Signal What You Want with Joe Chenevey (1/2)

Welcome to episode 170 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 1 of an interview with Joe Chenevey, detailing Joe’s experience in the Air Force, how this shaped his civilian career, and how curiosity and clear communication can help us find new opportunities.

Original Recording Date: 04-19-2022

Topics – Meet Joe Chenevey, Path to the Military, Officer Training, Curiosity, The Civilian’s Career, Signaling What You Want, Getting Promoted

00:02 – Meet Joe Chenevey

  • Joe Chenevey is a Principal Solutions Architect on the Dell Synergy Acceleration Team at VMware and has served in that capacity for the last 4-5 years. You can follow him on Twitter here.
  • Joe is also part of the Global Field Principal community at VMware.
    • Joe began as part of a program within the Office of the CTO (called the CTO Ambassador program), acting as a bridge between the field (individual contributors at VMware who work in a pre-sales / post-sales capacity) and the research and development teams inside the company. He graduated to the Global Field Principal program in 2021.
    • If you’re curious to learn more about the global field and industry program inside VMware, check out this blog.

3:58 – Path to the Military

  • Joe’s father was in the military.
  • Joe understood the military way of life and led him on his own path to join the military primarily as a way to get into college.
    • It was easy to make the jump from being a military kid to being in the military himself.
    • Many people end up joining the military for similar reasons (to fund their education).
    • Joe says it is an excellent way to see the world, grow your skill set, and find your journey as a person.
  • Joe was always technically skilled, gravitating toward technology as a student.
    • Joe worked a lot on computers in high school and got a ROTC scholarship from the Air Force for electrical engineering at LMU.
  • His path toward the military was through ROTC. Joe graduated college and went to officer training. After that he did communications and computer systems for the Air Force.
    • Joe had applied for a scholarship in electrical engineering, and that is what he studied (even though he is not an electrical engineer today).
    • After graduating, through ROTC he was able to choose his top 3 career fields (satellite communications, flight test engineering, and one other…which was not communications and computer systems).
    • Because Joe had an electrical engineering degree and had taken some courses in communications, it turns out the Air Force had a need in communications and computer systems where they felt he would be a good fit.
    • Joe decided to let his experience in the assigned role over time determine whether he liked it.
      • Joe had done an internship at NASA working on computer systems. It was IT even though he didn’t necessarily call it that, and he enjoyed the work.
    • Upon originally starting Joe wanted to do more of the telecommunications side. He realized when he got into training that the work would utilize a lot of what he had learned in communications and extend it.
  • Joe was stationed in Oklahoma at Tinker Air Force Base, working in a wing of the Air Force that focused on deploying IT systems for the greater Air Force.
    • It gave him a great background for his civilian career in IT.
    • Even though it was not necessarily his first choice of role, because he was in the right place at the right time, Joe had a skill that matched the Air Force’s need (which ended up working quite well).

9:52 – Officer Training

  • The training was kind of intermediate. The positions officers are given are primarily on the leadership side (managing a program, etc.).
    • Joe had taken some leadership courses in his Air Force ROTC course work.
    • He went into 6 months of training on the basics of what his job would be. It was focused on planning and white collar style IT leadership, but there were also some very technical elements.
      • Joe was given an overview of the types of systems the Air Force used and the skills needed to do the job.
      • It was the on the job training that made it real. That is where the rubber met the tarmac.
  • When Joe began the work, he was overseeing a program where vendors would be doing program and systems implementations, specifically responsible for overseeing the testing.
  • Joe also looked at high level system requirements coming from the Pentagon, from a base, or from the communications department. He would look at vendor solutions out there and make a recommendation.
  • Joe was in the Air Force for 4 years. Though not a lengthy career, it was adventurous for the time he spent in it.
  • Joe later got into implementations in the communications and computer systems field, which led him to start thinking about what might be next in his career.
  • Joe had decided early on that his time in the Air Force would not be a long term thing.
  • In some of his work, he had the chance to collaborate with outside vendors like EDS.
    • EDS did much of the contract work for the Air Force, providing the IT systems and manpower to implement them. There were also other contractors like Lockheed Martin.
    • This collaboration got Joe to thinking that he could continue working in IT long term after exiting the Air Force.
  • Joe had no direct reports during his time as an officer but performed more matrix management duties.
    • You can be an officer and not necessarily have enlisted members report to you.
    • Joe would collaborate with and sometimes matrix manage individuals.
    • There were a number of communications and computer systems officers within the Air Force, and the delineation of duties depended on the organization to which you belonged.
    • Joe’s job was an IT job but on the planning side (so an officer role) and then a lot of implementation (hands on work) was given to enlisted members.
  • Many of those same enlisted members who, like Joe, transitioned to civilian work had an equal opportunity in the IT field regardless of their status of not being an officer.
    • When Joe transitioned out of the Air Force, it didn’t matter that he was an officer. It was about the skills he had learned while in the Air Force.

17:23 – Curiosity

  • People in many career fields have the chance to collaborate with vendors, tech support, consultants, and others within the same company and the ability to learn from them.
  • This collaboration with others made Joe curious. He would only work with some of these people for a few weeks, but he started asking questions.
    • What do you do day in and day out?
    • How do you like your company?
    • What is the environment like?
  • These kinds of conversations in any career can lead to doors opening and new opportunities.
    • Joe was able to share with his contacts that he was ready to transition out of the Air Force.
    • Joe sent an e-mail to someone he knew from EDS that was able to put him in touch with the right people in recruitment, which led to an interview and getting a job there. Joe already knew EDS would be a good fit for him from those early conversations and being curious.
  • Joe has used this curiosity throughout his career and encourages us all to do the same.
    • Try to understand what other people do so you can relate. Really listen to what they are saying.
    • Focus on the success of others. They will have a tendency to want to help you back at some point.
    • If you’re not asking what other people do / curious about it, you may not realize it could be a possible career path for you.
    • The curiosity forces you to look up a little (since we often times can get tunnel vision).
    • Just having a conversation presents everyone the opportunity to see the landscape in front of them.
    • Sometimes we get into a situation where we may not be satisfied with what we are doing because we want to grow. It’s these conversations with others that allow you to reflect back on whether you are ready to make a transition into something else.

21:19 – The Civilian’s Career

  • When you serve in the military it is not a job but a way of life (an adage). Joe says this is very true.
    • You may only wear a uniform for a portion of the day, but you live and breathe the military.
    • As a kid Joe and his family supported his father in his career.
    • In many respects the military is a culture in and of itself. It is insular in the fact that many folks rely on you and you rely on them.
  • Transitioning out of the military and out of that mindset can be difficult.
    • For Joe, he knew he did not want a long term military career, making it a little bit easier to transition.
      • As an officer, he was required to make a 4 year commitment to the Air Force, and that was the exact length of his time served.
      • After about 2 years in, Joe realized he wanted to do something different.
    • For those who choose to stay in longer, the culture / military way of life is ingrained in you more deeply.
      • Most if not all of your friends may be in the military.
      • Your children have grown up in the military.
    • Part of what Joe does now at VMware is to help those transitioning out of the military think through what a civilian career might look like.
      • As a company, VMware has a large focus on diversity and inclusion. This includes our global veterans.
      • Military folks bring a great skill set to any job (in technology or otherwise).
      • Joe feels he got to where he is today because of skills learned in the military.
      • Joe is part of the power of difference community for veterans and spends his time helping other veterans figure out how to leverage their skills.
      • Remember skills in technology are not required to work in a technology field.
  • Many companies (not just technology companies) are trying to make it easier on veterans to get jobs after service.
    • It’s about utilizing the adaptability of those who have served in the military (regardless of the person’s specific job while in the military – cook, wellness services, IT systems, security, etc.).
    • Personnel in the military are trained to be adaptable to their circumstances and situationally aware.
    • Joe encourages those with military experience to talk about their experiences in the military, how they adapted to new situations, learned new skills, and put them into practice.
    • Joe gives the example of someone who was a military lawyer and then interviewed for a position at VMware with no experience in the technology field.
    • Technology companies and many others are recognizing the talents of those who have military experience.
  • We don’t always know what we should highlight on our resume to meet the requirements in a job description.
  • Likely no hiring manager would frown on adaptability as a skill. The job description for a role you accept today will likely change over time.
    • One of the first things maybe we should try to do is see what we have done over the course of our careers across different companies and highlight the stories for the conversation with the hiring manager (ways we can use relatable skills from before in what we are asking to do next).
    • This can come in handy when we’re ready to signal to someone that we are ready to do something different. It may be someone outside our organization within the same company or at a totally different organization.
  • The career comes down to building relationships that aren’t just unilateral. They should be beneficial to both parties and can lead to doors opening which may not have been open earlier in your career.

31:29 – Signaling What You Want

  • While in the military, Joe had signaled to some people at EDS that he wanted to make a change. Should we pursue this before speaking to our manager about wanting a change?
    • Likely this is a smart course of action.
    • Joe has been fortunate to have good managers which enabled career conversations. It was also in Joe’s nature to be more candid in his conversations, and he did not hesitate to signal he was ready to do something different.
    • Joe had a number of supportive managers who would start the career conversations with their direct reports, who were comfortable having the conversation, accepted it, and would enable their employees’ progression.
      • This often comes down to company culture and the company support of people making lateral moves or otherwise progressing within the company.
    • Every organization goes through change. Even after 6 months, things can change on the team, a person’s responsibilities, or there can be change in company direction.
      • No one really tells us this. Joe says it behooves us to begin having career conversations with our management.
        • It sets expectations as to what will make us happy and how we can be a benefit to our management.
        • There are a number of positions Joe would not even have known about if he didn’t tell his manager he was ready for a change.
  • Maybe there’s a good interview question here. How has what you do today changed since you joined the company, and how have you dealt with those changes?
    • In a normal interview we’re asked a number of questions about ourselves, and we should always ask questions to try and find out what the company where we want to work is really like.
      • If I want to get to a certain step in 3 years, what does that process look like?
      • The answer that comes back can be telling in terms of company culture and their ability to foster your career once you get there.
      • There are jobs we know are transitional / temporary. There are others that appear a certain way on the outside but aren’t what we thought once we get there (as far as culture goes).
      • It comes down to asking questions when you’re ready and signaling what you want from your career. As much as you can have those conversations and be comfortable having them the better off you will be.
      • Those new to people management may not be used to this approach, but if you are comfortable having the conversation, it benefits both you and your company.
    • Nick references the "informational" interviews recent guest Mike Wood had with Microsoft from Episode 169 (see also Episode 168 for the first part of Mike’s story).
    • Nick suggests we as individual contributors may not realize how much change to what our job is over time has taken place until we try to convey our role to someone wanting more information (i.e. the informational setting).
    • Over the course of years of a career, each of us has experienced a lot of change. You have to fundamentally step back and look at those things. Having a conversation with someone forces that reflection.
    • We can have the same title for many years, but what we do on a daily basis will be different from year to year. The organization where we work will have different priorities from year to year, which often times requires us to adjust our focus, our skills, etc.
      • This gives us the opportunity to reflect on whether the change still aligns with our career goals.
      • Be mindful and cautious here. When we are not aligned to what our companies want or the role we are in needs and want to do something different, it may be time to have those career transition conversations.

38:40 – Getting Promoted

  • We often lose sight of how our management chain operates and their full purview.
    • Depending on organization size, a front line manager could manage 7-15 individual contributors, which means they will have 7-15 career conversations.
    • The manager is not always focused just on us (one person). They focus on our careers, our peers’ careers, and also have requirements for their leaders.
    • Joe gives managers credit for having to balance many needs – putting enough attention on individual staff working under them as well as making sure the team you are leading is contributing to organizational success metrics.
    • It’s a balancing act that leaders have to do, which means that we are not the 1st 2nd, or 3rd things always on their minds.
    • It’s up to us to signal the type of conversation we want to have, when we want to have it, and give our managers some indication of our expectations. Then they can work with us.
    • An individual contributor may be focused on their own success. Managers are focused on a team’s success as well as their own success.
  • There’s nothing worse than expecting something from leadership, making assumptions, and not getting what you wanted. Anger is the result of unmet expectations.
    • This is especially true when it comes to promotions.
    • Joe didn’t start having conversations about career progression at VMware until he was 3 years into his tenure. It took him until then to really get into the work, look up, and see whether he was really ready to do something different.
    • Joe was having a great deal of fun and learning a lot, but he ultimately got to the point of wondering what might be next (needing something new).
      • He learned by observation that some of his teammates progressed, but Joe wasn’t approached by his leader to be promoted.
      • Joe initiated the conversation about being promoted. Then he and his manager had monthly 1-1s on how Joe could progress. Much of it, as Joe learned, would be his work to do. And it wasn’t something he understood well until going through it.
  • Despite having a good understanding of the structured career progression in the Air Force from his time there, Joe had no idea how civilian career progression worked.
    • When Joe was at EDS, instead of being promoted within a single job, he had the tendency to move around into different jobs within the company (not really a promotion).
    • After coming to VMware, he liked what he was doing as an Architect and wanted to know how to get to the next level of that role. It took Joe being focused and interested in having the chat with his manager to really understand the process.
  • Smaller companies may not have job leveling spelled out in a clear way.
    • This could boil down to how long the company has been in existence and how large it has become. Organizationally, the larger a company is in terms of number of employees, there is a tendency to have more structure in their career laddering.
    • When Joe came to VMware there were probably about 8,000 employees. As of the recording of this show there are closer to 35,000 – 40,000 employees, and the company looks at job families and career ladders in a different way.
    • There is a different challenge and a different opportunity depending on the size of the company. For example, Joe worked for Accenture for about 18 months before joining VMware.
      • At that point in time, Accenture had 160,000 employees worldwide. The job families had to be very well organized.
      • VMware was the smallest company Joe had ever worked for (less than 8000 employees). The Air Force and EDS were probably around 120,000 total in their respective personnel counts. After EDS was acquired by HP Enterprise, it was even larger.
      • With lots of structure means lots of levels of ladder to climb.
      • You won’t know how well defined things really are until you start to ask questions.
  • At the time of this recording, the technology space is a hot job market with talent shortages.
    • If you are good at your job, companies don’t want to lose you.
    • Hopefully smaller organizations are doing more to retain talent. Sometimes the level of progression you want does not exist at your current company.
  • Joe is a huge proponent of looking at lateral roles. He has taken a number of lateral transitions into roles that were not quite related to what he had previously done. Joe was curious, and he had a desire to learn something different.
    • Each of the roles has been additive to his skillset and body of work. He’s used things learned from these experiences.
    • Maybe enough people do not consider these opportunities. There are many areas of our current employers that may have new roles which could fit our desire to do something different.
    • Joe has changed roles at VMware during his tenure. He also changed roles within EDS several times – category management (inside the global procurement organization), project management (matrix management of engineering resources), program management, and getting back to technical architecture.
      • These opportunities were afforded to Joe because he asked for them.
  • See also Episode 45 on career conversations with your manager and Episode 13 with Tom Delicati as mentioned in the outro for additional help.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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