Monetize Yourself: Leveraging Your Most Valuable Knowledge with Erik Gross (3/3)

What if you could increase your earnings potential based on the things you know and the things that interest you? Erik Gross, our guest this week in episode 269, shares the Most Valuable Knowledge Framework to help anyone identify the combinations of skills and interests which would be most valuable on the open market. Erik will share examples of using this framework when deciding to start The Tech Academy and the value of boot camps as a route into the tech industry for those with little work experience as well as for the career changer.

Original Recording Date: 02-17-2024

Erik Gross is a technologist, a consultant, an entrepreneur and founder, and a career coach. If you missed the earlier parts of Erik’s story, check out Episode 267 and Episode 268.

Topics – Finding Your Most Valuable Knowledge, Birth of a Coding School, Boot Camps as a Route into Tech

3:26 – Finding Your Most Valuable Knowledge

  • Eric ultimately found the thing he could monetize. He had a foundation from which to work and some idea of how he learned, but Erik needed someone else’s perspective to tell him what he knew was something valuable. Maybe we aren’t highlighting the right things on our resumes. If someone doesn’t know what they should monetize, how do they find it?
    • There were a number of skills Erik had such as sales, writing, managing people, electrical assembly, etc. He calls them “pockets of knowledge.” We each accumulate them throughout life through various experiences.
      • “I had this huge collection of…things I was either really knowledgeable and / or good at, had been paid to do…. What I didn’t know was the relative value of each of those pieces of information…. Back in 2011 I had no idea engineers made the kind of money we make. I literally didn’t know that this thing I’d been sitting on for at that point decades was so valuable.” – Erik Gross, reflecting back on his accumulation of knowledge
    • Erik remembers the feeling of elation after being hired for his first job in technology. Then for a brief period he was frustrated about not pushing himself to pursue a technology career earlier. Erik realized beating himself up was not helpful and put a stop to it.
      • “…I had all these things that were passions or areas of knowledge. What was lacking was what are they worth on the market.” – Erik Gross
    • Now as part of his work as a career coach, Erik helps technology workers / knowledge workers find out what their most valuable knowledge is. Anyone can go through the exercise, and the basic pattern works like this:
      • Sit in a quiet place and document all the things you know about (areas that you have studied or in which you have skill, deep knowledge, or experience)
      • Separately, list everything you are passionate and interested in, even if completely unrelated to the list of things you know about
      • Put the list of passions and the things you know about side by side to identify relationships you haven’t previously seen
      • Erik gives the example of having a passion for telling stories together with a skill of audio recording and editing as well as a passion for children and being a good parent. This combination resulted in a client of Erik’s realizing they could start a podcast focused on telling kids stories, do all the audio production, handle the creative work of crafting the stories themselves, and combine that with a number of monetization strategies.
      • “But ultimately all you’re trying to find out is, ‘this intersection of passion and knowledge that I just found…is anyone paying for that in any form out on the market?’ And when you find, and it can be really surprising what you find, that people are, you’ve got a handful of what could be your most valuable knowledge.” – Erik Gross, on your most valuable knowledge
      • After finding multiple intersections between passion and skill that can be monetized, Erik also mentions doing a sorting process based on long-term potential, the resources you have to start immediately, etc.
    • The process we just described is what happened for Erik (an intersection of skills and passion). He had a passion for technology and really enjoyed it, and he had deep, existing skill in computers, programming, and technology.
      • Erik did not know that in the early 2000s engineers (software developers) were making very good money. When he found out, Erik felt he should have pursued it many years earlier and was willing to do whatever he needed to do to get into that field.
      • Erik says is it really fun to watch others go through this exercise.
      • For the entrepreneur, knowing your intersection(s) of skill and passion is worth money on the open market helps you validate that the idea is worth investing time and energy to pursue.
    • The exercise we’re talking about here can work for anyone in any job and does not require you be an entrepreneur. Erik gives us a practical example to illustrate.
      • Erik tells the story of working with a talented co-worker who had earned the name “Optimizer Prime” from the work he had done to rewrite and significantly shorten the execution time of SQL database queries for health and financial record batch processes (from 6-7 hours to just over 30 minutes).
      • Erik found out the above co-worker had pigeonholed himself as “the SQL guy,” and this person later learned these skills alone were not worth as much as he thought on the open market.
      • “This sort of point of view, this idea of your most valuable knowledge is just a useful thing for anyone to do, even if they’re just looking to continue direct contribution as an individual contributor working their regular job…. Yes, be really good at your individual job, and make a lot of money doing it.” – Erik Gross, on the applicability of the most valuable knowledge to anyone
      • The most valuable knowledge exercise would have been really good for Erik’s co-worker to leverage to look for other areas in which he was both interested in and skilled in to lead with during a job search. Erik’s co-worker was not leading with something that was as valuable as he thought.
      • “When it comes to figuring out if you’re entrepreneurially minded…having the confidence and certainty that the idea that you have has legs before you spend a dime gives you a lot more confidence as an entrepreneur. I see people that do it backwards all the time. They pull in a bunch of investment and they design what they think is going to be worth something on the market. And then they launch it, and it’s a giant dud…. Don’t do that. Figure it out ahead of time before you spend any money.” – Erik Gross, on the most valuable knowledge exercise for the entrepreneur
    • After doing this exercise over and over with people, Erik refined the process and wrote a book called The Most Valuable Knowledge Workbook.
      • Erik tells us this works well as a self-guided exercise. He will often have his clients work on the exercise on their own for a while and then work through it with them.
      • Erik has shared this resource for free because he truly wants to help people. You can follow the link above to get your copy, and if you want, you can also sign up to work with Erik as a career coach.
      • “It is a proven, workable framework for how to sus out what combination of passion and skill is actually worth enough on the open market that it justifies you moving forward and how do you gain certainty on that before you embark on that journey.” – Erik Gross
    • If we do the most valuable knowledge exercise, how do we build evidence of expertise based on a skill we have? And what should that look like?
      • Erik says sometimes this stops the would be entrepreneur.
      • It’s an interesting challenge to determine how to get credibility when you have never done something for pay.
      • If you’re deciding to start an endeavor, it is quite possible you may have already been doing it for many years but not for pay. Erik shares his realization that he had been coaching friends and family with their careers for around 10 years. Every time something came up and someone needed help, he had a pattern of activities he would do with that person. In his case, he asked the people he had helped for a testimonial.
      • Erik tells us it is worth it to do the first few deliveries of a product or service for free. Many people might disagree with this approach and insist on charging, but Erik tells us it’s really not for free but more about what you are getting in exchange for your work (validation and feedback that your approach is working and testimonials and referrals once something does work). The testimonials and referrals help establish credibility outside the circle of people you’ve already helped / impacted.

16:57 – Birth of a Coding School

  • Erik recounts the story of his son coming home from school in early 2013 and saying he wanted to do a developer boot camp (something he had heard about in his computing class in school).
    • Erik says the very first boot camp took place in 2012 in the San Francisco Bay area and was called Dev Bootcamp. Now the boot camp industry has grown to become a big part of our technology industry.
    • The boot camp Erik’s son wanted to attend was a brand new idea and advertised things like:
      • Intensive full-time training in all practical skills needed to be a web developer
      • Being connected with employers
    • “Wait a minute. I’ve been teaching technology for years. I’ve developed over the years an ability to break down complex technical concepts in a way that anyone can easily understand. I’m already trying to hire junior developers on the side for a lot of my contracts that I do for people and finding them really hard to get. I could do this! And so I did…. There’s a whole story there.” – Erik Gross, on the genesis of The Tech Academy
      • On the day we recorded this interview, it was The Tech Academy’s 10-year anniversary.
    • Before taking any action, Erik started to apply what he knew about most valuable knowledge and spoke with other technologists and recruiting firms about the idea. Some were skeptical of it, but many people were open to the idea of hiring someone who went through a boot camp. Erik then knew his idea had legs / had been validated as valuable in the market.
    • After validating the idea, Erik mentions making a mistake that almost stopped him from starting the school. It’s a great lesson for the entrepreneur.
      • Erik did some research as to whether anyone was doing the same thing in his area (Portland, Oregon).
      • He found a code school that had been around for 3 months already, and it destroyed him. He was afraid the town could not support 2 coding schools and nearly abandoned his idea altogether. But then Erik remembered something important that he goes through with all of his coaching clients.
      • “If no one is paying for the expertise that you have already, that’s a bad sign. If there’s no competition in the area you’re going into that’s usually a bad sign.” – Erik Gross, on almost giving up before starting The Tech Academy
      • The presence of another coding school in the area was confirmation people were paying for the services / outcomes a boot camp could offer. There have been up to 5 code schools in Portland in the 10 year period of The Tech Academy’s existence, and the only one that has survived has been Erik’s.
      • To date The Tech Academy has helped thousands of people get into tech. And it never would have happened it Erik had been beaten down by fear and anxiety.
    • Once Erik had the business plan sketched out for the curriculum and how to give people hands on experience, how encourage team collaboration for students, and how to partner with other organizations he recognized some problems.
      • Erik was trying to do this by working full time.
      • Erik knew he was not skilled at building policies and procedures for the business and sorting out the hiring process. After realizing his gaps, Erik found a business partner who had all those skills – his friend Jack (the one who had made the connection to someone in tech for Erik).
      • Erik and Jack created a “self-paced, instructor supported methodology for breaking into tech as a well-rounded, entry level full stack developer.”
      • The Tech Academy has added many different programs since it began spanning areas like AI, game development, UI / UX, Python, JavaScript, etc. The school’s mandate was to provide exposure and skills in new technology in addition to providing a solid enough foundation to allow graduates of the school to navigate tech industry shifts.
      • To get involved with The Tech Academy, visit

23:02 – Boot Camps as a Route into Tech

  • Some boot camps have ties into a local community, while others may not. This can vary across the board.
  • There are 3 routes into a tech career – self-study, college or university, or boot camp
    • Self-study can be difficult and has some risk of not studying the right things. But it can absolutely be done.
    • Looking at a boot camp compared to college…
      • One pro of college is having enough time to go deep in the area of study. There isn’t time for this in a boot camp.
      • Some of the cons of college are how current the technologies you’re taught and how much practical experience you get on how software is developed in the modern world. It can take 18 to 48 months for a curriculum change to happen at a university, and they cannot keep up with the technology field. Colleges and universities also may not have mechanisms to simulate a real world work environment.
      • “Having done it for years now, it’s not easy to put in place a live project that is on real world software that helps people experience what it is actually like to go through a sprint, to be assigned a user story, to actually do the work on their own machine, to submit their code for review, to make any fixes, and to do a push through the various stages and get it out into production…. That’s not easy to setup, and colleges were never built up around that model. And so they don’t have it. And that’s not to knock colleges. Because what they can do a boot camp could never do. We cannot do a deep, deep, deep dive into data structures and algorithms…and how compilers actually work and how operating systems work. We can’t do that. But the flip side is, in a boot camp you can get the practical skills that are needed on the ground right now in 3-6 months and get a job paying $60,000 per year and then keep learning.” – Erik Gross
      • The speed of boot camp is faster, but they cannot go as deep. If you’re looking at a boot camp, Erik would encourage you to look carefully at the emphasis placed on the long term success of the student. Erik tells the story of seeing a competitor do really well for a time by focusing only on a single programming language (Ruby on Rails). Once the wave of popularity died down for Ruby on Rails, students who had gone through that program had difficulty finding jobs.
      • Erik cites his experience in the Navy and the intense fundamental focus to prepare people for what recruits might encounter in the field. This focus allowed people to learn and fix what they encountered rapidly to prevent people from dying. Erik took all of this into consideration when designing curriculum for his coding school.
      • At The Tech Academy, people don’t begin coding until they have had around 80 hours of instructions on fundamentals so that students have some understanding of what is happening under the hood when they do start coding.
      • “They know all that minute one. And all that anxiety and worry about ‘can I really make it as an engineer? Can I learn coding? That’s gone by the time they’re done with the first course.’” – Erik Gross, on the fundamental knowledge students of The Tech Academy have when they begin coding
  • Are boot camps also for career changers?
    • Erik says they initially thought the clientele would be young people with little to no professional experience.
    • “A huge portion of our enrollments started to come from people over 40 who were looking for that career change.” – Erik Gross, on the target market for boot camps being slightly different from what he thought
    • Erik recounts the first time this happened. For context, he and Jack did everything at the beginning and would interview every incoming student of the school.
      • A plumber going into tech was worried he might be taking a step backward in earnings potential.
      • “For a lot of careers, technology is so well paying that you’re not going to have to take a pay cut to make that shift. And that isn’t true for a lot of areas. So in 3-6 months you can shift over to a new career, and you’re not necessarily going to have to take a pay cut. But what really shocked us was that those folks were getting higher initial offers than the young folks not because of age but because they had time out in the business world. They knew what it was to operate in that environment and to be part of a collaborative team…and so they did really well on their interviews and they were getting higher offers. So absolutely a boot camp, whether it’s ours or anyone else’s…perfect for a career change.” – Erik Gross
  • To follow up with Erik on this conversation:
    • If you’re looking at monetizing your valuable knowledge, taking your expertise as a knowledge worker / technologist and figuring out how to build it into a scalable business
    • If you’re looking at the boot camp arena

Mentioned in the Outro

  • A huge congrats to Erik and Jack on 10 successful years of The Tech Academy getting people into technology!
    • It was not a surprise that the curriculum focuses on fundamentals. Nick loves the approach to balance abstract and concrete learning like we spoke about in Episode 267 so things make more sense during the learning process.
  • Nick had not heard of The Most Valuable Knowledge Framework before this discussion with Erik. But it is an exercise any of us can do to gain insight and validate whether taking action is a good idea.
    • This sounds like a much more refined version of Area of Destiny from Episode 20.
    • Nick likes the idea of quantifying the value of these combinations of skills and interests and then putting them in order / having a way to sort them. This way we know what might be best to lead with when looking for a job or trying to break into a new area.
    • It would be interesting to marry this advice with that of John Nicholson from Episode 225. Nicholson shared his perspective as a former hiring manager and which skills are perceived as both expensive and irrelevant to a specific job that a candidate should remove from their resume to be considered for a role.
    • Use job descriptions and requirements for deciding which of your most valuable knowledge should go on a resume.
  • The discussion of building expertise reminded Nick of Episode 163 with Louise Bunyan and her story of bartering digital marketing services for horseback riding lessons.
    • Anything you do for free or for something other than money is referenceable on a resume! Consider having people recommend you on LinkedIn for the work as a testimonial. In our industry, there is no shame doing something to gain the experience.
    • As we build expertise we’re going to notice gaps that we might be able to fill by gaining or sharpening skills. For the hiring managers out there, sometimes hiring people solves the skills gap problem. That was the case when seeking his co-founder Jack who knew how to establish the structure of the organization they founded.

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