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Episode 58

Tales From The Database | Grains of Salt

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Episode 47

Legacies | Hardy Hardware


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Show Notes

We could all use some help making decisions. The advice we get isn’t always the most helpful. Sometimes, it’s easy to spot the bad advice. But what do you do when you can’t tell? 

Two technologists share times of indecision where they had to figure out whether the guidance they asked for was really in their best interests.


00:00 — Ryan Roberts
I had to just lean on the true undisputed world champion of decision-making, my gut. My gut was pretty much just like, "This doesn't sound right at all."

00:15 — Johan Philippine
People share all sorts of advice, how to handle a technical issue, how to navigate a new environment, what's the right career move. Not all of it is good advice. That bad advice could be coming from good intentions or from past experiences that just don't apply. Sometimes you have enough experience yourself to trust your gut when it tells you that something's off. But when you're facing a new situation, it's harder to make that call, especially when the results have lasting consequences.

00:45 — Ryan Roberts
It's something I've thought about because easily one decision could change your whole trajectory in life, career, anything.

00:55 — Johan Philippine
When taking or ignoring advice can lead to vastly different outcomes, how can we judge the relevance of the advice being offered to us? How do we know which choice leads to prosperity and which could lead to stagnation or even ruin? And how do we know that the people pointing the way have any idea what they're talking about? We hear from a couple of guests who wrestled with important decisions and the voices of authority who almost led them astray.

01:26 — Angela Andrews
This is Compiler, an original podcast from Red Hat. I'm Angela Andrews.

01:32 — Johan Philippine
And I'm Johan Philippine.

01:33 — Angela Andrews
We go beyond the buzzwords and jargon and simplify tech topics.

01:38 — Johan Philippine
We're sharing stories from industry veterans about how they found their footing in the tech industry.

01:44 — Angela Andrews
Today we're hearing about taking advice with an unhealthy amount of salt.

01:52 — Johan Philippine
So today we're talking about bad advice. Angela, do you remember the worst advice anyone's ever given you?

02:00 — Angela Andrews
Yes. I don't know if it's the worst because there's been a lot of worsts, but this one sticks out in my mind where someone's telling me, "Just be a little less you," and to put on this façade because I'm usually very upbeat and happy-go-lucky and a little chatty. And to have someone tell you to turn your shine down a little bit, don't ever let someone tell you to do that.

02:31 — Angela Andrews
Because if someone can't take your shine, that sounds like a them problem, not a you problem. And I was very young. It forced me to question myself. I wish somebody would tell me that now. I could never abide by someone saying something like that because it's just terrible, terrible advice.

02:52 — Johan Philippine
So you know that now in hindsight, but you were pretty young back then. How did you react and what did you end up doing?

02:59 — Angela Andrews
So my immediate reaction was not the best, but thank goodness it was all internal. So hopefully my face didn't give too much away, but I was embarrassed and I was unsure. And it was someone that you trust in a position of authority and they're telling you this because they want things to look a certain way, and apparently me and my authentic state was not the way.

03:27 — Angela Andrews
And I was ashamed of that because I thought I was awesome, but apparently not, not everyone thinks that. So it did bother me for quite some time, but this version of Angela knows that that's just terrible advice and I would never change who I am for anybody.

03:45 — Johan Philippine
Well, we love having you on just the way you are.

03:47 — Angela Andrews
Thank you.

03:48 — Johan Philippine
And we're going to hear a lot of that same sentiment as the episode goes on, so let's dive into it.

03:55 — Angela Andrews
Buckle up.

03:57 — Johan Philippine
Our gutsy guest at the top of the show is Ryan Roberts. He's an infrastructure engineer at JPMorgan Chase, and over the years, he's honed his ability to weigh the worthiness of the advice that comes his way. He grew up learning the foundations of tech from his parents, which proved to be a leg up during his first IT internship, but he didn't know much about Linux at the time.

04:20 — Ryan Roberts
One day I went to my then manager, I was just like, "Hey, is there any way I can get a little bit more hands-on?" Manager shot that down, unfortunately. He said, "Oh, you can just read the documentation. That'll just be enough". I was a bit defeated because I know tech. Even though I wasn't in the career for long, I knew that you really get that reinforcement when you get that hands-on.

04:43 — Johan Philippine
Angela, I saw your face immediately scrunch up upon hearing that. Bad advice, right? Just read the docs.

04:49 — Angela Andrews
You know what? If I could count the times I've heard someone say RTFM to me, I would really blow the roof off of this house. Oh, just read the documentation. If that were sufficient, we wouldn't have people calling for tech support. We wouldn't have people posting on Stack Overflow. Sometimes that is not sufficient, and to give someone such a dismissive response is just terrible. It's just terrible.

05:21 — Johan Philippine
Well, I figured we'd get started with some of the most easily spotted terrible advice you can get in this industry.

05:27 — Angela Andrews

05:28 — Johan Philippine
Yeah, just like you said, just read the docs, it's not a recipe for mastery of any technology. Now, don't get it wrong, we love documentation on this show. It's great. It makes a big difference. But even back then, Ryan knew that reading the documentation wouldn't be enough to really learn the technology that he wanted to.

05:50 — Ryan Roberts
This just seems a bit counterintuitive. I know documentation's important, but unless you're able to apply what you learn, it might just turn into stale memory. Being able to apply what you learn shows you how it's kind of translated from theory into practice allows you to get more comfortable, get the muscle memory, get that true memory of being able to do it, and then how to improve it.

06:15 — Ryan Roberts
You'll learn, okay, this is how the book taught me. Now I can see how I can optimize it for my use. So that hands-on is truly important and getting shot down and just feeling it right in my gut just like, "This ain't right. This is not how it should be." And gut don't lie.

06:35 — Angela Andrews
I like that, gut don't lie. Always trust your gut.

06:39 — Johan Philippine
Without that hands-on experience to really reinforce the lessons, documentation alone, it's only going to get you so far.

06:46 — Angela Andrews
I agree.

06:49 — Johan Philippine
Now, for this piece of advice, Ryan was wise enough to know that his manager's response wasn't very useful to put it politely, but he didn't really know what to do next. Luckily for him, there was someone in the office who was willing to actually teach an intern some new skills,

07:08 — Ryan Roberts
So he overheard that conversation, pulled me to the side and was just like, "Hey, you want to sit with me for a little bit more time and I can really show you the ropes to get you some more hands-on experience in Linux, share with you some resources?" And I was primed and ready to go. I was just like, "Let's do it."

07:24 — Angela Andrews
I like where this is going.

07:25 — Johan Philippine
Those conversations with his newfound mentor and the skills he learned influenced the course of his career. He changed from a game development degree to one in IT. Just read the docs wouldn't take him down the Linux brick road, and he probably wouldn't have made that big of a change in his major and future career.

07:49 — Johan Philippine
Ryan shared another story about receiving bad advice. This time he was fresh out of college and working for a company that split the new hires into projects that needed help. But this time his gut wasn't as much help to him. If you've been listening to the show in the past few months, this is going to sound familiar.

08:09 — Ryan Roberts
And it's like the minute you start telling people what you do, they're just bringing up all the horror stories. It's like, "Oh, that technology is going away and you don't want to be there when that ship sails." And hearing that from the peers and hearing that from the people running the program, it definitely had me a little concerned.

08:30 — Ryan Roberts
Should I be looking to a dip and maybe lean into something that's a bit more modern, might have a bit more attraction to it, might have a bit more longevity to it? It was definitely a fight or flight mode where it's just like, all right, I'm early on. I need to make some moves here to begin to establish and continue to build up on my career.

08:51 — Angela Andrews
Where have we heard this before? Sounds familiar.

08:56 — Johan Philippine
Mm-hmm, yeah. Avoid legacy technology like it's the plague is some of that super common advice that you hear all the time. You hear it everywhere. So many people repeat it. And when so many people have such strong and consistent opinions about something, it's tough to know whether it's right. Ryan's gut didn't have any answers for him, but the people working on legacy systems did.

09:21 — Angela Andrews
I bet they did.

09:23 — Ryan Roberts
But talking with the people in that legacy area, hearing what they're doing, seeing what's coming down the line, it really started to put my mind at ease like, okay, this platform isn't becoming stagnant.

09:38 — Johan Philippine
Hopefully that's not new information for our listeners. We just spent seven episodes trying to counter this particular brand of bad advice. Listen, it's okay to not want to work on legacy technology. If that's not your jam, go dance to another tune, but don't discount an option based on bad information.

09:58 — Johan Philippine
I'm glad that Ryan, despite being in the throes of his fight or flight response, had the wherewithal to continue to ask questions and hear multiple points of view even in the face of overwhelmingly consistent opinion. Sometimes advice is popular because it's right and rooted in truth, but don't assume that the advice that you hear everywhere is correct just because it's popular.

10:21 — Johan Philippine
It's hard to know for sure unless you've heard and considered the consequences of both choices. That's easier said than done. While I hope that our listeners would at this point be able to immediately spot and discount this kind of advice, I also understand why it would make a lot of people uneasy about their assignments. Ryan was considering his options and this time he didn't have that same gut reaction to lean on.

10:49 — Ryan Roberts
Yeah, this one I definitely mulled it over a little bit more, but I think the key thing was there wasn't that same brick wall that I experienced in the past where it was just like, okay, this is somebody from the outside telling me, "Hey, you shouldn't do this." But then there was opportunities for me on the inside to still utilize some of the skillset that I had just learned through school and through orientation and training where it was just like, all right, I can at least contribute what I know now.

11:23 — Johan Philippine
Being presented with a choice rather than having his manager completely shut him down left him without a clear gut reaction. While there's nothing like a stubborn streak to make you question everything, that same approach is just as useful in ambiguous situations too. A healthy dose of skepticism will help you assess the advice you get regardless of where it's coming from.

11:46 — Johan Philippine
After the break, we're going to hear from a guest who has counseled to forego an exciting opportunity.

11:56 — Johan Philippine
Luis Martin is the director of IT and security for GumGum. Pretty impressive, but that wasn't his original career path. In high school, Luis had an internship for Universal Studios working on their IT team. There were a lot of odd jobs to do, and he picked up a few things about working with computers.

12:16 — Johan Philippine
But that was the extent of his IT education. Years later, he had a job in facilities doing maintenance. He'd help people out with their computer issues when he could. The IT team took notice and asked him if he'd be interested in joining their team even without a traditional IT education.

12:34 — Luis Martin
I took it like, oh yeah, they're just asking to be cool or yank my chain or something. Never think that the opportunity would come up for somebody that has no experience in this field.

12:46 — Johan Philippine
They weren't playing a mean joke on him or leading him on. After a while, a position actually opened up and they offered it to him.

12:54 — Luis Martin
For me, there was no question, this was a totally different career path. I felt like this was a better career path than what I was on at the moment.

13:03 — Angela Andrews
Just think about what would've happened had he not taken their advice. He was just doing his job. He didn't have a traditional IT education and someone saw something in him. I always wonder about moments like that. When people just recognize how amazing you are, that should happen more. We should take notice to the folks around us and see what they're capable of.

13:30 — Johan Philippine
Well, that's the thing is that this kind of chance doesn't happen very often. Most of the time employers have this requirement for some sort of education to hire for a technical position.

13:41 — Angela Andrews
This is true. And I do love the fact, if you've been watching the news recently, more and more employers are moving away from the traditional four-year degree requirement for jobs, especially in technology. We're in a new phase here and I'm interested in seeing a lot of amazing people finally get their chance. This should be fun. Everybody pay attention. You know somebody out there like that who may just not have that little piece of paper, but always be willing to give folks like that a chance. You'd be surprised at what you end up with.

14:20 — Johan Philippine
Well, Luis was enthusiastic. He was excited. And after he agreed to take the position, he shared the news with some trusted friends and asked what they thought about it. Unfortunately, not everyone in his life shared his enthusiasm for the opportunity.

14:37 — Luis Martin
I did get feedback from I would say someone I respected that it might not be the best move for me because I didn't have the experience.

14:47 — Angela Andrews
I don't know what to say right now. I really don't know know what to say right now. I mean, because he said this was someone that he respected and getting advice from someone like that that goes against everything that you feel is right can definitely be a downer.

15:06 — Johan Philippine
Oh, yeah.

15:07 — Angela Andrews
What about the time when we didn't have experience? And when you went into certain fields, you may have been an apprentice and you learned from the people around you to do your craft. Experience isn't always the designation of someone doing a really good job. You understand? I mean, I understand that can be an issue in some scenarios. But in this particular scenario, what better way to learn than from people that are already doing the job.

15:36 — Johan Philippine
And I feel like even with experience, anytime you start a new job, you have to learn a bunch of new things anyways. That lack of experience can be a major blocker, but it's usually the hiring team who make that judgment call. Just like you said, it couldn't have been easy to hear from a trusted advisor to turn down the opportunity. But in their own way, this person was trying to look out for Luis.

16:02 — Luis Martin
You've never done that before and that seems like a very complicated career, or it requires a lot of experience. And I was like, but they've said that they're there to help me. It was like, well, are you sure you're making the right call? Because it would not be great for you to start that and just fail, then you're starting from nothing.

16:22 — Johan Philippine
They were worried that Luis wouldn't succeed. Failing and starting from nothing isn't something he was seriously worried about until after hearing that advice. It went from being an easy gut decision to a tough one.

16:37 — Luis Martin
I mean, it made me scared because I was like, am I making the right call? Am I just taking this opportunity and giving up this other opportunity that may be what I'm meant to do?

16:46 — Johan Philippine
And that doubt can be really tough to deal with, especially when it's instilled when asking for advice. Again, he went from trusting his gut to reconsidering his decision. But rather than settling for that one single opinion, he sought out more information

17:03 — Angela Andrews
Good for him.

17:04 — Luis Martin
Once I got that, there was definitely doubt. I definitely sat down and was like, well, am I making the right call? And that's why I went to them and were like, "Well, what if things don't work out? What am I going to do then?" And they were like, "No, it's going to work out. We're going to show you what you need to know and we're going to make sure that you succeed."

17:24 — Johan Philippine
They promised to answer his questions, to show him the ropes, and to help him figure out any issues he might run into. And they delivered on those promises. After a few weeks in his new position, he grew confident that he had made the right call. Now he's the director of IT and security for a startup, and that group of technologists who took him under their wing, though they've all moved on, they still talk and help each other out. They still share advice and work out solutions to novel problems together, but now he's able to give back too.

17:56 — Angela Andrews
That's what it's all about. Someone helped him get here and he is returning the favor.

18:05 — Johan Philippine
Thanks to this experience, Luis learned an important lesson.

18:09 — Luis Martin
Not to doubt myself, that was also something that another good friend of mine emphasized. Because I guess at the time, they saw a lot more in me than I saw in myself. And at the time I was like, oh, there's no way I'm going to get past just being a manager.

18:24 — Johan Philippine
Even though that opportunity worked out and Luis thrived in his new job, he still had doubts about his ability to progress. But that inner voice wasn't the only voice he was hearing.

18:36 — Luis Martin
And she was like, "No, you could definitely become way more than that, like a director, maybe even a VP." And I was like, "Oh, yeah, right." It's funny because at GumGum when we started talking about the possibility of stepping up to the director role, that was one of the first conversations I thought of because I was like, there's no way that I'm going to get an opportunity like that. And when those conversations started happening, it's like, oh, wow, she saw this way back then.

19:05 — Angela Andrews
Isn't it interesting how doubt is definitely the enemy of confidence and self-assurance? I mean, it sounds like he really questioned his abilities. But again, someone saw something in him and that made all the difference. It's interesting how that little seed of doubt that was planted with that first job so long ago still began to haunt him years later as he was actually doing the job.

19:37 — Angela Andrews
People were presenting him with opportunities and he still felt as if he couldn't do this or questioning if this was the right decision for him. And I'm glad it sounds like he's made the right decision because people saw his potential and they didn't let up.

19:55 — Johan Philippine
I'm glad he managed to overcome the doubt that was instilled by the initial bad advice and that he moved ahead by listening to the positive supporters in his life. A lot of bad advice we heard for this episode was about career choices, but the lessons we can pull from these stories apply to all sorts of advice you hear, how to handle a delicate situation or make a difficult choice.

20:22 — Johan Philippine
Take all the options with a handful of salt and hold on to the people who help you out along the way around those barriers and those roadblocks that you're told can't be overcome. We're going to bring Ryan back from the top of the episode to reemphasize a point from the opening.

20:39 — Ryan Roberts
It's something I've thought about because easily one decision could change your whole trajectory in life, career, anything.

20:48 — Johan Philippine
Seeking out advice is important. It isn't easy to navigate the decisions in life on your own and hearing from the people who've been there can help show you the way and the potential consequences of your options, positive and negative. It's up to you to decide whose information to trust.

21:08 — Angela Andrews
One decision can change your trajectory. That's what he said. And I'm going to be perfectly honest with you. When the opportunity to join Red Hat came up three years ago, almost four years now, I really doubted that I could do this job. I even said it, "I can't do this. This isn't what I do." And I was so adamant about it, but someone believed in me so wholeheartedly from watching me work and seeing my capabilities. And I'm telling you, doubt will eat you up.

21:42 — Angela Andrews
But it's nice when people are there to pull you along and give you the good advice. They've seen what you could do, and I'm sure they wouldn't be telling you that if they didn't believe it to be true. So my trajectory would be altogether different had I not quelled the whispers of doubt and just gone for it. So thank you. And those people know just who they are, so I thank you, and I've been having a great time here ever since.

22:14 — Johan Philippine
Next time on Compiler, we hear stories from people who've had unorthodox entries into the tech industry. Because just like Luis, you don't necessarily need a degree or a bootcamp to get your foot through that door.

22:27 — Angela Andrews
Say that for the people in the cheap seats, Johan. Say that again. Shout out to Luis, shout out to Ryan for bringing these amazing stories to us for us to listen to and possibly see ourselves in. What did you think about this episode? We would love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever doubted any advice that someone gave you?

22:53 — Angela Andrews
Did you take advice and it wasn't the best advice? And how did you deal with that? We want to hear what you thought about this episode. Hit us up on our socials @redhat. Don't forget to use the hashtag #compilerpodcast. We really want to hear more of these stories.

23:14 — Johan Philippine
And that does it for this episode of Compiler.

23:17 — Angela Andrews
Today's episode was produced by Johan Philippine, Kim Huang, and Caroline Creaghead.

23:23 — Johan Philippine
Victoria Lawton always gives the best advice.

23:26 — Angela Andrews
Our audio engineer is Christy Chan. Special thanks to Brittany Duggan. Our theme song was composed by Mary Ancheta.

23:34 — Johan Philippine
Our audio team includes Brent Simoneaux, Leigh Day, Stephanie Wonderlick, Mike Esser, Nick Burns, Aaron Williamson, Karen King, Jared Oates, Rachel Ertel, Devin Pope, Mike Compton, Ocean Matthews, Paige Johnson, Alex Traboulsi, and Mira Cyril.

23:55 — Angela Andrews
If you liked today's episode, please follow the show, rate the show, leave us a review. We would love that feedback. And share it with someone you know. It definitely helps the show, and it gets the word out there about our little Compiler.

24:11 — Johan Philippine
Bye-bye, everyone.

24:12 — Angela Andrews
Take care. Until next time.

24:15 — Johan Philippine
All right.

24:16 — Angela Andrews


Featured guests

Luis Martin
Ryan Roberts

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