Episode 234 – Why Effective Onboarding and Having Exciting Work to do Matter so Much with James Turnbull

 In Podcasts

Phil’s guest on this episode of the IT Career Energizer is James Turnbull. He is VP of Engineering at Glitch. James was previously a founder and CTO at Empatico, CTO at Kickstarter, VP of Services at Docker and a CTO in residence at Microsoft to name but a few. He is also the author of several books, including “Monitoring with Prometheus” and “The Docker Book”.

He is originally from Melbourne, Australia, but now resides in Brooklyn, New York.

In this episode, Phil and James Turnbull discuss the need to find work that truly excites you. They talk through how to deal with the inevitable mistakes you make in a positive way.

James also speaks about how adaptive technology is transforming the lives of those with disabilities. He also shares why you need to ask about onboarding at the interview. In particular, during the early stages of your career.



Don’t assume you’re going to be doing the same job forever. You are going to evolve, and the IT industry moves fast. So, it should be easy to find work that excites you. There is no need to just settle.


Early in his career, James managed a major Casino’s computer. Naturally, he scheduled maintenance to take place at the quietest time. Unfortunately, one day, he fat fingered it and shut everything down for an hour during a very busy time.

He immediately told the CTO what he had done, what the impact would be and the steps that could be taken to mitigate the situation. James expected to be sacked. But the fact he had admitted his error and done all he could to solve the issue saved his job. It taught him that mistakes happen. What really matters is that you deal with them properly.


James is most proud of the teams he has built and the fact that he has had a positive impact on the careers of other people. Not long ago, on Twitter, people were telling others about the people who had influenced them and their careers. He was touched that several people talked about him.

He is also particularly proud of the app his team at Empatico built. It is currently being used by 20,000+ teachers to teach children how to be empathetic, something that will have a lasting impact.



Interestingly, James states that the pace of change within the industry both terrifies and excites him. But overall, he is looking forward to seeing how technology will change the world.

Right now, he is especially interested in the way adaptive technology is changing things for the disabled and everyone else. It is a great leveller. He is particularly excited by the difference it is going to make to the lives of the disabled in poorer countries and other more vulnerable groups.


(10.36) THE REVEAL

What first attracted you to a career in I.T.? – The fact that you could have an interesting career and earn good money.

What’s the best career advice you received? – Treat everyone you work with respect, kindness, and empathy. James shares an interesting story that demonstrates why this is so important.

What’s the worst career advice you received? – Chase the money. Making career choices based solely on monetary gain rarely works out well.

What would you do if you started your career now? – Realistically, he thinks he would probably end up as an Android or iOS developer. But infrastructure is where he would really like to be if he were to start again.

What are your current career objectives? – Honing the skills that enable him to build amazing teams and products.

What’s your number one non-technical skill? – Listening.

How do you keep your own career energized? – Writing technical books exposes James to technology he would otherwise not use. This keeps him energized and engaged.

What do you do away from technology? – James likes reading, art, collects antique maps and is interested in antique coins. He also finds history and politics to be fascinating.



At the interview stage always ask about onboarding. Ask if you get a mentor and how you will become a fully functioning member of the team. If they have not really thought about how they are going to do that, it is probably best to try for a job elsewhere.



(3.06) – James – “Don’t fixate on a job title. Instead, fixate on jobs that excite you.”

(5.22) – James – “You make mistakes. What you do next and what you learn from them is what really matters.”

(11.56) – James – “Treat everyone you work alongside with respect and empathy. If you don´t, you never know when it will come back to bite you.”

(13.46) – James – “Don´t make career choices based mainly on the money. You will usually regret it if you do.”

(17.30) – James – “At the interview, always ask about onboarding. If they don´t have a clear plan, consider applying elsewhere.”



Phil Burgess is an independent IT consultant who has spent the last 20 years helping organisations to design, develop and implement software solutions. Phil has always had an interest in helping others to develop and advance their careers. And in 2017 Phil started the I.T. Career Energizer podcast to try to help as many people as possible to learn from the career advice and experiences of those that have been, and still are, on that same career journey.


Phil can be contacted through the following Social Media platforms:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/philtechcareer

LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/philburgess

Facebook: https://facebook.com/philtechcareer

Instagram: https://instagram.com/philtechcareer

Website: https://itcareerenergizer.com/contact

Phil is also reachable by email at [email protected] and via the podcast’s website, https://itcareerenergizer.com

Join the I.T. Career Energizer Community on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/ITCareerEnergizer


James Turnbull is VP of Engineering at Glitch. He was previously a founder and CTO at Empatico, CTO at Kickstarter, VP of Services at Docker and a CTO in residence at Microsoft to name but a few. He is also the author of several books, including “Monitoring with Prometheus” and “The Docker Book”.

James is originally from Melbourne, Australia but now resides in Brooklyn, New York.


James Turnbull can be contacted through the following Social Media platforms:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kartar

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

Website: https://www.kartar.net/

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