The Importance of Building Relationships with Tim Crawford (1/2)

Welcome to episode 243 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_) – two technology professionals with backgrounds in IT Operations and Sales Engineering on a mission to help others accelerate career progression and increase job satisfaction by bringing listeners the advice we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 1 of an interview with Tim Crawford, discussing his early career experiences, getting experience at scale, the importance of relationships inside and outside our companies, and some thoughts on people leadership and why Tim chose to pursue it.

Original Recording Date: 09-01-2023

Topics – A Project Manager in Title, Experience at Scale, The Importance of Relationships, Good Leaders and Not So Good Leaders, Tim’s Choice to Pursue People Management / Leadership

2:44 – A Project Manager in Title

  • Tim Crawford is founder and CIO Strategic Advisor with an advisory services and research firm called AVOA.
  • Though the first job we see on Tim’s LinkedIn profile is project manager, he started much earlier than that, which he refers to as somewhat nontraditional.
    • Tim went to a high school with a number of different trades, and he became hooked on electronics, feeling he might graduate and pursue electronic engineering.
    • Tim would consistently get bored after being one of the first to finish his circuit designs in electronics classes. Since Tim was working on a computer he started to wonder what else the computer could do. This curiosity and interest led him to change his major from electronic engineering to computer science.
    • Tim’s first job in the industry was by happenstance. He was helping a friend with their computer, and they needed to take it to a local repair shop. Tim asked the technician who helped them a lot of questions about the repairs he was doing, and this person offered Tim a job. Being right out of high school, Tim took the job at the repair shop.
    • As things progressed, Tim worked for a technology reseller and began to design networks, eventually making his way into IT.
    • About 6 years later Tim got into the project management role we see on LinkedIn.
  • Tim was working for a global semiconductor company, and project manager just happened to be the title.
    • He started working for this company as a consultant, managing a number of architecture projects.
      • Some examples were building one of the largest Citrix implementations at the time, building one of the largest Lotus Notes implementations at the time and doing a large ERP upgrade from one product to SAP.
      • These big projects required the ability to manage many different moving parts at once, and Tim ended up being quite good at this.
      • Tim feels the role was a focus on strategic architecture around infrastructure and applications.
    • Tim’s manager when he was a consultant mentioned they needed him to start traveling but didn’t pay for consultants to travel. The manager offered Tim a job doing what he had been doing which would allow the necessary travel.

7:22 – Experience at Scale

  • What should someone do who has some experience in a technology (at the small business level perhaps) but not at the global scale needed to meet job requirements global company, for example?
    • This is much harder today Tim says. Many people without the scale of experience at the time Tim entered the workforce (in 1990s) found companies willing to take a chance on them.
    • While Tim ended up not attending college right away to enter the workforce, he did go back for an undergraduate degree and eventually for a MBA.
    • It’s much harder for someone today without the experience to step into a company who will take a chance on them. We are even more reliant on technology, and it presents more risk.
    • If you have experience in a technology area but not at the scale needed, find ways someone can bring you in “under their wing.” The idea is to gain exposure without being the person responsible for a specific project. Look for companies also who have not found the right fit.
    • “So you’re not going to go from 0 to 60 all at once, but at least you can start to get exposed to it.” – Tim Crawford
    • You might need to take some chances because many times taking risks is where you get the chance to advance in your career.
    • Looking at this from a leader’s perspective, Tim would rather hire someone who is eager to learn with the right persona, decorum, and ability to work as part of a team over someone who only has the experience.
    • “I can teach you the technology and the scale. It’s much harder for me to teach you those softer skills. So if you work on the softer skills and you bring them and put them forward, someone is likely to take a chance on you to go after these other technology problems that maybe you’ve never touched on before. But the way that you act, the way that you react to things, the way that you solve problems is good enough. And you’ll figure it out.” – Tim Crawford
  • How should someone present the softer skills tactically or strategically?
    • Tim says find your people within a community / multiple communities, and get involved. It can help you know where you rank and is a great way to learn from others and how they do things.
    • Focus on building relationships. We can model ourselves after others or perhaps get a mentor to help. This focus on relationship building is something Tim still coaches executives on doing to this day.
      • For example, to get into a boardroom a CIO or CDO needs to begin with a deep relationship with the CEO.
      • Even if you’re listening to this and are earlier in your career, these relationships help you build into what comes next in your career.
      • Tim tells us there have been multiple roles he found out about because he knew someone and they knew him and the way he operated and what he could do. “‘They need someone like you. Let me make the introduction.’ One of those jobs was when I went to work for Stanford University.” – Tim Crawford, citing an example of how relationship building has helped his career progression

12:50 – The Importance of Relationships

  • Tim says early in his career he isn’t sure he really understood or respected opportunities presented to him (like getting to work for Stanford University). He wishes he would have thought more about it earlier in his career.
    • “Learning about relationships, learning about how you can grow personally and then on top of it the skills, not the other way around. is really, really important.” – Tim Crawford
    • Most every company Tim has worked for have been either number 1 or 2 in their industry. He tells us it was not planned that way but can really open doors when we think about relationships and the network of people.
    • “Remember…community is as much about giving as it is taking.” – Tim Crawford
  • In some of his earliest roles, Tim felt like he had to prove himself, especially since he was one of the youngest to have those roles. The space was somewhat emerging, and the people in it were older and much more experienced in IT.
    • Tim says people eventually realize that this proving oneself can cause some behaviors you don’t want and really isn’t necessary. Focus on what you’re doing, how you contribute, and how you provide value for your company.
    • “When you get more focused on that, a different type of community starts to expose itself to you, and that’s a good thing because you’ll learn from that as much as you’ll be able to benefit from it.” – Tim Crawford, on how focusing on the right things can foster community connections
    • For most people, your community will be developed both internally and externally.
      • External people to your company would not have the bias of working inside your company but perhaps similar interests (could be personal or professional – technology, hiking, traveling, etc.). This allows people to get to know you outside of the workplace.
      • It’s important to understand how to build relationships inside your company. This can be challenging for many IT people due to a lack of exposure. The exposure of a junior IT person to people outside of IT is likely on average not very much. It’s not extremely common for a junior engineer to be able to articulate how what they do contributes to the company’s business and have strong relationships outside of IT. Tim would like to see this more common.
      • To build relationships internally, you can start within your team, look at the greater department, and then seek to expand beyond that. Doing this provides exposure.
      • “Don’t wait for people to come to you. Go to them.” – Tim Crawford, on networking internally
      • Tim shares the story of someone he knows who makes even the senior most leaders work the help desk when they begin working for the company. This “trial by fire” method can help someone understand what the common problems are and allows a fresh perspective. It can often lead to uncovering that IT groups need to work more collaboratively with other departments to solve a problem. This would be an opportunity to build relationships. We need to be volunteering to seek out these types of relationships and be willing to put in the work.
      • “Maybe it’ll work. Maybe it won’t. But I think it’s worth the effort, and I think it’s worth the try. Let’s do it.” – Tim Crawford, on volunteering to go build relationships
      • Nick mentions that most junior IT folks would get exposure to others within the company through helping with break / fix issues but not so much from the standpoint of understanding how other roles / departments provide value to the organization.

20:02 – Good Leaders and Not So Good Leaders

  • “There are good leaders and good managers, and there are bad leaders and bad managers. One of the things you will start to learn is what defines those.” – Tim Crawford
  • It’s important to understand what you need from a manager / leader. For the more junior person, you will figure this out, but these are things we need to look for and be mindful of throughout our careers.
    • What do I need to realize my potential?
    • What do I need to operate at my highest potential?
    • This isn’t about a specific benefit or perk. This is about the people interactions you have with the rest of your organization. These interactions can help you define what is going to work for you and what is not and can help you understand what the next job should be.
    • John refers to this as “feeling the blanks and then making the decision to fill those blanks.”
  • Leaders should hire to their weaknesses / blind spots / area where they lack expertise.
    • “Eventually what you’re putting together, what you’re building as a leader, is this organization that fills those gaps. It’s like a puzzle.” – Tim Crawford
    • Tim says differing opinions and perspectives are always welcome in his organization, feeling it makes us all stronger.
    • If we can try to look at this like a leader would, we can think about what specifically we bring to an organization.

22:57 – Tim’s Choice to Pursue People Management / Leadership

  • “Managing people and managing things are two vastly different things.” – Tim Crawford

  • Tim feels there is a natural progression into people leadership and was still pretty young when he began leading people (still in his 20s).

    • For the young leader out there, Tim says people will knock you down and feel you don’t know anything because of your age.
    • Tim tells the story of a mentor who shared some insightful advice, which at first Tim didn’t quite understand until he really thought about it.
      • “It’s like boxing. You’re in a ring. Someone just knocked you down. You have 2 choices. You can stay down, or you can get up. But, you’re going to get up, and you know you’re going to get knocked down again…maybe not the same way, but you’re going to get knocked down again. And you’re going to learn from that, and that’s a continual process of learning.” – Tim Crawford, sharing advice a mentor gave him once
    • Tim decided to get up. That’s how he kept progressing.
  • At first Tim does not feel he had prepared himself well enough to be a leader, calling himself more of a manager or supervisor in mindset.

    • It took time to understand what it took to be effective at managing people.
    • “You can be a great leader and not know anything about technology. And you can be a great technology wizard and not be really good with people.” – Tim Crawford
    • One way to gain leadership experience is to lead a project / a team working on a project. You do not have to be project manager but can still take initiative to lead the team.
    • We can provide leadership in any conversation even if we’re not the leader of the group.
    • Tim says he started to “get the bug,” feeling he could see how people were developing while wanting to help them become better people.
    • “I want to be a better leader, and I want to help people be better leaders too.” – Tim Crawford, on his realization of wanting to pursue leadership.
  • Mentioned in the outro

    • We need to remember people may have dropped some of their earliest job history off LinkedIn. We found that to be the case in our discussion with Tim.
    • The questions we ask can showcase our expertise to others.
    • We spoke to Joe Houghes in Episode 188 about some of the challenges that happen when you work with technologies at scale (which you might not understand if you have not used it at that scale before).
      • Maybe it’s up to organizations to develop and scale their people like the expanding blast radius we talked about with Andy Syrewicze in Episode 158.
    • Building relationships and making connections is really about professional networking. We spoke about how colleges don’t often teach us this in our interview with Kenneth Ellington from Episode 239.
      • We can build relationships inside and outside our company. One way to do build relationships and to grow our skillsets and thinking is to participate in technical communities.
    • Is project management good relatable experience for a people management role?
      • John says it is because you’re demonstrating qualities of managing / leading without role power. Listen to his other reasons why.
  • If you want to follow up on this conversation with Tim, you can reach him…

Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.

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