The Excellent Advocate with Jon Towles (2/2)

Welcome to episode 130 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 2 of our interview with Jon Towles in which we discuss support and advocacy for neurodiversity and some tips for pursuing a career in mobility.

Original Recording Date: 06-08-2021

Jon Towles started in IT around the age of 29 and has been through many places in the mobility industry. He’s also become an advocate for neurodiversity. Catch part 1 of our interview with him in Episode 129.

Topics – Advocacy and Support for Neurodiversity, Mobility Career Path, Closing Thoughts

3:22 – Transparency, Understanding, and Advocacy

  • Jon is up front with potential employers about his ADHD but shares the strengths of having it with the employer (high output, for example).

    • People usually don’t believe how productive Jon can be.
    • Take whatever it is that is you, own it, be comfortable in your own skin, and use that to create a strategic advantage.
    • You’re going to mess up, but the good should outweigh the bad.
    • Jon spends so much time trying to eliminate symptoms. Listen to the stories of his struggle in meetings.
  • Those who know Jon know exactly what he is.

    • He likes to ask questions and try to understand why people think something I is a good idea, even if it is a bad idea.
    • Jon used to sit on architecture review boards and would research technology he hadn’t previously heard about. He wants to understand how something works from the device to the back end.
    • Blanket statements like "it doesn’t work" make Jon want to see the logs so he can understand what is happening.
  • If John shares his diagnosis with an interviewer or hiring manager and they are not good with it, he would not want to be at that company.

    • He prefers to be transparent.
    • Listen to Jon’s story about being at MIT and the lack of transparency from others.
    • In the context of technology capabilities, if you choose to trust someone without testing on your own and something goes wrong, it’s on you because you decided to trust that person.
    • One of Jon’s favorite things to do on calls with vendor technical support is to ask why, but this question seems to upset people.
      • Nick shares some insight from a training he attended on asking why vs. how or what and the impact on the hearer’s defensiveness.
  • If you find someone with the right mind, even if they are inexperienced, you can really develop them.

    • Jon gives the analogy of watching The Good Doctor. The protagonist can visualize everything needed when performing surgery.
    • Jon feels like he goes through a similar process to make sense of other people’s ideas.
    • Being good at what you do and honest about the things you know and don’t know helps build trust with those who lean on you for help.
    • John makes the point we’re really talking about learning and teaching as evidence of having learned something. Explaining the why behind our reasoning helps others understand how we conduct the troubleshooting process en route to problem solving.
    • Jon says the biggest fight he and a good friend had is because the friend wanted Jon to give him the answer to something instead of being shown how it works.
      • "I don’t want to do the work for you. I want you to actually understand how it works." – Jon Towles
    • Jon loves teaching people, helping to develop them, and helping them grow skills.
  • There is no one more synonymous with Workspace ONE than Jon, and he has written an article every week this year.

  • Jon loves the idea of building people up and adding to their lives. People in mobility are often treated very poorly.

  • Jon feels it is his job to advocate for these people. If he doesn’t maybe no one else will.

    • Jon feels he was given an opportunity at Blackberry he didn’t deserve but that he took and used to grow into what he is today.
    • He’s had a number of fights with people trying to advocate for people who work in mobility. He wants them to get opportunities.
    • Many people in mobility have such low self esteem from a technology perspective.
      • Jon wants to lift them up as much as he can through his blog, even going so far as to encourage people in the industry to schedule 15 minutes with him to talk through problems.
      • Jon is working to start an IT ADHD support group to try to help people.
      • When Jon was at a financial company, he was told to stop wearing Airwatch shirts because people believe all you are is an Airwatch guy.
        • A lot of these people (those in mobility) had potential at some point, but you can get broken.

16:46 – Managerial Support for ADHD

  • A big misnomer is that people with ADHD are not mentally strong.
    • As a result, managers may not understand them. These people are often placed in situations where they cannot succeed.
    • More than anything, we (those with ADHD) need a filter – someone who will protect us, advocate for us, and let us be who we are.
    • No one quits a manager more than someone with ADHD. Someone with ADHD needs the right manager.
    • We need that person who will let us be who we are and support us on the journey.
    • You don’t get it until you’ve had that person who supports you. Probably 90% of those who need it have not had it.
  • Jon says in any interview it is about working stuff in organically.
    • Due to owning a company with his wife, Jon generally does not take on other full time work.
    • At a certain point in your career you shift toward looking at culture and others things of that nature.
    • Jon looks at culture and really feeling out his boss. An interview is two-way and not just one-way. You are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you.
    • Jon thinks interviewing a future manager is like speed dating. If you don’t click with the person you are about to go work for, why take the job?
    • John mentions we’ve advocated for being in the driver’s seat in these discussions and whenever possible, looking for a job when you already have one.
    • COVID opened up the opportunity for remote work and working with companies we might not otherwise have had the chance to work with because of our location.
    • Many companies had to do what Jon calls the COVID shuffle – being forced to implement a work from home strategy when it otherwise may not have existed.
    • Millennials have opened a lot of doors for all of us, endorsing the idea of meritocracy.
    • John says the consumerization of IT is driven in many ways by this younger generation. If a company cannot deliver IT services onto mobile phones, for example, they could struggle to attract and retain talent.
      • He’s received a laptop instead of a desktop at his last 3 companies by default.
      • Jon shares a story about getting his wife an extremely high powered desktop for work use, which is immune to a chip shortage.

24:01 – The Career of a Mobility Engineer

  • Jon wrote a great blog called The Life of a Mobility Engineer, highlighting 3 different roles in the mobility career path.
  • Usually you get into mobile (perhaps transitioning over from help desk) and start to manage and enroll devices.
  • You start as the administrator, doing enrollments and other tasks.
  • People at Jon’s level throughout his career have had very little appreciation for the help desk, but he always appreciated it.
  • Jon started as a Blackberry administrator. After working for Blackberry, he transitioned into an engineer.
    • The job of the engineer is to manage the back end servers and do deployments, etc.
  • Eventually Jon grew into an architect. He came up with ideas that made a difference, ideas that were really good.
  • When Jon was at Wellington Management, he was brought in to see what he could do. The environment was kind of a mess, and Jon took the environment into an Airwatch dedicated SaaS environment that was much cleaner and ran well.
    • At this point Jon was able to hire a developer and affect app development, advocating for native mobile app development.
    • Jon took an app they were using and modernized it into something called Picture Book. He tied it into their learning management system (or LMS), showing where people sat, showing conference room availability, building in everything cool in iOS 9.
      • Listen to all the capabilities Jon describes that this app provided.
    • Jon started to grow into an architect and was really focused on solutioning.
  • Becoming an architect is similar to the moment when Neo (from The Matrix) really starts to believe.
  • Most people in the mobility space are just engineers even if they say they are architects. When you are an architect you understand how the technology works and how you can use it.
  • The greatest thing about mobility is that it is pliable. It allows opportunity to engineer ideas, understanding how the technology will fix something or deliver on a need.
  • Jon speaks to a product called Ground Control that allowed moving between mobile device platforms as well as AirLift, calling them innovations you wouldn’t think would be possible.
  • One thing Jon has worked on over the last couple of years is learning REST APIs.
    • Listen to the story of a tool he developed to create a capability that didn’t previously exist.
  • The architect role is an elevation of who you are and a growth into another person.
    • John says the engineer executes on a design and the architect is the designer.
  • The architect should not be a theoretical physicist who doesn’t touch anything.
    • Just because we think it works does not mean it will. Vendor documentation isn’t always great. Try it out for yourself.

34:12 – Career Advice and Closing Thoughts

  • The best advice Jon ever received was from one of his top 2 or 3 bosses. It doesn’t matter what you do but how you do it.
    • Jon has come to learn some people do not care about this, but he still believes it. It really depends on where you work as to whether the "how" is valued.
    • This advice has followed Jon throughout his career. Doing things the right way and being inclusive of others is sound advice.
  • You also have to be true to who you are. Don’t try to pretend you are something else or fake your way through it. Be who you are.
  • If you’re always who you are, you can be comfortable in your own skin.
  • It is unfortunate that more mental illnesses are not respected as disabilities.
    • The company Jon and his wife own is a disability owned business. They do a lot of outreach.
  • It terrifies Jon that some people with ADHD can’t even work with others. People don’t see it as a big deal, and you basically get punished for it.
    • We hope eventually people will see it is not necessarily a bad thing to have ADHD.
    • Jon can put his head in the sand or say it can be good too. You can’t just take the good and pretend the bad does not exist. Others may want to focus on the bad and use it against you or not give you credit for the great you have done.
  • When you’re really good at what you do, certain people are always looking for ways to take you down a peg.
    • It seems to be human nature in IT.
    • We will all have days when we do something dumb.
    • This makes John think of organizational culture. Is your organization’s culture about prizing perfection or collaboration and growth of the people within the organization?
      • People love to say the word, but are they exemplifying the word?
      • Are companies putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to diversity? Is it to check a box or to really be better?
      • The job of a manager is to put people in a position where they can succeed and helping to build a new skillset the individual needs to grow.
      • You can hire talent or build it by investing in employee development. You can’t have it both ways.
  • This is a reminder that Jon is starting a support group for those with ADHD.
    • It is intended to be a safe space to talk about struggles. Your partner / spouse may not understand your struggles like someone else going through similar struggles does.
    • Reach out directly at or on Twitter

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