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Episode 59

Tales From The Database | The Ground Floor

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Episode 47

Legacies | Hardy Hardware


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Show Notes

We all start somewhere. For these two IT professionals, the ground floor is where they found their way into the tech industry. 

When you don’t know how to navigate a career in technology, it pays to be flexible. Because as Luis Martin and Victor Santiago would learn, where someone begins isn’t necessarily where they end up.


00:02 — Victor Santiago
So coming from Puerto Rico where I grew up poor, and I remember people saying that if you have an office and you're working with air conditioning, you are good for life because Puerto Rico's really hot.

00:13 — Kim Huang
That's Victor Santiago. He's a senior automation consultant at Red Hat. He started out on a very different path job wise, but he found inspiration in some unexpected places. And for him, it made all the difference.

00:29 — Victor Santiago
I'm not the one doing the hard work in the manufacturing lines. That's something that I always did. I remember I always saw that the people dressed professionally walking by, and I always wanted to make sure they saw me working. And this time, it was the way around.

00:44 — Kim Huang
I really identify with Victor's story. I, too, come from a pretty humble background, and I'm one of the first people in my family to go to college. And when you come from a background like that, a career in tech sounds great. But if you don't have the connections, if you don't have the awareness or the knowledge, where do you start to build your path? Today, we're going to hear from two people who took the road less traveled to find their career.

01:15 — Angela Andrews
This is Compiler, an original podcast from Red Hat. I'm Angela Andrews.

01:21 — Kim Huang
And I'm Kim Huang.

01:22 — Angela Andrews
We go beyond the buzzwords and jargon and simplify tech topics.

01:27 — Kim Huang
We are sharing stories from industry veterans about how they found their footing in the tech industry. Want to hear all this from the beginning? Check out the episode on warning signs.

01:37 — Angela Andrews
Today, we learned the unique ways people have gotten a fresh start in their careers.

01:47 — Kim Huang
So Angela, I feel like we've already asked you on the show before, but tell me, how did you get your foot in the door in your first tech job?

01:58 — Angela Andrews
Well, I love telling my origin story, and my first tech job was back in 1997. Yes, that's how long ago it was. And I joined a help desk at a huge chemical company back then based in Philadelphia. And the funny part about it was I had learned a lot of the skills in my previous job as a secretary at a insurance company. I had taken all of these technology classes and learned about networking and hardware and software, and I'd learned so much and kind of outgrew that role. I was willing to jump in and get my first real tech job, and that was 1997.

02:53 — Kim Huang
Looking back and thinking about the work that you're doing now, and being you're a host of a tech podcast, how do you feel looking back at that time in your life?

03:01 — Angela Andrews
It's very humbling. We all have to start somewhere. And it wasn't the most sexy job, it wasn't the most interesting job, but it was the job that gave me such amazing skills and the ability to talk to people and troubleshoot and interface with different teams and understand what different teams were doing and their place in the organization. And that humble beginning really set a strong foundation for me going forward in the rest of my career. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

03:38 — Kim Huang
That's interesting. Speaking of jobs that are not so attractive, remember Luis Martin from a previous episode that we've done?

03:47 — Angela Andrews
I do.

03:48 — Kim Huang
Yeah. He's the director of IT and security at a company called GumGum. Like Victor in the top of the episode, and like you, Angela, Luis started out outside of IT.

04:00 — Luis Martin
I was working for a health and fitness company, and they weren't doing so great at the time, so there had been a few layoffs that had occurred over my tenure there. And I kind of just saw the writing on the wall that layoffs were continuing to come, and I just went out, tried to find something new, and luckily ended up at GumGum.

04:21 — Kim Huang
Luis worked in logistics and building maintenance, also known as the friendly people who worked the front desk in office buildings. You've seen them.

04:30 — Luis Martin
So I had to do all the building maintenance, handling all those requests, coordinating with building management. I've never pictured myself working in IT. At the time I was like, oh, I'm just going to do some management position.

04:45 — Kim Huang
So there's more of Luis's story in another episode, but I'll give you kind of the cliff notes. He ended up getting a job at GumGum and connected with a lot of the team members who worked in development and in operations, and eventually was offered a role. And he will talk about this later in the episode. But hearing about his career path reminded me of another person we spoke with, and that is Victor Santiago, the person we heard at the top of the episode. Before he started in IT, he was inspired by his then romantic partner's son to explore technology.

05:23 — Victor Santiago
So at the time, I was working on a manufacturing company, was a mid manufacturing plant. He was teaching me how to fix computers. And so then once I was learning, I got interested on that.

05:33 — Kim Huang
But even then, he didn't think it would ever amount to a job. It was just a hobby, something fun that he could do between shifts at the plant. His dad even got him a laptop, and he never used it because he just didn't know what to use it for.

05:50 — Victor Santiago
I was focused on learning how to write code. I wanted to fix computers, but I didn't have the mindset of I want to do this as a career.

05:58 — Kim Huang
Once Victor got his GED, he went to a technical school to learn more, but he didn't really get serious about this until...

06:06 — Victor Santiago
That's when one of the guys who used to sitting next to me in one of the classrooms, he was quitting. And then he was quitting college because he found a job that was going to pay him $60,000 per year. And that was the tipping point. That was the point that it became my goal to study really hard and really learn because I wanted to make as much money. The most I ever made in my life was $24,000 per year, and I didn't think I could make more than that.

06:32 — Kim Huang
It doesn't come as a surprise. For a lot of people, a career in IT where high skill translates to higher earnings is a way to build wealth and climb the economic ladder to get a better life. For Victor, the hobby became a legitimate career path.

06:51 — Angela Andrews
You start somewhere, and that never defines where you end up. And I love the fact that these two folks started from these really humble beginnings and have elevated themselves into these amazing technical careers. And I'm sure the younger versions of themselves could have never imagined this, and I love that for both of them.

07:13 — Kim Huang
I feel like this comes up a lot in conversations I have outside of work with people who ask me, "I use open source software. I'm into coding and things, but I'm just doing stuff by myself. I'm just doing my own thing. There's nothing serious that I'm doing right now. It's not like I'm contributing to a project or anything. How do I get into tech? How do I make that my new career?" Where's the line between something you just do on the weekends and something that you do every day for a job for money?

07:47 — Angela Andrews
I know that line, and I've seen it. And I've crossed over it, and then I've crossed back. So your hobby is that thing you love to do. It's that fun, gives you a little boost. Hopefully, we all have hobbies that give us that oomph, right? And your career, if you monetize your hobby, you can very well make a career out of it, but your career is that thing that not only feeds you, but it feeds you, it clothed you, it keeps the roof over your head, and our hobbies aren't necessarily what put food on the table.

08:21 — Kim Huang

08:22 — Angela Andrews
I crossed that line once when I had started learning how to code many, many years ago. It was hobby, hobby, hobby, hobby. And I loved it so much, I even took classes, got a certificate, the whole shebang. And then when the time came to decide if I wanted to pivot into this new career, I said no.

08:45 — Kim Huang
What? Wait.

08:48 — Angela Andrews
I said no. I'm going to be perfectly honest with you, and I've said these words out of my mouth before and it makes me cringe. I was a much better sysadmin than I was a developer. I was established in one role trying to make this pivot into another. And quite frankly, imposter syndrome got the better of me, and I never did it.

09:10 — Kim Huang
Huh. If you could go back, now that you have the hindsight to see what could be or what's possible, what would you do?

09:21 — Angela Andrews
On the one hand, I would love to have followed that to see where it led me. But on the other hand, even having that experience is what helped me get another sysadmin role, which in turn led to me coming to Red Hat.

09:38 — Kim Huang
That's true.

09:39 — Angela Andrews
So I don't know. I would like to think that I would've wound up here anyway, but I don't know that for certain. Because depending on your role, your circles change and your networks change. I don't know if my network would've brought me to that point. So I still ask myself that question on a regular basis, the what if. But I'm not mad where I ended up though.

10:06 — Kim Huang
That's awesome. Yeah, you're a solutions architect. I feel like every solutions architect in the world. That's how I feel sometimes. Everyone that I know that I talk to knows who you are.

10:15 — Angela Andrews
Well, I love to reach out and network and talk to people and meet people. And it's a huge part of the job, but it's a huge part of my personality. I know Victor. We travel in the same circles. And when I saw that you spoke to him, I was like, oh, he's so smart and he's so sweet and he's so helpful, so I love the fact that your paths crossed.

10:40 — Kim Huang
When we come back, we follow Victor as he goes to his education, and we'll see how his passions became intertwined with his career. Stay with us.

10:52 — Kim Huang
So let's get back to Victor, who is now getting his bachelor's degree.

10:59 — Victor Santiago
So the first two years were focused on networking and systems administration. The last two years for the bachelor's were focused on cybersecurity.

11:08 — Kim Huang
Victor told the advisor that he wanted to study cybersecurity because of his interest in hacking, something he learned, again, from his ex-girlfriend's son.

11:17 — Victor Santiago
So the first quarter on school, they gave us a class of introduction to computer programming, and that was my first exposure to real programming. They were using Python. And so other than learning the networking on the first 2 years, once they gave me the introduction to computer programming, I started learning that on my own.

11:37 — Kim Huang
Victor's interest in Python and programming led him to automation, which makes a lot of sense if you know anything about Python and automation, right?

11:46 — Angela Andrews

11:47 — Kim Huang
Python is typically the first programming language people learn around automation. Here's Victor again.

11:54 — Victor Santiago
When I took automation more seriously is when I was working in a local credit union. And the guy who was doing the financial automation there, he found a different job and he left. And then they hired another guy who was supposed to do the automation other guy was doing and also help me in tech support, but then the guy would come in the morning and he will do what he needed to do. He only had to do it 3 times per day.

12:17 — Kim Huang
Let's slow things down a bit. Victor has his first job out of college. He is seeing this guy doing the automation. The other person that was doing it, he found a different job. He left. And this new person was supposed to have two duties. They were supposed to do automation, and they were also supposed to help him with tech support. But this guy is coming in the morning. He's only doing the bare minimum. He's not really helping Victor with the tickets. He's just coming in, setting everything up, and then doing his own thing. Does this happen a lot with people working with automation and scripting and working these jobs where they just kind of come in, they do maybe 2 hours of work, and then they leave or they, I don't know, do Sudoku?

13:08 — Angela Andrews
I don't know. Well, automation is supposed to free up your time so you can do more important tasks, right? So if he's doing automation well and it is freeing up his time, he's doing it right.

13:22 — Kim Huang
True. That's true.

13:24 — Angela Andrews
I know Victor would beg to differ because he was supposed to be doing the tech support as well, and it didn't look like he was, but maybe he had that automation thing down pat.

13:35 — Kim Huang
It has to count for something, right? One thing does count for something. But Victor decided to take some action. He got with a manager and he learned as much about automation as possible.

13:48 — Victor Santiago
It took me 2 months to learn everything that guy was doing, and I automated everything. After I automated everything, I emailed the manager and I told the manager, "Okay, everything is fully automated now. Everything is working."

14:02 — Angela Andrews
Okay. I'm not surprised.

14:03 — Kim Huang
Yeah. Why?

14:05 — Angela Andrews
When you have a person who is such a go-getter, who turned something that was a hobby on its ear into a fully blown career, going to school for it, getting down in the weeds, learning as much as possible, and then he gets this first job and he just owns it, that doesn't surprise me one bit. When people come from these backgrounds, look at the grit. That's exactly what this is. You weren't handed anything, but you took everything, and you made the best of it. And this is just another example of that. He said, "Oh, it just took me 2 months. I'm hungry. I'm going to do this."

14:47 — Kim Huang
That's awesome.

14:47 — Angela Andrews
And he did what needed doing, he informed the manager, and now he's probably the golden child, right? Because look at Victor. He did the thing, and that's awesome.

15:01 — Kim Huang
Yeah. Automation, to a certain extent, once you get a really successful use case for it, all of the other teams in the company want a piece. They all want their jobs to become easier. They all want to get rid of manual tasks and repetitive tasks. So of course, after that, Victor became the resident expert on automation, not just for his team, but for the entire organization.

15:25 — Victor Santiago
I started asking other people in the company, for example, a lady in accounting if she needed help with automating something with Excel sheets. And then I found a tutorial online of people teaching how to do automation on Excel sheet and Word document. So then I started doing that. And then the sales team got interested, so they wanted me to help them automate the creation of quotes that they were doing in Excel sheet, but with Python. And then the owner wanted some automation for the engineering team. And then I started automating more and more and more.

16:01 — Kim Huang
I have to press pause though, because Victor's story is awesome, but there's some of it that for me personally, it gives me a little bit of hesitation. I'm a really enthusiastic person when it comes to things that I want to do and passions that I have, things that I want to create, but I also have a weariness of stepping on people's toes.

16:23 — Angela Andrews
Okay, I see.

16:24 — Kim Huang

16:25 — Angela Andrews
I hear what you're saying. You don't want to be a busy body and sticking your nose where it doesn't belong. But in this scenario, I feel as though those use cases were kind of sitting out there. So I understand both sides of it. Like, oh, you don't want to be that busy body, but these use cases are kind of sitting here in the credit union. And imagine being able to make everyone's work just a little bit simpler, just a little bit easier. And in this story, it seems as if everybody wanted a piece of this goodness, and he was able to bring it to accounting, to sales, to the owner, to the engineering team, and it sounds as if the culture changed. And this is what you hope for. In any company where they're doing automation, you can work in a small university or a small credit union, and you're deciding to do things in a more automated fashion.

17:31 — Angela Andrews
I hope the bug hits everybody that it could possibly make everybody's job a whole lot easier. He really did the company a service, and he probably helped everybody else along in their day to day. So hats off to him for that.

17:51 — Kim Huang
You said something interesting. You're triggering kind of a cultural change. On the flip of that, if you're a person who doesn't have my reservations and you want to trigger that kind of change and you want to use this kind of one success to spread, maybe not just automation, but adoption or migration or any other type of cultural change or process change, how do you influence these other people in these other areas to make them change the way they're thinking?

18:19 — Angela Andrews
Well, he had a win...

18:21 — Kim Huang
That's true.

18:21 — Angela Andrews
... under his belt, right? And when you can take that win around to other people in your company and say, "See, look at this really cool thing I did. Maybe we could do something like this in your area. Tell me about what you do." Right? I think a part of it is having the win and communicating across lines. That's huge. He worked in support.

18:48 — Kim Huang

18:48 — Angela Andrews
How does he interface with accounting, right? He works in support. How is he getting to the sales team? So that is where the door to adoption opens the communication, being able to reach across silos and have those really interesting conversations. Find out what folks are doing, and finding out if automation is something that can be adopted in this area. So you can replace automation with whatever that thing is.

19:17 — Kim Huang
Whatever it is.

19:18 — Angela Andrews
Right. If we're trying to adopt X, have that successful use case and be able to take it around across silos and say, where can we help here, or how can this help here? And that's how things tend to snowball. And more and more end users get on board because you want your users to be on board, whether it's with automation or adopting some other product or service. That buy-in is crucial, and communication is crucial. You need to be able to communicate those successes and the value across your differing silos.

19:57 — Kim Huang
Yeah, I will yes and that because we had some guests last year that said some things along these lines. Don't forget about documentation, and don't forget about really advertising... Maybe you have a blog. A lot of development teams have external blogs where they talk about, "here's how we did this." You can't underestimate those because they don't just exist to help other teams understand what's going on. They're also there to inspire other people. Maybe they have challenges or business challenges, or they want to make things faster. They want to reduce friction. They're out there and they're looking for answers to these questions. And if you put the answer out there in a way that's not just easy to find, but also easy to understand and digest, that is crucial. That is key to just overall success, overall changing and influencing culture.

20:47 — Angela Andrews
I agree.

20:53 — Kim Huang
So where are they now? It was Victor's interest in automation that led him to Red Hat, and Luis started out as an IT support engineer and eventually became the Director for IT and Security at GumGum after building up experience on the job.

21:09 — Luis Martin
Well, that was the thing. I didn't technically really interview because I already knew it was like, "This role just came up, are you interested? Yes? All right, cool."

21:19 — Angela Andrews
Wow. That's how we all want to be promoted.

21:21 — Kim Huang
Yeah, I know, right? "Hey, we have this job that opened up. Do you want it? Check one for yes or two for no," like those notes that they used to pass in school back in the day.

21:29 — Angela Andrews
Exactly. Luis checked one for yes.

21:33 — Kim Huang
Check one for yes. I have a job now. That's fantastic. The thing about it is it thrusted him into a leadership position, which he didn't have any experience with.

21:44 — Luis Martin
Never been a leader in any people manager position, so that was super intimidating. And now I went from just focusing on any tickets that would come in to fully working on projects, managing people. Hiring people, that was something that I had never done before.

22:03 — Kim Huang
And in Victor's case, he wants people to know the best way to carve a path and get on the ground floor is to explore all options, or at least as many as possible.

22:16 — Victor Santiago
It took me 12 years to figure out exactly what I wanted, what career I wanted, and I wish I would have had a mentor. So one advice I would give my younger self is find a mentor, and don't settle. Even if you have to visit 10 different colleges, find a college that is going to teach you what you want. When we are starting out, especially we're young, we don't know everything that's there. We don't know all of the career paths that exists just within IT.

22:43 — Kim Huang
Something that both Luis and Victor agree upon, and something that ties their 2 points together is mentorship, the value of mentors. Victor himself says that they can help you avoid pitfalls and wasted efforts.

22:57 — Victor Santiago
Finding a mentor who is in the industry, who can guide you on what your passions are, what career paths you can take, and how to get there. Don't try to do it yourself because it's going to take you too long. And you don't want to be spending a whole decade, like I did, trying to figure it out what I really wanted to do. But if I would've had a mentor, my life would've been so much easier.

23:22 — Angela Andrews
I think having a mentor early in your career is so important because Victor nailed it. He would've saved a whole lot of time, avoiding pitfalls, having questions answered, being able to ask questions. He probably would've chosen this path a whole lot sooner had he found himself a mentor. But I love the fact that he didn't give up, and time wasn't a deterrent for him. He eventually found his way around. And as for Luis, that story is amazing because he was on the ground floor and he worked his way.

24:01 — Kim Huang

24:02 — Angela Andrews
Literally. And then becoming a first time manager is, again, on the ground floor. This is something that he's never done. This is a whole discipline that people spend years learning to do properly because they're dealing with human beings. It's different when you're dealing with 1s and 0s. But when you start dealing with human beings, that's another thing that he had to learn and grow in, and hopefully continue to improve in. So he's had multiple iterations of that starting here and working his way up type of behavior. And for both of them, I'm sure their mentors were integral in their careers and moving them to where they are now. And mentoring doesn't stop when you feel like you're comfortable. It continues because you need someone to help prepare you for your what's next. Mentorship is important, no matter where you are in your career.

24:59 — Kim Huang
What I got from this episode, speaking to both Luis and Victor, they both started out in very austere environments, not really having a lot in the way of mentorship, not really seeing, and especially in Victor's case, a way forward in tech as a true pursuit or a true career. And what I gathered from both of them where they didn't have the awareness, where they didn't have the knowledge, they went out and found it. They were able to go and find mentors, and go and find people who had the information and had the knowledge and experience that they needed to make these decisions. If you don't have those connections, if you don't have the awareness, if you don't have the experience, if you don't know where to look or where to turn or where to go, just start from where you are. Kind of just start asking questions, going online, joining open source projects, just reaching out to people even on networks like LinkedIn or X or social media.

26:02 — Kim Huang
Just start where you can. Start where you are. And then find a connection, that human connection you were talking about, Angela. Find a connection where a person can relate to you what they went through, and you'll be surprised at the similarities of the people that you're looking up to, the people that you see having the life working in air-conditioning that have the life that you want, they may have a very similar story as you. It's not that far out of bounds. So that's kind of what I got from this episode.

26:36 — Angela Andrews
Well, there were so many great takeaways, and I want to thank both of our guests. But I want to hear what our listeners think. You have to share your thoughts with us. We want to know: how did these stories ring true for you in your life and maybe in your career? Did you start on the ground floor? If so, what does that look like today? You have to hit us up on social media @RedHat. Don't forget to use the #CompilerPodcast. We'd love to hear your origin stories as well.

27:10 — Angela Andrews
And that does it for this episode of Compiler.

27:14 — Kim Huang
Today's episode was produced by Johan Philippine, Caroline Creaghead, and me, Kim Huang. A big thank you to our guests, Victor Santiago and Luis Martin.

27:25 — Angela Andrews
Victoria Lawton needs air-conditioning, not a negotiation.

27:30 — Kim Huang
Special thanks to Brit Dugan. Our theme song was composed by Mary Ancheta.

27:35 — Angela Andrews
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 the majestic Mira Cyril.

27:56 — Kim Huang
If you like today's episode, don't keep it to yourself. Please follow the show, rate the show, leave a review, and share it with someone. It really helps us out.

28:06 — Angela Andrews
Take care, everybody, until we meet again.

28:09 — Kim Huang
We'll see you next time. Bye.


Featured guests

Luis Martin
Victor Santiago

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