Episode 160 – Learn How to See the Big Picture and Be Ready To Pivot with Mike Pfeiffer
Phil’s guest on today’s Career IT show is Mike Pfeiffer. He is a 20 year IT veteran and entrepreneur.
Over the years, Mike has worked for large companies like Microsoft and Amazon Web Services. More recently, he founded Cloudskills.io consulting, with the aim of helping more people to take advantage of cloud technologies.
Mike is passionate about teaching others and helping them to progress in their tech career. He runs his own blog and podcast, as well as providing training courses. Mike is the author of 4 tech books and a prolific conference speaker.
(1.07) – Can you please tell us more about your background and a bit about Cloudskills. Mike explains that he started Cloudskills.io after he left Amazon Web Services. At first, the team focused on consulting helping people to work out how to use the cloud and Azure. But, since then things have evolved and now they spend 70% of their time delivering cloud training.
(1.53) – What was the attraction of cloud in particular for you? Mike saw that working in the cloud was the future, so wanted to get as deeply involved, as possible.
It is important to see the big picture. To look up from the work you are doing, see what is going on and recognize when it is time to change direction. You need to give yourself the necessary leverage to be able to pivot when you want to.
(31.14) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Mike’s main tip is to look at your career as a business or as some people do as a sport.
There is a difference between your job and your career. Your job belongs to your employer, but your career belongs to you.
Spending a little time off the job ramping up your knowledge and getting yourself known will always pay dividends. But, you have to work at it, so you can leverage the opportunities in the job market.
(4.39) Do you think that is something that has changed in the job market? Or do you just think more of us have become aware of the need to do that? The fact that the lifespan of jobs is much smaller has lead to people having to be ready to change roles more often. So, being, open-minded, agile and moving with the times is essential.
(5.29) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. In the past, Mike was a bit over ambitious. He had a tendency to take on too much.
Once, due to pressure, he took on a development project for which he did not have enough time. His plan was to work on it over the weekends and in the evenings. That project burned up a lot of his time and energy. It turned out to be one of the worst career decisions he had ever made.
(6.55) – Did you feel sort of obligated almost to say yes? It was early in Mike’s career, so he felt he could not turn down an opportunity. Plus, he did not fully appreciate how much work would be involved.
(7.58) – What was your best career moment? About 10 years into his career, Mike started networking and working collaboratively. That change in approach that had a positive impact on his career.
He began speaking at conferences, blogging and building up his social media profiles. Eventually, this led to book deals, paid speaking gigs, online courses and a much higher profile for Mike.
Helping people who were coming up behind him has also been very beneficial. It was the catalyst for him starting his own business.
(9.05) – Please tell us about the books you have written. Mike has already published 4 books. He is currently co-authoring a 5th.
The first 4 books were all about shell scripting, specifically PowerShell. The one he is working on, at the moment, is related to Azure architecture and some of the certifications revolving around that. They are all available from Amazon.
(9.49) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that the possibilities and opportunities are endless is exciting. Cloud computing, has been and, will continue to be a great enabler.
At the click of a button, any company can get the infrastructure they need for any project or idea, in place. So, all kinds of interesting business and job opportunities can now come to fruition.
Mike is excited to see young people going straight into the IT business. Boot camps have made this possible for so many more people.
(11.49) – What first attracted you to a career in IT? Mike says that he kind of stumbled into it backward.
Around 1998, he met up with an ex-colleague he knew from when he worked in the sales department, at a call center. She invited him to join her in tech support.
At the time, he did not know much about computers. But, his phone and people skills were good and he was a fast learner. So, she felt that he would be a good fit.
That is when Mike realized how huge the tech industry was. His peers were using the knowledge they had picked up in tech support to secure a range of tech qualifications. Some of them did not need to do any extra college training to get their certification.
Mike decided to do the same. He worked day and night to educate himself and get the qualifications he needed to start his IT career properly.
(13.34) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? When he was working at Amazon, one of his mentors said – “don’t be a one trick pony”.
Mike took that advice on board and has made sure that he diversified his portfolio. He sees a lot of people getting caught up in the day-to-day tasks and losing sight of the big picture, something he has been careful not to do himself.
At one stage, Mike’s job formed a big part of his identity. He now understands that you should not let the job that you do define who you are.
It is never a good idea to just label yourself based on your job. Saying oh I am a server guy or a database girl, is underselling yourself. In reality, you are a technologist.
You need to keep an open mind and be willing to learn, to adapt. This enables you to stay marketable and remain agile.
(15.42) – What is the worst piece of career advice you’ve ever received? Mike has heard people say – “stick to what you are good at”. In a way, that is good advice because it means you play to your strengths. But, it is all too easy to take things too far and limit yourself and get stuck in a rut.
You need to play to your strengths. But, it is also important to build new skills. It might take you 6 months to get some traction and become proficient. But, once you do that you will be able to achieve so much more.
(16.43) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Mike says he would be drawn to software or web development. The opportunities in these fields are huge. There are tons of jobs out there for web, DevOps and application engineers.
But, to do well you need to have a solid grasp on the way the software works. Building that firm foundation will benefit your career, for many years to come.
Mike says he would go from High School straight to a code boot camp. Once he had graduated he would then build a portfolio of applications and demo projects. This is not the right path for everyone. But, for some people, it is the best approach.
(17.55) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Right now, Mike is in full business mode. His company is currently working on several ambitious projects.
However, Mike is still working to stay on top of what is going on in tech. He is also building content, programs, and online courses. Mike is continuing to post YouTube videos and present his podcast. He is also keen to continue to lower the ladder down to others and help them to succeed.
Over the years, he has found assisting others to be mutually beneficial. In fact, for Mike, getting into the habit of doing that has been a game changer.
(20.06) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Good communication skills make a huge difference to how effective you are. For a lot of people that work in tech, these skills do not come naturally. It is all too easy for them to get into the habit of spending all day sitting in front of a screen coding and become introverted.
If you do not learn to communicate effectively it is hard to get your ideas noticed and find interesting work. Good communication skills are essential.
(21.58) – What do you do to keep your own career energized? Continuing to grow, learn new things and teach others is what keeps Mike energized and enthusiastic about his IT career.
In the early days, figuring out how everything worked was what motivated him. Today, it is helping others and continuing to learn that keeps him energized the most.
(23.27) – What do you do away from technology, in your spare time? Mike likes to keep moving. He lifts weights and does cardio workouts five or six times a week.
For him, it is not just about physical fitness. Working out helps Mike to think clearly and get more done. Exercising in the morning sets him up for the day.
He eats clean and really notices the difference if he goes off the rails and starts working 15 hour days, eating the wrong things and not exercising enough. When he does that, he soon gets grumpy and struggles to think straight.
(24.53) – Phil asks Mike to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Mike’s advice is to trust your gut. Most people have good intuition. Listening to your gut will help you to spot what you should be doing next.
It is also important to share what you know. Don’t allow fear of being criticized by others stop you from doing that.
Imposter syndrome should not get in your way. Just share what you know.
Start a podcast, record an online course, go to a meetup and contribute. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to share what you already know. There is always someone who is one step behind you. So, you will always be able to help.
(3.52) MIKE – “Your job belongs to your employer. Your career is yours.”
(14.02) MIKE – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, don’t align yourself to one particular technology”
(17.31) MIKE – “I would go straight out of high school to a code boot camp.”
(21.13) MIKE – “Work on your ability to communicate with other people, and express your ideas, and work on your persuasion skills.”
(22.38) MIKE – “Continuing to always grow, learn new things and teach other people is really what keeps me energized.”
Company Website: https://cloudskills.io/