Figuring IT Out: The People Behind IT — SolarWinds TechPod 056

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IT pros juggle a lofty list of responsibilities. They’re tasked with navigating new technologymaintaining continuity for hybrid work environments, devising creative solutions, all while ensuring those they support are successful. In our day-to-day interactions, we often see IT pros’ hard, technology skills at play but rarely do we see or know the paths that brought them to where they are now.  
SolarWinds Head Geeks Chrystal Taylor, Kevin Kline, and Liz Beavers shine a light on the people behind the technology. No matter where you start or how far you’ve come, there’s always an opportunity to grow. Our 2021 IT Pro Day Award winners will join Head Geeks to dive into how they found their footing in IT, monumental experiences, and lessons they’ve learned along the way.  Timestamps:
  • 0:56 - 2021 IT Rookie of the Year: Praharshita Gaur
  • 26:28 - 2021 IT Trailblazer of the Year: Diana Awde
  • 51:56 - 2021 IT Mentor of the Year: David Williams
Related Links
Praharshita Gaur

Guest | Systems Analyst, Great West Media

After completing a business undergraduate degree in an unrelated field, Praharshita realized she had a desire to help others and a technical aptitude that attracted… Read More
Diana Awde

Guest | Chief Information Officer, My Health My Resources of Tarrant County

Diana is the chief information officer for My Health My Resources (MHMR) of Tarrant County, the second largest community behavioral health center in Texas. Diana… Read More
David Williams

Guest | Head of Engineering - Data and Asset Management, Damstra Technology

David is an IT professional and author. He’s worked in a variety of roles from software developer, systems administrator, and business analyst to IT manager… Read More
Liz Beavers

Host | Head Geek

Like many IT professionals, Liz’s entry into the tech industry was unconventional. With plans to pursue a career in public relations, Liz’s career quickly took… Read More
Chrystal Taylor

Host | Head Geek

Chrystal Taylor is a dedicated technologist with nearly a decade of experience and has built her career by leveraging curiosity to solve problems, no matter… Read More
Kevin Kline

Host | Head Geek

Kevin Kline is a Head Geek, noted database expert, and software industry veteran. As a 13-time Microsoft Data Platform MVP and with 35 years' experience… Read More

Episode Transcript

Announcer: This episode of Tech Pod is brought to you by the IT Pro Day 2021 survey. Bring IT on. This year’s survey seeks to understand how tech pros feel about their daily roles and responsibilities, the lessons they’ve learned over the past year, and the technical and non-technical skills needed for their future career growth.

Chrystal: September saw us celebrating IT pros across the globe on IT Pro Day. This year also played host to the second annual IT Pro Day Awards. We want to take another moment to congratulate our winners on their achievements over the past year. I’m SolarWinds Head Geek Chrystal Taylor. And on this episode of TechPod, I’m joined by fellow Head Geeks Kevin Kline and Liz Beavers. We recently sat down with three of this year’s IT Pro Day award winners. We got to delve into their journeys through IT, their accomplishments, and find out what advice they have for other tech pros at this point in their careers.

Liz: I’m Liz Beavers, and I have the pleasure of speaking with our 2021 IT Rookie of the Year winner Prah Gaur. While Prah has always had an affinity for technology, she recently transitioned to a career in tech and made waves within her first year. Prah found creative ways to apply her previous skills and knowledge to the projects she led at Great West Media. Between implementing new solutions and refining internal IT processes, she’s gracefully embraced the challenges her new career has introduced, driven by a hunger to learn more and help others. Prah, congratulations again on your Rookie of the Year nomination, and thank you so much for joining us on TechPod.

Prah: Hi, Liz. Thank you so much for the lovely introduction. I’m super happy to be part of this podcast. And I’m really excited to share my journey and experience with you.

Liz: Terrific. Well, we’re so pleased you’re here. So let’s dive on in, as I’m sure many of our listeners can relate to your experiences and some of the different ideas that you can bring to the table. So as of the rookie recipient, we would love to hear a little bit about where you actually started and what brought you into tech. Can you tell us a little bit about your professional journey?

Prah: Right. So I have a business degree but I always had an affinity for technology. And I graduated during the pandemic, so I had a lot of free time, unintentional but, oh well. I was looking to improve my skills and trying to find a niche that would interest me and something I would want to build a career. And, I mean, I enjoy marketing but I know that just because I enjoy it doesn’t mean I want to build a career out of it. And I was preparing for my CompTIA Security Plus applying for jobs when I came across Great West Media. And I thought to myself, why not me? I mean, I can do this. I have aptitude, I have the ambition, and I’m willing to learn, and that’s when Great West gave me the opportunity. And now I’m here. And that’s been my short professional journey thus far.

Liz: I think that’s really helpful to understand and know your background as well, because I think I can speak for a lot of folks in technology, myself included, that it wasn’t the original space that we had envisioned that we were going to be a part of or we didn’t necessarily know if we were able to be a part of it. So I think it’s really exciting to know that despite what your previous trajectory was, there’s certainly an opportunity to take hold of there. So along the same lines, Prah, what drew you to technology? Did you have any previous experience that really gave you the confidence to pursue a career in IT?

Prah: I think my generation has the advantage of having grown up with technology. And we’ve always been around it. But I think specifically for me, in my last year of university, I took a couple of computer science courses and I did fairly well, better than the average. It felt like that was the encouragement I needed to propel myself into this industry. I like problem solving. And it makes me feel very accomplished when I’m able to help people enhance their work and just help them do their best work. And technology just has the biggest scope to influence people’s work, and I want to be a part of that. And I’ve been lucky enough that I understood early on what I want from my professional career and where I want to head, and I don’t have to reinvent myself like someone who would have to change their career would have to do. And plus technology was hiring and I guess that drew me to it. Always be a little financially motivated, too, that helps.

Liz: Definitely. I think that’s also something. Again, I like the way that you were talking about not only our natural exposure to technology, but there really are so many opportunities in the marketplace to take hold of and explore. I think that’s one of the really cool things about technology, too, is you have this chance to test the waters and explore the different niches that are available within technology to see which is really going to feed your appetite and your curiosity. So I think that’s certainly helpful to hear. That was kind of what drew you in as well.

Liz: I also think the pandemic has been a really interesting time for everybody. And I think the way in which you opted to use your time during the pandemic coming out of having graduated from university to really take a step back and reflect on what drives you personally, what do you want to accomplish professionally, and some of your passions, what were some of the ways that you took that chance to really explore this new vertical for your career? I know you mentioned that you had taken a couple of computer science classes. But I’m sure that there were some other areas that really sparked your interest.

Prah: So pandemic was really hard, especially March 2020 to September 2020. Because I had envisioned getting a job right out of university much like most of the graduates and then that didn’t happen, and it gave me a lot of time to reflect on my interests. And initially, I was really attracted to cybersecurity so much so like I prepared for the CompTIA Security Plus and I successfully failed it twice. I mean, I learned the hard way that I’m someone who needs hands-on experience and not just theory, and I feel skills come first and then you consolidate your experience with your certification.

Prah: And at the time, I was part of Women in Cybersecurity. And I regularly went to their online job fairs and interacted with people, received a lot of positive responses and feedback. I was also able to make connections. But in the end, it was all talk, no jobs, because I didn’t have the necessary hard skills. And I was itching to get into the field so I thought to myself, let’s start small. And I went and got a job at Best Buy.

Prah: I worked for Geek Squad, and I started acquiring all the skills that I thought the jobs would want and the skills that I thought were necessary. I mean, I learned the basics of computer hardware and learned how to interact with end users and having to explain and educate them about their devices, its functions, and telling them about what phishing is and that you shouldn’t click on links just because they say you won a million dollars.

Liz: Yeah. And I think that that’s such a valuable lesson, quite honestly, for anybody but especially in technology because there’s such an array of spaces where you can be focusing your efforts both for those hard technical skills that you need or need to understand how they adapt and what’s changing in technology itself. So I think it’s really helpful to understand that while courses certainly can provide you with some insight, as you mentioned, behind theories or frameworks, but there’s absolutely nothing like the hands-on experience, as you mentioned, getting to interact directly with the people who are asking for assistance or understanding the workings behind hardwiring, all of those elements.

Liz: So I think pairing that hands-on knowledge as well as partnering with members of your community can certainly speak to how you drove your interest and even furthered your involvement there. I know you had talked about some of the certifications that you were pursuing, especially because you had free time and because that looked like something when you were taking a look into technology, what would you recommend for folks in terms of those certifications? And where did you find the understanding of this is going to be the best certification for me?

Prah: First off, I established that I wanted to be in technology. And I did the most basic thing, I Googled technology. Went to the Wikipedia page and then I just started clicking through different subjects that interested me, started reading more about it. For example, I really liked the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. And then I went on from there. I read about it. I researched about it. I went on people’s LinkedIn who had roles that were pertaining to this specific thing. And then I just searched for courses online.

Prah: It’s easy in these days to just Google certifications. I think Coursera or LinkedIn, Microsoft Azure has different certifications that you can do. You just have to find what interests you. And I think that you’re only going to find that once you start reading and researching. Because if you just stick to one and you tell yourself, oh yeah, I really like cybersecurity so I’m going to do only cybersecurity, and if it doesn’t pan out you’re going to be very disappointed. And technology’s best. This might interest you but maybe not for you.

Liz: And I think that’s really sound advice for anybody to be able to apply to their search, even if they’ve been in technology for 10 plus years. Because it is such a wide sprawling industry, you have a chance to learn something new or acquire new skills or certifications, that really spread the gamut.

Prah: During the pandemic, a lot of companies were coming out with their own certifications and making more resources available. And they were free. So I went and I did the Fortinet certifications. There were two levels, Network Security Associate, I think. So I did one and two and that’s how I found out that I don’t want to deal with servers or any of those things. But at least I can add them to my resume. So that was good. But yeah, you can always do certifications. There’s no harm. You’re just adding more to your repertoire of knowledge.

Liz: Exactly. Yeah, you’re adding more to your toolkit and it’s giving you that exposure, again, to help you really advance not only yourself but have a better understanding about where you want to make your next move within your career and which direction that you’re interested or even passionate about pursuing. So, with this transition into technology, what do you feel have been some of the most challenging elements of entering this new space?

Prah: We all know that technology changes really fast. But people expect you to know everything, whether it’s like the employer or end user. And that’s happened a lot in my case. But I’ve also been very lucky with my director of technology. Shout out to Barry Dutchak. He’s my mentor. And he’s really helped me learn different elements of IT and just so much more about professional growth. A personal hurdle something I actively struggle with, and I think a lot of people especially women in technology, struggle with is the impostor syndrome. And I think in the beginning I was doubting myself constantly and I thought I didn’t belong at my job and how could I get a job in IT, I’m a business major, and all those feelings would be really overwhelming.

Prah: And it’s funny to say that I had those feelings because whenever I talked to my friends who were in tech, especially women, they would talk about this, I’m like, how’s that even possible? How do you not feel like you have ownership of this job? You have the job. You have it for a reason. You’re qualified. To combat those feelings, I often take a moment and adore my projects. I know it sounds a little narcissistic but you just have to stop, look at your project, and sit there and think like, yes, I did this, I took ownership of this project, I did it to completion, and I’m bringing about positive change. And I think that really helps.

Liz: I think that that’s such an important point, especially that notion of impostor syndrome. I also have absolutely felt it. I continue to feel it in a number of different ways. But I think regardless of your age, your experience, your gender, we absolutely have a chance to really own who we are, what we bring to the table, what we’re learning at the table, and really advocate for ourselves. So I think that that’s a huge lesson that we’re consistently working uphill towards moving past. But knowing that you had that experience again, you’re certainly not alone. But I think we’re working as a collective to overcome it. But I can absolutely understand where that would take place, especially diving into a new industry.

Prah: And to think about it, I didn’t think someone like my dad who had 40 years plus of experience in oil and gas, I mentioned this to him that I was going to be on the podcast and I’m going to talk about this and he’s like, “Oh, that’s what it’s called? I often feel that way.” And to think he’s a man, he’s been in the industry for 40 years, like I said, and he’s still going through those things, so that just puts it into perspective, that’s a very human feeling and that we’re all going through this.

Liz: As you are working to push aside that shadow of impostor syndrome and make it as smooth a transition as possible into your new career, you mentioned that you found a mentor in your boss. So I’d love to hear a bit more about how working closely alongside with not only your mentor but some of your other peers within your organization have also helped as a rookie make it a more seamless transition.

Prah: So Barry, who was our IT director and also my mentor, has helped me immensely from day one, like, even during the interview process, he was super nice. And after I got hired, he talked to me about the job involved and told me the reason why he chose to go with me instead of other candidates who had more experience and would have been a better job fit is because I had the aptitude, the attitude, and the ambition. And just having that want to do better and to learn is important.

Liz: Definitely. And I think that speaks to some of the necessary people or cultural fit in terms of entering not only a new organization but also a new vertical and a new industry. So based on your experience, both in your new role as well as some of your previous roles, it looks like there’s been a lot of non-technical essential skills involved in your day to day. What are some of those interpersonal or, again, non-technical skills that you found to be critical to your role in IT?

Prah: Well, I think that communication is an essential and important interpersonal skill in IT. It helps you set and meet expectations. You have to communicate when you’re going to achieve your goals that you’ve set and how you’re going to do that. I mean, it also helps when you’re able to effectively talk to the end user and understand their issue and help them understand your method. I would also definitely recommend customer service experience that really helps with building better communication skills.

Prah: And technical skills, you can teach people, but these interpersonal skills are hard. And it’s something that’s usually innate or you have to cultivate. Yeah. And like you mentioned about the culture environment fit, I would also recommend people to look for, actually, a person and environment fit. For example me, my technical skills at the time might not have been the right fit for the job role, but the environment was key, and it fit for me. And that is why I was able to grow and learn and I’m still growing and learning.

Prah: I’ll add another essential skill that I’ve found to be important, which is leadership. I mean, at my stage, I might not be a team leader. But leadership to me means that you suggest projects and you find out ways to improve IT processes at least at my organization and taking initiative to lead those projects. This also helps you stay motivated at your job and this motivation should be intrinsic. And when you have that motivation, that will definitely propel your career in technology or actually in any industry that you choose.

Liz: I couldn’t agree with you more, Prah. I think that those are really great examples. Communication surrounds us everywhere, be it in a presentation, public speaking forum, or just as you mentioned if you’re having a one-on-one conversation either with a colleague or with an end user. So I absolutely agree that it’s critical to work to hone and refine those skills, because it’s a part of the human experience.

Liz: And even though we are working with technology, it’s people that are working behind the scenes and actually administering what it is we rely on so heavily. I also love what you said about leadership skills, because I think just as we were talking a little bit about the impostor syndrome, leadership skills and finding opportunities to assert yourself with confidence is just going to continue to reinforce what you’re capable of, what you’ve learned, and where you have an opportunity to grow. So I think that that’s really, really helpful advice.

Prah: Right. And coming back to communication, I have this little story about when I first started. So one of the first things I had to do at my job was to work on the SolarWinds Help Desk and figure out CMDB mapping. And I really didn’t know how it worked. And then I spent the first week trying to figure it out, I tried and I tried and then it turned out that we weren’t able to do it because we didn’t have the feature and it wasn’t part of the contract.

Prah: And I feel if I would have asked, if I would have just communicated to my boss or my co-worker at the time like, “Hey, I can’t figure this out. I don’t know,” it would have saved us a week. But I guess after that, I started asking questions. And whenever I had doubts, I would go to my team director even if it was a smallest thing. Because once I know, then only will I be able to do it. Otherwise, I’m not making the best use of my time and I’m not growing.

Liz: Again, not only does that boil back to the importance and the prevalence of communication, especially in technology, but as you mentioned earlier, you enjoy problem solving. So being able to be confident in asking questions, posing potential solutions, or testing the limits of what’s possible, I think certainly benefits not only within your career and within your first year of your experience, but also for anybody looking to be engaged with IT and go on a new career path as well.

Prah: Right. I also think it helps in building your leadership qualities when you ask questions, because it shows that you’re vulnerable and that you’re willing to ask for help. And I think that’s a sign of a good leader, at least a one in the making.

Liz: So I think as we listen to you talk about working towards leadership and improving not only your communication skills but also your hard technical skills, what are some of your broader goals or aspirations? I guess, Prah, what’s next for you and where do you want to continue to grow as you round out your first year in IT?

Prah: Right. So my professional goal has always been to help people. I mean, specifically improve their workflows, enhance their work. I have always said that. I’ll always say that. I’m an empathetic person and this comes to me very naturally. And at least at my current job, I am always looking for ways and methods to make technology assist their work in a way. And so what’s next? Let’s see. Well, I think I’m in a phase of growth and learning. And I want to continue that.

Prah: And something I have found to interest me has been Microsoft Azure, cloud computing. So I’m working towards the Azure fundamental certifications. Like I had said earlier that certifications come into play when you’re trying to consolidate your learning, so now that I’ve had almost nine months of experience with Azure, I want to consolidate my experience through my certification.

Prah: Yeah, I would give myself this year and the next possibly to truly experience hands-on learning and whatever I’ve learned in theory to put it into application and just learning all about IT has to offer our organization, but also an avenue I wouldn’t close off will be data privacy legislation and regulations, which is what got me into technology in the first place. I don’t think I’m going to forget my first love. But yeah, that side of technology does interest me quite a bit.

Liz: Rounding out our conversation, I know we’ve talked about a lot, Prah, but I think to leave on a positive note for anybody who’s listening and is really interested or passionate about exploring technology further or advancing their career in a new sector, what advice would you have for them in terms of their initial exploration or how they could even get started in tech?

Prah: I mean, by this time, we probably established that my career has been a result of the pandemic. And I think a lot of people are in the same boat, whether it was job loss or like me graduating into the market. But I would say apply for jobs left, right, and center. It’s all about quantity initially. Maybe you’ll get an interview for not your favored posts, but at least you’ll get some practice and some insight.

Prah: I would also say keep searching for people on LinkedIn with the same job title that you want and connect with them. Ask them about their job and ask them about their role. That might really open doors for you or at least will come to know if you really want the job or it’s just a title that sounds nice. And keep reading. There are so many avenues. There’s LinkedIn Learning, there’s Coursera. There’s so many more that you can go for if you’re really into certifications and you think you learn from theory better than you learn hands on.

Liz: I think from all of that advice as well, Prah, I also feel that it’s important based on your experience and what we see from others in the community at large that in addition to researching, diving into available certifications, events, and online communities continue practicing your baseline essential skills. Your communication skills are certainly going to benefit you in your exploration or your hunt for a new career. So I’d also say that I think that that’s a really good place to spend your efforts and time as well.

Prah: My best friend, she’s the one that told me that I shouldn’t ever consider myself underqualified for a job that I want because it is a two-way street. I would suggest to people to apply for jobs, even when you only have 60% of the qualifications required. I mean, the job has to offer you something as well. It’s not just the money. It should be a growth in your interpersonal skills and technical skills.

Prah: And you mentioned how important they are. I mean, it’s hard to get an interview but when you do, make sure that you let them see your ambition and say what you have to say with conviction. And that will honestly seal the deal.

Liz: I think that’s really impactful advice that we can impart on anybody listening to this or anybody who’s looking to move forward. So with that final sentiment and with that last bit of motivation from Prah, I do want to thank you again for joining us on TechPod. It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to speak with you. And congratulations again. I can’t imagine anybody more deserving of Rookie of the Year Award than you.

Prah: Thank you so much for having me, Liz. I had a wonderful time talking about my experiences with you today.

Liz: Now I’ll hand things over to Chrystal Taylor as she interviews our Trailblazer of the Year Diana Awde.

Chrystal: I’m Chrystal Taylor and I’m excited to be joined today by this year’s IT Trailblazer of the Year recipient, Diana Awde. Diana is the CIO for My Health My Resources of Tarrant County and has embodied the role of the trailblazer by leading transformational change, including strengthening security, refreshing infrastructure, implementing new redundancies, implementing an internship program, handing out tablets for telehealth during the pandemic, and more. It’s clear she cares about her community and her employees and takes measures to improve their lives where she can with better processes, active listening, and quick problem solving. Congratulations on your award, Diana, and welcome to TechPod.

Diana: Thank you, Chrystal. I’m happy to be here.

Chrystal: Well, when we talked last week when we kind of synced up, you had such a wonderful story to tell and your journey has been so interesting. So it would be wonderful if you could tell us a little bit more about your journey in My Health My Resources of Tarrant County and what you do there.

Diana: Well, My Health My Resources is a unit of local government in Fort Worth, Texas. And we provide a diverse set of services to the community. So it’s MHMR for short. And they provide behavioral health services, which includes mental health, substance abuse, child and family services, helping children with developmental delays, people with intellectual disabilities. So it’s very diverse. We also have crisis services, inpatient/outpatient services delivered in people’s homes and in the community.

Diana: We partner with different community organizations, police departments at Tarrant County, JPS hospital which is our county hospital, other doctor’s offices and hospitals. Anyhow, at MHMR, we’ve got over 2,000 employees over 60 locations. My department, I’m over a department of about 50 people, which includes help desk, systems and network, a data team, security, and application development. And as far as my journey, I joined MHMR in January of 2005. So it’s been a long time. I was basically fresh out of college and I joined as a business analyst, working on different projects, linking the IT department to our customers. And I did that for several years and then moved into project management and joined the PMO office when they created that there. We had a big EHR implementation and I became the director over that team. And it was moving from our legacy system that we had been on for maybe two decades into a certified electronic health record. And so I led that effort and got them live. And then I moved into my position as an IT director and then into CIO.

Chrystal: That’s incredible. It’s incredible how long you’ve persevered there. I mean, I would ask you, the mission for MHMR is we change lives. And, basically, when we were talking the other day, you were very passionate and I think it’s coming across already today, you’re very passionate about helping out your community and being a part of that mission. So I just think it’s wonderful the work that you all do there. And I just want to applaud that. I think it’s incredible the things that you’ve been doing to partner with the community, some of the things you were telling us, especially during the pandemic that, obviously, there were a lot of challenges and a lot of the people that you help are underprivileged and struggling. So, what were some of the new challenges that you’re responsible for tackling in the last year and a half and how did you meet those challenges?

Diana: Yeah. I think one of the biggest challenges to start was everybody all of a sudden had to be remote. Prior to the pandemic, most of our staff were not remote staff. They worked in an office. We do have mobile staff that provides services in home so they weren’t office based. But the vast majority were, like all of our administrative staff, the staff at the different clinics, and we had to be able to quickly transition to remote work. So that was one of the biggest challenges. There were people that didn’t have laptops.

Diana: We had to get equipment. We were actually already in the middle of several projects that would have prepared us for the pandemic and we had to kind of rush them. And I think that’s what many other organizations faced. For example, we were rolling out a cloud phone system. So we rushed that so that people could get phone calls on their cell phone using the app. They didn’t have to be in their office at their desk. They could receive calls from their personal cell or an agency phone with their work number.

Diana: We had to get VPN licenses. We had to look for telehealth platforms so that we could provide video services, eFax, we rolled out Teams, OneDrive, all these things that allowed people to be able to do their work from anywhere. Some other things we had to do that were directly related to the pandemic were the COVID screening. We had to implement a COVID screening app and get people trained on that and start using it on their phones so that they self-screened before they came to work. And it provided guidance based on the CDC of whether they had to stay home or that they could come in.

Diana: The other challenge we had was a lot of our patients didn’t have access to mobile devices. They didn’t have internet. So we had to figure out a way to how do we continue serving them if we can’t see them face to face. And so we did deploy hundreds of tablets with internet service to people in the community for them to use. We also deployed some tablets for recreational use in our group homes for patients that couldn’t really go out. They couldn’t see their families. They couldn’t do the fun things they used to be able to do in the past. So they’re able to connect and FaceTime and do things, play games, and also for recreational use in one of our programs in a substance use program, I think I believe as an inpatient detox facility, they couldn’t just admit people.

Diana: They admit them and they would quarantine them for 24 to 48 hours until they could get their COVID results back. And so we gave them technology and tablets to use to keep them entertained while they were waiting so they wouldn’t just get bored and leave and then not get the treatment they need. So those are some of the things we did related to the pandemic. Security was another concern with people being remote, how we’re going to make sure that they were doing things securely that their devices that we had endpoint protection software designed to support remote work, MFA for VPN, and of course policies for remote work. So those were some of the challenges we had. It was a busy year.

Chrystal: That’s incredible amount of work on top of I’m sure the things that you’re already working on, getting some recreation availability for people that were stuck in less fortunate circumstances, in your group homes and things like that, that’s amazing. That’s something that you thought about for more mental well being than physical well being.

Chrystal: And I’m glad that there’s people like MHMR and you out there helping those people. You mentioned implementing a lot of new software to help out with facilitating remote work. So much of your work is maintaining relationships with your community, how did that help out? And were there additional challenges present especially during the more strict times of the pandemic? How did you handle keeping those relationships alive and well during that time?

Diana: Yeah. I mean, we relied heavily as an organization on collaboration software like Teams with video, SharePoint Online to share documentation. So at least within my department, we used to do daily stand-ups in the office where we would all huddle in the mornings and discuss what we’re working on that day, what we’ve accomplished, any impediments. And so they just switched to doing that through Teams. And that worked really well for my department. And we did hear back from other employees that they love Teams.

Diana: And so that’s worked really well. As far as our patients and the providers’ relationship with the community, I know before we rolled out, we rolled out GoToMeeting and then we rolled out Teams, the providers were saying, we need something else, we need something better than this. It worked really well for employees but it didn’t work well for patients. So we did find another telehealth platform that we rolled out. And it basically would just send a text message to the patient and it was just a link, and it would say doctor so and so wants to meet with you. And they would click on it and they’d be in the session. So that helped a lot. So, I mean, it’s still challenging for people to feel connected. I mean, we’ve done everything we can but sometimes that face to face is still needed. It’s still challenging.

Chrystal: I mean, if anything the pandemic showed, it was that we could make adjustments when we needed to quickly. So I think that’s great. So we’re just going to pivot a little bit to a bit more about you. I wanted to talk a bit about 2021 has been a big year for you so far. I mean, you’ve got the IT Pro Day Trailblazer Award and you’re also recognized as an honoree for Fort Worth’s 2021’s 40 under 40. What does all this attention in these awards mean to you and the work that you’re doing?

Diana: Well, I’m really grateful to receive the awards and the recognition. I think it helps me because I guess I’m my biggest critic and I always feel like I need to be doing more. But it kind of just validates that, hey, maybe we’re on the right track and we’re doing things right, and just makes me feel very grateful for the team that I’ve got because none of these things were things I did alone. It was the department and people working together and listening and delivering. So, I mean, I give the credit to them but I’m very grateful to be recognized. Absolutely.

Chrystal: I think you’re doing great work. And I hope that you continue to work on driving these new and innovative ideas and making things better. So, what would you recommend to someone who’s wanting to grow their career in IT similar to what you have done? Are there specific technical or non-technical skills that you think that they should strengthen or lean on to advance in IT?

Diana: Yeah. I mean, as far as technical skills, it’s really going to depend on the area of specialization that they choose to go into. And I always encourage my staff to go out and look at certifications, continue learning. We always try to encourage that and help them with those things. But I think what’s equally important and maybe more important is having those soft skills and being able to listen to your customers, listening to their needs, listening to their challenges, and looking for ways of how we can leverage technology and remove any impediments.

Diana: So they can focus on their work. And in our area of business, we want our providers to be able to be focused on the patients and not worried about a piece of technology that’s not working or makes their job harder. We want it to be easier. And so trying to shift our mindset to them and what our role is and how important that is to them, so those kind of skills, the ability to look ahead and try to anticipate what’s coming, for us that means we’re driven by so many different regulations and being prepared for that. So looking ahead at the future and seeing what technology we need to implement and just being adaptable, honestly, those are all really important.

Chrystal: I could not agree more. I’m so glad to hear you say that you think soft skills are so important. I am constantly talking about how soft skills are so important. You just never know the difference that it can make in your career. If you can’t talk to people, you’re going to lose out on so many opportunities. So, I do think that that’s incredibly important. So do you think that there is no more IT generalists, there’s no more space for an IT generalist like you do need to be more specific or just to grow, you have to go into a more specific field?

Diana: No, I still think there’s a place for generalists but I would say would be in an area. So you can’t just be a generalist in everything. You’re going to be a generalist in like maybe systems and network or security or development. But maybe you have some analytical qualities where you don’t need like a separate role for QA or a separate role as a business analyst. You could work with the customer directly and do all those things and maybe reduce the number of handoffs for something to get done. But specializing in a specific area like development, security, infrastructure, but not within those areas being so specialized that you’re limited.

Chrystal: That’s an excellent way of looking at it. I mean, I think that IT gets broader by the day. We are all constantly adding, there’s cloud and now there’s SaaS and there’s all these things and there’s like however many different coding languages and all that stuff. So, when you look at it, it does become more difficult to imagine what the IT generalists used to be. So I like this perspective you have of like being a generalist but in sort of a larger area and not in everything. There’s no more real jack of all trades or if you are, you’re losing out on that specialty knowledge.

Diana: And I think it’s important for people to be open to continue learning. I know like we’ve had situations where people were afraid to try new things, like the cloud-based stuff. We’ve never set up a server in this area or in the cloud and it was just like you have to push that it’s going to be okay. That’s how you learn. You got to try it. And so, don’t be afraid to try new things. Believe in yourself. No one goes into anything just knowing it all. You have to learn. And I learn new things every single day. And my staff know more than me in several areas and I have to rely on them and we just all push each other.

Chrystal: That’s important. That’s an important aspect in a leader if I can tell you that to understand that you may not know as much as people that work for you, but you can leverage their expertise. That’s excellent. I think that that’s one of the most exciting things about IT is that it’s constantly changing so there’s always room to learn something new. There’s always room to like, “Hey, you know what? I am tired of doing this same thing I’ve been doing for the last five years. Let’s go learn a different thing.” But you can still stay within technology because there’s just so much of it.

Chrystal: My friend Leon likes to say, if you’re a DNS administrator and you never learn anything new and you always are a DNS administrator, eventually there won’t be a job for you because it’s only one aspect.

Diana: I was just going to add on to that to speak a little more to what you’re saying. We’ve had several people that have come in, in different positions starting off with like in help desk or something and they’ll do that for a few years. And then if they’re like go getters and high achievers, they’ll go and learn something. And we always try to promote from within, and they end up going on to either move to application development or become a system engineer. And so I feel like it’s important to give people opportunities if they’re willing to learn. And that’s kind of one reason why I’ve stayed with MHMR so long as I haven’t been doing the same thing, oh my gosh, I would be so bored if I was still doing the same thing.

Chrystal: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s only so much you can take. I mean, I do know some people that will stay with the same job for a really long time. But there’s only so much upward mobility, if you never learn anything new and never change what you’re doing. So there’s a cap. Eventually, you’re going to meet the upper limits of that one thing. So it behooves you to have a little bit more of an open mind and let leaders like you to allow opportunities for people to grow in their space. So that’s excellent. So, from all of your experiences, during your career and during the pandemic, what lessons will you take with you moving forward? What’s the next challenge on the horizon for you and how are you going to meet that?

Diana: I mean, some of the lessons we’ve talked about, change is inevitable, there’s never going to be a time where… And this is something I’ve had to learn where things ever get quiet, there’s always something to do, it’s just never going to be quiet. I don’t know how to explain that. I think it’s because I have a project management background. So there’s always a start and an end date and then you’re finished with that project. And it kind of feels that when I moved into my role as head of IT, I mean, there’s all the operational stuff, outages you have to deal with, but also there’s never-ending projects.

Diana: And that’s okay and people need to learn how to prioritize and just continue work-life balance but also know that we have to be adaptable to everything, because things keep changing and there will always be something better, something newer that we’re going to have to implement to meet the growing needs of the business. Some other lessons, our employees are the most valuable resources we have. We need to treat them with respect, give them flexibility, offer them balance, while continuing to have high standards of accountability. But that doesn’t mean that they have to be in front of you 24/7 or from 8:00 to 5:00. So it’s looking at their performance, looking at their productivity and allowing them to share ideas, make mistakes, and them feeling valued and safe to do that.

Chrystal: I love that. I love that so much. Having a place where you feel safe enough where you’re not like, oh my god, this is going to end my whole job if I make a mistake, it’s incredible to hear a leader in IT talk about making room for those opportunities, making room for those mistakes and learning from those mistakes.

Chrystal: Because, I mean, reality is no matter what we do, if we’re always learning, we’re going to make mistakes. You start something new, odds are you’re not going to do it exactly 100% perfect the first time you do it. So, I think that’s incredible to have that space and that environment available to your employees to feel like while, yes, we do have standards that we need to meet, people are people, you’re going to make mistakes. There’s going to be problems sometimes and all we can do is adapt, to meet, and solve those problems.

Diana: Regarding that, I mean, again, like I said earlier, we’re still trying to adjust to this new work. We haven’t gone back. My whole department, there are some positions that are in office but the majority is still remote. And so we are trying to start doing some hybrid and so we’re trying to figure out, well, what’s the best way to manage that? Some other challenges, I mean, that the agency has that we’re trying to look at possible solutions is just that continuity of care for our clients.

Diana: I’ll give you some examples. You could have a child, parents of a child with developmental disabilities or delays. And the parents are suffering from depression or something else going on with them that they need help. But they’re two different business units, basically, that provide those services. And there’s challenges on how do they do a warm handoff, how do they link them to services without just having them restart and go back to the front door, if that makes sense. Being able to link them to services quicker and have those relationships across the different divisions within the organization.

Diana: So we’re looking at how do we do that, how do they know who to contact. Some of the big projects we have coming up this year, like I said, there’s new programs opening up all the time that we have to support like the jail diversion. We’re in the process of moving data centers. We’re doing PC refresh. And we’ve had challenges because of the pandemic. There’s been shortages, parts to make computers. So that’s been delayed.

Diana: We’re rolling out a new front end to the EHR. So that’s going to be something new for our providers, they’re going to have to adjust to a new interface. And, of course, data continues to be a big request. And so we’re trying to figure out how do we structure, what can we do to better provide access to data to make decisions and help people out with dashboards and things like that.

Chrystal: During our conversation previously, we had talked about how part of your philosophy as the CIO is to be a partner to the business. I would be interested to hear if you could explain that a little bit more, what does that mean to you to be a partner to the business in IT?

Diana: Being at the table with them to discuss their problems, to be able to offer up solutions, making them feel comfortable enough to come to us. But in order to do that, you have to earn their trust. And so, the way you earn their trust is that you show them you can deliver. So that’s kind of been my philosophy is once we’re able to show them that if you come to us, we’re not going to be an impediment, we’re going to help you. And there’s reasons why we have to vet things and make sure they’re secure.

Diana: We don’t want to be in a situation where IT is not consulted with and then they’re buying products or software that we have to turn around and say, oh no, you can’t do this. But if we were involved from the beginning and they allowed us to vet it for you, make sure that it’s going to meet their needs but also meet technical needs to allow us to support it. That’s kind of what I mean is gaining that confidence from the business in how we interact with people and how we deliver holding ourselves accountable so that they trust us. And they do that. And we’re partners and we work together and it doesn’t seem like it’s just a separate department and I’ll need to call them when something breaks.

Chrystal: Yeah. I think that that’s all part of really well-honed communication skills. Because I know a lot of and I’m sure it’s one of the stereotypes of people in IT is that they’re not people persons.

Chrystal: They don’t necessarily like talking to people outside of IT very well. And so, it’s definitely a skill to be able to translate IT to the business and then vice versa from the business, like business goals down to IT because they don’t always understand in IT and most people I know don’t always care about the business bottom line. They don’t think about it. It’s just am I getting paid? Okay, cool. We move on. And that’s about as much as they think about money. And I was like that for a while, too. I just didn’t even think about what I was doing was affecting the bottom line.

Chrystal: So how would you say that those skills helped you out in building that relationship with the business? Because I think that’s what you’re saying is that it’s kind of been a trend throughout this conversation is talking about building those relationships and maintaining those relationships with other people and how key that’s been to your success. So if you have anything to add there, I would love to hear it.

Diana: And I’ll just add that anyone that wants to go into a leadership position, position like to run an IT department, has got to have that mindset if they’re going to instill that culture. I did run into some challenges when I first took it on because there was a little bit of a culture shift that had to be made. People thought their projects were priority but if someone needs something on the business side, it was like they were prioritizing what was important. And it really should be by the business. And so to make sure that the team understood that if people can’t do their jobs, that’s a priority.

Diana: Yes, we have these fun projects that we’re working on, with the infrastructure or this or that that we have to get done. But if something breaks or people are having other challenges, we have to help them. And so it’s just shifting that mindset that we’re here to serve, that we’re here for them. They’re the reason why we’re here. We’re not the ones bringing in the revenue. In our organization, we’re not like building software and selling it. We’re supporting our service providers that are they’re the ones bringing in the revenue to the business. So we need to make sure they have what they need. So just shifting that mindset and just making sure people understand they’re valued and all that. But the reason you’re here is to support the staff.

Chrystal: That’s excellent. Well, I think that your story has been really interesting and incredible. And the work that you guys do at MHMR is also really, really amazing. So I would like to applaud that. And I would like to congratulate you again on winning the IT Trailblazer of the Year recipient.

Diana: Thank you so much. I enjoyed being here.

Chrystal: Thank you for taking the time to join us on TechPod.

Kevin: I’m Kevin Kline. And I am elated to be joined by our 2021 IT Mentor of the Year, David Williams. David has been immersed in technology for years from developer to business analyst to CIO and beyond. His appetite for tech and people and the combination of people and technology continues to grow over the years. Having been influenced by others along the way, David continues to channel his passion for technology by helping students and newcomers find their way and excel in their careers. David, welcome to TechPod.

David: Thank you very much, Kevin. Delighted to be here.

Kevin: Yeah, we’re thrilled to have you. And congratulations, again, on your IT Mentor of the Year Award.

David: And I thank you so much. I’m very truly humbled and delighted by that. It’s wonderful.

Kevin: It’s exciting to see other people who are passionate about technology. And the fact that technology is really just a way for us to amplify what we can get done as people. It’s not the end all be all to itself.

David: Yes, no, definitely. One thing I’ve learned, actually, when I started my technology career, very passionate about tech and the great things we could do. But over time, I’ve come to realize that ultimately everything’s about people that every challenge we have is a people problem. Every project we have, even though we talk about technology projects, really it’s a business project. We do it because there has to be some reason behind it. And ultimately, yes, you’re right, it is awesome and great. The things that we can do in technology, ultimately, it’s all about people.

Kevin: So you’ve held a lot of positions over the years, David, many, many. And like you, my career has been 30-plus years long so far. So if it’s anything like mine, you’ve been through a lot of changes. We went from 8-bit computing and 16-bit to 32-bit to 64-bit, all kinds of other things like that. And I always find it helpful to know where tech pros have been in their past that got them where they are today. Could you walk us through your background?

David: Sure. Yes. So I was born in 1970. So yeah, pretty much 30 plus years. When I was in Year Seven in high school here in Australia, back in 1984, my father bought a Commodore 64 computer for the family. And so that was my first introduction to computing. And back then, we’d get computer magazines and you type out listings from them. And I guess just gravitated towards a Commodore 64 and I feel and learn programming almost by osmosis from typing out listings.

David: So I didn’t imagine computing as a career. When I was at high school, I still wondered what I’d do. And I thought, well, I’m good at math, maybe, the careers advisor said maybe accounting. But when I was here in Australia in Year Ten, you do a work experience, a practical two-week placement added in businesses, and I worked at a local coal mine in there, what was called back then the EDP department for electronic data processing. So before we talked about IT back then it was EDP. And there they had a VAX VMS setup.

David: Yeah. And saw email for the first time and multi-tasking, multi-user systems, and went back home and raised a round email client for the Commodore 64. So that really cemented that I knew them that’s what I want to do. So to my first job, my first full time role was at a local aluminum smelter in primary industry. And again, working with VAX VMS systems, funnily enough on the VAX systems, then you had a choice of VAX pass score or VAX C and VAX pass score was actually much easier all the integrations with what we call now APIs were built into VAX pass score whereas in VAX C, there was level complexity.

David: But from there, then went into the commercial world, I worked for a consulting company who specialized in consulting to coal mines, but they had a software as well. We wrote software to help local coal organizations, had a boss back then, my manager at that company was a guy called Jeff Motion. He’s recently retired. But yeah, I think he really helped fashion a lot of my thinking about how we use time, how we fail fast if we’re trying to explore something that I guess we’re accountable for time, but also as well the things we’re trying to achieve.

David: From there, I went into other roles. I began taking IT manager roles. So I was doing combination of developing software, running infrastructure, running teams. I worked as a team manager for a number of companies for a number of years. And yes, certainly, over that time, I saw technology change with that the acceleration of just the enormous capability that we can do where now anybody as long as you have a great idea and the ability to execute that idea, you have just unlimited computing potential.

Kevin: So you mentioned GT in your background, and he really helped you develop not just skills but professionalism and maturity in the discipline of being an IT pro. Anyone else you’d like to call out specifically?

David: Yes. I think there’s another two that comes to mind, and both ladies, which I just emphasized for the fact that women in IT is something that I’ve always been proud to support. I mean, obviously, as a white male, maybe my challenges have been less but I’m really delighted whenever I see great positive role models in IT. So in particular, yes, I had two lady bosses who really were helpful. There was one Jane Coleman. I worked for a company called Pacific Smiles Dental, which you won’t have heard of but Pacific Smiles Dental is Australia’s largest corporate dental company.

David: And I was the chief information officer there but Jane was the chief financial officer and I reported directly into her. But Jane was really sharp. I guess, with Jane, she was very precise, very knowledgeable but really keen intellect. And when you’d go to Jane and if you hadn’t really thought through what you wanted, you had this great idea, hey, we should do this, but there was no depth or whatever, Jane was very good at picking those things up, which I don’t mean in any critical way. But I mean that she really helped, I think, reinforced thinking in it.

David: Before you came to her with a case, you had to have already thought through what is actually the problem I’m trying to solve here and what is the payback and how are we going to implement that and how are we going to train people. So I think Jane was really helpful with sharpening that thinking and again, turning technical problems into the real business arena. There was another lady who I’d like to call out and that was Liz Oded. I worked for a short time for a consulting company, actually, during COVID, unfortunately, the company I was working for at that time struggled with economic issues.

David: So I found myself unemployed for a short bit but I took up a consulting role for a local ERP consulting company. And the lady I worked for was called was Liz Oded. And she was really tremendous in terms of just, I guess, embracing a company culture. I guess, she made the workplace a delightful place to work that she encouraged open conversation, she encouraged teamwork and collaboration, especially then during in COVID times where a lot of people were out of the office and were very remote. She found ways to keep us connected, keeps us engaged, keep us feeling like we’re part of a team and working together.

Kevin: You’ve mentioned three people now. And in each case, you said that they all helped sharpen your thinking. And one of the things that I’ve experienced as a mentor myself, when I was first asked to mentor someone else, I went and read up on professional coaching, business coaching, executive coaching, and so forth. And one of the things that came up over and over again was that as a mentor, one of the best things you can do is help your protege get to the root of what they’re thinking about.

Kevin: And some of the best ways you can do that is just asking really good questions appropriate to the context that helps them find their own way. So it sounds like you’re saying that all three of your mentors had that kind of process, maybe for different aspects, some for when you bring a question or a plan in and it doesn’t have quite the intellectual rigor, one of your mentors helped you sharpen that up and then others worked in ways that helped you understand what the profession is about. Others helped you understand what a good culture is like. So, is that something you’re finding repeated throughout or is it even more than that?

David: I think you hit the nail on the head, actually said that I had never really thought of it but I like the way you’ve expressed that. And yes, that’s true. When I look back, I think that’s it. When I look back at mentors, certainly I’ve had people who have helped me solve deep technical challenges. People I’ve been able to go to and say I don’t know how to solve this issue, can I get your help, or things like that. But you’re right, the mentors who have really stood out for me are the ones who have helped, I guess, develop who I am as a person, my ability to think, my ability to self-learn and self-solve, but also as well my ability in how I deal with others, and indeed, who have been people whose characteristics I want to replicate the people you look at and think this is a sort of boss I want to be to the people with a fortunate or unfortunateness to report into myself.

Kevin: So one of the things, David, that I saw in your nomination was that you’re heavily involved in community activities, things like user groups, the Australian Computer Society, technical advisory boards, even university course design, things like that. So tell us a little bit about how that has helped you navigate your career and what you might tell others about participation outside of work in work-like things and that is worth the time.

David: Sure. Actually, I appreciate you asking about that. This is something that I really enjoy doing. And I guess a lot of this stems from just seeing IT as a profession. It’s not simply the career. It’s certainly been a rewarding profession but also, I think, just a love for technology and what we can do. It’s something that I’ve always just immersed myself in fully. When I was studying at university, I did some math tutoring on the side as a way of supporting myself. And because I enjoyed that, because I enjoyed helping people see, this might sound silly, see beauty in numbers and things like that, I enjoyed that sort of communication.

David: When I finished university and started working full-time, I actually also went back and I was working as a tutor at the university. But funnily enough, being, I guess, stereotypical technical guy, I love programming and things like that, I love technology, but it’s still a bit of an introverted type person. When I started trying to teach a class, I would come into the room and all these people there and I was terrified. And I had to literally make myself cough or do something just to make a noise to unblock my throat before I could start talking.

David: Fortunately, through experience it became easier, but I think just that communicating with people was something that I always enjoyed and felt a bit of gravity towards. And that also manifested itself in writing. So actually, we spoke earlier about early computer magazines with program listings. So I sold a couple of programs I’d written to some computer magazines, again, through university. And from there as well, I kept up writing. I now still write for periodical called

David: But I say all that because, this involvement in things and this desire to help others to communicate ideas is something that it’s hard to say where that came from, but it was just this great interest and fascination. And actually a friend and I often talked about how there were no great user groups in the area where we’d live. So in Newcastle, Australia, outside of the capital cities, and often we would drive down to Sydney and attend events. But these were a bit of a labor to get there. And we thought there really should be a user group in our area. And so we thought, you know what, let’s start it.

David: So we did. We had our first meeting of what we called the Newcastle Coders Group in 2005 in my office. And I spoke then on ASP.NET 2.0, which was pretty new at the time. And since then, we’ve managed to get lots of great speakers. We’ve had help from people in the Australian IT community, particularly, if I can mention two people, Andrew Coates who works for Microsoft, who was very helpful to us, and Adam Cogan who is also excellent.

David: Oh, you know him? Excellent, yeah. So Adam, he’s been a terrific friend to Newcastle Coders and he’s come and spoken plenty of times. And actually, he’s often practiced some of his presentations that he’s going to give on international events he’s practicing now with us. So Adam and Andrew have been awesome. I guess just this desire to be involved to help shape IT but also to give back to develop the next generation of developers. I think there are things that I’ve done, which I can help others whether it be how to debug effectively or whatever.

David: But I think as well, communication is something that I’ve really come to learn. I guess we’ve touched on that a few times here. But I know certainly in my early career, I would say something and think it’s self-evident. For example, I might say we need to upgrade this thing, or a common example, I see these days, developers who talk about technical debt and technical debt’s an issue we have everywhere. And you see developers say, we need to spend time refactoring this code, but management won’t let us, they just want new features.

David: And really, one thing I’ve come to learn that is helping the new generation of developers be able to articulate what that really means in a tangible way. Yeah. So if you were to say to the CEO I want to spend this sprint… Not doing any new features but I want to rewrite what we already have. So at the end of the sprint, you still have the exact same functionality but I’ve written it differently, that’s not going to fly. But if you were to say, the code base we’ve got, there’s legacy issues in there, there’s things that we never dealt with at the time.

David: And, obviously, the intention was we come back to them but we didn’t, and now they’re impeding our feature progress, it’s harder to put in new features, our velocity is constrained. If we just spend a bit of time tidying this up, then we can churn out new features much faster, we prepared the documentation, we can onboard new people at a quicker pace. They’re the things that they understand. So I guess getting back to your question about getting involved in things, a lot of it just came from this desire to give back to the community, to communicate, to help people develop their own skills and learn awesome things, really. Like I said, it was about wanting to learn new stuff myself and creating a forum where we brought speakers and help others.

Kevin: Yeah, exactly. And ours is an industry, unlike say accounting or medicine or law, it’s not been around for hundreds of years. There are constantly changing best practices. So we have not only the pressure of all of this really urgent stuff, like we need to upgrade to the newest version, because there’s always a newest version. But then we have to make time for the urgent so much so that we don’t have enough time for the important. And so, that’s one thing that user groups do really well is to tell you, hey, that’s not important. This over here is important. And so, you’ve done a huge service to your community there.

David: Appreciate that. But as well, we’re talking about user groups, one thing I like to encourage the people I work with as well is when they’ve done something awesome when somebody solved a really difficult challenge. So actually, here’s one example, at the current company I work in. We had an issue where because people were working remotely, we needed people to be able to log in to the AWS portal from any device. But to do that, obviously, we want security, so we’re whitelisting IP addresses.

David: But we didn’t want to have to deal with constantly changing, constantly having help desk tickets to get people to be able to whitelist your IP address. So one of our DevOps guys really cleverly came up with this system where if you had a particular type of account, if you’re marked as a developer and you logged in to one of our web portals, then that would automatically record your IP address, whitelist that IP address. So if your router rebooted or if you’re working in a different location, you just simply had to log in to one web portal and then it was cleared on AWS.

David: And maybe for technical people, this is a simple thing, but it was a clever and innovative solution to help us with remote working in a way that didn’t add any extra effort to help me. So, I then said it is terrific, what you should do. This is the thing that people want to hear about. This is a great topic for a user group, for an article. And one thing I’ve always tried to encourage people to do is to share these sorts of stories. And I think these make for great talks at user groups. People want to hear not only new tech and what’s on the horizon, but certainly as you said, what are things that they should focus on, how things that can help them but also success stories, what’s something really smart and clever that somebody else has done and that I can use myself.

Kevin: I think your point, too, about success stories is really important. Because how often can you and I go out into the community and tell our good friends, the kids we grew up with who are now adults, or our spouses or our own children and say, I did this really clever thing at work today where it’s with IP addresses. And everyone that you talk to in the world, their eyes glaze over at that point and they begin to nod off into a coma. So another thing that is great about those user groups in those communities of interest is other people can slap you on the back and give you that kind of very positive reinforcement and say, “Wow, that was a great job, David. I really appreciate you sharing that.” People who appreciate your challenges, too, right?

David: Yes, definitely. Actually, I always hated when I go to get a haircut and the hairdresser says, “What do you do for a living?” How do I answer?

Kevin: Yeah, exactly. Well, let’s talk a little bit more about you had mentioned some other things, for example, the logging in from home. So much of that has been driven by the necessity of the pandemic. Have you found the pandemic to be a really bad time to try and communicate, connect, and engage with other people as a mentor or is it just a challenge that we are evolving around?

David: It’s certainly been a challenge. I don’t know if I’d like to say it’s been a really bad time in terms of that. I mean, obviously, the pandemic has been a really bad time in terms of many, many things. But in terms of keeping engaged, I think it has, I think we’ve gone from face-to-face meetings with people we work with and just general chitchat. Just diverting slightly from the question, one thing that I’ve always tried to look for and try to emphasize as a characteristic, I believe, in a great IT person is a sense of what I like to call vigilance where you’re attuned to things that are happening and often something would fail.

David: And when looking back into it, you begin to realize that all the signs were there, somebody commented in the hallway how the system’s running slow today or things like that and you pick up this sort of evidence. And I feel one issue with all the remote working with people being very disparate and separate is some of those just that general chitchat is not there, which in itself is some of just the general teambuilding, not even talking about problems at work but did you watch that show on TV last night or something like that, that sort of bonding.

David: And I think, perversely, so even though on the one hand with COVID and being separate, we’ve had less time just generally socializing in the workplace. I feel some companies have gone too far in having constant, constant Teams meetings or Zoom meetings and you can get exhausted, you just spend all the time on the camera having status meetings without leaving enough time to get things done. So I think there has to be some balance where you still allow people to work and come up with ways to asynchronously update what you’re doing rather than having a synchronous face-to-face meeting, but still actively work to factor in how you replicate that general office banter and closeness in the company.

David: What we do, we have a text-based chat channel for just general discussion among our group. But also, as well, we’ve set a scheduled fortnightly meeting where we catch up. And all we do, we don’t talk about work but we play some games like Gartic Phone or Skribbl IO, these little drawing games, and people have to guess what you’re drawing. And it’s just quite fun and lighthearted and it takes people’s minds off other things for a bit. So yes, I think it has been a challenge. Hey, keep teams close and effective and engaged during the pandemic without overburdening them. But I think working towards ways of asynchronous communication and having a scheduled more fun, more relaxed catch up of being key things that I think have worked for us.

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah, excellent. Now tell me about this, many people who are mentors have varying definitions of what it means to be a mentor. In your own case, what is mentorship and what do you believe is instrumental in helping you be an effective mentor?

David: Sure. I think probably the starting point, I think, of being an effective mentor is being a good role model. And this, I mean, talking about being a mentor, I guess, is a bit difficult in a way because it’s like humility. If you have to tell people you’re humble, then maybe you’re not.

Kevin: Very good observation.

David: I think I’ve taken a lot of delight when in the past I’ve had teams and I’ve said to them, what can I do to help you with? And people have said to me that I like the way you communicate or you do this and that, I really like that, and things like that. And that I think has been truly wonderful when people have said to me that they feel that there’s some characteristic I embody that they would like to have and then I can absolutely help them work on that.

David: So I think a starting point for being good mentor is trying to be excellent yourself, just simply doing the best you can do. I spoke earlier about one of the values I have being vigilance and seeing things trying to be proactive, pick up signs of things before they become a fault, there’s two other characteristics I like to see in a good IT person and which I hold myself to as well. And one of those is integrity that you’ll do the things you say you’ll do.

David: If I say I’m going to do this thing by Tuesday and tell the CEO that, then either that thing’s done by Tuesday or if I can’t do it because something else has come up that I’ve communicated to them in advance and said, “Hey, look, I said that was going to be done Tuesday, something’s else come up. But I can do it by next week or whatever.” But if you just let that date sail by and don’t tell anyone or if you say you’re going to do something, you don’t care, I think, to me, integrity is probably one of the greatest things you can have.

David: If you don’t have integrity, I feel you’ve lost a lot of credibility. And I think you want to be known in IT as somebody who delivers. So for me, integrity is one, vigilance, the other seeing things that could go wrong and being attuned to that, listening to the clues, seeing things in log files, and just putting it together in your mind. But the third one is diligence. And, I mean, we all know that diligence means working hard and stuff. But I like to think of diligence as well in terms of you understand the ramifications of something you do. I’ve seen too many cases where somebody makes a change and then something else breaks because they didn’t expect it.

David: But diligence is about making sure that you know, if you make this change, what impact that will have and how you can revert if there’s a problem and things like that. So these are three characteristics that I like to talk about with my teams but also that I try to embody myself and I encourage my team, if I fail in any one of these, call me up on it. I don’t want to be hypocritical and so on. So I think for me, a starting point for being good mentor is just trying to embody being your true professional and living that.

Kevin: Well, as we wrap up, David, particularly for Oceana, Australia, New Zealand, and in the countries close to you, where would you advise others to give back to the IT community? Especially those who are new, maybe they don’t know where to start, what would you say to them?

David: Sure. I think in Oceana, we are obviously physically separate from the US, which I think we’ve all recognized is the hub of where the greatest innovation is happening. But even so, the internet makes us all close, like the fact that I can participate in a podcast like this or that somebody could blog, it doesn’t matter where in the world they are. So I think the lesson I would give anyone including Oceana residents but also anyone is just start trying to communicate. If you’ve done something wonderful, tell people about it. And often you talk to people they go, I don’t want to boast or brag, I don’t want to draw attention.

David: But it’s not about any of those things. It’s not about arrogance in any way. It’s about saying I did this wonderful thing and here’s what I did and here’s how you could also put into practice. And that’s the content that I think people love to see. So I would certainly encourage anyone to start trying to just blog about something clever that they did, even if to them, technically, it was very simple. If it had a big outcome on the lives and the work of other people, then that’s a great result. I think I’d certainly encourage anyone to start doing that.

David: And if people are going to write, one important thing to do is to set a schedule. Actually this is one thing that Adam Cogan taught us early in the days of the Newcastle Coders Group and that is that consistency is key. If you’re starting out something, it’s important to set that pattern, that regular cadence and keep to that. And so, I would say that would be the same if you’re going to start blogging. But otherwise, apart from that, if there’s no user group in your area, start one.

David: Be the change that you want to see. If you feel there should be a user group, then get one going. Go talk to the local university and see if they’ve got opportunities there to mentor or work with students, particularly as well international students who already have a cultural, I guess, barrier that they’ve gotta cross helping those people. Yeah. I think there’s certainly opportunities here to help students, colleagues, others, if people look for those opportunities.

Kevin: Outstanding. And as you mentioned, there’s the magazine you publish for, I find that a lot of publications, not sure if yours does this, but they will have a directory of user groups that might be interested. Another idea related to that, I’m not sure. Have you ever used or Eventbrite?

David: We did. Yes. Yes. We’re using it.

Kevin: So, a lot of those are all virtual, right?

David: Yes.

Kevin: And so you could say, “Oh, I’m interested in data science.” And you could find that the LA data science community is looking for a speaker. And so if there’s not one local, you could speak internationally as well.

David: Yeah, very true. That’s true. Actually another as well, non-virtual but you reminded me get in touch with the local peak body for IT as well. So in Australia, that’s the Australian Computer Society. I don’t know about other countries, but certainly, the Australian Computer Society has events and they are looking for speakers. So absolutely, yes, yes, get in touch with these people. Look on Meetup, talk to bodies, institutions.

Kevin: I detect opportunity for a great blog post. Just a list of different places people can investigate to do more, to get back more. David, what a pleasure. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to speak with us. I want to congratulate you for winning this great award. Just a few closing words for our community listening to TechPod. The strength of our community in the IT community, I believe lies in the fact that we come from so many walks of life.

Kevin: David and I, for example, are on polar opposite sides of the planet, and yet here we are having a great conversation about, well, Commodore 64 among other things. But it’s such a great experience to encounter other technologists who are passionate about what they do and are cognizant of the fact that what we do actually changes people’s lives. So for those of us who enjoy mentoring, David, it sounds like you’re wholeheartedly in this camp. It’s not about me. It’s about you. Yeah. Seeing you succeed is our greatest pleasure. So again, thanks so much. I appreciate your time. And it’s great to know that there are people such as yourself who are ahead of us on the IT journey and being trailblazers and clearing a path for us that are coming after and making it easier. So again, thank you.

Liz: Many thanks again to Prah, Diana, and David for spending time with us, and congratulations again on your awards. If you’re interested in tuning into more conversations like this, follow and subscribe to SolarWinds Tech Pod, wherever you listen to podcasts. For the SolarWinds Head Geeks, I’m Liz beavers. Thanks for listening.