Episode 125 – Push the Boundaries to Land Your Dream IT Job with Ian Massingham

 In Podcasts

Phil’s guest on today’s show is Ian Massingham. Ian has already had a long IT career and is still enjoying getting involved in new fields and pushing the boundaries. He started his career by working for a hosting and internet company that is credited with opening up the UK market. Ian and his team used their telecommunications and coding experience to provide fast and affordable internet services to thousands of UK homeowners.

Over the years, Ian has worked as an engineer, developer, manager and leader. Today, he leads Technical and Developer Evangelism for Amazon Web Services.


(0.58) – So Ian, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Ian starts by elaborating on the scale, scope and reach of his AWS role. He is responsible for educating software developers and technical end users of AWS on a global scale.

Plus, of course customers who are not yet users of the service. Helping them to see how they can use the platform to improve what they are currently doing and use it for new projects.

(1.57) – Does that mean that you have to travel a lot? Ian responds by saying yes. He has to attend a lot of different kinds of events and provide support for team members, right across the globe. Plus, he is a prolific speaker in his own right, which also entails a lot of travel.

(2.25) – Phil asks Ian to elaborate on the amount of public speaking work he does. Speaking is a big part of his role as the Director of AWS Evangelism.

In fact, his whole team spends a lot of time making presentations. When they recruit new members they look for people who are capable of connecting with software developers across the full range of skill levels.

(3.05) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Like many developers he went from being an individual contributor to a manager, then a leader and senior leadership roles. However, unlike most other IT professionals he has periodically taken a step back and worked as an individual contributor again.

This slightly unusual approach has really borne fruit. It has helped him to develop all kinds of new skills and deepen his understanding of the latest technologies and how they are deployed.

(4.09) – Phil asks if taking this approach refreshes his existing skills as well. Ian says absolutely. When he first joined Amazon Web Services, in 2013, his tech skills were getting rusty. He had just spent several years in a leadership role in which he did not really do any developing. So, when he joined AWS he took the opportunity to spend a bit of time working as an individual contributor, technology evangelist.

He really enjoyed reawakening and refreshing his skills, while he got up to speed with cloud computing. It enabled him to familiarize himself with the AWS way of working and their product range. Those three and half years took him into a lot of new areas.

(5.18) Phil says that it sounds like Ian enjoys keeping his hand in from a technical perspective. Ian agrees, that is true, which is one of the reasons he enjoys working for AWS so much.

Recently, they invested in AI and machine learning services. Just last year, they announced some robotics services. There is also Ground Station – a service for people who want to download data from their satellite infrastructure. So, there is plenty going on within the company that enables Ian to indulge his passion for new technologies.

(6.11) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? Ian says his worst moment was not a single incident, more of a challenging period in his career. Back in the 90s, he worked for a small hosting and internet access startup.

They provided hosting, mainly for businesses like Channel 4 and the Dixon stores group. At the time, most companies did not have a website, so this was actually quite exciting work.

In 1998, the Dixons group asked them to set up and run their new Freeserve internet service. It was an innovative service that grew at a phenomenal rate. At the time, everyone was still using dial-up. There was no cloud computing either. So, every time a customer signed up they needed server space and the company was constantly running more telecommunications links to the building.

Unsurprisingly, Ian and everyone else at the company ended up working ridiculous hours. It was an exciting time that opened up all kinds of opportunities for Ian, but it was also very stressful.

(9.14) Was there anything in particular that you learned from that experience? One of the things Ian learned from the experience was how to recruit. The phenomenal rate at which the company grew meant that Ian was constantly recruiting new staff.

It was a relatively new business which still had a startup mentality, so everything was very fluid. Recruiting the right people at a fast enough rate was a challenge, especially because the roles were so blurred. There was a lot going on, which meant people just had to muck in to get everything done.

In that situation getting the onboarding right proved critical. New staff needed to have the right support. Without it they could not settle in quickly and become viable members of the team. It was also important from a retention point of view.

Even today, when it comes to recruitment, Ian’s focus is on getting the onboarding process right. He knows from experience with the right support new people quickly ramp up to full capacity and are far less likely to leave after just a few months.

Making sure that people feel like they have got the right kind of support around them is really important in leadership.

(10.44) – Phil asks Ian what his best career moment was. Again, for Ian it was not a single moment, more a period in his career that he has found to be fulfilling. Right now, he is particularly enjoying the rate at which AWS is innovating and introducing new services. For example, in 2017, they introduced 1400 new services and features.

This astonishing rate of change ensures that Ian gets to talk to people about a huge range of services, technologies and innovations. He is also lucky enough to be able to find out, first hand, how people are using these new services and features. All of which he enjoys and loves speaking about.

In the past year alone, he has run sessions about the application of AI and machine learning. He also delivered the keynote speech at an O’Rilley AI conference, in London.

In April, he gave the closing keynote speech at a major AWS summit that was held in Singapore. At that event, he got to live demo a chatbot. During his presentation, the audience interacted with chatbots using text and Facebook Messenger. The really cool thing about the whole experience was that Ian was the one who had written and deployed the code being used. Naturally, that experience is one that he views as a career highlight.

He has also really enjoyed building out the AWS team. Seeing people that he has recruited grow and go on to bigger and better things is something that Ian takes a lot of pleasure from.

(13.12) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? Ian knows that the services AWS provides are going to free up organizations, so that they can focus their cash and time on being truly innovative. There is not going to be a need for the next generation of developers to spend their early career doing repetitive tasks.

For example, in the 90s Ian’s team would spend every Monday provisioning infrastructure. Now, that same task can be done with just a few clicks using the AWS console.

Freeing up people’s time in this way is going to have a hugely positive impact. It will leave developers free to be more creative and truly innovate. This means that all kinds of problems can be solved using the vast range of technologies that are now available.

(15.22) – What drew you to a career in IT? To answer that one Ian has to go right back to when he was a child. Back then, his father ran a training program for teachers. He produced all of the written training materials using a hand-cranked duplicating machine. At the time, photocopiers were too big and expensive for small organizations to own and run.

So, when he discovered he could computerize things, he did. Ian witnessed the way this transformed his father’s business. That in turn sparked his interest in IT. At school he got involved in technology in every way he could. So, it was only natural for him to study computer science at university.

(17.09) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Ian says he would not call it advice as such, more encouragement, which he listened to.

While he was working for Planet Online, they were taken over by a telecommunications firm. For Ian, this meant a change in direction, a big one.

His new boss saw something in him, so set about persuading him to get involved in the process of finding, assessing and acquiring other telecoms firms. In that role he had to deal with the CEOs of some very large companies, something Ian did not think he was equipped to handle. It was his boss who persuaded him that he could and he was right. In that role, Ian grew in confidence and acquired a whole new skill set.

(18.27) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Ian says that he would focus on software rather than infrastructure. Now that infrastructure is an area of diminishing impact. Today, it is all about software.

He would seek to learn a range of languages and become a true software engineer rather than just a developer. Having the ability to jump across different programming languages and a strong understanding of the foundations would be his aim. Ian believes anyone that is new to the industry will succeed if they take this approach.

(19.45) – What career objectives are you currently focusing on? Ian main task, right now, is growing his team. In fact, that is one of the reasons he wanted to join Phil for his podcast.

Currently, he is recruiting for all kinds of roles, positions he is very keen to fill. He is currently hiring managers and specialist evangelists for various domains. So, his immediate goal is to fill those positions, which are available in AWS offices across the world.

Ian will also be focusing on a couple of other AWS projects that are yet to be announced. He will also be hiring for those, a bit later in the year

(20.36) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Ian says for him the ability to communicate has proved invaluable. Being able to listen properly and understand what the customer wants and distil it down to its essential has really helped him in his career.

Ian points out that you also need to be an effective outbound communicator. It is very important to maintain high standards of public communication and to be able to adapt your message to suit your audience.

(21.51) – Phil asks Ian to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. “Don’t be afraid to try out new things.”

Apply for new roles even if you do not have all of the qualifications and experience asked for. Ian says that when AWS recruits, the specification they come up with is more of a wish list than anything else.

They really don’t expect to find many candidates that tick all of the boxes. That is the case for most organizations. So, it is always worth just applying for roles that you think might be just a little bit beyond you.


(4.48) IAN – “It was a great opportunity to come back to software development, and rediscover some of the more technical aspects”

( 10.32) PHIL – “I think the onboarding process and just embedding people into a team, making them feel part of what’s happening, is vital.”

(11.09) IAN – “In 2017, we released over 1400 new services and features. That’s a huge beat rate of new innovation. ”

(12.48) IAN – “It’s really awesome to see the talent that you’ve bought into the organization progressing through the senior IT levels.”

(15.03) IAN – “As software continues to evolve, the services will get more and more sophisticated,”

(21.45) IAN – “Those are really important skills in my view, communications inbound and outbound.”


Twitter: https://twitter.com/IanMmmm @IanMmmm

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/imassingham

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