Pause and Step Outside with Andrew Miller (3/3)

Welcome to episode 167 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 3 of an interview with Andrew Miller, discussing his decision to pause between working for Rubrik and his current job at Pure, which is an individual contributor role. Andrew will also share how he focuses his time to make the biggest impact, what he thinks of the principal role in our industry, and what comes next for him.

Original Recording Date: 02-10-2022

Andrew Miller is a Principal Technologist within the Office of the CTO at Pure Storage. Follow him on Twitter here. Catch part 1 of our interview with Andrew in Episode 165 and part 2 in Episode 166.

Topics – Deciding to Pause, The Break and the Move to Pure Storage, Thoughts on the Principal Role, Parting Thoughts and What Comes Next

2:53 – Deciding to Pause

  • Kudos to Andrew for recognizing where he was headed and being humble enough to step back.
  • Andrew had taken time off between Sirius and Rubrik. He took some time to visit family. This is not something you do without a bit of planning.
  • Andrew started to see some of the people he worked with behave in ways that wasn’t really their normal. There were also those inside the company who felt threatened by new employees and became territorial.
    • Andrew started to do some analysis on if he was becoming that type of person or if it was possible to experience "shades" of it.
    • Based on the energy you have, can you lean into what is the right thing to do? Or are you starting to say "this is good enough" or caring less?
    • Andrew references Bilbo from The Fellowship of the Ring – too little butter scraped across too much toast.
    • You start to feel all the directions in which you’re being pulled. Can you reset the expectations or take a pause, step outside, and find the next thing?
  • The hardest thing is leaving people you care about. It’s a super hard decision. You want to help the people you hired as much as you can, but ultimately we each are responsible for our own careers.
  • John says beware of personal contracts with people you hired (i.e. they came to a place to work for you specifically).
    • Also, in this case, maybe you can look at the stressors and have some of them removed by management (which may or may not be possible).
  • Stepping back like this takes some character on a person’s part. And you have to set yourself up financially for these kinds of decisions. Otherwise you don’t have the flexibility to walk away.
  • Andrew members speaking to Ken Hui and Keith Townsend and advises us to live below our means to provide financial flexibility.
    • Andrew went to a conservative Christian college and remembers a professor advising the class to build a fund for in the event their boss asked something they were not willing to do.
    • Imagine knowing that if you leave, you will be fine. That gives you the ability to leave and doesn’t require putting financial priorities on top of everything else.
    • Going back to leveraged compensation plan, live off the base to minimize stress.
    • We don’t need to keep up with the Jones’. Financial security gives you options. See also Dave Ramsey.
    • We don’t want an escalating lifestyle that matches an escalating salary. Sometimes money is a trap.
    • Check out Episode 57 for a show focused on personal finance.
    • Having an emergency fund is important and a foundational part of being a solid member of our society. We toss out some book recommendations:

13:55 – The Break and the Move to Pure Storage

  • Airline miles and reward programs are wonderful things. Andrew and family were able to go visit extended family in Singapore during his break after time at Rubrik. His kids were about 8 years old at that time and were doing homeschool.
  • It was one of those "why not do this now" moments.
  • Some say you have to take 2 weeks of vacation to make any real impact because it takes a week for your brain to empty.
  • This period was a pause to determine where he wanted to go next. Andrew had enjoyed building people up and supporting their careers but also individual contributor work.
  • The role at Pure Storage, where Andrew works as of this recording, is an individual contributor role. It’s Director level but without direct reports.
    • You’re working with customers, going deep in some areas, sharing vision and strategy, but also linked back to product teams and marketing (webinar presentation, feedback on future features, etc.).
    • This Principal Technologist role is part of the pre-sales organization.
    • Because the role is semi-defined, there is a certain day-to-day expectation. But there is a high degree of latitude to fill gaps and help support positive change.
    • He started as Principal Systems Engineer, but there was a little bit of a transition where this was a super SE role. As Pure was continuing to grow, there was no way to be a super SE any longer. Pure started to hire more overlays and added "nerds who are allowed to talk," mixing business and technology. The Principal Technologist is one such overlay.
    • Andrew also thinks about a 2×2 matrix for the semi-defined role as a way to determine where to put your time to make an impact. On one side is micro and macro, and then you have reactive and proactive.
      • Microreactive fills over time – this is servant leadership and getting pulled into help others
      • Macroreactive – you’re getting pulled into bigger initiatives
      • Microproactive is reaching out to SEs and peers, product management, and others seeking only to get to know others and build a relationship (not asking them for anything)
      • Macroproactive is the fun one (trying to help but on a wider scale). You can use the microreactive experience as a data mining exercise to fuel the macroproactive.
        • For example, during COVID, Andrew was involved in the Pure Coffee Break series of webinars (one example of that can be found here).
        • Keep the industry trends and solution focus relevant to customers, share what the field is seeing, and then dive deeper.
    • Andrew fundamentally likes where Pure is going as a company and wanted to keep some of his infrastructure roots. With the acquisition of Portworx and release of other new products, Andrew feels the company will allow him to continue to grow and expand his skillset without falling behind in the industry.
      • Andrew says they did a survey on one of the most recent coffee break, and the one that came in highest was Pure’s cloud strategy.

24:08 – Thoughts on the Principal Role

  • This title varies between organizations. The smaller the organization the more titles are free.
  • Principal is often the pinnacle or height of the individual contributor path.
  • Andrew maps to the East US Enterprise region (where he gets customer calls, etc.). Then he also does projects that are more national and global in nature (webinar, feature contributions, filing patents, etc.).
    • Fun fact – Andrew has helped with 5 patent filings since being at Pure.
  • There is a sense that someone in this role is experienced and can bring value to a conversation with a customer without a "look at me" kind of attitude.
    • Nick mentions somoene in Andrew’s role knows what good looks like.
    • You also need to understand people’s motivations, how to navigate the organization you operate in, etc.
  • John says he needs to double down on reading Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the Management Track by Will Larson.
    • Folks in the Staff role are being looked upon more as leaders, to think strategically, and to be a force multiplier. The book is slanted toward the software development career path but still quite valuable.
    • John feels this book has not been written for the pre-sales technical track.
  • Andrew got to meet Chad Sakac at one point. There was a good quote about everyone being a leader. Someone is looking at you. We get more of what we praise. Leaders simply have a larger blast radius.
    • Anyone can send an e-mail to tell someone they did a great job, etc. Leaders get to do it more visibly in things that encourage more.
    • Anyone can put praise out about good behavior. You could very well make someone’s day by pointing out something they did that was positive.
    • John believes he got the term "blast radius" from Chad Sakac.

29:25 – Parting Thoughts and What Comes Next

  • You’re trying to do your best work no matter who is looking. That is your brand and living up to your own standards.
  • If you’re putting yourself in the right places (where companies are growing, where you can meet people, etc.) the right time will eventually come with some level of leaning into opportunities when they surface.
    • Opportunities are often disguised as hard work.
  • Right now, for Andrew, he is very happy in his role. It has enough variety to do different things and can build good working relationships. *Andrew is not sure what will be next.
    • Throughout his career he didn’t have grand plans with each move. It was more of looking of an interesting opportunity.
    • Keep perspective about how blessed and fortunate you are. This comes in how you present yourself to people. It can be easy to get into those emotional spirals.
    • Andrew likes to constantly add for feedback. "What’s one thing I could improve or you think might be worth changing?"
      • Feedback is a gift. By asking for it you get prepared to receive it (proper frame of mind).
      • Andrew has had people suggest specific roles he should pursue ("you should think about…").
    • Nick says this is like the future state career architecture.
  • Do good work. Work with good people. Have an impact. Don’t be too full of yourself, but be aware of where you can make an impact and do good work relative to relative skillset. And keep some joy in it!
  • Check out this post Andrew wrote to cast a wide net after his first sabbatical.

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