Since you’ve stayed with me this far, you’re probably eager to hear David’s top tips for making the most of your transition and succeeding in your new tech role. After all, having successfully completed this significant transformation, he’s well positioned to share his take on what works best.
A tale of generosity and giving
If you’ve read my account of Syk’s transition, chances are you’re also seeing the pattern I’m seeing – one of generosity and giving. This is where it could easily get philosophical: is success at the root of generosity or… could it be the other way around? In any case, David believes strongly (as do I) that a giving attitude is the only way to go.
When I was in university I was like: ‘I’m gonna work for Google. That’s where I wanna work. I wanna be there, I wanna be the best!’. So I was the first Google student ambassador in Dublin and I got them to come to Synapse, but, you know, then Ethan’s condition kinda took a bit of a dip, so I was never gonna be able to travel to Dublin so I kinda let go of that dream. And now, you know, I’m happy to learn Google tech, teach it to other people, I’m happy to put people in touch with some of my connections in Google, see if they can get on. I’ve learnt that I really enjoy seeing other poeple succeed. I can take some joy in that and I’m quite happy to do it that way.
You might be thinking ‘Sure, that’s nice, but he’s doing it mostly because he cannot use the opportunity himself’ – but let me stop you right there, as you couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, generosity is David’s default, on and off the job:
In any job I go – and I’d like to say to anybody else – if you can try and make yourself redundant, that’s probably the ideal situation. You’re not going to be let go because you’ve thought someone else had to do your job. It just means you don’t have to do that same old thing anymore. You can teach someone else to do it and then move into… you can move on. And this is this is the bit that confuses people. People want to hold on to a certain process or a certain way because it’s ‘job security’. I can guarantee you it’s NOT, because technology will change and that will not be needed sooner or later. It’ll just be rolled over and it’ll be gone…
1. Keep learning
First of all, given that, as David says, what you’ll be working on likely hasn’t been even invented yet, it’s critical that you realise you’ll need to keep learning. Or is it§
Yeah, absolutely! So, like I said, I did the Google Clouds certificates last year, I did the Amazon one this year, and I’m moving into Prince 2, which is a project management certificate I want to do this year. So yeah, we’re always learning, anywhere in technology. There’s always something new happening. Like I said, anybody starting university now, their entire lives will be spent working on something that hasnàt been invented yet. So…
And here’s a quick bonus inter-generational wisdom from David. In his experience – mature students had plenty of life experience and a cool factor to bring to the equation, while their younger colleagues have their pulse on everything fresh. Better together:
So to any young students out there, make friends with the old guys, they know what’s up! And the old guys need to make friends with the young guys – they know what’s hot and fresh and new. Any new technology – they’re on it, so it works both ways, we can help each other out!
Best way to learn is to get a study group
Oh, get friends, get a study group – you can’t study everything, you can’t break down everything all by yourself. Study groups are the way to go – of people you trust and are supportive and want to do well together, don’t just want your answers. We were equal parts – everybody did their work, and they shared their work when they had notes taken or bits broken down into easy ways to remember – we would share this. Very important !!!
2. A word on tools
Moving on to some very specific tips now.
Don’t sign up until you’re ready
Whatever you’re learning – chances are you’ll bump into services that offer a trial period. In David’s case – these were the Amazon Web Services, and Google Cloud, but depending on the path you’ve chosen, you will definitely encounter others. Most of the trials are free for a limited duration only, so to maximize your opportunities for learning – here’s David’s tip on this. In fact, he’s bundled it up with two more tips – all stemming from his own experience. Ready?
Don’t sign up for the Google or Amazon free trials until you need them, because they only last a year and if you’re not gonna use them properly, don’t waste them, cause you’ll need them later on. I wish somone had told me that earlier…
If you can go to user groups, to Google developer groups, or to AWS user groups – if it’s convenient, do so, if there’s something specific going on that you wanna learn, go. But don’t go to all of them, because you’re gonna burn out – it’s mentally draining to go and concentrate after a day of work or after a day of college… So pick the ones you want, be a part of lots, and TALK TO PEOPLE, talk to a lot of people, even if it’s just talking about what you got done that day, you never know where connections are gonna come back and help you, something someone said somewhere will spark something in you and you’ll go – Oh, I know this, or I know this person… … and that’s a great opportunity, maybe I’ll apply to their [opportunity]… You don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors… so the more you open up, I suppose, the more successful you’ll be.
Also – get a mentor, get a mentor TOMORROW, get a mentor YESTERDAY if not sooner!!!
Speaking of learning: as you do, you’ll likely take planty of notes. It’s super important to be intentional about them – to set up a way to organise them from the get-go. It’ll help you memorize things more easily, avoind having to retrace your steps… One way to really get the most of your learning – both while you’re learning and beyond, is to really take care of your notes. Here’s David’s approach to organising his:
So I have my OneNote where I have a lot of notes, and other things that I can link to and go back and read, and it’s searcheable… So I use the tools that I have – there’s no one way for everybody…
Now using what you’ve got is sound advice from David. If you already have the Microsoft office pack, chances are OneNote’s bundled in there, look int up. If you don’t (and I’m gonna stray here from the interview for a second), have a look at Notion – I use it all the time and personally LOVE love it.
3. Read. Like, A LOT.
What to read? Oh – David’s got you, and I’m happy to echo his appreciation of these two books And turns out there’s more to reading in tech than just… well, technical books and instructions and documentation. There’s quality literature too, and chief among these books – David’s recommended reading:
There are two books for DevOps people – there’s The Phoenix project and The Unicorn project. And in The Phoenix project you’ll have the ideals – the 1st through 5th ideals. And in The Unicorn project you’ll have the ways, the three ways of working. So – the first ideal’s locality and simplicity, the second ideal – focus, flow and joy; the third ideal – and I’m reading these off my wall, I have them up… I read them every day. I see them there on the wall – that’s what I want to bring and a security developer. If I can do that – I know I’m going the right way. So I have them up on the wall to remind myself that. So, the third ideal – improvement of daily work, the fourth ideal is psychological safety, and the fifth ideal is customer focus.
Our customer is gonna pay for it – that’s what we should be working on. We shouldn’t be working on having a great payment system for our wages, our customers don’t pay for that. We can outsource that – that’s not our business. Our business is what our customers will pay for. Yeah, and psychological safety – like I said, high performing teams are ones were you feel safe to to say ‘Hey, I messed up’. That’s a big, BIG one – if you want high performance you need to be able to be honest, without fear of being pointed fingers at, or anything like that… Improvement of daily work – – that’s what we did as the SecOps team – we want to improve other people’s daily work, make them feel valued, give them a view of the wider scope of what’s going on in the company… Focus, flow and joy – if you can get those things moving in your job – where you’re happy to go in there, know what you’re going to do, you know what the next step is and you’re not waiting for someone else to finish something to progress your job, then you’re gonna be a lot happier… And then, moving back to locality and simplicity – I should be able to make changes, on my code, here, without the need for 15 other people to check it… I wanna be able to make these changes and test…
So those are the ideals, and then there’s the ways as well – I won’t spoil them for you – as you’ve yet to get to them in the books…
I’m gonna veer off the interview here for a second, just to say that while The Phoenix Project comes with a wide range of reviews, I highly recommend it to you as a mid-career transitioner to tech. As David pointed out, it’ll deliver a good intro into the world of DevOps and the real-life value of agile methodologies. Since the plot is anchored in the business reality of a company, it’s probably going to be even more interesting to you if you’re coming from a career in a business role that you’ll recognise in the book. Regardless of your background, however, it’s a friendly read that will immerse you in DevOps and agile. As you read through it, be sure to stop to look up any new concepts and take a moment to reflect on your learning – jot down notes and, why not, write a brief review while you’re at it 😉?
4. Surround yourself with good people
I loved how throughout our chat, David came back over and over again to the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. Whether it was the continued support of his wife, the importance of study groups or the priceless support of mentors – I was left with the distinct feeling that David was on to something… However strong your resolve, however ardent your ambition, chances are you’ll need someone to celebrate your little wins with, someone to boost you when you’re losing steam, and someone to hold you accountable when, invariably, your resolve is tested. Mentors, it turns out, are best placed to do all this.
Get a mentor
Find someone you think is smart in your company – and approach them and say ‘Hey look, I want to get better… I want a mentor’. Someone who knows the ways, someone who knows the ins and outs, someone who knows what you need – you’ll need to check some boxes to be able to get to your next step… Find someone who you get on with, who you respect, and ask them to be a mentor.
But why – why do you think mentorship works, David?
I think just having access to these people [mentors]… I think I’m smarter from just being around them, you know? You just pick things up, from the way they look at problems…
That said, let’s move on to the last part of this article – where we ask David to do the math and let us know if he’s happy with his decision to transition and whether it all turned out the way he’d hoped it would.