Technologists as Educators with Jonathan F (1/2)

Welcome to episode 131 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 Jonathan F’s early career story from teaching college courses and the application of that experience in the technology field which led him all the way to a job at EMC.

Original Recording Date: 06-16-2021

Topics – Educator to Technologist, Blogging and Giving Back, Small to Big Organizations, Landing at EMC

2:19 – Meet Jonathan F.

  • Jonathan F. has been in technology for about 20 years and at present is focused on supporting applications that are customer facing and for internal teams running on AWS.
  • Jonathan took some programming courses in college but found it was not for him. During his sophomore year, he started to wonder what else he could do in technology, eventually landing in Systems Administration.
  • Jonathan did some teaching while working toward his Masters degree (around 2007).
    • Interestingly enough, Jonathan decided to begin his resume’s experience timeline at this point but recently ran into "you’re too senior for this role" from hiring managers.
    • He cut off 7-8 years of early career experience, which allowed him to get his current job.
    • One of Jonathan’s first jobs was at CompUSA, which might have been one of the most valuable of his career. When there is gatekeeping in an interview process, you start to see what a hiring manager might see as a red flag.
      • Listen to ways Jonathan used these situations to tweak his resume accordingly, making him look "younger."
      • The same concepts from previous experience can apply to any other job.
    • Jonathan was teaching some CIS and entry level computer classes. The desire stemmed from having some really good and really bad teachers in college, driving an interest in giving back and helping people.
      • His first chance to teach was a class on Microsoft Office that had students of various backgrounds (not in computer science).
      • Jonathan was passionate about being a good teacher for others, encouraging students not to leave his class. Listen to his story of encouraging a paralegal to stay the course, helping the student to understand the importance of learning the material.

9:54 – Technologists as Educators

  • A large part of our role as technologists is educating other people on why we are doing things, why we ask users to use password managers, etc.
    • To be successful, you must be able to communicate that technical information back to the business so they support what we are doing to keep the company running, to keep it secure, etc.
    • You do the best you can at any point in time, and you just keep on trying to teach people.
    • This is about meeting the person where they are.
  • Jonathan’s role at CompUSA taught him to be able ask questions of people to gauge their understanding.
    • Do we start with geek specs or solitaire and Microsoft Works?
    • He might interact with 40-50 people per day, talking with some who understood technical components deeply and some who were buying their first computer.
    • Changing levels of complexity with an audience is helpful, whether calibrating up or down. John states that management may not care about the technology but how it solves business issues.
    • Jonathan says CFOs may not care about RAM in a server but would like to know they can make it through busy system usage times without downtime.
  • Jonathan does not feel the school he was at really prepared him for the real world being a programmer. He didn’t walk out of school with the ability to walk into a company and program anything.
    • Jonathan struggled for a couple of years with what he wanted to do, and the .com boom helped him transition out of retail and into a help desk job.
  • Jonathan shared that he had no formal teaching / tutoring experience before starting to do it while working toward his Masters.

16:44 – Small Organizations to Big

  • Jonathan applied to be a web developer and was instead offered a role working the help desk.
    • The company was small with 4-5 people in the IT department. Jonathan was fortunate to get exposed to many products and technologies because of this (networking, support for implementing a new process based on business requirements gathering, etc.).
    • He had very supportive co-workers and a manager who enabled him to learn.
    • Jonathan retained the knowledge gained in various areas and came to appreciate the intricacies of different types of technology jobs.
    • Each member of the small team had to pitch in on various tasks as there were no dedicated teams for networking, storage, etc.
  • A friend of Jonathan’s from the CompUSA days had started to work on technology certifications like the MCSE, and Jonathan, involved in a migration from Windows NT 4 to Active Directory, began to study for and achieved his own certification.
  • If you don’t like to learn and want to be told only specific steps to do your job each day, technology is probably going to be a struggle for you. Technology continues to change.
    • Listen to the trends in virtualization Jonathan describes to illustrate the changing landscape.
  • There are advantages to starting off in a small environment from a technology exposure standpoint, but Jonathan found larger organizations didn’t feel he was deep enough in certain areas to join a large team with a specific specialty.
    • It was a challenge to break into the larger organizations as a result.
    • John makes the point this may be shortsighted on the part of organizations. He uses the illustration of terminating Cat 5 tables to speak to this.
  • Jonathan remembers when he was interviewing for the job he has now and being asked the number of files in a Linux directory.
    • For some reason, this came up often and did not seem like a true measure of whether he could do the job. In fact it seemed like an obscure question.
    • We got on a little bit of a rant about the implications of this question.
  • Should we always be developing a specialty even though someone is a generalist?
    • It can’t hurt to go deep in an area or two. This could allow you to walk into a number of companies and market your talents.
    • Jonathan gives the example of knowing Cisco switching very well.
    • Jonathan would tell hiring managers he was not a walking man page. They were ok with it, but it was the technical interviewers that kept pressing on specific commands.

31:35 – Blogging and Giving Back

  • John cites blogging as a way for him to cache things like this (commands to solve problems that came up here and there but that he wouldn’t remember how to solve the next time it happened).
  • Jonathan struggled for a while trying to figure out how to give back outside the formal classroom.
    • Forums in the early 2000s were good places to get answers, but Jonathan didn’t get too involved, not wanting to regurgitate what someone else shared as an answer.
    • When blogging started to take off, this was a way for Jonathan to give back to others based on what he was trying to learn and to help him write better documentation.
    • Reviewing a blog post at a later time allowed him to see how his writing could be improved and where the gaps were.
    • Writing was a medium through which he could teach and connect with other people. It’s something you have to work on to improve and came become tedious. Each post he wrote helped him improve the next.
    • At first blogging was a hobby. Then Jonathan started getting paid to write posts, and it felt like a job. Once it began to feel like work, he got away from doing it as a hobby. *It was a good run for a couple of years and opened some doors. Jonathan feels it helped him get into bigger companies like EMC despite not having worked at a company of over 500 employees. Writing was a component of this new role.
    • This built a portfolio of work people could not ignore. The writing examples helped Jonathan get into that next job.
    • Writing can also be a way to make a shift into learning a new technology. Blogging shows new experience you have gained and can be leveraged in an interview.

39:16 – Landing at EMC

  • When Jonathan joined EMC he was active in blogging and was able to continue doing it for his first couple of years there. What he was blogging about was ancillary to his job function at EMC, and the two played off one another.
    • Listen to the examples Jonathan shares of the interplay between work and the topics for his blog.
  • EMC helped Jonathan bring together bits and pieces of project management concepts (collecting requirements, understanding the audience, etc.) to develop the right content for courses.
  • Jonathan and his team was writing the labs and the training but also had to maintain a very large computing environment.
    • They pushed the limits of nested virtualization with ESXi, and it was the largest server environment Jonathan had maintained to that point.
    • Even though he was focused on training, there was enough hands on work to maintain the labs so Jonathan did not lose his technical edge.
  • Listen to the long term effects of being on call that it took Jonathan a while to get over once he moved over to EMC and no longer had to be on call.
  • Jonathan was contacted by a recruiter for this role at EMC. The day they contacted him he had just accepted a job as a SE for another company but deep down knew he wanted to break into a large company like EMC.
    • Jonathan communicated his situation to the recruiter, and they sped up and changed the process just for him.
    • He sat through all the interviews with EMC before his two weeks notice expired, and he had an offer the day he interviewed.
  • The environment Jonathan was coming out of was similar to what they would be using at EMC. It seemed like he had all the right keywords.

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