Episode 163 – Learn How to Build a Firm Foundation for Your Career with Ted M Young
Phil’s guest on today’s show is Ted M Young. He started programming at the age of 13. As an adult, he became a software engineer, working for eBay, Google, the US government, Guidewire Software, and Apple. While working for them he led eXtreme programming projects and introduced Lean and Agile working practices.
Ted’s passion is coaching and training. In 2017, he refocused on this aspect of his IT career and became a technical trainer, consultant, and coding coach. Today, he teaches online as well as in person.
(1.08) – You have been working in software for several decades now. During that time, are there any highlights that you still draw on? Ted explains that his father was into the stock market, in particular, the technical analysis side of things. At 13, Ted wrote a program to draw his father’s analytical charts. Eventually, that program got sold to Dow Jones, who was, at the time, selling software packages.
(2.14) – I bet your father was pleased. Ted replies that he was. My working on his program and newsletter made things far easier for him.
(3.07) – So, you’ve moved more into technical training and coaching. Why did you choose to go down that path? A friend got Ted involved in coaching. At the time, he had a fairly rudimentary understanding of Java but knew more than most people.
So, when his friend asked him to do some Java training, he was a bit reticent to start with. But, decided to give it a go. This was despite the fact that, back then, he was still painfully shy.
In an effort to address Ted’s shyness his father sent him on a public speaking course. It did not help much and was an awful experience. But, when he delivered the training, he actually did really well. Mostly because of what he had learned on the course.
The fact he was still learning Java himself meant that he had an innate empathy for his students. He was able to explain things in a way a total beginner could follow.
After that, he was in demand as a teacher and coach. But, in 2000, he stopped his training work. Instead, he focused on working for big corporations like eBay and Google.
But, 4 or 5 years ago he got involved in an intern program. While doing that he realized that he really missed teaching and mentoring.
Fortunately, not long after that, a friend told him about a great job at Apple. They were looking for a consultant who was also able to carry out internal training. The role was a perfect fit for Ted and the pay was good. He enjoyed the job so much that when he decided to go independent he carried on offering training.
(7.04) – How is working as an independent going for you? For Ted, it was a tricky transition. At first, he did not spend much time actively selling his services. As a result, he did not always have enough work. But, now he is marketing himself and building his brand more, things are going well.
(7.53) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Ted’s advice is not to be afraid of moving company’s regularly. When you do that you learn faster and make more connections.
A lot of the people he trains are graduates. Many of whom are working for large companies. Naturally, they ask him what they ask Ted for career advice. Things like how long should I stay here?
Ted’s advice is for them to continue working with a big company for a while. This gives them the chance to get used to how large corporations work. Invaluable knowledge that they can use later in their career. After about 2 years, graduates need to move to another large company, which they should also aim to leave after a couple of years.
This is the case even if they love what they are doing. The idea is to get 4 years of working for large firms on their resume, learn how large corporations operate and grow as a professional.
With this foundation, it is easier to go on and do other things. Including working for a small company. Usually, when you take this approach, you can easily circle back and rejoin one of the big companies you previously worked for.
This is also a relatively quick way to bump your salary up. Each switch will normally lead to you earning more.
Saving some money at an early stage in your career is also a good idea. This gives you the freedom to say no to roles that are not a good fit for you.
(9.32) – You mentioned the dynamics of working within a larger organization. Can you elaborate a little more on how this impacts your relationship with your team, co-workers and how you interact with the company? Ted starts by explaining that when you work for a big firm you have to rely on influence a bit more. You have to convince your managers as well as your team that your approach is the right one.
The way you interface with other groups within the company is also more complex. You have to coordinate very closely with them. When you work for a larger firm you have to be very observant. You need to be able to quickly pick up on the fact something is not going well so that you can take steps to correct the issue before it works its way up the chain of command.
(10.47) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. That happened over 15 years ago when Ted was still working at eBay.
At the time, the company was upgrading its website search facility. They had found a way to allow users to cut down the search results using product attributes. So, if someone wanted a digital camera that had a minimum of 4 megapixels the user would only be presented with products that met those criteria. Enabling people to find what they needed faster was key to improving sales.
Now, most e-com sites have that facility. Fifteen years ago, it was a radical change. Initially, things went well, the new facility worked like a dream. Not perfect, but pretty good.
But, for some reason, which Ted cannot fully remember, he wanted to change the way things were read and written from the database. At least for the work that was done internally. To achieve this they decided to use Java data objects, which was pretty new, at the time.
Initially, the switch progressed quickly. They got about 70 to 80% through the library and project. At which point, things slowed. It began to feel like they were climbing a mountain. Despite working weekends, progress was slow and nobody could work out how much more work was to be done. It was impossible to tell when the task would be finished. Eventually, someone pulled the plug on the project. Ted was relieved, despite the fact that having a major project canceled was not a good situation to be in.
This awful career moment taught Ted a lot about managing large changes. Now, if he had to do something similar, he would figure out a way to do it in stages.
(16.22) – What was your best career moment? That happened not long after Ted joined Guidewire, in the late 2000s. In some of his previous roles, he had been using eXtreme programming and Agile techniques. Very quickly he realized that Guidewire would benefit from working in a similar way. So, he put that suggestion forward.
His manager and the Dev manager were both keen to give it a try and let Ted take the lead in introducing Lean and Agile working techniques. A move that made a really positive difference to the way the teams worked. It felt great to be allowed to make a big change like that and even better to see it make such a positive difference.
(18.40) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? When Ted started programming, information and support were both really hard to come by. Now, it does not matter what you need to know someone out there will have the information.
Better still, they will want to share it with you and usually provide support. If you want to do something new it is surprisingly easy to find others who are able to help you to figure out how to do it. This is very exciting because now things progress at a much faster rate.
(20.28) – So you feel the IT industry is more inclusive now? Ted explains that it is more than that. Now, you also have the critical mass needed to make things happen.
(21.18) – What first attracted you to a career in IT? Ted always loved coding and problem-solving. The fact he could be paid well for doing it was a bonus.
(22.22) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Quite late in his career, someone said to Ted – “You should be a coach.” For Ted that was important advice, because it led to him doing work that he loves.
(23.03) – Conversely, what is the worst career advice you’ve ever received? Oddly, it came from his father who advised him to work for a financial firm. In a way, it was sound advice. The pay was good, there were plenty of financial firms operating in his area and Ted’s work with his father meant that he already had a good understanding of the industry.
But, Ted is glad he did not take that advice. He has done quite a bit of training and coaching for financial firms and knows that type of working environment is not for him.
(23.51) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Ted says that he would probably challenge himself more. Instead of sidestepping things like working with databases and handling complex sequel he would face these things head on.
In the end, digging deep into things you find hard, rather than finding ways around them, stands you in good stead. He also wishes he had learned C++ back in the day.
(25.03) – Phil comments that it is hard to work out which language to learn. Ted agrees, but for him, it was more a case of taking the line of least resistance and relying too much on what he already knew. Today, he would periodically ask himself what he is avoiding. Then go out and find someone to help him to understand and work through those things.
(25.33) – What objectives are you currently focusing on in your career? Ted wants to do more coaching, so that is one of his main focuses.
But, he would also like to do more live stream coding. The fact that people can ask questions in live time makes it a very effective way to teach. It is good for others to see that people like him, who have been coding for decades, still have to look things up and can go down a rat hole. It helps them to realize that they are better than they think. To understand that even experienced professionals are still learning, as they go.
(27.15) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Ted says that he has always been naturally good at coming up with checklists and processes that work. He finds that doing this helps him to work more efficiently and not miss anything important. The ability to systemize things has helped him in all sorts of ways, during his IT career.
(28.27) – What do you do to keep your own IT career energized? Ted finds that live coding energizing. But, it is also tiring. Working, talking and explaining things for 3 straight hours can be mentally exhausting. But, it does give you a buzz.
(29.16) – What do you do in your spare time away from technology? Ted is a distance runner. He lives in the Bay area, so he is always able to run in a beautiful environment, in a temperate climate. When he is running, he does not think about tech.
He is not particularly competitive about his running. But, he does sort of compete with himself, which is why he tracks himself with his Apple watch.
(30.58) – Phil asks Ted to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Ted says that it is important to check for understanding.
If you are teaching someone, try to get them to paraphrase what you have just explained to them. It is all too easy to lose someone who does not have the same level of familiarity with a subject as you do.
His other piece of advice is not to be afraid to ask questions. You need to get past the awkwardness of doing that to be able to further your understanding.
(5.25) TED – “When you’re closer to the learning part, rather than being an expert, it makes it much easier to teach.”
(7.27) TED – “As an independent, you have to market and sell yourself.”
(15.41) TED – ” Don’t bite off too much when you’re completely in the dark about what’s going on.”
(22.07) TED – “There’s a certain joy in, especially for me today, sharing my knowledge.”
(25.21) TED – “Ask yourself what am I avoiding? What am I afraid of? Then find someone to help you to understand.”
CONTACT TED M. YOUNG: