#55 - It's Time to Own Your Tech Career - Don Jones

 

 

“Decide where it is you’re going and what kind of career you need to live the life you want and aim for that really deliberately. Because if you don’t know where you’re going, then you never will get there."

Don Jones is the author of “Own Your Tech Career” and the VP of Developer Skills at Pluralsight. In this episode, Don explained why it is important for us to understand the career we want and aim to build that career deliberately, instead of keep chasing promotion and more money continuously, and thus winding up in a rat race. He emphasized a few important things as part of owning our career, such as the importance of soft skills, showing yourself as a professional, building a personal brand, and being a better decision-maker. Do not miss a couple of showing up as professional tips that Don adopted from Disney!  

Listen out for:

  • Career Journey - [00:05:52]
  • Owning Our Tech Career - [00:07:11]
  • On Money - [00:11:18]
  • Importance of Soft Skills - [00:13:24]
  • Showcasing Strong Profile - [00:16:28]
  • Showing as Professional: Be Your Word - [00:20:14]
  • Be Detailed and Precise - [00:23:15]
  • Cut Your Losses When The Time is Right - [00:25:21]
  • Let Blue Sky Mode Happen - [00:29:28]
  • Draw a Yellow Line - [00:31:38]
  • Building a Personal Brand - [00:34:45]
  • What to Contribute and Finding Time - [00:40:24]
  • RAPID Decision Making - [00:43:46]
  • Deciding What’s Enough - [00:45:29]
  • Deciding What to Believe - [00:47:55]
  • 3 Tech Lead Wisdom - [00:51:23]

_____

Don Jones’s Bio
Don Jones has been in the IT industry since the mid-1990s, and has worked in roles ranging from software developer to network engineer. He’s most well-known for his work with Microsoft’s Windows PowerShell, and he’s written literally dozens of books on other IT topics. Today, much of Don’s focus is on helping technology professionals become owners of their careers, through books like How to Own Your Tech Career and projects like his Ampere.Club website. You can view Don’s full bibliography at DonJones.com.

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Quotes

Don’s Career Journey

  • You really learn a lot about your career when you’re independent. Because you’re the sales team and the marketing team and everything, so you really think about it more.

  • You also have to know when you have enough to say no, like when is enough enough, or are you just work all the time?

  • “Own Your Tech Career”, the book, really came from a lot of that experience and realizing how many people I’d run into that had given me good advice.

Owning Our Tech Career

  • We go to school, go to college or not, and obviously your first priority is to get a job, and that job isn’t going to pay enough, or it’s an entry-level job. You’re going to have to eventually do better. And eventually you do. You get some experience. You get some skills. Maybe you get a promotion and you move to a different company. But that’s all we’re taught. Then it’s the next promotion and the next one and the next one and the next one. And when is it enough?

  • You’re kind of a passenger. You’re not really driving your life or your career. You’re just along for the ride. And you’re just seeing what happens. It’s like jumping into a car and just driving. You might have some great experiences. You might find some great sites and meet some great people. But you’re never really going to get anywhere because you haven’t thought about where you’re going. And so you wind up in the rat race, you wind up just pursuing the next title or the next promotion. Maybe you get lucky and it works out great, or maybe you don’t.

  • I think if you can really just set the destination and slide into the driver’s seat, and decide where it is you’re going. And what kind of career you need to live the life you want? And aim for that really deliberately.

  • It’s going to change, you’re going to have different ideas, that’s fine. You can change your destination. But having that destination and making sure every step you take is leading in that direction is how you get there. Because if you don’t know where you’re going, then you never will get there.

  • [Climbing the career ladder]. That’s really a means to an end. Those are all great steps if they’re taking you in the right direction. But you have to define what success looks like for you. You can’t let anyone else do it. Once you figure out what success looks like, then you can start to decide, okay, what type of career will get me that success?

On Money

  • In the US, they tell you that you should be making about three times your mortgage. So then you start looking at the industry. What kind of jobs pay that much? Are those jobs going to require more time than I’m willing to give? Because if so, maybe I need to compromise a little bit.

  • Dream big. But figure out what it’s going to cost to do that because that’s what your job has to provide. We tend to look at jobs for things that we find interesting or that we can do, and that’s important. But really, we’re doing it to make the money. And so you’ve got to run it through that filter. You’ve got to figure out - like you don’t have to come up with a line-by-line budget - but you need a good idea of how much money you need to make. Because that’s the reason we’re all working.

Importance of Soft Skills

  • If you talk to a lot of human resources people, who work for big tech companies in particular, or companies that have a lot of tech, They think about job skills a lot differently than we do. Like when I think about job skills, they don’t. Because they know that those skills can be taught, and they can be learned. What they tend to look for is teamwork, communications, professionalism, your ability to connect the technology to the business, which I call business acumen. Do you understand how businesses work?

  • Tech people often don’t have a lot of those things. We’re not always the best communicators. We’re not always the best at working in a team. We have very strong opinions and that gets in the way. We’re not always good at resolving conflicts. We don’t always know how businesses work because nobody’s told us.

  • Those are the things that get you advanced. Those are the things that will help you get the job you want. Even if you’re not after a promotion. Even if what you’re after is a job that maybe offers a better work life balance.

  • The hiring folks are worried more about communications. I know tech skills is a big part of it, but when you hire someone, it’s really hard to get rid of them later. And they worry more about you fitting in, and they worry about you being able to communicate and contribute beyond just writing lines of code.

  • Those soft skills are tremendously important. They’re how you get a job. They’re a massive part of your career.

  • Your job is what your employer owns. Your employer owns your job, and you may occupy it right now, but someone occupied it before you and someone will occupy after you. It stays with your employer. Your career is yours. Your career goes with you. You are responsible for taking care of your career and you’re responsible for feeding it and nurturing it. And if you’re doing it right, your career will get you the job you want.

  • Sometimes that means you have to invest in your career. You might need to send yourself to some training. Your employer, they might not need that, and so it’s not their responsibility to get that for you. But if that’s what your career needs, then you should go get it for your career.

Showcasing Strong Profile

  • Your resume is only the starting point. Ideally, your resume is an index of your portfolio, and your portfolio should be visible. You should be visible in technical communities, maybe on GitHub or LinkedIn, or maybe you have a blog or you’re with user groups. If there’s a user group, you should not only be attending, you should be speaking. You should be offering presentations and get them to record it, put it on YouTube. Those are your verbal skills. It’s your written skills, it’s your teamwork. It shows that you’re really committed, not only to a job, but to your broader career, and that helps.

  • Before you’re thirsty is the time to dig the well. You have to do that stuff all the time.

  • You can’t wait until the time to get a new job and suddenly invent yourself on the internet. That’s really hard. So you’ve got to get out there.

  • And folks will say, you know, I don’t want to spend that kind of time. That’s cool. But understand that, that will hold you back. Because now you don’t have a public profile. You don’t have a brand.

  • People don’t have a public expectation of who you are, and what you do, and how you behave. You can budget your time or whatever you think is appropriate investment for you. But it’s important to do that. The internet is your portfolio now. It’s everything.

  • When you submit your application or your resume through a website, the first thing that gets that is a machine learning algorithm. It starts scanning for certain keywords to filter you, which is why there’s an art to writing resumes now. The best way to get your resume ignored is to not have that stuff.

  • The whole resume and interview process, you have to work as hard as you can to make it easier on the person who wants to hire you. You have to reassure them. If you flip your mindset around it, it’s not about you getting a job. It’s about you helping them hire someone that they’re going to feel safe about.

  • I’ve been a hiring manager and trust me, it is a terrifying process. It’s hard. I’m worried about bringing someone into my team, and making a mistake. And so, the more you can do to make me feel comfortable, the more we’re probably going to connect, and the more you’re probably going to get the position.

Showing as Professional: Be Your Word

  • That’s actually one of the values at Pluralsight. That’s always been something for me that, as an independent, made me successful.

  • It came down to basically two simple rules. Always deliver what you promise, and never promise what you can’t deliver. If you say you’re going to do something, you do it.

  • That doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. But the time to tell me that, “Okay, you know what, I’m not going to be able to meet that deadline” is a week before the deadline, not a week after the deadline.

  • If you said you did it, or you’re going to do it, I should be able to completely forget about it until you show up on time or early, and say, “Here it is”.

  • It’s easy to stand out when you do that, because it doesn’t happen all that often. Many people don’t do that. And it’s one of the biggest tips to professionalism.

  • We, as professionals, as technologists in particular, don’t always pay attention to our past performance. We don’t always pay attention to how long it took us. We want to make people happy when we’re talking to them.

  • Just be honest, so that you can be your word. You just have to really start to understand who you are, and what you are capable of. So that, you don’t over promise.

Be Detailed and Precise

  • I find a lot of folks. We get so caught up in the hubbub of what’s going on that we forget to be detailed and we forget to be precise.

  • If you can’t get that one easy thing correct in your head, how many big things are you not being detailed on? But it gets down to emails. It gets down to how we communicate. It gets down to how you plan out your day.

  • Precision is what makes you predictable. And ultimately, that’s what an employer wants, is they want predictability. They know that person A is going to always be able to do thing B, reliably 90% of the time. Detail and precision is how you create that predictability. It’s how you deliver an excellent result and don’t have to go back and redo it and redo it and redo it.

  • A lot of folks don’t realize too, which is those little typos in the emails matter. It’s not so much that they matter to themselves. They matter because it tells me that your brain has not been trained to precision. Whereas if you force yourself to do that, your brain will adapt. This is something anybody can do. You just have to want to do it.

Cut Your Losses When The Time is Right

  • I run across a lot of folks who will get so down the rabbit hole about one particular problem. You got to understand at some point you just need to quit doing that.

  • And you can figure out why in your own time. I need something that does work. I do not necessarily need you to figure out why this doesn’t work. At some point, you have to recognize that you are over investing in a solution, and that you are not going to get a return on that, and you have to walk away.

  • Don’t keep throwing good time after bad time.

  • That’s [feeling unhappy in a job] a perfect time to think about cutting my losses, and a lot of people won’t. Because the job hunt is so scary and it’s so stressful and it’s so horrific. But if where you’re at is not taking you to your success, then you need to stop it. Just invest in yourself to get yourself in a better situation.

  • If you’ve taken the time to define what success looks like, then you should know how your current job is contributing to that success or not. And if it is contributing currently, but you need more, like you know this isn’t the end, do you see a path? Have you been there long enough to see that?

  • Most managers will tell you that before they promote someone, they want to see the person actually, basically doing the new job. They want to know they can do it. Got to put yourself out there. You’ve got to invest in that. Invest carries the risk of loss. Meaning, you may invest and you may do the job, but still not get the promotion, and that’s okay. Sometimes you have to be willing to take a loss.

Let Blue Sky Mode Happen

  • When Disney’s Imagineers sit down to think of a new attraction, we want to do something based on this. The rule in the room was sitting around a table is this is blue sky. The sky is the limit. We don’t worry about money or physics or what’s real or magic. We don’t worry about any of that. We just talk about what could we do?

  • Too often we get into meetings where someone will say, okay, I’d like to do this, and immediately someone else says, “No, you can’t do that.”

  • Let’s all bounce the idea around a little bit. Let’s just say words and talk to each other and see what happens. Let the sky be the limit. And then, maybe just in that bouncing around, we’ll find something we can do.

  • And sometimes you have to be really explicit about it. You have to sit down and say, okay guys, we’re not trying to solve a problem here. We’re not trying to solution. We’re not trying to create. We’re just trying to ideate and let’s just bounce ideas. No one gets to say, “No, you can’t do that”. What you can say is, “Oh, you know what else would be cool? Oh, that gives me an idea.” And let’s just get all the ideas out there together.

  • Because that’s how we innovate. All companies, whether they know it or not, need innovation, and they need people who are open to innovation. They need people who know how to create that type of environment. It creates a better work environment. It creates an environment where innovation can happen and where free thoughts can occur. Honestly, it creates a more belonging environment.

  • Retaining good talent is hugely important, and creating a sense of belonging is one of the ways you retain talent.

Draw a Yellow Line

  • That’s another Disneyism. All throughout their parks, anywhere there’s a place where you’re going from backstage to onstage. You’re going from a place where guests can’t see you to a place where guests can see you. They put a yellow line on the ground.

  • I think we should all do that at work. I think you need to have an imaginary line at the front door of the office, or maybe it’s at the front door of your house, and when you cross that line, all your baggage, the argument you had last night, all that stays at the yellow line. None of that goes into work with you. It’ll be there when you get back. It’ll wait for you. But when you’re at work, you’re hired to provide a service and a product to people.

  • Once you cross that yellow line, your attitude needs to change. You need to become a professional. You need to be all the things that a professional needs to be.

  • Familiarity breeds contempt. That yellow line is just a reminder that, leave your baggage here. You’re on now. Get in the game. Get your head in the right space. Smile. And remember why you’re here.

Building a Personal Brand

  • As technologist, most of us should recognize that we did not get to where we are entirely on our own. Other people helped us get here.

  • More importantly, we rely on open source software projects, and the people who produced those, did it out of the goodness of their own hearts. We rely on the colleague who helped us solve a problem. We rely on the blog article that we found on Google that got us through something.

  • There’s this whole universe of people out there that have helped, and that has established a brand for many of them. Most of those people don’t want anything back from you. They don’t want money. They don’t want recognition. Thanks would be great.

  • You can pay it forward. You can help other people. And if you think about that, don’t try to impress the people you admire. They don’t need your help. Look behind you at the younger people, the people who are newer, who do need your help. Help them. It’s as simple as that.

  • Once you get known as someone who’s helping, by contributing to open source, by writing a blog, by doing podcasts, by putting videos on YouTube, whatever it is. It’s not about you having a big following, right? This isn’t about the likes, or the numbers, or anything else. If you help one other human being, that’s valuable, and that starts to build your brand. And it doesn’t need to be a big brand.

  • The success metric is that you did it. Just the doing of it is important. Because honestly, 80% of the people who come and are helped by you won’t ever click follow and they won’t ever click like. You’re never going to know you helped them. But you pay it forward. Whoever helped you didn’t know that it helped you either.

  • If every single one of us took it upon ourselves to try and help one other technology professional once a month, what would the world look like then? Like if we were all just trying to help each other get along. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all trying to do, is just get along.

  • Every single engagement you have with people contributes to your brand. It tells them that this is a person I can take a complaint to, or this is a person I can criticize.

  • It’s how you react. It’s how you show up. Is your brand one of reliability? Is it one of good communications? Is it one of working together? Is it one of someone who wants to help?

  • One of the biggest differences between levels is not your technical expertise. It’s your ability to help others. Because if you’re a level five software engineer, you’re paid a lot. But you’re only going to produce about the same amount of code. Just because I pay you more, it doesn’t mean you suddenly code twice as fast. But if you can go help some level threes code better, like one level five, helping five level threes, you’re a force multiplier. It’s everything you do informs what people expect you will do next.

What to Contribute and Finding Time

  • You don’t need to be an expert. Here’s why. I’ve discovered there’s a biological phenomenon called a birthrate. And it means there’s new people on the planet all the time, and they don’t know as much as you. You don’t need to impress the people you respect and admire. Instead of looking up the ladder, and trying to climb the career ladder, look behind you and maybe someone needs a hand up. Most of us who teach are not creating new information.

  • Just because I’ve already taught those things doesn’t mean you couldn’t teach those same things to a different audience. All we’re doing is repackaging information for a specific audience. And that’s why you don’t need to be an expert in something. You just need to be able to package it for a specific audience. Maybe one that isn’t being well-served already. That audience only needs to be one, two people. All you have to do is help one or two people.

  • You don’t need to spend a lot of time. I think you should budget your time. I think most of us, if we really look hard at our workday, we’ve got an hour or two a day that we really aren’t doing much. And again, it’s about that you did it, not how many people actually came and read that blog article.

  • If it’s important to you, then you find the time for it. Maybe you find it from things that aren’t important to you. You stop doing other things that aren’t important, and you make decisions about your time.

  • One of the things I talked in the book is inventorying your time. It’s just to go and look and say, where did I spend my time? We use the word “spend time”. It is like money. Once you spend it, it’s gone, and you can’t have it back. So, where’s it all going? And is that where I want it to go? Do I want to do different things with it? Because now I can make some decisions and be a driver, instead of just being a passenger and waiting to see what happens.

RAPID Decision Making

  • RAPID is a framework. It’s a way for businesses to be very formal and clear and explicit about who makes a decision.

    • You have Recommenders, who can recommend, “Okay, I think this is what we should do.”

    • You have Agreers. I mean, they can’t necessarily change the decision. But if they disagree with something, they can force a rethink to make sure that this is, in fact, the right thing to do.

    • You have the P, the Performer, the person who’s going to do whatever the decision was to do.

    • I is Input. Those are all the people who need to provide inputs to the decision.

    • And then you have one person. It needs to be one who is the Decision maker. They’re accountable for it. And they’re the ones who actually say, “Okay, I’ve looked at the inputs. I’ve looked at the recommendations. I’ve listened. This is what we’re going to do.”

  • If you really write these out like in a matrix and a grid, it makes sure that everyone who should have input gets a chance to offer it. It makes clear that.

  • It helps everybody get all that out of the way upfront. Everybody knows where they stand, and everybody knows here’s how the process is going to go.

Deciding What’s Enough

  • I think this is at the heart of Agile in a lot of ways, and it’s at the heart of human centered design. You can build something for the ages. I can build some software that’s going to scale infinitely, and it’s going to last for decades. But do we need that? Like, are we actually going to have an infinite number of customers, or are we going to have a thousand?

  • We don’t need to build it forever. We need to build it for five years, and then we’ll see where we’re at. Like you really just need to decide what is the outcome? What does success look like? And what do we need to build? And only build that. Don’t build more than that. Look at what makes the customer happy.

  • What does the customer think quality is? And how much quality are they willing to pay for? And let’s give them that much quality. And if they want more than that, they’re going to pay more than that. Are they willing? So you need to decide exactly who you are in the marketplace.

  • That applies to you as an individual. Like as an individual, you are a business. You get paid to provide a service to a company, and that makes you a vendor of sorts. You need to decide what is enough? What am I being paid for? They can have more than that. But am I willing to give it to them unless they pay more? Those types of business relationships are very important. And knowing this is what enough is.

  • It’s one of the reasons that Agile is so important to businesses in general, not just software development. Because you can never know all the answers. There’s just no point in trying to project too far into the future.

  • I’ll quote from Douglas Adams, “rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty”. You have to know that you’ll never know. So just do a little bit and see what happens.

Deciding What to Believe

  • Something we have to recognize as human beings, and this is just part of our brains. It’s not good or bad is that we have the ability to take an idea for which there is no evidence, no fact, no proof, but treat it as if it had been proven to us in front of our own eyes.

  • In business, in the workplace, you can’t do things because you - I hate the word - “believe”. I will instead say I have an opinion, which is based on my experiences and you can take it for what it’s worth.

  • I have data, which means I have proven something and I have a fact, and I can prove it again and again. It’s provable. I can say I have a hypothesis. I think something might be true. And now we need to conduct some experiments to prove or disprove that.

  • Try not to believe. Try not to operate with things that you can’t repeatedly prove. If something is repeatedly provable, then it’s a fact. If it’s not repeatedly provable, it’s not a fact. Maybe it’s a hypothesis, but maybe it’s a belief.

  • You got to let those beliefs go. You really have to examine everything from the lens of what can I prove, or what is a hypothesis that needs to be proven.

  • They [great entrepreneurs] had a hypothesis that something would be true. And then he [Elon] started conducting some market research, which suggested his hypothesis might be true.

  • Conviction is not quite the same thing as belief. Having a vision is not quite the same thing as a belief. Having a vision means you’ve taken a bunch of facts in your experience, and you’ve looked at the situation and said, my hypothesis is that this will be amazing. And then, you set out to very methodically prove or disprove that hypothesis. And that’s what entrepreneurs, successful ones, are really good at. We don’t usually see the process. But there is a process in the middle of there that really happened.

3 Tech Lead Wisdom

  1. Be transparent

    • Explain why to people. People don’t have to like every single answer. But they, most of the time, have a right to understand how you got there.

    • And it’s not so much that you have to explain yourself to people. They’re human beings. They’re engaging with you, and they’re putting some trust in you as a leader and they need to at least know the reasons.

  2. Seek context

    • When you’re engaging, it’s really easy to be in different places. And you’re saying words, but they’re not coming across with the same meaning. Find out why.
  3. Be your word

    • As a leader, sometimes is really difficult. Sometimes you fully intend to go one way, and then you find out the company needs you to go a different way. And your job is to go the way the company needs you to.

    • What you’re paid for. You don’t have to like it. But as much as you can, be your word and when you can’t, own up to it.

Transcript

[00:02:00] Episode Introduction

[00:02:00] Henry Suryawirawan: Hello to all my listeners. Welcome back here again, with another episode of the Tech Lead Journal podcast. Thank you for spending your time with me today, listening to this episode. If you haven’t, please follow Tech Lead Journal on your podcast app and social media channel on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also contribute and support this podcast by subscribing as a patron at techleadjournal.dev/patron, and help me to continue producing great content every week.

For today’s episode, I’m happy to share my conversation with Don Jones. Don is the author of a book titled “Own Your Tech Career”, and he’s also the VP of Developer Skills at Pluralsight.

Talking about owning our own tech career, have you ever taken some time lately to think about the career choices that you’ve made in the recent months or years? Were those choices taken consciously, taking into account your goals, aspirations, and opportunities for personal growth? Or were you just cruising along, taking up anything that is available or assigned to you without taking a pause and think whether all those actually align with your career vision?

In this episode, Don explained why it is important for us to understand the career we want, and aim to build that career deliberately, instead of keep chasing promotion and more money continuously, and thus winding up in a rat race. He emphasized a few important things as part of owning our career, such as importance of soft skills, showing yourself as a professional, building a personal brand, and being a better decision maker. Also make sure you do not miss a couple of showing up as professional tips that Don adopted from Disney.

I highly enjoyed my conversation with Don, looking back at a few of my career decisions, and also taking some time to think hard of what I actually aspire to do in my career. And I hope you will find this episode beneficial as well to reflect on your own career. Consider helping the show by leaving it a rating or review on your podcast app, and you can also leave some comments on social media channels. Though it may seem trivial, but those reviews and comments are one of the best ways to help me get this podcast to reach more listeners. And hopefully they can also benefit from all the contents in this podcast. So let’s get this episode started.

[00:04:31] Introduction

[00:04:31] Henry Suryawirawan: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the new episode of the Tech Lead Journal. Today, I have with me a guest named Don Jones. He’s a VP at Pluralsight for Developer Skills. He has been working there for quite some time. But interestingly also, Don Jones is an experienced technical leader. He has a wide variety of software experience, as network engineers, software developers, a lot of books as well. So he’s mostly well known for his work with Microsoft Windows PowerShell. He has been Microsoft MVP as well for 16 years. That’s pretty a long time, actually. And interesting enough, Don Jones has written a lot of books. And if you go to his Leanpub account, not just technical books, but also things like novel, science fictions. I think it’s pretty interesting.

[00:05:19] Henry Suryawirawan: Today we are going to talk about one particular book that he wrote recently called “Own Your Tech Career”. I think this is a topic that is very interesting to me because as a technologist, sometimes we don’t really care much about our technology career. So what we want to discuss today is how we should take back the responsibility, and actually owning our tech career. What things that we should consider and what things are important for us in our career? So Don Jones, thank you for spending your time today. I’m really looking forward to talk about how I can also take ownership about my Tech career.

[00:05:50] Don Jones: Absolutely. Glad to be here.

[00:05:52] Career Journey

[00:05:52] Henry Suryawirawan: So in the beginning, maybe Don Jones, if you can introduce yourself. Telling us about your long career journey. Any highlights or turning points?

[00:06:00] Don Jones: Yeah. So I didn’t go to a college or university. I was all self-taught. My first job in IT was work in basically, desktop support for a company in Pennsylvania. I learned how to do mainframe operations and well AS/400 midrange operations, and you know, just kind of took the next opportunity that came along and took the next opportunity after that, and the next one after that. Eventually, I got laid off. I worked for a .com. The first .com I ever worked for “.bombed”. So I got laid off, and that’s when I went independent. You really learn a lot about your career when you’re independent. Because you’re the sales team and the marketing team and everything, so you really think about it more. And that’s where this whole idea of making deliberate decisions about what I wanted my job to be. You have to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from. And you have to make sure you have that work booked.

But you also have to know when you have enough to say no, like when is enough enough, or are you just work all the time? And so that was really the beginning of that. And “Own Your Tech Career”, the book really came from a lot of that experience, and realizing how many people I’d run into that had given me good advice. And it seemed like it was time for me to do my best to offer some advice to other people. And hope that it turned out to be good advice.

[00:07:11] Owning Our Tech Career

[00:07:11] Henry Suryawirawan: So maybe in the beginning, when we talk about owning your tech career, what are actually some of the implications, if we don’t own our tech career? Because I know there are so many developers, so many technologies these days, right? I’m not sure like everyone actually thinks about their tech career. But what do you think are some of these implications?

[00:07:28] Don Jones: Yeah, so it’s a little bit like we go to school, go to college or not, and obviously your first priority is to get a job, and that job isn’t going to pay enough, or it’s an entry-level job. You’re going to have to eventually do better. And eventually you do. You get some experience. You get some skills. Maybe you get a promotion and you move to a different company. But that’s all we’re taught. Then it’s the next promotion and the next one and the next one and the next one. And when is it enough? So really, you’re kind of a passenger. You’re not really driving your life or your career. You’re just along for the ride. And you’re just seeing what happens. It’s like jumping into a car and just driving. You might have some great experiences. You might find some great sites and meet some great people. But you’re never really going to get anywhere because you haven’t thought about where you’re going. And so you wind up in the rat race, you wind up just pursuing the next title or the next promotion. Maybe you get lucky and it works out great, or maybe you don’t.

But I think if you can really just set the destination and slide into the driver’s seat, and decide where it is you’re going. And what kind of career you need to live the life you want. And aim for that really deliberately. It’s going to change. You know, when you’re young, you’re going to have different ideas. Maybe you meet someone, get married, have kids and your ideas change. That’s fine. You can change your destination. But having that destination and making sure every step you take is leading in that direction is how you get there. Because if you don’t know where you’re going, then you never will get there.

[00:08:50] Henry Suryawirawan: What I realized also, right, looking from especially around here Southeast Asia. So, sometimes we tend to just focus on, okay, let’s go to the big tech companies, just work there, do our best, probably get promoted or just learn a lot of skills. And that’s it, right? Like sometimes we want to progress to a higher level like principal, architects, like managers, VPs, like yourself in big companies. What do you think about that? Is that a good way to actually owning a career? Or is there something else?

[00:09:18] Don Jones: That’s really a means to an end. Those are all great steps if they’re taking you in the right direction. But one of the things I talk first in the book is that you have to define what success looks like for you. You can’t let anyone else do it. You have to sit down and say, okay, I want to live in this type of house, this area. I want to take these types of vacations. I’m thinking about this type of family. Maybe I want a wife and a couple of kids and a dog. You have to figure out what that costs. What is it going to cost me? And there’s two components to cost. There’s money, obviously. But there’s time. How much time do I want to spend on my life? When you’re younger, maybe you’re okay working 60, 70-hour weeks. But is that what you always want to do?

And then once you figure out what success looks like, then you can start to decide, okay, what type of career will get me that success? For some people, yeah, it’s going to be moving into management. For other people, maybe what they want is going to require a really high-paying job. But for a lot of us, maybe it doesn’t. I talked to people who’ve read the book and they’ve come back and said, “You know, I realized that my perfect job was one job passed. And so I think I’m going to go see if I can get that job back. Because what I’m doing now pays more. But I’ve lost all my time. I’ve lost all the quality. I really didn’t think I should have stopped. I had the perfect position. It gave me everything I wanted.” So it’s really starting to just think about what is it you want from life? And your career should get you that. And you know, maybe it is a big company. Maybe it’s a startup. I know a lot of people. So a lot of my colleagues are in the Utah, the Salt Lake City area. And it’s a big tech area. There’s a lot of companies. There’s a lot of startups going on. And a lot of those folks have said, you know what? I’m going to try and retire early. I don’t want to work until I’m 60 or 70 years old. I want to maybe see if I can quit at 40. So for them, that doesn’t mean a big company. It means a startup where they can maybe get an equity stake, and hit it rich in an IPO. And you know what? God bless. If that’s what you want to try and do, then go for it and aim yourself in that direction.

[00:11:18] On Money

[00:11:18] Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah, it’s interesting these days. I mean, like there seems to be two paths. If you want to retire early, then go into a startup or start your own startup, start your own business and work so hard until a certain age. And the other path is the normal career path, which is going to the company, earn your promotion and all that. Speaking about money, let’s talk a little bit about that. It’s interesting to me because here, money is also something that a lot of people want to achieve in life, and it’s highly associated with success, definitely. But how to determine what is good enough? How much money? Because every time someone, for example, works in a big tech company and you compare your salary or equities and all that, it’s never enough. So what’s your tips here about money?

[00:11:58] Don Jones: There are some easy ways to figure it out. My answer is going to be a little bit United States centric. But there are metrics elsewhere. In the US, they tell you that you should be making about three times your mortgage. So whatever your home mortgages, and that’s going to cover a car, and it’s going to cover a certain amount of savings, and it’s going to cover all your dining out, going to movies and all that. So look in your area or whatever area you want to live. See what homes cost. You can get a calculator online to figure out what that mortgage is. Multiply by three, and that’s about what you need to be roughly taking home. So add some more for taxes, whatever taxes are, and that’s about your gross salary. So then you start looking at the industry. What kind of jobs pay that much? Are those jobs going to require more time than I’m willing to give? Because if so, maybe I need to compromise a little bit. Maybe I need to scale back or does it seem reasonable?

And then, that starts to give you an idea of where the finances are. If you know what, I don’t want one home. I want two homes. I want a vacation home and I want to travel all over. Okay, you know what, start adding that in. That’s fine. Dream big. But figure out what it’s going to cost to do that because that’s what your job has to provide. We tend to look at jobs for things that we find interesting or that we can do, and that’s important. But really, we’re doing it to make the money. And so you’ve got to run it through that filter. You’ve got to figure out like you don’t have to come up with a line-by-line budget. But you need a good idea of how much money you need to make. Because that’s the reason we’re all working. If we didn’t need the money, we’d probably just go play soccer or something like that all the time, right?

[00:13:24] Importance of Soft Skills

[00:13:24] Henry Suryawirawan: So, the subtitle of your book is about soft skills for technologies.

[00:13:28] Don Jones: Yep.

[00:13:29] Henry Suryawirawan: So why is it highly associated with owning your tech career? We probably all know about the definition of soft skills. But any unique angle from your point of view about soft skills here?

[00:13:39] Don Jones: Yeah. I think what’s interesting is that if you talk to a lot of human resources people, who work for big tech companies in particular, or companies that have a lot of tech, you know, banks have a lot of tech. They think about job skills a lot differently than we do. Like when I think about job skills, I’m thinking JavaScript and HTML and Angular, right? Like skills. They don’t. Because they know that those skills can be taught, and they can be learned. What they tend to look for is teamwork, communications, professionalism, your ability to connect the technology to the business, which I call business acumen. Do you understand how businesses work? Tech people often don’t have a lot of those things. We’re not always the best communicators. We’re not always the best at working in a team. We have very strong opinions and that gets in the way. We’re not always good at resolving conflicts. A lot of people aren’t, not just tech people. We don’t always know how businesses work because nobody’s told us. Like we went to school for computers, not for business administration.

Those are the things that get you advanced. Those are the things that will help you get the job you want. Even if you’re not after a promotion. Even if what you’re after is a job that maybe offers a better work life balance. Maybe you’re even happy with less money. The hiring folks are worried more about communications. I know tech skills is a big part of it, but when you hire someone, it’s really hard to get rid of them later, right? Like it’s really hard. And they worry more about you fitting in, and they worry about you being able to communicate and contribute beyond just writing lines of code or hooking up a server. So those soft skills are tremendously important. They’re how you get a job. They’re a massive part of your career. I draw a strong distinction in the book. Your job is what your employer owns. Your employer owns your job, and you may occupy it right now, but someone occupied it before you and someone will occupy after you. It stays with your employer. Your career is yours. Your career goes with you. You are responsible for taking care of your career and you’re responsible for feeding it and nurturing it. And if you’re doing it right, your career will get you the job you want.

[00:15:42] Henry Suryawirawan: Oh, I really find that insightful. Your career is your own. And if you do well, actually your career will get you to where you want, right? The job that you want.

[00:15:51] Don Jones: Yeah. That’s the idea. And sometimes that means you have to invest in your career. You might need to send yourself to some training, or maybe, you know, if you’re really bad at verbal communications, and that’s holding you back, maybe you need to spend some of your own time doing a program, like we have Toastmasters in the US, which helps people with public speaking. You have to invest in that. Your employer, they might not need that, and so it’s not their responsibility to get that for you. But if that’s what your career needs, then you should go get it for your career. And that’s really what the book tries to set up is this idea of here’s all the stuff on top of your tech skills that you really need. If you want to get, not only ahead, but wherever you want.

[00:16:28] Showcasing Strong Profile

[00:16:28] Henry Suryawirawan: Speaking about all these tech companies, they always put the hot skills, the JavaScript, the programming languages, all the frameworks. But actually, it’s important to showcase the soft skills. How do you actually do that? How do you actually put yourself in the profile, probably in the resume, about your strong soft skills?

[00:16:46] Don Jones: Well, point two things. Your resume is only the starting point. Ideally, your resume is an index to your portfolio, and your portfolio should be visible. You should be visible in technical communities, maybe on GitHub or LinkedIn, or maybe you have a blog or you’re with user groups. If there’s a user group, you should not only be attending, you should be speaking. You should be offering presentations and get them to record it, put it on YouTube. Those are your verbal skills. It’s your written skills, it’s your teamwork. It shows that you’re really committed, not only to a job, but to your broader career, and that helps.

But the time to do that, you know, the saying is before you’re thirsty is the time to dig the well. You have to do that stuff all the time. You can’t wait until the time to get a new job and suddenly invent yourself on the internet. That’s really hard. So you’ve got to get out there. And folks will say, you know, I don’t want to spend that kind of time. That’s cool. But understand that, that will hold you back. Because now you don’t have a public profile, and this is something I talk about in the book. You don’t have a brand. People don’t have a public expectation of who you are, and what you do, and how you behave. And so, that’s the way to do that. It’s to be out there. It’s to be public. It’s to be participating. You can budget your time. You can say, I’m going to do this for an hour a day or three hours a week, or whatever you think is appropriate investment for you. But it’s important to do that. The internet is your portfolio now. It’s everything.

[00:18:07] Henry Suryawirawan: Speaking about, you know, like companies also looking for people, talents, right? Do they actually do that now? Like looking, scouring over the internet and looking for a person’s profile.

[00:18:17] Don Jones: They have AI that does it. When you submit your application or your resume through a website, the first thing that gets that is a machine learning algorithm. It starts scanning for certain keywords to filter you, which is why there’s an art to writing resumes now. And if you’ve got links, like LinkedIn profile, your GitHub profile, it will follow those, and it will scan those. Yeah. That is a huge part of it. These companies, you know, your Indeed.com and your Workday.com and all these companies that run the recruiting software that companies use, that’s part of what they’re selling. It’s this AI that will pre-screen all these things. So, like the best way to get your resume ignored is to not have that stuff. Because the AI is going to go, meh, I’ve got all these other options where I can direct you to their GitHub repositories and everything else. So I’m going to go with those.

[00:19:06] Henry Suryawirawan: So, because all these AI algorithms, like I’m not exposed to that. So any tips for people, really like how to boost their chance of being filtered in by the AI?

[00:19:16] Don Jones: Yeah. There’s some books like there’s whole books on that topic. At Pluralsight, we have an author named Jason Alba, who just does a tremendous job. In his real life, he runs a job site called JibberJobber.com. He really is dialed into that stuff. In fact, I picked up a lot of tips watching his stuff that went into my chapter on resumes in the book. There’s some additional reading at the end of that chapter. That really directs to some of the best current works on the topic, but it is a big topic. The whole resume and interview process, you have to work as hard as you can to make it easier on the person who wants to hire you. You have to reassure them. If you flip your mindset around it, it’s not about you getting a job. It’s about you helping them hire someone that they’re going to feel safe about. I’ve been a hiring manager and trust me, it is a terrifying process. It’s hard. I’m worried about bringing someone into my team, and making a mistake. And so, the more you can do to make me feel comfortable, the more we’re probably going to connect, and the more you’re probably going to get the position.

[00:20:14] Showing as Professional: Be Your Word

[00:20:14] Henry Suryawirawan: There’s one particular thing that you mentioned in the book that I really find interesting, which is about showing up as a professional. So you have few tips actually, how to be more professional. So let’s maybe go into them by one. The first one is actually “be your word”. Can you explain what it means?.

[00:20:31] Don Jones: Yeah. That’s actually one of the values at Pluralsight. That’s always been something for me that, as an independent, made me successful. And it came down to basically two simple rules. Always deliver what you promise, and never promise what you can’t deliver. If you say you’re going to do something, you do it. That doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. But the time to tell me that, “Okay, you know what, I’m not going to be able to meet that deadline” is a week before the deadline, not a week after the deadline. I should never have to come to you and ask where something is. If you said you did it, or you’re going to do it, I should be able to completely forget about it until you show up on time or early, and say, “Here it is”. It’s easy to stand out when you do that, because it doesn’t happen all that often. Many people don’t do that. I got a ton of work. Simply because I got a reputation as “Look, if he says he’s going to have it in a week, you’re going to have it in four days”. It’s simple sounding, but a lot of us don’t do that. And it’s one of the biggest tips to professionalism.

[00:21:28] Henry Suryawirawan: Actually, a lot of developers don’t estimate or don’t give the proper estimate, you know, to the people they work with. Maybe they are too optimistic saying, okay, maybe this is three days, but actually they deliver it in maybe four or five days, sometimes even more.

[00:21:41] Don Jones: Some of that is because we, as professionals, as technologists in particular, we don’t always pay attention to our past performance. We don’t always pay attention to how long it took us. We want to make people happy when we’re talking to them, and say three days. Even though something in the back of our head is probably like, you’ve never done it in three days before. It’s always taken you five days. But you just be honest, so that you can be your word.

As you mentioned, I’ve written a lot of books. I know exactly how many words I can write on a medium day, on a good day, and on my best day. I know that I never have more than one best day per week. I’ve just gotten used to that. I’ve done it enough, and I’ve paid a lot of attention to my work output. I know that in any given week, if I’m really dedicated to writing. Three of those, maybe four, will be good days. Of those, maybe one of them will actually be a great day. I know that one or two days out of the week is going to be a write-off. Like, I’m not going to be in the mood. I’ll get too much email, or something else. I know how to schedule my time so that I can commit to a delivery and I know it will be done, and it goes on my calendar. And you just have to really start to understand who you are, and what you are capable of. So that, that you don’t over promise.

[00:22:52] Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. I really liked that because sometimes it comes with experience also, right? The longer you are in the industry, the longer you have done a lot of things, so the more you have these insights, okay. Maybe this task will take this much. But I think what you said is true. Never promise what you cannot deliver. Sometimes developers are over optimistic. Even though they haven’t done it before, they haven’t solved that particular problem. They will say, okay, this is going to be done. I think I like that one.

[00:23:15] Be Detailed and Precise

[00:23:15] Henry Suryawirawan: So how about be detailed and precise, which is the next tip for being a professional?

[00:23:20] Don Jones: Yeah, I find a lot of folks. We get so caught up in the hubbub of what’s going on that we forget to be detailed and we forget to be precise. We forget to, as they say, dot the I’s and cross the T’s. I think I have an anecdote in the book. I have a friend who for years, referred to the thing on your wrist as an iWatch. I’m like, no, it’s not an iWatch. It’s an Apple Watch. And he says, why are you so bent out of shape about that? I said, because if you can’t get that one easy thing correct in your head, how many big things are you not being detailed on? But it gets down to emails. It gets down to how we communicate. It gets down to how you plan out your day. Like precision is what makes you predictable. And ultimately, that’s what an employer wants, is they want predictability. They know that person A is going to always be able to do thing B, reliably 90% of the time. Detail and precision is how you create that predictability. It’s how you deliver an excellent result and don’t have to go back and redo it and redo it and redo it.

[00:24:20] Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah, from my experience as well, I find that what separates a great person versus just a good person, is actually detailed design documents that comes to us where you actually put a lot of things, a lot of thought process. The art that you created, so to speak, right? The art, the craft and details actually play a lot of part if you want to become a great person. So I think I like what you said that precision actually brings predictability.

[00:24:41] Don Jones: It does. And there’s some that a lot of folks don’t realize too, which is those little typos in the emails matter. It’s not so much that they matter for themselves. They matter because it tells me that your brain has not been trained to precision. Whereas if you force yourself to do that, your brain will adapt. It might be hard for the first few weeks. But you will quickly, the red squiggly underline will start to bother you, and you’ll go back and fix it. And that’s how you train, you teach your brain to be precise. You can. This is something anybody can do. You just have to want to do it.

[00:25:14] Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. So a lot of tools these days you can use, like Word, Google Docs. So, okay, be detailed and precise.

[00:25:21] Cut Your Losses When The Time is Right

[00:25:21] Henry Suryawirawan: Let’s move on to the next one, which is “cut your losses when the time is right”. How do you associate that with professionalism?

[00:25:27] Don Jones: Yeah. So I run across a lot of folks who will get so down the rabbit hole about one particular problem. You got to understand at some point you just need to quit doing that. If you’re not done, like I’m after a problem. Yeah. But it should work. Yeah. But it doesn’t. And you can figure out why in your own time. I need something that does work. I do not necessarily need you to figure out why this doesn’t work. Like at some point, you have to recognize that you are over investing in a solution, and that you are not going to get a return on that, and you have to walk away. We see that in life all the time, right? If you bought into a stock at 20 bucks and it’s trading at $4, like maybe it’s time just to sell it, accept your losses and walk away. But it happens in life too. It happens in your professional life. People who are able to triage, and say, okay, you know what? I have spent enough time on this. I need to leave myself enough time to come up with a working solution. And I can’t run out all my time trying to figure this out. I’m going to turn around and try something else completely.

I’ve run across this in software so many times. I was writing a point of sale system one time, and we finally got the product database, and this was all based on Access. This was way, way old. I said, okay, you know what? We’re going to do the first test of this thing, sucking in the data with the product list. Here we go. And I hit run, and it was one, two, three. I’m like, oh my God, there’s 200,000, and it’s doing one every half second. I spent four hours trying to do stuff to speed it up. I said, “You know what? No, this has to be done in a week, and this is clearly not it. I need to sit back, close my eyes and think of a wholly different solution. I just, I can’t continue to invest in this. I spent a lot of time on it, and I’m attached to it. I’m upset. Like I was screaming at a coworker. I was so upset. But cut your losses. You know what? Don’t keep throwing good time after bad time.

[00:27:14] Henry Suryawirawan: So yeah, we tend to do that as technologists. I, myself, sometimes working on hot problem. I don’t know the solution. Okay. Keep banging your head. And I also associated with another thing, it’s not just about the work that you do in the particular company, but sometimes it’s the work itself in that company. Like you are not feeling happy in a particular job, for example, or the role doesn’t match you, or you don’t get appreciated.

[00:27:35] Don Jones: Yeah, that’s a perfect time to think about cutting my losses, and a lot of people won’t. Because the job hunt is so scary and it’s so stressful and it’s so horrific. But if where you’re at is not taking you to your success, then you need to stop it. Just invest in yourself to get yourself in a better situation.

[00:27:57] Henry Suryawirawan: I know sometimes this thing is tricky. For example, whether you just join, or maybe you have been there for a long time. How do you actually make this decision? What’s the framework like? To actually think, okay, maybe this is time I should cut my loss, quit a job, find another job.

[00:28:11] Don Jones: Yeah. Well, again, if you’ve taken the time to define what success looks like, then you should know how your current job is contributing to that success or not. And if it is contributing currently, but you need more, like you know this isn’t the end, do you see a path? Have you been there long enough to see that? Yeah. You know what? They do internal promotions here and I can see a path it’s not there right now. But I’ve been here long enough to kind of see the ebb and the flow, and I think I could create that for myself. Then start working to create it. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen.

Most managers will tell you that before they promote someone, they want to see the person actually, basically doing the new job. They want to know they can do it. Got to put yourself out there. You’ve got to invest in that. Invest carries the risk of loss. Meaning, you may invest and you may do the job, but still not get the promotion, and that’s okay. Sometimes you have to be willing to take a loss. It’s all right. That might be the time to start looking for someone else. Now that you’ve been doing the job for a little, and you can talk about that on your resume. Maybe there’s someone else who will give you the opportunity to get paid to do the job. So you have to look at it that way. The other side of that is the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Sometimes it’s exactly the same color. Like you can’t jump for just that reason. But it’s a matter of, is this going to get me closer to my success? And that’s all it is.

[00:29:28] Let Blue Sky Mode Happen

[00:29:28] Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. I like how you associate back to your individual success. Our own ambition. What success looks like for us? So the next one is, I think it’s pretty interesting for me, maybe I don’t understand. Maybe it’s an idiom or phrase, let blue sky mode happen. What’s blue sky mode?

[00:29:43] Don Jones: So this is actually a Disney thing. When Disney’s Imagineers sit down to think of a new attraction, we want to do something based on this. The rule in the room was sitting around a table is this is blue sky. The sky is the limit. We don’t worry about money or physics or what’s real or magic. We don’t worry about any of that. We just talk about what could we do? And then, we’ll start thinking about, okay, maybe that’s not physically possible. What is physically possible? But too often we get into meetings where someone will say, okay, I’d like to do this, and immediately someone else says, “No, you can’t do that.” I mean, give it a minute. You know what? Let’s all bounce the idea around a little bit. Let’s just say words and talk to each other and see what happens. Let the sky be the limit. And then, maybe just in that bouncing around, we’ll find something we can do.

So let that happen. And sometimes you have to be really explicit about it. You have to sit down and say, okay guys, we’re not trying to solve a problem here. We’re not trying to solution. We’re not trying to create. We’re just trying to ideate. This is blue sky. And those are the rules. It’s anything goes, and let’s just bounce ideas. No one gets to say, “No, you can’t do that”. What you can say is, “Oh, you know what else would be cool? Oh, that gives me an idea.” And let’s just get all the ideas out there together.

[00:31:00] Henry Suryawirawan: And why you associate this with professionalism?

[00:31:04] Don Jones: Because that’s how we innovate. All companies, whether they know it or not, need innovation, and they need people who are open to innovation. They need people who know how to create that type of environment. It creates a better work environment. It creates an environment where innovation can happen and where free thoughts can occur. Honestly, it creates a more belonging environment, right? Nobody’s shutting anyone down. Everyone’s supporting each other and just bringing ideas. That makes everybody feel like, you know, I belong here. I’m contributing. Retaining good talent is hugely important, and creating a sense of belonging is one of the ways you retain talent.

[00:31:38] Draw a Yellow Line

[00:31:38] Henry Suryawirawan: And the last one you mentioned, draw a yellow line.

[00:31:41] Don Jones: That’s another Disneyism. Yeah. So at Disney theme parks, they have this idea that you’re onstage and you’re a cast member. You’re playing a role on a show. And when you’re backstage, that’s different, right? The guests can’t see you. You can be yourself. And so all throughout their parks, anywhere there’s a place where you’re going from backstage to onstage. You’re going from a place where guests can’t see you to a place where guests can see you. They put a yellow line on the ground. I think we should all do that at work. I think you need to have an imaginary line at the front door of the office, or maybe it’s at the front door of your house, and when you cross that line, all your baggage, the argument you had last night, the kid is sick, whatever, all that stays at the yellow line. None of that goes into work with you. It’ll be there when you get back. It’ll wait for you. But when you’re at work, you’re hired to provide a service and a product to people.

Part of that is the demeanor you bring. I don’t work in an office now, but when I did work in an office, I did not have any personal decorations in my workspace. Apart from a mug, so I had something to drink coffee out of. Because I didn’t want that to feel like home, because it’s not home. I’m not there to be at home. I want to feel like I belong and I want to be myself. But I’m there to do a job, and I want to be in that game mindset. So once you cross that yellow line, your attitude needs to change. You need to become a professional. You need to be all the things that a professional needs to be. You can maybe, if you’re at the water cooler, share some anecdotes about taking your dog out for the weekend or whatever, that’s totally fine, of course. But you do that in the context of being a professional.

I was raised around a lot of military people. And so, when I’m with my friends, I tend to curse a lot. Like curse words are just part of my normal vocabulary and they all understand that. Not at work though. It’s not appropriate. I’m around people who don’t understand that about my background, who don’t have the proper context, and might not appreciate those words. So when I crossed the yellow line, my vocabulary changes. I am slightly different because I’m in a different setting now. You know, they say familiarity breeds contempt. And that was Disney’s intent. It’s that if you’re working in the same place, doing the same job, a lot of them are menial jobs. They’re very repetitive. You do that every day. It becomes very familiar, which means you can become very contemptuous of it. Which means you can break the show that the guests are there to pay for. And that yellow line is just a reminder that, leave your baggage here. You’re on now. Get in the game. Get your head in the right space. Smile. And remember why you’re here.

[00:34:10] Henry Suryawirawan: I think it’s a great reminder as well, especially now working from home. Our personal and our career blend together.

[00:34:16] Don Jones: I have colleagues who literally have taken their little work area at home and put tape on the floor. This is my work area, and it helps their kids know. When mom or dad are in the box, you can’t come talk to us anymore. So we need those boundaries. There’s a reason that office has existed in work, and we have to kind of respect all the psychological reasons for that. Even if we are working remotely. I have an office that I’m in, and I can close the door. And so I know when I’m in here, I’m working, and when I’m not working, they leave. I go somewhere else.

[00:34:45] Building a Personal Brand

[00:34:45] Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for all these professional tips. Another one that I think I’m interested in, because these days, social media is a big thing. Just what you mentioned also, you’d have to showcase your soft skills through anything on the internet, like GitHub, building a brand, so to speak. How do you actually build a brand for a technologist? And how is it compared to the social media influencers, people like the artists or people who promote stuffs?

[00:35:09] Don Jones: Yeah. So I think this goes back a little bit. I think as technologist, most of us should recognize that we did not get to where we are entirely on our own. Other people helped us get here. Our parents may have helped to put us through college, but more importantly, we rely on open source software projects, and the people who produced those, did it out of the goodness of their own hearts. We rely on the colleague who maybe helped us solve a problem. We rely on the blog article that we found on Google that got us through something. Like there’s this whole universe of people out there that have helped, and that has established a brand for many of them. That’s how you do it. Most of those people don’t want anything back from you. They don’t want money. They don’t want recognition. Thanks would be great. I love it when someone says, I read your book, and I really appreciated it. That just gets me out of bed every morning.

But you can pay it forward. You can help other people. And if you think about that, don’t try to impress the people you admire. They don’t need your help. Look behind you at the younger people, the people who are newer, who do need your help. Help them. It’s as simple as that. Once you get known as someone who’s helping, by contributing to open source, by writing a blog, by doing podcasts, by putting videos on YouTube, whatever it is. It’s not about you having a big following, right? This isn’t about the likes, or the numbers, or anything else. If you help one other human being, that’s valuable, and that starts to build your brand. And it doesn’t need to be a big brand. You don’t need to become Coca-Cola. Don’t look at it from that. That’s not the success metric. Isn’t that a lot of people watched it. The success metric is that you did it. Just the doing of it is important. Because honestly, 80% of the people who come and are helped by you won’t ever click follow and they won’t ever click like. You’re never going to know you helped them. But you pay it forward. Whoever helped you didn’t know that it helped you either. So that’s the best way.

Over time, you will get there. Yeah, I mean, I’ve got, I don’t know, 18,000 or so followers on Twitter, half of which I’m sure are bots. But I got there because I wrote these books that helped people, and they wanted to connect with me and ask questions, which has been fantastic. They wanted to know when a new book came out and I use it for that. So if you’re respectful, social media for me is a business. It’s a business activity. I try to be respectful. I mean, I share personal anecdotes now and again, because a lot of folks are now my friends, which is fantastic. I don’t really share a lot of political opinions because, first of all, I don’t have a ton, but I wouldn’t share that at work either. That’s just not why I’m there to engage. You have to remember why you’re there. So I have a yellow line for Twitter and a yellow line for LinkedIn, and when I cross the line, I remember why I’m there. But you help people. If every single one of us took it upon ourselves to try and help one other technology professional once a month, what would the world look like then? Like if we were all just trying to help each other get along. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all trying to do, is just get along.

[00:38:03] Henry Suryawirawan: I like how you put the success metrics. So the success metrics is not the followers, the likes, and all that, or re-shares. Success metrics is actually, you did it. It’ll also go back to you personally. What is the definition of success for you? And don’t do it just for being a famous people in the tech industry, for example. And I liked the concept of pay it forward. Because yeah, sometimes we aim for something, not for the people behind us, but actually for something else, like being a superstar, or something like that. So I liked that reminder. The other thing about brand, actually that you mentioned in the book, this is something interesting for me as well. Everything you do at work, or in front of your colleagues and employer, actually affects your brand.

[00:38:44] Don Jones: Yep.

[00:38:44] Henry Suryawirawan: Tell me more about that.

[00:38:45] Don Jones: If you picked up a can of Coca-Cola one time and it tasted sour and off, you would be really less likely to pick up another can of Coca-Cola again. You’d be like, man, I don’t want to be screwed like that again. Every single engagement you have with people contributes to your brand. It tells them that this is a person I can take a complaint to, or this is a person I can criticize. I hope that people feel they can come up to me and say, “Hey, you know what? This thing you wrote really didn’t land very well, and here’s why.” And people have done that. And I’m like, oh my God. I had no idea that what I was writing meant that, where you lived. Let me go back and rewrite it because I want it to come across in a certain way. And they’re like, wow, you were really good about taking that feedback. I want to. I want to try and improve. I’m never going to be perfect. That’s all part of that brand.

It’s how you react. It’s how you show up. Is your brand one of reliability? Is it one of good communications? Is it one of working together? Is it one of someone who wants to help? One of the biggest things you can be at work. You look at job levels, right? Like level one, level two, level three, level five, whatever. One of the biggest differences between levels is not your technical expertise. It’s your ability to help others. Because if you’re a level five software engineer, you’re paid a lot. But you’re only going to produce about the same amount of code. Like just cause I pay you more, it doesn’t mean you suddenly code twice as fast. But if you can go help some level threes code better, like one level five, helping five level threes, you’re a force multiplier. You’re helping them become level fours, and they’re going to code better. So it’s all that. Are you known for that? Is that what you just naturally do? It’s all brand. It’s everything you do informs what people expect you will do next.

[00:40:24] What to Contribute and Finding Time

[00:40:24] Henry Suryawirawan: Another common complaint about building brand, especially external, not at work, is that I don’t know what to contribute. I’m not an expert in anything, or I don’t have time. What’s your take on this?

[00:40:34] Don Jones: You don’t need to be an expert. Here’s why. I’ve discovered there’s a biological phenomenon called a birthrate. And it means there’s new people on the planet all the time, and they don’t know as much as you. You don’t need to impress the people you respect and admire. Instead of looking up the ladder, and trying to climb the career ladder, look behind you and maybe someone needs a hand up. You don’t need to be an expert. Most of us who teach are not creating new information. I’m really well-known for Windows PowerShell. As you mentioned, I had a Microsoft MVP award for 16 years. I’ve written five or six books on the subject. I started powershell.org. I started the PowerShell Summit. I was Mr. Powers. I have a PowerShell tattoo on my leg. I’m not an expert in PowerShell. I can name five people off the top of my head who know more about PowerShell than I do. But people know me because for a lot of people, I was their first teacher. I’m really good at teaching the beginning stuff, to a point. I’m not really good once you get out of the United States, Western Europe, maybe Australia, Canada. Because a lot of my analogies and a lot of my examples just don’t hit home for someone who perhaps grew up in Asia. We don’t have a common frame of reference.

So just because I’ve already taught those things doesn’t mean you couldn’t teach those same things to a different audience. All we’re doing is repackaging information for a specific audience. And that’s why you don’t need to be an expert in something. You just need to be able to package it for a specific audience. Maybe one that isn’t being well-served already. That audience only needs to be one, two people. All you have to do is help one or two people. So you don’t need to be an expert to contribute. You don’t need to spend a lot of time. I think you should budget your time. I think most of us, if we really look hard at our workday, we’ve got an hour or two a day that we really aren’t doing much. And for me, obviously, sometimes just getting on YouTube and watching videos just helps your brain relax. For me, stopping what I’m doing and just knocking out a 500 word, a 500 word blog article on something helps my brain relax. It takes me out for a second and then I can get back in. I find those corners of time to be really useful, and I feel good that I got that done. And again, it’s about that you did it, not how many people actually came and read that blog article.

So, if it’s important to you, then you find the time for it. Maybe you find it from things that aren’t important to you. You stop doing other things that aren’t important, and you make decisions about your time. One of the things I talked in the book is inventorying your time. I used to use a device called a TimeFlip. It’s like a giant 12 sided die, and you can flip it to whatever activity you’re working on, and it tracks it in your computer. It’s not to punish yourself. It’s just to go and look and say, where did I spend my time? We use the word “spend time”. It is like money. Once you spend it, it’s gone, and you can’t have it back. So, where’s it all going? And is that where I want it to go? Do I want to do different things with it? Because now I can make some decisions and be a driver instead of just being a passenger and waiting to see what happens.

[00:43:35] Henry Suryawirawan: Another important reminder also, right? You’d spend the time, but actually you earn the same thing for everyone 24 hours.

[00:43:41] Don Jones: Yep. That’s all you get and you’ll never get a raise.

[00:43:44] Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. You never get promotion, bonus, and all of that.

[00:43:46] RAPID Decision Making

[00:43:46] Henry Suryawirawan: The other important topic about being a professional technologist, in my opinion, and also you mentioned in one chapter in your book, is actually to be a better decision maker. Because decisions make all the difference. And you have few things here, like, for example, a RAPID decision-making framework. So what is RAPID here?

[00:44:02] Don Jones: RAPID is a framework that Bain Capital, Bain Consulting Group, came up with. It’s a way for businesses to be very formal and clear and explicit about who makes a decision. So you have Recommenders, who can recommend, okay, I think this is what we should do. You have Agreers. I mean, they can’t necessarily change the decision. But if they disagree with something, they can force a rethink to make sure that this is, in fact, the right thing to do. You have the P, the Performer, the person who’s going to do whatever the decision was to do. I is Input. Those are all the people who need to provide inputs to the decision. And then you have one person. It needs to be one who is the Decision maker. They’re accountable for it. And they’re the ones who actually say, okay, I’ve looked at the inputs. I’ve looked at the recommendations. I’ve listened. This is what we’re going to do.

It resolves a lot. For one, if you really write these out like in a matrix and a grid, it makes sure that everyone who should have input gets a chance to offer it. It makes clear that, hey, not to be mean to you, but you’re an Input on this. You’re not a Recommender and you’re not an Agreer. I’ve got your input. I appreciate that. You might not be happy with it. But your happiness is not what’s at stake here. There’s other things. You’ve provided your input. I’m going to make the decision now. It helps everybody get all that out of the way upfront. Everybody knows where they stand, and everybody knows here’s how the process is going to go. It’s been extremely effective in a lot of companies I’ve worked for.

[00:45:29] Deciding What’s Enough

[00:45:29] Henry Suryawirawan: The other thing is about deciding what’s enough. I think we talked about it earlier. But sometimes we tend to don’t know when is good enough? So maybe, can you speak a little bit about this? How do you determine what is good?

[00:45:40] Don Jones: I think this is at the heart of Agile in a lot of ways, and it’s at the heart of human centered design. You can build something for the ages. I can build some software that’s going to scale infinitely, and it’s going to last for decades. But do we need that? Like, are we actually going to have an infinite number of customers, or are we going to have a thousand? It’s a computer thing, right? Like in a hundred years, it won’t make any difference. So, we don’t need to build it forever. We need to build it for five years, and then we’ll see where we’re at. Like you really just need to decide what is the outcome? What does success look like? And what do we need to build? And only build that. Don’t build more than that. Look at what makes the customer happy. Companies all the time have discussions about quality, better quality. Well, I mean, okay. But what does the customer think quality is? And how much quality are they willing to pay for? And let’s give them that much quality. And if they want more than that, they’re going to pay more than that. Are they willing? So you need to decide exactly who you are in the marketplace.

That applies to you as an individual. Like as an individual, you are a business. You get paid to provide a service to a company, and that makes you a vendor of sorts. You need to decide what is enough? What am I being paid for? They can have more than that. But am I willing to give it to them unless they pay more? Those types of business relationships are very important. And knowing this is what enough is. This is the target, and that’s all we’re going to aim for. And this is a reasonable target and we’ve done our market research and we know we’re good here. Let’s get there and then be Agile and we’ll see how it goes, and we’ll adjust from there.

[00:47:11] Henry Suryawirawan: You mentioned about Agile, also iteration matters, right? So maybe currently, this is good enough. But then you iterate, and you find, oh, actually we should improve something to this level.

[00:47:20] Don Jones: It’s one of the reasons that Agile is so important to businesses in general, not just software development. Because you can never know all the answers. Let’s say in 2018, you came up with this four-year plan and we’re going to do six weeks sprints, and here’s what we’re going to do every single time. And then March 2020 rolled around. And all of a sudden, the world looks very different. So there’s just no point in trying to project too far into the future. You just have to be comfortable with, I’ll quote from Douglas Adams, “rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty”. You have to know that you’ll never know. So just do a little bit and see what happens.

[00:47:55] Deciding What to Believe

[00:47:55] Henry Suryawirawan: Another decision making concept that you put in the book is called “deciding what to believe”, and this is associated with being data driven. So I know this gets talked a lot, especially if you work in a big company, your impact with data, right? So tell me more about this.

[00:48:09] Don Jones: Something we have to recognize as human beings, and this is just part of our brains. It’s not good or bad is that we have the ability to take an idea for which there is no evidence, no fact, no proof, but treat it as if it had been proven to us in front of our own eyes. Not to get political, but that’s the basis of religion, right? Is you don’t prove a religion exists. It exists because of your faith in it. For religion, that’s fine. But in business, in the workplace, you can’t do things because you, I hate the word “believe”. I try to never use it. I will instead say I have an opinion, which is based on my experiences and you can take it for what it’s worth. I have data, which means I have proven something and I have a fact, and I can prove it again and again, it’s provable. I can say I have a hypothesis. I think something might be true. And now we need to conduct some experiments to prove or disprove that. But try not to believe. Try not to operate with things that you can’t repeatedly prove. If something is repeatedly provable, then it’s a fact. If it’s not repeatedly provable, it’s not a fact. Maybe it’s a hypothesis, but maybe it’s a belief.

In business, you have to be willing to prove things. You do have to be a little careful. Back when I was getting into IT, it was Windows versus NetWare, and then it was Windows versus Linux. And everyone had a lot of strong opinions about it. None of them are right. I think at this point, we all figured out that it doesn’t really matter at all. It was Windows versus Mac, and now most companies have both because they’re like, we don’t care. It doesn’t matter as long as you can get to Word or Google Docs, we really don’t care what you’re doing it on. I work on an iPad most of the time. So, you got to let those beliefs go. You really have to examine everything from the lens of what can I prove, or what is a hypothesis that needs to be proven.

[00:49:51] Henry Suryawirawan: So speaking about belief, I know this is probably a little bit philosophical. But all these great entrepreneurs, they have belief in the first place, right?

[00:49:58] Don Jones: They had a hypothesis that something would be true. Elon Musk had a hypothesis that people would pay a crap load of money for an electric car. And then he started conducting some market research, which suggested his hypothesis might be true. His experience told him this is really true, like we need to prove it. But I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests it’s going to be true. So let’s take that anecdotal evidence and turn it into reality. This is brilliant. Can I get people to put money down before there’s even a factory? Can I get people to give me 10 grand to hold a car when I haven’t even built the factory? And it turns out yes, he could. And that was an easy experiment to try and prove the hypothesis.

So conviction is not quite the same thing as belief. Having a vision is not quite the same thing as a belief. Having a vision means you’ve taken a bunch of facts in your experience, and you’ve looked at the situation and said, my hypothesis is that this will be amazing. And then, you set out to very methodically prove or disprove that hypothesis. And that’s what entrepreneurs, successful ones, are really good at. We don’t usually see the process. What we see is a tweet saying electric cars for everyone, and then two years later, boom Tesla. But there is a process in the middle of there that really happened.

[00:51:19] Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for clarifying beliefs and conviction and vision. They are not the same.

[00:51:23] 3 Tech Lead Wisdom

[00:51:23] Henry Suryawirawan: So Don, I think it’s been a great conversation. I enjoyed, I learned myself a lot. But due to time, I think we have to end the conversation. But before that, I have normally one question I asked for all my guests. So basically it’s about three technical leadership wisdom. Things that you find insightful for you. And to share with everyone here so that they can learn from you as well. So what will be your three technical leadership wisdom?

[00:51:46] Don Jones: Three things about technical leadership. Be transparent. Explain why to people. People don’t have to like every single answer. But they, most of the time, have a right to understand how you got there. And it’s not so much that you have to explain yourself to people. They’re human beings. They’re engaging with you, and they’re putting some trust in you as a leader and they need to at least know the reasons. They need to understand your reasoning. So that’s a big one for me.

I think seek context. You don’t always know what’s running through someone else’s head. You don’t know what kind of day they had yesterday or anything else. And so when you’re engaging, it’s really easy to be in different places. And you’re saying words, but they’re not coming across with the same meaning. Find out why. Ask what’s going on with you? What’s in your head right now? Where are you at? How are you feeling? What’s your context? So that I can relate better. We can try and fix maybe your communication. So that’s a big one for me.

I think the last one is probably be your word, which as a leader sometimes is really difficult. Sometimes you fully intend to go one way, and then you find out the company needs you to go a different way. And your job is to go the way the company needs you to. What you’re paid for. You don’t have to like it. But as much as you can, be your word and when you can’t, own up to it. Just flat out say, yeah, it turns out I was wrong. I wanted to do A, but we’re going to have to do B.

[00:53:01] Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for sharing all this wisdom. So Don, if people want to connect with you online, or find all your materials, resources, books, where they can find you?

[00:53:08] Don Jones: Two places. DonJones.com lists all my books, and there’s a decent set of articles and career and everything else. My new project is Ampere Club. So this is https://ampere.club. That is completely focused around career ownership. So I’m writing an article every single week. You can get the monthly ones for free in your inbox if you want to. And we’re also doing an event. So I’ve gotten over a dozen people to record sessions around career ownership. And it’s career skills and soft skills and business acumen like explaining what a profit-and-loss statement is, and why that’s important, and explaining how companies are valued and all of that. So if you’re really, really interested in just picking up a little bit of career ownership advice on a regular basis, find me there.

[00:53:51] Henry Suryawirawan: Sounds really interesting. It’s ampere.club. I’ll make sure to put it in the show notes as well so that people can find it. And maybe you’ll find it interesting to own your career from those website. So Don, thanks so much for your time. It’s really a pleasure. I hope you good luck with everything that you do.

[00:54:05] Don Jones: Thanks. It was great talking to you. I appreciate it.

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