2019 Cisco Champions

Late last week I received an e-mail saying that I had been accepted to the 2019 Cisco Champions Program. This is the third time that I have been a part of this program and I’ll be honest, I was not really expecting to make it in this time, but more on that later. First, let’s talk about what the program is.

Who Are the Cisco Champions?

If you were to gloss it over, you could say that Cisco Champions is an evangelist program, and while there is some truth to that statement, there is a lot more under the covers. The goal of the program is to take people that are heavily involved with Cisco technologies that have blogs or social media presence and give them tools to get better at what they do. In this case, “what they do” could just be increasing their Cisco knowledge for day jobs, but it could also be teaching them about how to better run their blog or social media accounts, it could be a WebEx to help you gain leadership skills.

In the end, the program exists to help members grow with the hopes that you will talk more about Cisco technologies and use your newfound knowledge to help expand the audience of that message. That being said, there isn’t a specific requirement that you have to write specific views about Cisco all the time, in fact their Champions FAQ page says that they are looking for folks that express a “balanced view of Cisco”. I’ve never been asked to change what I wrote about something while in the program, in fact sometimes if I had something critical that I said it was bubbled up through the program and I got some good feedback or questions about how Cisco could make it better. All that to say, while you could call it an evangelist program I’ve never really thought of it that way because of all the Cisco folks running it.

Why Wasn’t I Expecting to be Included?

If you have read the recent posts in this blog, you probably already know that I recently switched jobs and my new job doesn’t really deal with Cisco at all. Because of that, I wasn’t really sure that I would be added to the program, but I suppose that they looked at what I’ve written in the past, my Engineering Deathmatch show and soon to be released IT Inquisition shows and determined that I was still a fit. Nonetheless, it was still a bit of a surprise when I saw the e-mail come through.

So Why am I Glad to be a Part?

I’m glad to be a part of the program this year, perhaps more so than other years. While I am already super overwhelmed with the learning that I need to get done in my new job, I also want to keep abreast of the changes of where I came from. Cisco Champions gives me the opportunities to get briefings of what is about to come out from Cisco as well as continue to get ideas for content for this blog, because as I have said before, I fully intend to keep writing technology articles that aren’t focused on my day job here on this blog.

Hello Imposter!

When you feel like you’re unqualified to be somewhere or participate in a conversation when you really are qualified, it’s called imposter syndrome. But what if you’re actually not qualified? In the third post in my technology career change series, We are going to discuss what happens when the imposter syndrome becomes all too real in your new job.

 

When Faking it Isn’t Enough

I hate that phrase “Fake it Til You Make it”.  If all that you ever do to “make it” is fake it then is it really worth it to make it?  What have you made but a pile of junk called fakery?  I suppose it caught on as a phrase because it’s short and it rhymes and people like things that rhyme.   I tried to think of another phrase that was more representative of the effort that it takes to make it in something new and all I came up with was ‘Work it Til You Twerk it’ and that just didn’t work.  But I’m getting off topic.

For the first few weeks that I was employed here I really did feel like an imposter.  I had been hired to this position and I only knew very little about the product that I was supposed to work with.  I attended a couple of customer meetings with some very smart people who led the meeting while I didn’t say much of anything.  It all kind of piled on to reinforce my feelings like I really wasn’t supposed to be in the position.  I imagine that a lot of people that have been in the position of changing their careers have felt like this at one point in time or another.  In fact, I was talking to a friend of mine recently and after I gave him an update of how things were going his comment was, “Oh yeah, that’s bound to happen.  You’re making a huge change and that’s what you wanted, right?”

It is what I wanted and through this process I have to keep that in mind as I push forward.  Yes, in one moment I may feel stupid, but I’m trying to look at those moments as more of a road sign to point the way I need to learn more things rather than a commentary on me as a person.

 

The Situationally Appropriate Humble Brag

I kept working on learning things.  One of the nice things about this company is the massive amount of training materials that I have access to.  I can choose to learn about any of the aspects of our products, or maybe I want to learn a little more about the sales process, whatever the case there is a training resource that I can bring up to learn a little bit more.  Additionally, I have access to full instances of our software so that I can put this knowledge to a practical purpose and play with the nerd knobs to help me learn more.

In the process of my continual learning, a few interesting things happened that showed me some light to steer towards:

  1. My mentor for the job reached out to me a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I would be comfortable demoing a very specific feature of ServiceNow to my customer the next day.  I had never worked with that specific area with the product, but he provided documentation and we talked about it a little bit and I said that I would be happy to help.  I spent some time the night before looking through the documentation and familiarizing myself with the configuration of this feature.  I built it and tore it down a few times and the next day I rocked the demo with the customer.  So much so that they thanked me for showing it to them and later in the day called and asked me for guidance on how to configure what I was doing!
  2. Last week we had training class for all of the solution consultant and account manager new hires and because of some of the extra effort that I put in trying to get my team some points, I was selected as the MVP for my team!
  3. As part of the on boarding process I have to give demos to my boss so that he can see whether or not I am prepared to talk about the product in front of a customer.  In preparation for the demo I did a trial run with another guy who has been here about as long as me.  When I got through presenting this to him he said, “Well John, if someone were to ask me how long you had been working here based solely on that demo you just gave, I would say a year.”  Wow!  That’s was awesome to hear since I’ve only been here two months!

 

But What Does It All Mean?

Those are some great stories, but what does it all mean?  In my mind it really comes down to one thing.  You’ve got to work it til you twerk it.  Ok, ok, all kidding aside you do have to put in the work so that you get out of imposter status and into, something else.  I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any stretch, but I definitely would say that I can hold some intelligent conversations in the arena that I’m working in.

But the important thing, whether you’re at a job that you’ve worked at for a decade or more or you’re a newbie in a totally new field, you’ve got to want to learn.  You’ve got to put in the effort to learn.  And most importantly, you’ve got to work it til you twerk it.

 

Next month I’ll be taking a break from writing, so make sure to come back and check in February for all new adventures and potentially a new series!

How the Heck Did We Get Here? (My Technology Career Change Part 2)

In the first post of this series, I went over some of my high-level reasons for changing my technology career from something that I had a deep background of knowledge in to something that I knew very little about.  I had quite a lot more response than I had expected.  Many messages came in, a lot of which were congratulations but some that were words of thanks for validating thoughts that people were having about making a move to re-invigorate their career. As the second post in this series, I thought it would be a good idea to cover how I ended up getting offered a job that was, technology-wise, so different from where I had been.  But first, an update on the new job.

 

How’s It Going?

A month in and I can definitely say that I am drinking from the firehose.  The good news in that area is that ServiceNow has a very robust on boarding experience that’s designed to get employees knowledge in the many arenas that they are working in.  At first glance, it’s a bit daunting, but as I’ve chipped away at the many tasks, I can see that I’m making progress and I can tell that I am learning.  For instance, a week ago I was in a customer meeting and after the meeting, my mentor and the sales rep and I were having lunch and we got to talking about my background.  The sales rep was surprised that I didn’t have ServiceNow experience because I was able to participate in the customer conversation as much as I had.  I’ll call that one a win.

To sum it all up, I’m still happy with my decision to come on board here.  It’s been a pretty exciting transition, I just wish I knew more so that I could start adding value more quickly!

 

But How Did This All Happen?

Looking back, I think there are a few things that really played into me being able to get this job.  This is my guess, but if I hear concrete evidence of something else then I’ll update!

Who You Know

Prior to applying, I called my former boss, Shawn Schouviller, to verify if I could use him as a reference for a job that I was applying for.  We talked a little bit and he said that he would be happy to be a reference for me, but that he thought I should really look at positions at his new employer, ServiceNow.  When I found a position, he recommended me to the hiring manager.  I believe that helped significantly to get me along the way in the initial hiring process.

If you’re considering making a career change like this, consider who you know at companies that you might be interested in moving to.  Have you kept in touch with them over the years?  I feel like keeping in touch with someone when their work lives don’t intersect with yours can be difficult.  Putting forth an effort to keep these connections fresh can help you down the line, or maybe you end up helping them!

Skills that Translate

In my first interview for this job, the hiring manager that I was speaking with mentioned that he was impressed with the amount of pre-sales experience that I had.  The job that I was looking to move to was pre-sales focused, so even though the technology was a significant jump, having skills that could translate from one job to another can really help make that transition a bit more reasonable.

Pre-sales skills, much like many IT skills, can be applied to different businesses and different types of businesses without having to relearn everything from scratch.  A couple of weeks after I started, one of my co-workers mentioned that the company wasn’t looking for people that had super deep knowledge in ServiceNow, but they were looking for people who had IT experience and knowledge.  The key reason is that they can teach someone ServiceNow, but knowledge of how IT organizations and businesses work is a bit harder to teach without some experience.

If you’re looking at a job that the experience doesn’t seem to match up, don’t fret!  Take a thorough inventory of the skills that you do have and the things you have done and really determine which of those may be more flexible than you are giving them credit for.  Spent your career configuring Juniper, Arista, and Cisco network equipment?  First off, you have experience with IT environments, you’ve got flexible learning because you picked up the configuration practices for multiple manufacturers, plus you have learning skills!  That takes us into the next reason I feel I was able to land this job.

Are you a Learner?

Have you spent your career in a constant state of learning?  During the interview process I made sure to explain how earning the CCIE proved that I had the skills and processes in place to pick up something new and gain deep knowledge in it.  Additionally, working for a partner I was regularly challenged with gaining knowledge on a topic quickly so that I could discuss it with customers.  Again, this is something that can very easily apply to any job, especially if you are picking up a new technology.  But you need to be able to show examples of how you are learning focused.  Make sure that you’re not someone that has coasted for the last several years!  Show that you have taken initiative to learn new things even when you didn’t specifically need to!

The Follow Up

Regardless of whether you are switching careers or not, having good interview etiquette is extremely important.  I’m specifically referring to following up after you interview with someone.  Make sure that you send an e-mail or letter thanking them for their time.  Maybe include an explanation of how you feel that you are a good fit for the position and refer to something from the conversation.  I’ll admit that this was a little challenging for me.  I knew that I wanted to follow up, but deciding on the right things to say without being overly verbose is pretty difficult.  I’m going to include an example of what I wrote, not for you to copy, but so that you can have an idea of the flow of the e-mail and give you some ideas.  You should definitely make this your own and really reflect who you are and how you fit for the position:

I wanted to shoot you a quick note to say thank you for your time today.  Everyone I have spoken to at SericeNow has been helpful and informative, whether it was new hires or folks that have been there a little longer.  After several discussions as well as interacting with your developer instance to get hands on experience with the software I am very interested in the opportunity at ServiceNow and feel that I am a great fit for the company.

In addition to my extensive experience as a pre-sales engineer over the past fourteen years, my creativity in solving problems for my employers when problems are presented will be a great asset to the organization.  You were aware of the origin of CDR-Express software that I created for a former employer, I have also created tools and processes for several other resellers that I have worked for to simplify the effort that our customers go through to request and receive quotes for regularly requested items.  I believe my ability to think outside the box to help customers and the company will work well at ServiceNow.

As an engineer working with voice over IP technologies since the early days I have had to ramp up quickly and stay on top of a frequently changing technology.  Additionally, in order to achieve Cisco’s highest level certification, I had to spend m any hours studying and working on lab exercises.  My study skills for both deep knowledge and rapid ramp up will help me quickly come up to speed and continue learning information that will help me better apply the ServiceNow offering to address customer needs.

Thank you again for your time!

As you can see, I didn’t try to hide my experience in my field.  I instead turned it to be a value for my new employer as I feel it truly will be.

 

Wrap-Up

As you can see, just because you don’t have specific skills in an industry or organization doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer there.  The key to moving forward and proving your values is by being really evaluating what your skills are and understanding how they might apply in this new job.  After you do that, it’s up to you to make sure that your new employer understands how those skills can really help them and why you are an awesome fit for their position!

 

My Technology Career Change

As many of you know, I work for a large Cisco partner as a Solutions Architect (pre-sales engineer) focusing on Cisco Unified Communications and Collaboration.  It’s a technology that I have worked in for 18 years and my knowledge and skills there have served me well.  What only a few of you know is that when I started this job, I made a promise to myself that if I left this company it would not be to move to another role that focused on unified communications.  By making this promise I was trying to ensure that I would stay in that job for longer than my previous four or five jobs (averaging about a year each) and also to ensure that if I did leave it wouldn’t just be taking a job that was the same thing with slightly different scenery.  If I was going to move it would be the opportunity to learn something new.  Due to my experience and certifications and the compensation that has come along with them, I felt that I probably wouldn’t be making a move any time soon.  It’s been three years now and today is my last day at my current job.

I have accepted a job with ServiceNow as a Solutions Consultant and while it is still a pre-sales engineering role.  The technology is a major change from what I have been doing.  If you’ve not quite sure what ServiceNow does, go check out their web site, I’ll wait right here for you….Now that you’re back, you’ll probably agree with me on a few things:

  • There are a lot of things these folks are doing
  • This is definitely not a Unified Communications focused position
  • This isn’t even a Cisco focused position

As I was going through the interview process, several close friends were curious about how this would pan out.  Based on some of these discussions I came to the decision to document this transition because I’m sure that there are some people in the industry that feel they have been supporting a specific technology too long but also feel that they are too embedded to make a change.  Welcome to My Technology Career Change blog series.  Over the next several months I’ll cover what my experience in transitioning to a new technology and new job type will be!

 

Why the Change?

For some of my readers, this may seem like a foreign concept.  Taking a job that moves you our of the technology spot that you’ve been in for almost two decades may seem insane or at the very least, ill thought out.  What I can tell you is that this decision was not made lightly.  For over a year I had been trying to determine what my next role would be and how to get there.  I studied AWS certification material, I talked to friends about potential jobs that were at their companies, I interrogated people that worked in the collaboration and UC space.

What all of the researched reaffirmed in my brain was that it was time to leave.  After 18 years, I needed a change.  It’s not that there is anything wrong with the technology that I’ve been working with for so long, but where I used to get excited talking about the new things going on with it, I lost some of that passion.  Additionally, I wanted to increase my scope of knowledge outside of that sphere, so I am a little more well-rounded.  I’m excited to see what the next phase of my career evolves to and what new knowledge I can acquire as part of this move!

 

The Inevitable Questions

I’ve already had several questions asked to me repeatedly.  As the first post in this series, I’ll address them quickly, but as I continue on if something warrants more discussion I might have another post dedicated to the topic.

So You’re Completely Ditching Cisco?

I wouldn’t say completely.  I’ve still got a couple of blog series that I plan on writing around the Cisco arena that will keep at least a toe in that space.  Add to that some external projects that we will talk about in a moment and yes I’ll still have an ear in that direction for news even if it won’t be my complete focus.  Additionally, several aspects of ServiceNow have touch points in the Cisco sphere, so maintaining knowledge in that area will be helpful in my mind.

What About Engineering Deathmatch?

The bulk of the episodes of Engineering Deathmatch that I have filmed have been focused on Cisco, so I can understand where there might be some concern that the show would be going away.  I have told my new employer about the show and they are good with me continuing it.  I’ll continue to work with Cisco as long as they would like to work with me on episodes, but I also intend to expand the show to cover other technology companies as well.  Additionally the show family will be expanding with the addition of The IT Inquisition, so I’m actually excited to see the future of both of these shows!

Are You Going to Maintain Your CCIE?

Now this is a question that I have been thinking hard and long on.  The short answer is that I won’t let it expire, but the longer answer is I don’t know what I am going to do.  This past February was my 10-year anniversary so I have the option to go CCIE Emeritus.  For those not well-versed in CCIE lore, engineers who have been a CCIE for 10 years or more may opt to go CCIE Emeritus.  By doing this they no longer have to take re-certification exams, they can say that they are a CCIE Emeritus, however their certifications cannot be used by a partner to fulfill partner certification requirements.  As an Emeritus CCIE, if you decide that you want to get back to a full-fledged CCIE status you can take the CCIE written exam or complete continuing education requirements.  I still have over a year to make this decision but I will either be choosing the Emeritus route or taking the continuing education credits, which direction will largely depend on how much time I have available to do things like go through the training courses for continuing education.

 

Surely It’s Not All Roses

The pessimists among you may be saying that I’m going to run into all sorts of challenges.  I fully expect there to be some challenges and maybe even a thing or two that I don’t like about my new employer.  Every employer has issues in one way or another and I would be naive to think otherwise.  I can’t say that I know what these will be but I’ll deal with them as I encounter them.

That being said, I do see my biggest challenge with starting a new job like this is the rapid ramp-up on a new product and technology that I didn’t really have experience in before.  I’ll use all of my study magic that I have used both for studying for the CCIE as well as trying to stay on top of new products.  This will help me to not only quickly learn things, but to retain deep knowledge for the long term.  I’m excited about what’s to come!

Cisco’s Bold Move for Team Collaboration and Cutlery

Wow, I would not have expected this one in a million years, but it kind of makes sense.  Cisco announced today that they would be changing the name of their popular team collaboration application Cisco Spark to Cisco Spork.  When asked for comment, a high-ranking member of Cisco’s marketing team responded saying, “A lot of people love the Cisco Spark platform and a lot of people love multi-function cutlery, so it really just made sense to merge the two together.”

When I had the chance to talk some of the internal folks, a lot of details were unclear, but it was speculated that the name change would be announced at DevNet Create later this month.  Several theories floated around, but my favorite involved pay-subscription users getting a free spork for every paid Cisco Spork named user account.  I have to say that this was quite a shock, but now when I’m eating out of that can of beef stew while on a camp out I know that I will always think about the multi-funtion collaboration app that is now called Cisco Spork.  For up to date information on this unbelievable development, make sure to check the date on this post and wish yourself a happy April Fools Day.