Episode 139 – Treat Your Career as an Investment and Help Other People to Succeed with Keith Casey
Phil’s guest on today’s show is Keith Casey. For nearly two decades, he has been working in the IT industry. During that time, he has worked as a systems developer, IT architect, technology officer, principal advisor and senior developer evangelist.
He is now working for Okta as a member of their Platform Team, specifically on Identity and Authentication APIs. Keith is also a well-known public speaker.
(00.57) – So Keith, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Keith explains that his first job, after leaving college, was working at the Library of Congress, helping them to digitize everything. The lengths they go to capture every element of a piece of information is amazing. So, when people ask him how much data is held in the Library of Congress, he finds it impossible to give an accurate answer.
Naturally, at this point, Phil asks him for the figure. Keith’s response is to explain, that when he got started there were no blogs, iTunes or any of the platforms that churn out a huge amount of information every day. Yet, it was estimated that the librarians would have had to catalog around 200 terabytes a day to have been able to keep pace with what was being produced, even back then.
(2.28) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Keith’s top tip is to treat your career as an investment. Think about the long term, in the same way you would if you were investing in shares.
So, when deciding if it is worth learning how to use a tool, think about how it will help you in both the short and the long term. By all means learn the tools you need to be able to do the job you are doing right now. But, make sure that you also pick up skills that you will be able to use for the next 5 to 10 years.
(3.23) Phil agrees. He thinks there is too much short-termism, especially when it comes to learning programming languages. People tend to just learn what they need to get by on their current projects. But, fail to learn and understand the underlying principles.
(3.59) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. For Keith that was when he accidentally corrupted a huge news article database while working on an App for Associated Press, about 15 years ago.
Fortunately, there was a backup. Unfortunately, it was 8 hours old. News happens continuously. So, even after the restoration, there were around 64,000 updates still missing. This was a tough way to learn not to do development work in production.
(5.50) – What was your best career moment? For Keith that happened when he was working as a developer evangelist at Twilio developing the SMS API. As an evangelist, one of his key roles was to get out there and show that their stuff worked. Whenever possible, Keith and his colleagues would do a 5-minute demo in front of an audience. They would open an empty Vim file and build an application right there and then. Then use it to allow the people in the room to send them a text straight away. This demonstrated that their stuff really worked and was super quick and easy to use.
For Keith these presentations gave him a huge lift. Seeing so many people’s eyes light up was amazing.
(7.38) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The pervasiveness of today’s tech is something that Keith finds exciting. It is everywhere and touches every aspect of our lives. No matter what your passion is, you can get involved in tech.
For example, if you are interested in farming, there are self-driving tractors, data analysis, drones and all kinds of other things. Working in tech no longer means sitting behind a screen most of the time. You can go out and touch the real world and see how what you are doing affects everyone.
(8.39) – What drew you to a career in IT? For Keith it was the fact that it is a great way to pay the bills.
Interestingly, his desire to succeed in tech was also partly driven by the fact that he is a theatre geek. He really enjoyed the fact that IT opened up new ways for him to get things done in the theatre.
(9.01) – Can you give us an example of how you used your IT skills in the theatre? Keith explained that using basic trigonometry they were able to set up microphone arrays along the edge of the stage. This enabled them to get the lighting rig to figure out where an actor was on stage and automatically follow them with a spotlight.
(9.29) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Keith says that has to be – “Help good people around you.” Do it without expecting anything back. Just help them because they are fantastic.
Doing that has led to some really great things for Keith. Through this habit, he has developed several important personal and business relationships.
(10.02) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Keith says that he would probably go deeper into security, especially now that IoT is so big. For this to succeed, better security is essential.
(10.32) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Actually, that is connected to what he was saying earlier about building up people around you. He is currently working with an international startup accelerator program called TechStars.
(11.00) – So, what sort of projects are involved in that? Keith explains it could be anything. But, he particularly likes getting involved with the ones that are for industries where the use of tech is still a fairly new thing. His focus tends to be on product market fit, especially for more technical products.
(11.51) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Being able to get up on stage and explain a concept from beginning to end has proved to be very useful. If you can do that, you will win 80% of all conversations, simply because most other people cannot explain in such an effective way. Plus the fact that you are a public speaker means that you automatically get a certain level of respect. Interestingly, Keith learned his presentation skills largely as a result of being a theatre geek.
(12.25) – Is that a skill that has evolved and developed over time? Keith explains that he still actively works at it. In particular, he studies the old school comics like Richard Pryor and Steve Martin. They do the same thing again and again, yet still manage to keep their audiences engaged.
(13.09) – Phil asks Keith to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Keith’s advice is not to be afraid to experiment. You do not necessarily have to restrict yourself to only learning things for which there is a pressing need. Also, Keith says it is a good idea to learn through other people’s experience.
(2.43) KEITH – “Treat your career as an investment.”
(3.25) PHIL –“I think there can be too much short-termism in terms of what people look out.”
(8.26) KEITH – “You don’t have to just be behind a screen 24 seven, figuring how to build things.”
(9.37) KEITH – “Help good people around you. You’ll cross paths with fantastic people.”
(13.33) KEITH – “Just go and learn things you will never be hurt by knowing more.”