It’s been a year since Nick Korte and I published the 30-minute "Podcast Trailer" for the Nerd Journey podcast. It’s been a terrific year of hard work, interacting with fascinating people, and personal growth. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past year of podcasting in the hopes that it might benefit someone else who’s thinking about getting involved in the extended community of technologists. You can read Nick’s thoughts about this year in his Network Nerd blog post, "The Journey Continues … A Year Later" and listen to our first anniversary review podcast episode here. This inspired me to reflect on the origins of the podcast and talk a bit about the early days. Hopefully others can learn from some of what we did. I’d also like to reflect on the evolution of the podcast and myself. It’s been an interesting journey of introspection and self-discovery. Finally, I’d like to look forward to what I see for us on the horizon. I can’t say I’ve ever measured my guesses about the future, but maybe I can start with goals and progress to guesses as well.
Genesis of Nerd Journey
Nick and I
Nick and I have a friendship that spans years and at least two previous jobs for each of us. We first encountered each other on the Spiceworks Community. At the time, I was the sole member of a small/medium-sized business’s IT department, looking for guidance, opinions, and community from other Information Technology practitioners. Over time, I learned a lot, applied the knowledge, and began answering questions of others. I made a number of connections with members of that community who I really respected and helped push me to advance my career. Nick was one of the people whose opinions I grew to respect greatly. We actually met for the first time in-person at a Spiceworks conference and spent hours just chatting.
Personal Advancement and Offering a Hand
Eventually I left my jack-of-all-trades job and took a position at a technology distributor as a technical specialist focused on VMware’s place in the portfolio of resellers and integrators. It really opened my eyes to how the reseller channel works and the possible career paths that I hadn’t been directly exposed to before. After a few years, I left the distributor to work for VMware directly as a pre-sales systems engineer, helping customers to understand how the company’s portfolio of solutions would align with the problems they were facing. Throughout this process I kept leaning on the relationships I made at the Spiceworks Community and kept in touch. I tried to refer those I knew a bit better to positions near them. So many of those people helped me to progress to where I’d gotten, that I couldn’t help but think I owed the community some payback. Nick was someone who took me up on the offers of help; Just three years after I started at VMware, he excitedly told me that he’d accepted a systems engineering position at VMware as well. It was an amazing moment of a good person working hard, persevering, and triumphing.
We Should Podcast
Throughout the years we’d been talking about career, we’d spent a ton of time on the phone, strategizing about resume writing and interviewing. It struck me as he was about to start, that we should somehow document what he’d gone through somehow. I was also extremely interested in hearing about his observations about joining a large company like VMware after working in SMB IT. There was the shift in working in a pre-sales position instead of operations. Sometime after he accepted the position, but before he started, I suggest that we start a podcast to record some of this for others to benefit from. I thought we also had some opinions to offer about news and happenings in our industry as well.
A Very Little Relevant Experience
As some background on podcasting, I’d been an avid consumer for several years, including ones covering the IT industry, such as VMware’s Community Roundtable, the Geek Whisperers. A couple years into my job at VMware, I ran into Eric Nielsen, who hosts the Community Roundtable. After chatting a bit, he invited me to come in and co-host the podcast whenever I was available, lending my field technical viewpoint to the discussion. It was a bit of good fortune, and I’d been soaking in as much information about the production side as I could. When I told Eric that I’d had an idea for a solo project, he laughed and told me that I was following a well-worn path of people who got interested in starting after trying it out. He offered some great advice, but the thing that was immediately applicable was to "just get started" and not to invest too much in equipment until we knew we were serious about continuing.
As part of being part of the podcast, I’d started attending a few local meetups on podcasting, one in San Francisco and one in Oakland. I connected with a group of people interested in the field from the point-of-view of amateurs just putting their voices. Both groups were well connected, with the structure of bringing in long-time veteran podcasters on a variety of topics. I don’t want to over-simplify the process of getting started. I’d done a lot of studying about getting started in the production side, including an excellent behind-the-scenes episode of the Virtually Speaking podcast. As much as I wanted to pull out the credit card, we actually made minimal investments in equipment, keeping Eric Nielsen’s advice in mind. I realized it was a black-hole of gear I could get lost in. We made the tactical decision to focus on recording, figuring out our process, and gradually investing in the equipment over time if we felt we were going to stick with it. To this day, we still don’t sound as good as the Virtually Speaking crew do! grin We started recording the weekend before Nick’s start date and just dove in, learning about how to plan out episode topics and recording several episodes which we knew only had a vague chance of seeing the light of day. In fact, the first episode that we recorded that was actually published, was technically just a "release candidate."
Evolution of the Podcast
Nick and I recorded for several months, trying to find our voice. It was a great learning experience and we added structure over time to our process.
During the first six months, we recorded but didn’t publish; Most of that delay fell on my shoulders. Ultimately, it’s not that difficult to self-host an instance of WordPress and use the PowerPress Podcasting plugin by Blubrry to host a podcast. However, I tried to make it more complicated than it needed to be. I was interested in using the opportunity to learn how to containerize WordPress having had a previous experience with keeping the underlying PHP installation up-to-date. Ultimately, a discussion with Nick really brought me some clarity on this block. I was using Bitnami’s excellent library of pre-built WordPress images to deploy to the Google Cloud Platform (Bitnami has recently been purchased VMware, my employer). WordPress has some plugins to make exporting and importing a site fairly easy, so migrating the site to a new WordPress image would be simpler than upgrading the components in the image. And much simpler than bumbling through my attempts to learn to do things inside Docker Containers.
The Push to Launch
Nick and I were both attending VMware’s user conference, VMworld, in Las Vegas last autumn; Nick suggested that we launch before the show and have a few episodes released going in as a basis for networking for people possibly interested in our advice and points of view. I had to quickly get past my platform block to get the technology stack up and running. We recorded an "episode zero" as an introduction to ourselves and to get some conference-oriented advice out as our calling-card. Our wives both pitched in, Nick’s donating our logo, and mine arranging our music. The members of the podcast meetups were an interesting accountability point. It became more and more embarrassing to attend the meetup and face the question on when we would launch.
Constraints and Emergent Behavior
The next task was editing and publishing our catalog of recordings. We realized pretty quickly that we should focus on the career-aspects of our discussion ("the career advice we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers"). It was essentially "evergreen", while anything we put about industry news, product launches, or the like was ephemeral. That meant cutting out some of the segments we’d recorded. We were pretty honest (and at time brutal) about identifying segments where we had little to say or just seemed off of our core topic. We have a particular point of view, influenced by resources that we use, like the Career Tools podcast. The advice we were offering started out very tactical, (advice on resumes and interviewing but also discussed skills development, goal setting, and more strategic career management. We had fun with a segment examining article on career which popped up LinkedIn, decided whether they were career clickbait or not.
At VMworld, we had a chance to chat with people about their career journeys and challenges, offer advice, and get invested in the career trajectories of some new friends. We got overall positive feedback from listeners and lots of suggestions. I participated the SF Podcast Meetup’s "Hotseat" which involved having the membership listen to some sample episodes and give candid feedback. This was particularly helpful as they had quite a bit of constructive criticism from sound quality, branding, to looking for more contrasting points of view. It was a terrific experience and was a valuable lesson in soliciting detached feedback.
I’ll give Nick credit for pushing us forward (notice the pattern there?) on bringing people in to interview on Nerd Journey. It’s been a great addition, often resulting in more than one episode. We’ve met and talked to a number of fascinating people. I don’t think we’ve had a bad conversation yet, but a couple stick out, like Tom Delicati’s sniper approach to applying for jobs, Jimmy Tassin’s ability to parlay his experience running a Minecraft server into an IT career, or Jon Hildebrand’s recovery from being unexpectedly laid off. We also talked to other tech-industry podcasters like Ramzi Marjaba of We the Sales Engineers and Ethan Banks of the Packet Pushers network.
Looking to the Future
- I’m glad we’re finding our voice and topic focus. If you’re starting to get involved in the technology community with a technical blog, having a number of different topics you post on is very acceptable; it’s fine to write on deploying infrastructure, trip reports on attending a User Group meeting, and a technical breakdowns on how to cook a brisket on the same site. In the podcast format, we found we needed more focus. We couldn’t be yet another infrastructure virtualization opinion and news podcast while offering career advice.
- I’d definitely pass along the advice that I was given about just recording episodes and worrying about technology, platforms, and anything beyond basic process until you’re fully invested in podcasting. The podcast community consensus is there are some break points around 10-20 episodes published, and around 100. Those are the numbers where "pod-fade" can set in. It’s easier to quit than to continue, and sometimes one’s priorities change. It’s not worth investing tons of cash in equipment until you’re committed. Perhaps we could do a follow-up on budget recording gear…
- We’ve been pretty good about the discipline of constantly working. Each episode requires preparation, recording, and post-production work. We’re constantly workshopping new ideas and working to prep and post-process our episodes.
- I think one thing that’s been consistent has been a commitment to helping others in their career journeys. It’s really about mining our minds and those of the wider community for the greater good and knowledge of all.
- Like anything complex, the more we examine the topic of career development, the more complexities are reveled. It been humbling to dive into these complexities and learn along with our audience.
I don’t think that I’ve been in a position to collaborate with someone on an external-to-work project for so long. It’s been a terrific partnership with each of us having strengths that complement the others. I’ve been more invested in the platform, the process, and some of the behind-the-scenes technical details. Nick’s really pushed us forward with schedule, structured brainstorming time, and follow-through on that brainstorming. I’m really fortunate to have a partner like him in this project.
Speculation and Goals
- I’d like to return to VMworld and record some interviews on-site with people who might have a quick piece of career advice or story they’d like to share. If you’re going to be there, let me know, and we can set up some time to record. We’ve talked to at least one other group of podcasters about doing some quick-hit recording.
- I’ll be at VMworld in San Francisco this year; It would be great to connect with other vCommunity and vExpert community members to chat, even informally and off-mic about career journeys.
- It might be nice to take the show on the road and do something at a VMUG, similar to the Geek Whisperers at the SV VMUG.
- If we can enough content together, perhaps we could pitch a session next year on career
- Every once in a while we check out listenership stats and see them growing steadily. I’m not sure it’s good for us to set download counts and chase those with topics or content we think might get us there. I think Nick and I are on the same page about that
- I think we should follow-through on our series on the decision to go into people-management. We’ve got some ideas and would welcome community suggestions when it comes to topics to cover.
- If anything, I’d like to clarify what is working best for our audience and what we can do better. Some of that is topic diversity. But there might be other, technical changes we could be making to improve the listening experience. I’d like to find another opportunity to get some candid feedback from non-listeners.
The past year of podcasting has been a serious investment of time and attention. It’s been extremely gratifying to get some positive feedback from our peers in the community who have enjoyed the conversations we’ve published. I don’t see us stopping any time soon. Every discussion spawns a few other ideas to chase down. It’s been terrific to get some ideas from the listeners and follow-through with our thoughts. It’s been interesting to look back on how my attitudes towards the topic have evolved. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next!