Episode 101 – Trade Your Freedoms Wisely to Create the Perfect IT Career with Rob Lambert
Phil’s guest on his show, today, is Rob Lambert. He began his IT career working in the field of testing. He spent years building an agile team and coming up with a process that reduced release cycles from years to weeks. A way of working that is now used across the world. These days, he runs his own consultancy company. His focus is on helping managers and leaders to find the right people, retain them and develop their skills further.
(1.00) – So Rob, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Rob explained that he started his IT career by testing software. But, he always wanted to get involved in the creative industries by writing books and making films. It was that desire which led to him starting his blog and took him on his publishing and public speaking journey. He is kept very busy by his three kids and the demands of his work, but still finds the time to write his blog and publish a book every couple of years. When it comes to writing, Rob takes a disciplined approach. Every day, he just takes himself away, shuts off everything else and writes solidly for an hour. Usually, he produces 500 to 1000 words. Over the course of six months to a year, that adds up to at least one book.
(3.01) – Phil asks Rob for a unique IT career tip. Rob says that one of the things he teaches is learning to “trade your freedoms wisely”. Before you join an organization you need to stop and think about what freedoms you are trading to work for them. Organizations place all kinds of restrictions on you. They have rules you have to follow. Things like what you wear, where you work, which platforms you can work on, rigid processes you have to follow. All kinds of things, we never think about. If you end up working in an environment you hate on projects that bore you using clunky tools and processes, inevitably, you will feel frustrated. Think about your principles and values too. Rob and others involved in IT HR are seeing a lot of people burn out. Often, it is not because they are working long hours. It is usually because they are working for a firm that does not share their values and principles.
(5.06) – So, evaluating your right decision before you make a commitment? Rob says “Yeah, I think so.” Sometimes he goes into some less than stellar organizations and finds some really talented people, who could do a lot better. Yet they stay. Usually, it is because their most important freedoms are being met. Perhaps it is the salary, the fact the location is right for them, the team is good or that the projects they work on are interesting. Phil sums it up by saying it sounds like you need to find a fair balance between your values and the company you work for. Rob agrees, but says that sometimes that is not possible. In that situation working for yourself can be the right solution.
(6.45) – Rob is asked to share his worst career moment by Phil. A few years back, Rob got obsessed with wanting to earn more money. It led to him switching jobs. The interview was carried out in a swish, glamorous environment, but because the job was with The Ministry of Defense he did not get to see the actual office he would be working in. When he did, his heart sank. It was in a terrible state of repair, ceiling tiles falling off, holes in the wall. Nothing was happening, everyone was playing solitaire. It was awful – within 8 days he upped and left. Luckily, the next gig he found was perfect for him.
(9.08) – Phil asks Rob what he learned from that experience. Rob said, it taught him to never be driven by money alone. It is never enough compensation for doing an awful job. He also advises you not to take a job without seeing the workspace you will be working out of first. His third tip is to think carefully about the freedoms you will have to give up.
(10.27) – Phil asks Rob what his best career moment was. Rob is most proud of his time at NewVoiceMedia. While there he and that team took release rollout lead times down from 14 months to basically weekly releases. During his time there, they went from being a startup to employing 120 people and hired some of the best people in the industry. Employee retention and engagement was high and finding new colleagues was not hard. With hard but effective work, everything fell into place and the company was recently acquired.
(12.18) – Phil asks Rob whether there are things he has taken forward from that experience. Rob says it taught him how to become a manager. Across those 7 or 8 years he interviewed about 400 people and discovered his talent for HR and building successful teams. Those are the skills that have taken him to where he is today.
(13.28) – Phil asks what excites Rob about the future for the IT industry. The fact that companies are moving towards respecting their employees more is a promising sign. Firms are looking more at people’s individual strengths and allowing them to expand their skills and fulfil traditional roles in different ways. It is an environment that encourages people to thrive. It enables people to grow and carry the businesses forward at the same time.
(15.13) – What drew you to a career in IT? Rob was studying media science at university at a time when the internet was in its infancy. He was learning to take complex scientific subjects and working out ways to share them using the media with ordinary people. At the time, the internet did not seem important to him. Rob ended up doing all kinds of mundane jobs while at uni, for example, working in a snack factory. When he left university somehow he ended up as a software tester. That was it, suddenly, Rob found himself in the world of IT and he enjoyed it so much that he made it his career,
(16.19) – What is the best career advice you’ve ever received? Interestingly, for Rob that advice came from a book rather than a person. The book is called Growing a Business by Paul Hawken. It was written in the 80s and is basically about setting up and running a mail order company. But, the book is packed with great general advice that is still relevant today. The thing that caught Rob’s eye was the quote “a good business has interesting problems and a bad business has boring ones.” Now, when he looks for his next job he asks himself if the problems he will be solving will be boring or interesting. It is a great way to make sure he only works for the right types of companies.
(17.09) – If you were to start your IT career again, now, what would you do? Rob says that he would do pretty much the same. But, he would have learned a technical skill and how to communicate well, at an earlier point in his career. If you are a technical person with good communication skills finding good work is really easy.
(17.57) – Phil asks Rob what he is currently focusing on. Rob responded by saying that he is working on growing his management and consulting business. He is also working on his training arm by running more workshops and courses
(18.38) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Rob’s response was – “without a doubt, good communication skills”, which are essential. To help the IT Career Energizer audience to learn these skills, Rob shared a link to his book “10 Behaviours of Effective Employees”, which you can download for free, from this page.
(19.10) – Phil agrees, he says that sometimes we forget that communication is a two-way process. We tend to think about communication only from our own perspective. Not the other person’s. Rob agreed, no matter what you think you have done if the other person still does not understand. You have definitely not communicated effectively.
(19.47) – Phil asks Rob to share a final piece of career advice. Rob says it is really important to treat people, like people. Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated. If you are a manager build the type of team that you would personally enjoy working in.
(2.29) ROB – “I just write, and in that one hour a day, you maybe get, I don’t know, 500 to a 1000 words out. Over the course of six months to a year, you’ve got yourself a book.”
(3.59) ROB – “You have to be very careful about how you choose to trade your freedoms.”
(9.17) ROB – “Don’t ever be driven just by money alone. Because, you know what, it never compensates for what can be an awful job in an awful environment.”
(17.40) ROB – “Our industry is sadly lacking very technical people who can communicate and articulate with nontechnical people.”
(19.15) PHIL – “Sometimes we forget, the communication is a two-way thing.”
(20.04) ROB – “You’re never more than, you know, two or three LinkedIn connections away from someone who may or may not have worked with you in the past.”
CONTACT ROB LAMBERT:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Rob_Lambert @Rob_Lambert