Episode 182 – Accurately Identify Your Training Needs and Learn to Network to Improve Your Skill Set with Jeremy Clark
Phil’s guest on today’s I.T Career Energizer podcast is Jeremy Clark. Currently, his focus is on helping IT professionals to quickly improve their skills. He has authored several courses for Pluralsight, a platform that enables developers to assess their current skill levels and identify the right training path for them.
Over the years, Jeremy Clark has delivered more than 300 technical presentations at conferences, throughout the world. He has also spent over 9 years of his career sharing his knowledge as a consultant and mentor.
(00.49) – Can you maybe tell us a little bit about some of the courses you’ve written for Pluralsight. To date, Jeremy has produced 7 courses for that platform.
He wrote his C# Interfaces course, largely because as a new developer he struggled to understand what interfaces were. The same is true of his Practical Introduction to Dependency Injection course.
Most people get introduced to dependency injection backwards. Typically, they get given an application that has a DI container and just left to try to figure things out themselves.
Jeremy currently speaks at conferences on about 20 subjects. All of which he has struggled with, at some point. He finds helping others to get over the speed bumps he faced to be very rewarding.
(2.33) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Jeremy’s advice is to get involved with people in the industry as much as possible. Make it a goal to attend a meetup, or something similar, at least once a month. When you do that your world gets a lot bigger, really quickly.
You learn so much. Often, you will find people working with the same tools as you, but using them in a different way. Or, you will come across developers who are doing similar work to you. But, are using tools you do not know much about. Either way, you get to learn a lot from them.
Unfortunately, at the moment, Jeremy is not able to do this as much as he would like. The nearest meetups and user groups are at least an hour and a half drive away. So, he struggles to attend them regularly.
But, to some extent, attending conferences fills in the gap for him. Attending and speaking at them means that he still gets to interact with others who are working in the industry.
(5.16) What would you recommend to someone who cannot get to meetups, conferences or other physical events? Right now, there are not many effective virtual groups for people to join. But, that is something that Jeremy is trying to change.
In the meantime, his recommendation is that people listen to podcasts as a way of learning. Live coding is good too. On twitch streaming, there is usually some interaction and you can follow individual coders.
(6.55) Can you share with us your worst IT career moment and what you learned from that experience. Fortunately, Jeremy has not had any of those oh my goodness I’ve just deleted the production database moments. But, he has found himself working on projects where there are at least 3 layers of project managers sitting between you and the end user.
That sort of project setup makes it is all but impossible to come up with something that meets the end users needs. You just can’t get close enough to them to find out what would actually be helpful. Everything gets filtered through layers of project managers and the important things are lost in translation. Usually, things get bogged down to the point where great solutions get left on the shelf. In the end, progress slows and the project gets cancelled.
These days Jeremy recognizes those flawed projects and does not get involved. Instead, he focuses on working on things where he stands a good chance of having a positive impact.
(9.20) – What was your best career moment? Jeremy’s biggest successes have come from his habit of getting to know what his end users needed.
For example, he was in the office one day speaking to a group of administrative staff. While he was there chatting to them he ended up watching how they were working with the system.
He noticed that they were spending quite a bit of time creating a report to print out to help them to carry out their job effectively. So, he said to them would it be helpful if I put a print screen on the admin screen. Of course, they said yes. It took him just 5 minutes to do it. Yet that simple change saved the admin team a huge amount of time and stress every single day. They had not thought to request the change because they had assumed it would take too long and cost too much to have it done.
Every time Jeremy spends time working alongside the end users he finds that he is able to make a huge difference to how easy it is to get their job done.
(13.44) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that we can change the world really easily is something Jeremy finds really exciting about the IT industry.
(15.10) – What first attracted you to a career in IT? The idea of being able to automate tedious tasks is what first appealed to Jeremy. It all started while he was working as a hotel receptionist to pay his way through university.
At the time, every week, the assistant manager spent hours putting the schedule together using Excel. It was a long and tedious task. There was a lot of cutting and pasting involved because she had to produce multiple sheets. One for management, another for the union and several others.
Jeremy realized he could set things up so that she entered the information once and it populated all of the other formats automatically. Doing that made him realize he could get paid well for doing something similar in other workplaces.
(16.27) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? That advice came from David Neal. He has a great saying – You don’t have to ask permission to be awesome.
It does not matter what approach you take to the job. As long as the results are awesome, your boss will be happy.
For example, if you have a situation where test driving development will just take too long. Just get on with it and produce the software. Get it done and your manager will not care that you did not follow the test-driven development path.
(17.18) – Conversely, what is the worst career advice you’ve ever received? Someone once told Jeremy to just do what he was paid to do. At the time he was working as a consultant. The person he was speaking to was of the opinion that he should just do what he was hired to do. Even if he could see that the company he was working for was heading in the wrong direction.
This approach is not one Jeremy feels comfortable with. Instead, he likes to dig a little deeper and get a better understanding of what he is being asked to do and why. For example, on one job he asked to go into the field to see how the software he was working on was being put to work by the end-users. The project manager appreciated that approach. As a result of finding out about the customer’s pain points were the rewrite was much better than it would have otherwise have been.
As Jeremy says, people don’t hire him to be quiet and do what he is told. They hire him because they want to tap into his problem-solving skills.
(18.44) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Jeremy would get involved with other users as soon as possible. It is a good way to learn a lot and it is a fast way to build up your network. If you do that, finding your next role becomes a lot easier.
(20.10) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Jeremy is currently working in the training space, so his focus is there. He is doing a lot more conference work. Mostly because it is such an effective way to reach others. It feels great to stand up there, explain something and see the light bulbs go on.
(21.11) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Understanding the business rather than just how to code has helped Jeremy’s career.
Knowing what the business you are working in is doing makes a huge difference. Everything you produce is so much more relevant and effective.
(22.18) – What do you do to keep your own IT career energized? Periodically, Jeremy pauses and refocuses. He finds that keeps him grounded in reality.
For example, now that he is in the training space he works to understand how ordinary developers see things. Doing this makes sure that the tools and training he produces are truly relevant to them. He thinks about how they are going to perceive and navigate what he produces.
Jeremy constantly asks himself how can I make the world a better place? Right now, with the skill set he possesses that means producing great software for his end-users.
(23.43) – What do you do away from technology? Jeremy reads a lot. Right now, he is especially interested in finding out how the brain works and mindfulness. He also enjoys hiking.
(24.57) – Phil asks Jeremy to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Jeremy believes that everyone has something of value to share.
From a fairly early stage in his IT career, he felt the urge to speak at conferences. But, he didn’t do it because he believed that he had nothing of value to share.
Eventually, he realized that you do not have to be an expert to be able to share your knowledge with others. There is always someone on the path just behind you who can learn from what you know.
(1.39) JEREMY – “Most people get introduced to dependency injection backwards.”
(3.29) JEREMY – “When you attend meetups, your world quickly gets a lot bigger.”
(17.16) JEREMY – “You don’t need permission to be awesome.”
(21.00) JEREMY – “When I speak in front of 100 developers, I can impact them all. It is really rewarding.”
(25.41) JEREMY – “Help someone behind you on the path. Everyone has something useful to share.”