Nerd Journey 042: Ethan Banks and the Journey to Career Self-Awareness

Welcome to episode 42 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two VMware Solution 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 talk to Ethan Banks, co-founder of the Packet Pushers technical podcast network about his early career path and journey to career self-awareness.

Original Recording Date: 05-28-2019

Topics – Ethan Banks and the Journey to Early Career Self-Awareness

2:11 – Ethan’s Early Career Path

  • Ethan Banks is co-owner and operator of the Packet Pushers Network with Greg Farrow
  • Disclaimer: this interview kept Ethan up past his bedtime.
  • Ethan was in Network Operations before making the move to doing Packet Pushers full time.
  • His father gave him some helpful advice about “getting into computers” to go wherever he wanted, and Ethan ended up majoring in Computer Science (programming, algorithms, etc.). The program basically prepped students to be developers.
  • Ethan gained experience as a classroom instructor and in the banking industry (electronic funds transfer, automated clearing house, bank teller) after college before going to Novell school.
    • He moved to a new area with his family but could not find openings in the banking industry.
    • Ethan saw an ad for Novell school which gave him a new career path.
  • The company that put on the Novell school also did consulting and hired Ethan part-time, which eventually led to being Microcomputer Support Specialist for the City of Manchester, New Hampshire.
    • Despite his background, he did not get to use his new knowledge and certification on the job as co-workers saw him as a threat.
    • Ethan returned to consulting after a few months but left the City of Manchester job in a blaze of fire. He wrote the employer a letter telling them exactly what he thought of the experience.
    • The work environment was not professional, but he did not handle the exit well as a young man.
  • At one particular employer (a banking job before Novell school), Ethan’s manager cried in frustrated because of some of his actions. He made an offhand comment to the wrong person and nearly got fired (to a VP, actually).
  • Ethan thought technical knowledge should trump all when it came to career advancement but quickly learned that was not the only requirement.
    • John mentions the Dunning Krueger Effect to describe this type of behavior.
    • People may not realize this until after being bitten a few times.
  • Ethan speaks to the confidence element needed to be a consultant.
    • While customer situations and problems may be similar, each one is unique in its own way.
    • Sometimes you may not know exactly what you’re doing but hope you have the ability to pull it off.

19:16 – People Management and the Journey to Self-Awareness

  • As you work with enough people, the brakes get put on naturally.
    • Ethan had enough run-ins with managers who wanted to channel his energy in a different way than he was doing it.
    • Having kids also helped.
    • Ethan was hired as a manager for the New Hampshire government and was over employees with many years of experience and vast knowledge.
    • Ethan realized there was no way to know everything in that situation.
  • Craig Benson wanted to turn state government into a big business and decided to consolidate IT across all state departments into one organization.
    • During the re-organization, Ethan’s role changed considerably.
    • There was an opening for Network Operations Manager that Ethan thought he wanted. An organization leader tried to explain what the job would be like, but Ethan insisted.
    • Ethan thought he was getting into a technical lead position, which is very different than being a manager.
      • There was little technology involved. It was a role full of meetings and coordination that Ethan hated.
      • This experience was like a second wake up call to what management really is.
  • Ethan worked in other management roles throughout his career as well.
    • If you love technology, fixing things, and designing systems (Ethan was that guy), don’t go into management. It is a step removed from this kind of work.
    • John speaks to the potential to increase your salary by going into technology positions that do not require people management and our goal to do more shows on moving to people management.
    • Embrace the people management role. Have a caring and compassion for people. Understand the business and where people fit.
      • A manager is essentially a facilitator.
      • Listen to Ethan’s story about a former boss that put forth tremendous efforts to help an employee in some difficult personal situations. “That’s a manager.”
      • Ethan had a different manager who was brought in to mend a broken relationship between the IT department and the business and ended up learning a ton from this individual.
    • As a young man, Ethan did not respect the management role but has grown to have a great deal of respect for people managers.
    • If you think you can make the jump to people management, know that you will be learning and leveraging different skills. This probably means you will be less technical than before, but it does not mean this is a bad thing.
    • Nick makes the point that employees likely do not know everything their managers do or what the responsibilities really involve.

38:01 – Technical Career Path

  • Certifications were a differentiator for Ethan to advance technically (Novell, Cisco, etc.).
    • These were driven by his desire to understand more and have more responsibility.
    • Within an organization, a large pay raise may not be available without moving into a different position within the company or outside the company. Part of the answer for Ethan was certification.
  • Ethan took opportunities as they were given to him (like being a project lead, for example).
    • These kinds of roles can be foundational for moving to Senior Engineer or Architect.
    • Most of the time Ethan was aggressively looking for the roles he wanted.
  • Ethan shares some examples of how large organizations are tiered for a variety of technical positions, which is quite different from SMBs.
  • Working with a consultant (regardless of where you are) is a great opportunity to learn about the job roles that exist. But, it depends on the ambition of the people involved.

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