Episode 69 – Build Strong Work Relationships and Keep Moving Forward with Ben Stopford
Ben Stopford is a technologist working in the Office of the CTO at Confluent Inc (the company behind Apache Kafka), where he has worked on a wide range of projects, from implementing the latest version of Kafka’s replication protocol through to developing strategies for streaming
applications. Before Confluent, Ben led the design and build of a company-wide data platform for a large financial institution, as well as working on a number of early service-oriented systems, both in finance and at Thoughtworks.
In this episode, Phil sits down with Ben Stopford to discuss different kinds of career progress, the future of streaming data between different applications, and the importance of a healthy and positive work environment. Ben also touches on the benefits of learning everything you can from more experienced co-workers, and the power of motivation.
(1.02) Phil starts off the episode by asking Ben a bit more about himself. Ben reveals that, unlike most people in the IT profession, he did not study computer science in school but physics. He further elaborates that the majority of what he sees as the second phase of his career has been spent working on improving application streaming platforms.
(2.06) When Phil asks for a unique career tip, Ben emphasizes that it’s important to remember that there’s more than one way to progress in your career and that people shouldn’t feel pressured to try and “climb the corporate ladder” by taking management positions that really don’t suit them. He reiterates that you gain influence through respect and that you don’t have to be in management to achieve respect, just be someone who adds value.
(4.36) In answering Phil’s questions about his worst experience working in IT, Ben thinks back to his first job at an investment bank, where he had a boss who was extremely difficult to deal with and would scream at Ben and other employees. This prompted Ben to make a rule to never work for anyone he doesn’t like, and he advises that if a job isn’t right and makes you feel terrible, then it isn’t worth staying at, which Phil completely agrees with.
(6.30) Phil takes a lighter turn asking Ben about his favorite successes, to which Ben replies that he feels a major highlight of his career was forming a team at a different financial institution to find a way to increase its tech efficiency and how the different services of the company shared data. Ben says that it felt like they were on a mission and that it was productive and innovative work.
(8.46) Phil asks Ben what excites him the most of about the future of IT and, like many other guests, he’s most excited at how quickly the future is changing and that being in IT means being at the heart of that change. He points out that the future his one-year-old daughter will live in isn’t going to look like anything that came before it and that thinking about it “keeps him up at night,” to which he quickly adds “in a good way!”
(10.45) As they enter Phil’s rapid-fire Reveal Round, Ben sheepishly admits that he started working in IT for the money and that, while he did enjoy being a physicist for a while, it wasn’t making him enough money to survive on.
(11.20) Phil changes tack and asks about the best career advice Ben has ever received. Ben responds that the best advice he ever got was on dealing with difficult workplace situations by taking emotion out of the equation and sticking only to facts. He says that this helps defuse tension but is a lot easier to do in an email than in person.
(12.46) When Phil asks what Ben would do if he was starting his IT career over right now, Ben replies that first, he would start out learning computer science instead of physics, and he would make a point to work at a place that does pair programming so he could soak up as much fundamental knowledge as possible from the more experienced people around him.
(14.28) Phil asks Ben about his current career objectives, to which he affirms that he’s still on his mission to find better and more efficient ways of moving data between different applications.
(15.40) On the subject of the non-tech skill he finds the most useful, Ben brings up something called the Fundamental Attribution Error, which is sort of assuming the worst of people, like that the person who cut you off in traffic is just a jerk instead of someone who might be experiencing an emergency. Ben says that fighting against that urge and thinking more about why people do the things they do instead of making assumptions gives you a more balanced view of the world.
(16.56) To finish things off, Phil asks Ben for any parting words of advice for the listeners. Ben’s advice is to recognize that motivation doesn’t always last, so make the most of it when you have it and to capitalize on feelings of desire and motivation as much as possible.
(3.15) “Autonomy comes, really, from the respect that other people will have for you. If you add value to a company then you tend to get give s autonomy.”
(6.08)“Probably nothing affects your life more than the relationship you have with your colleagues and your boss, so that’s definitely worth investing in. And if it’s not right, just cut it. Cut it early.”
(9.52) “Today we’re able to build these much more integrated systems which work on much larger datasets. We have this whole field of heavyweight data technologies and streaming technologies that allow many different applications to coordinate that really wasn’t possible before.”
(14.06) “Go somewhere where you can have a formative experience to learn software engineering techniques, which you kind of have to learn from other people, or through experimentation yourself. But it’s a lot easier if you pair with people who know what they’re doing and have been doing it for 20 years.”
(17.05) “Motivation is probably your most precious commodity.”
Contact Ben Stopford:
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/benstopford/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/benstopford @benstopford
Website – http://www.benstopford.com/