The Path to People Management and Early Lessons Learned

Welcome to episode 83 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 discuss the path to people management with Brad Pinkston ([@virtualgumbo]).

Original Recording Date: 06-24-2020

Topics – The Path to People Management and Early Lessons Learned

2:15 – Introductions

  • Brad is a Director of Global Solutions Consultants at VMware. His team is responsible for the technical side of the sales relationship for 6 global brands.
    • The Global segment at VMware contains the largest customers.
    • A Solutions Consultant is similar to a SE (Solution Engineer) but slightly different due to the nature of this role.
    • Each member of Brad’s team has one customer. They have the opportunity to dig in and build a deep relationship with their customer.

6:04 – Career Path

  • Brad was an IT Director in a department of 2 back when he moved to Dallas but wanted to look at roles at larger companies.
  • The next role he took was a Project Management position at EMC (back in 2007), which in his mind made sense as the next step to create a path into technical pre-Sales someday.
    • Interestingly enough, Brad has not hired a SE who came from a background in Project Management.
    • The most valuable skill Brad gained from this experience..
      • A SE is charged with leading a team of people who don’t report to them. The SE has no ability to hire / fire those people or determine who is on the team.
      • The project management skills Brad learned allowed him to excel in this role when he eventually became a SE, but he also sees successful SEs look at and approach their role as a Project Manager in a lot of ways.
      • "You don’t have to be a manager to lead people." – Brad Pinkston
  • Brad then moved into a role as a TC (Technical Consultant) at EMC for a few years.
    • He left EMC eventually because he did not want to be a manager within that company.
    • Looking back, the management there was just a different style that did not fit with Brad.
  • Brad came to VMware for the career opportunities and has stayed because of the culture and the ability to be who he is.
    • The managers / leaders at VMware exhibited something different that he hadn’t seen which made him believe maybe management was something he could do.
    • Brad spent 4 years as a specialist SE and core SE, but his time as a specialist contributing to the team win is what he attributes to pushing him toward a management career path.
    • Brad has been a SE Manager since October 2015.
    • Back in the EMC days, no one encouraged Brad to pursue management.
    • There is tons of opportunity to be a leader without being a people manager.
    • Brad enjoys people, management, mentorship, and participating in that part of the team.
    • John points out one way to judge an organization is whether they have a career path for individual contributors that does not force you into management.
      • The career ladder is not always up and to the right. Sometimes it is a completely diagonal move.
      • Brad wants to make sure his company retains good talent. If the employee is not engaged and excited, he would encourage the person to find something else at the company (i.e. outside the SE career path) so they can be happy and stay at VMware.
      • The culture of the organization helps drive these possibilities.

20:25 – Targeting the People Management Role

  • The most beneficial thing for Brad was learning from failure. He interviewed 2-3 times on the path to management with 1 of the experiences being a massive failure.
  • If people management is something you want to do, make your intentions known.
    • Until you go through an interview process and make your intentions known, you likely do not have people leaning in to help you get there.
    • Brad learned a ton from an interview process that was an utter failure. He learned a lot about what the job of a people manager actually is.
    • Over the course of 9-12 months, he prepared intensely for that next chance.
  • Brad believes in having a lot of career conversations with the people on his team.
    • It’s important to encourage transparency.
    • Interviewing is a skill, even if interviewing outside your own company. If you don’t use it, it will get dull.
  • When Brad told his boss at the time about his goal of pursuing a people management role, the boss was very supportive and key to helping him get the position when an opportunity was available.
  • John makes a good comparison between Brad’s preparation for a management position and the preparation others we’ve spoken to have gone through to get a technical certification.
    • The way Brad used to do certification tests was go out and fail the certification in order to truly understand what to expect and how to train for it the next time.
    • It was a similar experience when Brad took that first interview for a manager role. He felt he knew what to tactically do as a manager, but that was only a very small portion of what was expected to be successful.
    • Many times when Brad has been given a promotion / new role, he was already doing the job. Someone just allowed him to do it full time.
    • As part of the preparation process, Brad networked within the company and gained mentors. He stayed close to his co-workers, and it was enough.

29:31 – Lessons Learned after Getting the People Management Job

  • The biggest thing Brad learned in the first 6 months was the importance of hiring.
    • He rushed that first hire and did not have his process honed.
    • Brad’s philosophy is trust but verify. His people are the experts.
    • Now he understands why the interview process can be brutal (level of effort, emotional impact, etc.). This was not something he was prepared for until it happened.
    • John makes the point that most people don’t understand why the hiring process can be so brutal (for interviewers, candidates, recruiters, etc.) at large companies.
    • Brad points out two big pieces of the interview process we need to understand.
      • You wouldn’t have made it deep into the hiring process if you couldn’t do the job. The person that gets the job is the person best fit for the unique situation (the right fit for the team, the relationship with the customers to be supported, etc.).
        • "Just because you were not awarded the job, it doesn’t mean anyone on that hiring team thinks you can’t do it."
      • Leading a team is very crucial. Everyone has to be invested in the greater success of the team.
        • Brad’s process for SEs includes the salespeople candidates would be paired with, the Sales Manager you will be paired with, and other SEs on the team.
        • If those people are invested in picking you, they will be invested in your success and want you to do well.
        • It takes time to align schedules of all these individuals.
      • Smaller companies likely have a shorter process since the organization is not so "matrixed."

38:22 – Encouraging Others to Pursue Management as a Career Path

  • Brad feels his role as a manager is to empower the individual development plan that someone has put together and help the person make it happen.
  • Brad would not encourage someone to go into management unless an employee expressed interest in it to him. He would then help that employee put together a plan.
    • Brad would encourage talking to others about their journey to management.
    • Some things that may go into the plan could be training, brand building, opportunities to showcase doing the job before it’s actually yours.
      • When moving from individual contributor to your first management job, it is better for your job if you are hand picked because of certain skills people know you possess / other things they know about you (brand awareness).
      • One of the reasons Brad was picked for the Globals role was due to his experience with process improvement / best practices implementation. Someone told his current boss he would be a good option for the role.
    • The employee would build the plan and then give Brad tasks to go do to help empower the employee’s journey.
    • We need to find what we want in our career and chase after it. Brad would tell you he’s here to help as a manager, but if you don’t know where you want the finish line to be, he isn’t sure how to help you lay out the path.
    • John sees Brad’s process as cultivating an open and honest relationship between manager and employee.
    • After being in the new role for 9 weeks at the time of recording, Brad is delaying career development conversations with his employees for a few months to help cultivate a relationship because he takes them so seriously.
    • Brad likes to have career conversations with employees every 6 weeks outside the normal 1-1s. These conversations include career goals as well as compensation goals.
  • Nick speaks to some of the career conversations he had with Brad while working for him.

47:28 – Making Yourself Known in the Management Chain

  • When talking about brand, it is a little like a net promoter score. Usually you are dealing with a lack of brand as opposed to a negative brand.
    • What do you feel other people think of when they hear your name? What do you want them to think of when they hear it? What do you want them to think your career goals are?
    • Moving from neutral to positive from a brand standpoint is not that difficult if you’ve done the work.
      • If you want to be a thought leader, what thought leadership initiatives have you taken on to be recognized as a thought leader?
      • Many people don’t know what they want their brand to be. By not knowing when asked, someone like Brad doesn’t have to point out that you don’t know. It actually helps to identify what you need to do for career development.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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  • Ep83-2: John White

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