jason was working on all the certifications, he started writing blog posts. Marketing people write blog posts. At the time he was writing these posts, they were usually how-to articles that were quite technical.
- Jason was already making steps toward where he is now in certain ways. His job description said one thing, but activities like blogging were a bit of a side hustle.
- If a practitioner who was a systems engineer applied for a job that wanted 4 years of experience in marketing, that resume might not reach a hiring manager’s desk.
- But, if you have been doing things on the side that which are really interesting and might represent some of the experience they are looking for in a marketing type role, you have to start making those connections for people.
- Jason feels that is the route he took to get into his current role. For example, Jason had done blogging. He had been on some podcasts and had spoken at conferences such as VMworld. This shows he was more of an outgoing / outbound personality who wasn’t just focused on only knowing how to tweak certain technologies.
- Nick says things like speaking at a conference session shows you know how to communicate something in a set amount of time based on a specific topic.
- Submitting an abstract for a conference session is someone’s marketing attempt targeted at the people who pick what gets selected to happen at the conference.
- It’s not just the abstract but the title as well. You can’t just toss something out that says "best way to do X." The title needs to be carefully thought out and catchy. Jason submitted a session, for example, called "Any which Way with Tanzu," which is a play on an old Clint Eastwood movie.
- Jason says sometimes we take ourselves too seriously and encourages us to market ourselves the same way we might market a conference session.
- Jason has seen more people who are technology practitioners slide into marketing via the Technical Marketing role, feeling it might be an easier change.
- If you are a systems administrator or engineer today, there are technology user groups for VMware, Cisco, AWS, Microsoft, and many others who are always looking for presenters and content. You can submit a session to present in one of these places.
- If you start doing that, people start to recognize you. And you can send abstracts to speak at different conferences.
- "You’re doing that leg work. You’re doing that homework. You’re doing that extra side work to show that’s where you want to go…because if you want to go there you’re going to probably do that anyway." – Jason Langer on doing leg work to get into a marketing role
- You’re likely not going to convince yourself that you can go into technical marketing if you’ve never written a blog post or developed technical architectures. You need some evidence of technical writing skills.
- Many people Jason knows who went into technical marketing led user groups like VMUG first. These people gained speaking and presenting experience from it and later presented at conferences because they were a known name / entity.
- "Just like anything else, there’s extra work that has to be put into it if that’s where you want to go." – Jason Langer
- Nick says maybe the extra stop in technical marketing is what allows someone to learn more of the marketing specialty before they move into more of a product marketing type role.
- Jason has a friend who was once his solution engineer (or SE) for Veeam. This person was a SE at VMware who came to work for came to work for Jason as a Product Marketing Manager.
- This person was a "deep product guy," wanting to know what the features were, what the roadmap was, and why those things were selected to get prioritized as part of the product roadmap.
- These are the types of things a product manager does, and this person is now a product manager at VMware. Now this person is dictating the roadmap and feature set for a product he was passionate about.
- There are some interesting steps here. When Jason hired this person as a product marketing manager, he had a feeling the person would do it for a couple of years and then go do something else. That’s exactly what happened.
- This is similar to when Jason used to hire SEs at the VAR.
- "If you’re good at this job, I only expect you to be here for 2 years, maybe 3. And the reason for that is the vendors are going to find out that you’re good. And they’re going to come poach you." – Jason Langer, speaking to SE applicants at the VAR
- Jason lost employees to HPE, Veeam, and other vendors. But he sees it as a good thing because he knew the people were growing and going on to the next thing.
- Jason tells us marketing doesn’t have to be the end game for him or anyone. Once you get into a business unit a whole new world of possibilities opens up.
- "Having technical chops accelerates your ability to quickly impact and deliver on different things within a product group." – Jason Langer, on getting into a business unit
- Nick thinks with Jason’s technical chops he could easily slide into technical marketing if he wanted or back to being a practitioner.
- Jason says he still reads technical things and that we don’t have to shut off the technical part of our brain.
- If you’re working at Nick, Inc. as a systems administrator, you can go become the enterprise architect. But, there are new skills you’re going to need to hone and work on.
- You need to know how to write, how to create diagrams, and how to communicate.
- "Now you’re selling to your internal CIO and CTOs on why you need to do something." – Jason Langer on being an enterprise architect
- Being in tech doesn’t mean you have to be technical. Jason’s wife works in IT at Starbucks but does not feel she is technical. But she’s still in technology.
- "You don’t have to be the speeds and feeds person. You don’t have to be the ‘I know how to configure this person.’ You can do a lot of different things in technology and still be involved in technology…and probably scratch a lot of the itches you’re looking for." – Jason Langer on technology career options.
33:29 – A Break in the Action
- Jason’s 4-year anniversary at VMware was his last day there. He went to go work for a smaller company where a former manager of his was working.
- This is another example of where relationships were important in Jason’s career. Jason is a very loyal person and really trusted his former manager.
- Jason’s former manager had gone to another company (a smaller company) to build a product marketing management team at a company focusing on the database market and wanted Jason to come as well.
- Jason had focused previous to this on servers and storage but had not focused in the database market. And he made the move.
- "If you’ve been doing your career long enough, sometimes you zig when you should have zagged, and this was a scenario where I should have zagged." – Jason Langer reflecting on a career decision
- Jason tells us it did not work out with some of it being him and some of it being them (this other company).
- At this point Jason was starting to feel a little burned out. He had been working since age 20. The pandemic did not help matters.
- Jason knew it wasn’t working out and was not happy. He had a conversation with his wife, who has always supported his career.
- "This isn’t working out for me. I’m not very happy. I just need a break. I just need to collect myself a little bit." – Jason Langer on being unhappy after a career move and the next step
- Jason’s wife supported this decision.
- Jason took 3 months off, and it was great.
- He started taking time for himself, got outside, and started going to the gym again.
- Jason did all the things people say they want to do when they are working from 7 AM to 6 PM and too tired and unmotivated to do.
- Jason is grateful to his wife for letting him do it. His parents are retired, lived close by, and he would pick them up and take them on road trips for a day.
- One thing Jason would not let himself do was sit at home and watch TV all day. He wanted to make something of the time. This was summer time in Seattle (no excuse not to be outside).
- "It was really good, and it put me into the right mindset for when I came back into the workforce." – Jason Langer on his experience taking a break from working
- When Jason took the break, he did not know what he wanted to do next, knowing only that he did not want to stay employed where he was.
- Similar to when he was laid off earlier in his career, Jason felt he would find something when he needed to get back to work.
- If Jason was set on managing people, it makes his options automatically narrower.
- "I just want to go work somewhere where I’ve got a good culture of people and I think the work is going to be enjoyable…but I’m not going to work myself to death." – Jason Langer on his mindset in approaching getting that next job
- There are factors we don’t discuss here that could come into play for people like a specific salary they want or title they may be after, etc.
- The only thing Jason really did think is that he would end up at VMware, a company that has been so good to him in its products that helped build his career. And he really enjoyed his time there as an employee.
- But it didn’t work out this time.
- Jason feels like he landed in a great spot with a great boss. And he’s in a culture he really enjoys.
- "I feel very fortunate that I was able to do that break and then land somewhere that’s a really good fit…for me…hopefully for them too, but for me." – Jason Langer on finding a great job after taking a break
38:31 – Boundaries and Going Back to Work
Jason knew going into the break what was important to him. Early in his career the technology was in the top 1 or 2 spot of importance for him (something to learn, build expertise in, talk about, etc.).
This time around the technology was less important in his list (around item 5 in priority)
- If the technology really excites you but you’re miserable at work, it isn’t worth it. Think about where the technology needs to rank to keep yourself satisfied in some other areas.
- Jason didn’t want to be on a phone call or Zoom from 7:30 AM until 6 PM in the evening. He wanted pieces of his personal life back.
- Nick references Brendon Burchard‘s advice to add things to your day that replenish energy if you have many things that suck it away to avoid a complete drain by the end of the day.
- If it’s the right audience, Jason might take a conference call while on a walk (assuming he does not have to present something). He encourages us to know the audience if we are going to do this (i.e. not if there is a VP on the call, for example).
- It’s nice to get out of the 4 walls we’re inside and go touch some grass.
How did Jason know it was time to go back to work?
- When Jason first spoke to his wife about this, he assured her that he would go back to work at some point. They did not set a specific timeline, however.
- People had sent Jason job postings for various companies they thought he should investigate further. One of the companies was Pure Storage, and there were a few others.
- Reading the description of the job he eventually ended up in at Pure, Jason thought it would be an excellent fit.
- Jason was doing interviewing for some jobs that sounded really fun and interesting, but through his past experience in working for the VAR, he knew enough about the culture of the companies to feel they would be good places to go (based on everything he had heard).
- Once he got the offer from Pure, he asked them to delay the start date just slightly so he could round out a full 3 months off. They were fine with it.
After coming back to the workforce, Jason has structured his schedule a bit differently. Keep in mind this might not work for everyone everywhere but is worth considering.
- The first thing Jason did was set the boundaries. He blocked his calendar to prevent taking / scheduling meetings before 8:30 AM. In fact, those get auto-declined.
- Jason tries to go to the gym every morning. That is the intention (to get some workout time in before the workday begins). He knows he won’t go at lunch or after work. Structuring this for mornings brings a greater success rate.
- Jason set this boundary day one and communicated it to his teammates. After sharing his intention to go to the gym and be ready to go by 8:30 AM, the boss and teammates were super supportive.
- Jason also tried to make sure he ended his day around 5:30 or 6 PM. It may not always happen due to the nature of work (i.e. we sometimes have to work late), but Jason tries to follow this schedule to allow himself to go touch grass.
- Jason works 100% remotely and has for almost 10 years now. He tries to allow himself opportunity to go outside or for a walk around the block.
- Working remotely like this you have to do things that will keep you from losing your mind (i.e. must keep sane since you’re not going to an office).
- Jason tells us to set the boundaries if we can up front and to know our management and greater audience.
- Now when Jason takes a vacation he turns off e-mail on his phone.
- Try to disconnect, and don’t check work messages (e-mail / Slack, etc.). If he’s off for 4 days, Jason is off for 4 days.
- "If you want me to be at 100% of what you want me to do when I’m here, I need this time to be disconnected." – Jason Langer on disconnected vacations
- Nick says if you’ve never done this (taken a disconnected vacation), you should do it!
- The above is a conversation with your manager to set those expectations.
- Jason feels like most managers are good (despite having some not so good ones in his time) and has never had one say no to this request.
- Tell them (your manager) what your plan is, and it can make those conversations about boundaries with vacation (or something else) a lot easier. It shows you at least thought it through.
- The first thing Jason did was set the boundaries. He blocked his calendar to prevent taking / scheduling meetings before 8:30 AM. In fact, those get auto-declined.
Reach out to Jason on Twitter Jason Langer if you have questions or want to follow up on this episode.
- Jason has had many people help him in his own career and is happy to pay it forward for others.
- It only took Nick bumping into Jason while he was eating lunch to get Jason on the show. Watch out for the ask to be a guest if you have an interesting story to share!
Mentioned in the outro
- Jason adopted a similar attitude to Don Jones in regard to wanting what was best for people under them, even if it meant they needed to move on to another company or job. Check out Episode 137 and Episode 138 for more detail.
- Should we be communicating the intent behind our boundaries when we discuss them?
- Go back and listen to Episode 140 with guest Eric Brooker regarding disconnected vacations. You can also hear part 1 of Eric’s story for context in Episode 139.
Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.
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