Hello and welcome to the Imposter Syndrome Network Podcast, where everyone belongs, especially if you think you don't.
Our guest today is Justin Cohen, an Innovation Architect at CISCO Innovation Labs.
In this episode, Justin describes to us his day-to-day while working on what he calls his dream job.
He tells us about how he began studying for a digital art degree, his first job in telecommunication,s, and how he got to where he is now.
Justin explains how a manager can make or break a job, his technique to avoid procrastinating via auto inducing peer pressure, and how to avoid panicking every time your boss says “we have to talk”.
The biggest mistake I always had, and I always tell people this, is they'll look at an ad and they'll say,
“Well, I don't meet this one requirement”
And I'm like, just apply anyway. If you like the job apply for it.
Maybe you'll get it. Maybe you have the talent that they need.
Thanks for being an imposter - a part of the Imposter Syndrome Network (ISN)!
We'd love it if you connected with us at the links below:
Make it a great day.
The following transcript is machine generated and may contain errors.
[00:00:00] Chris: Hello and welcome to the Imposter Syndrome Network Podcast where everyone belongs, especially those of you who think you do not. We're all imposters here. My name is Chris Grundman. I'm here with my remarkable co-host, Zoe Rose.
[00:00:24] Zoe: Hey!
[00:00:25] Chris: This is the Justin Cohen episode. And I know we're all gonna have a really good time.
[00:00:29] Chris: Justin is a technology professional based in Canada and focused on innovation. He is a techno generalist and an uber geek.
[00:00:41] Chris: Hey Justin, would you mind introducing yourself further to the imposter syndrome network?
[00:00:46] Justin: Hey, sure. Thanks Chris. So my name is Justin Cohen on Twitter. You can find me at CanTech IT. Although some people say Cantechit, that's fine. I'll take it. And I have been a sort of a technology generalist since I was a kid, and I have bounced around the industry wherever I could, I guess, sort of find a job or where the industry took me.
[00:01:08] Justin: So I've worked in a whole bunch of different areas within technology and as a result that's given me a lot of experience. But when you approached me about this podcast, I thought to myself after really, you know, I found that I was rereading the definition of imposter syndrome a bunch of times and said, Is that really me?
[00:01:26] Justin: And I said to to Zoe, I said, You know what? There's a whole bunch of stuff I've never talked about that really fits into that. So I said, Yeah, let's, let's talk about it.
[00:01:35] Chris: Awesome. Well, cool. Well, we'll, we'll try to dig into some of that. Thanks for being here. And first off, I guess a, as you said, right, you've, you've had a really, you know, illustrious career at this point.
[00:01:44] Chris: I think you've been working in and around technology since the, the nineties. You've had various roles and within all of that, right. Looking back over that time so far, I'm, I'm curious, what's the favorite job that
[00:01:57] Justin: you've ever held.
[00:01:58] Justin: You know, I, I don't know that there's, it, it's, it's hard to say like, Oh, the one I have now is the favorite, but the one I have now really is the favorite.
[00:02:07] Justin: Like, this is the place that I've wanted to be my whole life. This is the thing that I wished I could always do the thing that I was hoping for. Um, so I know it sounds cliche to say the thing I'm doing now is my absolute favorite, but it really, really is. It's better than all of them. And I don't mean that in a bad way to the places I've been before, and we can get into why.
[00:02:25] Justin: But yeah, where I am now, So I work at Cisco Systems as my, my role is innovation architect. I'm responsible for the Toronto Cisco Innovation Lab facility, uh, in our programming, and it's legitimately the coolest job I've ever had.
[00:02:40] Zoe: I can also second that cuz I have been to his office. It is brilliant. If you want to go somewhere that has tons of toys and just randomly cool stuff, that is where to go.
[00:02:52] Chris: That's awesome. I can see even in, in your home office here, you've got some cool toys on the wall. Obviously no one listening can see this. Sorry. But uh, definitely some, uh, really neat stuff there. Oh, and the lights are flashing. Very cool.
[00:03:03] Zoe: It lights up.
[00:03:04] Justin: Yeah. So. Yeah. You know, when Covid, when Covid happened and we were all stuck at home for a super long time, I decided, hey, this would be a really great time to finally get sort of my home office slash studio done, because we were doing a lot more video and a lot more audio.
[00:03:16] Justin: So I wanted sort of my own. Identity. And that's when I sort of built the, the home office, which some people have seen on a various different podcasts and other recordings and things like that. It is a little distracting when you're on work calls though, you know, cuz people will start poking around at the backgrounds.
[00:03:31] Zoe: Oh yeah. I would be terrible. I do that all the time. If you don't have a background, like one of those virtual backgrounds, I try to see what's in your house. Snoopy.
[00:03:39] Justin: What? What's that over there? Yeah.
[00:03:40] Zoe: Yeah. Um, I think one question I have, You said you are a generalist, which I like to say that I am as well because I work in security and it's kind of, there's so many different things.
[00:03:52] Zoe: Do you ever feel like being a generalist makes you feel like it's harder to find a place to fit? In your career or has it made easier where you actually find there's more spaces that you fit? I dunno.
[00:04:05] Justin: I think it's a, a little bit of both for the organizations and the people that can appreciate a generalist, which I'll explain in a second why I call myself that.
[00:04:14] Justin: I think it's easier because people that are truly looking for a legitimate generalist are really looking for people like me. Otherwise, I'm pigeonholing myself into a particular role. And for me, that's not a place I really want to be. So I had a, a very large org, you know, a couple years ago, contact me and say, Hey, we want you to take over this big chunk of our business.
[00:04:34] Justin: And it's very specific to the voice market and it was a great opportunity. But I looked at it and I said, It's this narrow sliver of technology that you're gonna want me to work in. And I'm like, That's probably gonna be really fun for a couple years, and then I'm gonna get bored. So the generalist role means that for me, I can change it up all the time, um, or it changes itself up.
[00:04:55] Justin: So that's why I really like that kind of a role. And also I, I guess, you know, playing a bit into the theme here, you know, I guess I call myself a bit of a generalist because I don't really believe I'm that good at an awful lot of stuff. I'm kind of dangerous at some stuff. And just as an example, like I'm, I'm not a CCIE, I'm not even a CCNP.
[00:05:15] Justin: I've never gotten those certifications before, only because I didn't have or didn't want to spend the time to get those things. I respect people that have done that for the very reason, but yeah, that's, so a bit of it is because I just don't focus on the one technology that much.
[00:05:32] Zoe: Yeah, no, for sure. I'm, I'm in the same boat where a lot of times I saw it as a weakness.
[00:05:36] Zoe: I couldn't focus on one thing so deeply. I could learn something really well, but then I would get bored and I'd move on . So I, I always thought it as a weakness, but it's only recently in my career that I was like, actually, It's been a huge benefit. Cause now I have, even if I've got some depth of knowledge here, I've got such a vast knowledge of all these other concepts that I can kind of connect the dots or find the right person.
[00:05:59] Zoe: But it took me a long time to view that as an asset versus a, uh, not so positive thing. Um, the other thing I was gonna say is what are the questions we ask? Uh, are the people we have on here is what do you do? Like, what's your actual hands on like day to day? "This is the type of things that I do." You've got a very interesting, interesting job, so I'd love to hear that as well.
[00:06:21] Justin: You know, so my existing job, which is innovation architect, is really. Broad. So there's a couple things that, that I'm responsible for. So I'm responsible for the physical day to day operations of our lab facility, which currently has just me in it. So, but I, we provide services to people all, all around the company, specifically around things like AI and machine learning and stuff like that and other things.
[00:06:46] Justin: And they'll, they'll commonly come to me and say, Hey, this stuff we're trying to build isn't working. Do you have any ideas why it's not working? And then I'll dig into it. We also have customers who want to do things that they can't figure out how to do. So they have a problem and we, we'd like to solve this somehow, and I have the open ability to help them solve that problem no matter what it takes, whether it uses a product that we have, or I have to go out and get something else, or I have to build something from scratch or build some kind of hardware or figure out how to write some code, which I'm not very good at.
[00:07:15] Justin: You know, whatever it takes to sort of try to help them and then ideally make that repeatable so that we can solve that problem for other people. But it doesn't necessarily have to be. So I have a very open mandate to do almost anything that I feel can provide a positive impact to the company and our customers.
[00:07:32] Justin: That's, that's the extent of our mandate right now. So that's, it's very broad. I mean, it doesn't mean I can sit and play with toys all day and not achieve anything. So I have, there has to be some goal at the end of the day, but that's what we're trying to do is trying to help customers and partners do new things and solve new problems.
[00:07:48] Chris: That's really cool that, that definitely sounds very exciting and is something I think a lot of us would, would like to aspire to get to. Before we ask you how do we get this job? I first wanna know, you know, with that being kind of fairly deep, even though it is a generalist role, it's fairly deep in the weeds of technology.
[00:08:04] Chris: So I'm kind of curious, what does your family think you do? What? What are your, what are your kids or your wife or or your mom like, what do they think your job is?
[00:08:11] Justin: Oh my goodness. Well, I have to go back in history a little bit from what my parents think I do, cuz I've actually been working in the same ministry as my parents for some, my, my father is for some time my kid being, you know, she's five.
[00:08:25] Justin: So I think she thinks I just solve the world's problems, you know, and I just make stuff work. And, you know, my wife has a hard time understanding what I do. I mean, she knows what I do at the innovation center and she knows the things that, the problems we've solved and the things that, that we've done.
[00:08:39] Justin: And she knows basically, you know, I, I just make tech work, whatever that tech happens to be. And that's really, that really is a great way to explain what I do. It's just take tech and solve problems with no specific boundaries. The no boundaries part to what I do is the best part. Right. That's totally what's the best part of what I do.
[00:08:56] Justin: It doesn't matter if it's, you know, wireless stuff, security stuff. I don't do a lot of network, but I do a ton of other things, but I, I don't do network.
[00:09:06] Chris: Well, there's plenty of people at Cisco to do networking stuff, so that's probably fine.
[00:09:09] Justin: That stuff's kind of table stakes at Cisco. Like if you talk to anybody here who does, you know, maybe they do servers, maybe they do apps, maybe they do security.
[00:09:16] Justin: Like everyone just kind of assumes, you know, network. Yeah. They're like, Yeah, like if you work at Cisco, the network stuff's something that everyone's gotta know. To a certain extent, but as technology has changed, as I've been here, I have had to pick up new skills and, and figure out new things. And, you know, as things are moving and, and as something starts to get more visible in my day to day, I'll say, uh, okay, I, I think I need to learn a little bit about this more.
[00:09:41] Justin: And then I'll sort of go down a rabbit hole of learning.
[00:09:45] Chris: I noticed that you have, uh, one or two Kubernetes certifications, . Yeah. And I'm assuming those are, were were similar, uh, to what you're just describing, right? There's rabbit holes you had to go down to be able to make stuff work.
[00:09:58] Justin: That's exactly what that is.
[00:10:00] Justin: Yeah, exactly. So. Was it last year? Yeah, so last year, um, we were doing a ton of Kubernetes stuff within the incubation group at Cisco, and I kept running into some, a lot of Kubernetes stuff all the time, and I was having to troubleshoot stuff. And then we had a couple new products that were being developed around Kubernetes.
[00:10:16] Justin: So I decided that I wanted to get my certification done. But here's the thing. I hadn't done one in a while. I hadn't done a certification in a while, and I knew that I would probably procrastinate and have a hard time getting it. So what I did was I came up with a way to get it. I kind of built a program, Here's how we're gonna do the training, here's how I'm gonna write the test.
[00:10:36] Justin: And then I went to a bunch of coworkers and said, Who wants to do this with me? Because I knew if I do this with a bunch of other people, I couldn't fail because then I would look bad. Like I'm the guy who set it up and I would look horrible. So what I did was I dragged people along with me. Actually I didn't drag.
[00:10:49] Justin: They came along with me and I knew that I couldn't fail now because it would be embarrassing. So I kind of brought them along for that ride. And, uh, we did a one month, like intense, like four hours a night thing for, uh, the CKA program. And then we all went and wrote it and all of us got it. So I, I try to remember, I think it was half a dozen people, we all went and wrote it at the same time.
[00:11:13] Justin: Basically within a couple days of each other. And we all got it. We all passed. So that was a super huge achievement. It was the first major technical thing I'd done in a while. And for anybody listening who, who's interested in learning about Kubernetes, just go and get your cka, cuz you'll learn it in that process.
[00:11:27] Justin: So
[00:11:28] Zoe: I love that peer pressure for success, .
[00:11:32] Justin: Yeah, totally.
[00:11:33] Zoe: Oh, that's amazing. That is definitely me. I, I procrastinate and I get overwhelmed. I don't like exams, so I'm more than happy to do all the training. But I hate the exam. So actually that's probably a really good approach. I might steal that for future attempts.
[00:11:47] Zoe: Um, .
[00:11:48] Justin: Yeah. Well, you know, I'm, I'm 42, so, you know, I, it's been a long time since I was in that world of like hammering out exams in my late twenties. Like people were challenging me to go out and write tech exams. They're like, You should just write this one without even studying for it. And I would just go and write it and pass it without studying.
[00:12:05] Justin: Right. I can't do that now. I could do it then.
[00:12:08] Zoe: Soundss like a nightmare to me. .
[00:12:10] Justin: Oh yeah. Like I wrote, the first one that I ever did for that was my, it was like a plus like way, way, way back. I wrote my a plus thing, and I think the only questions I got wrong were like, What chemical do you use to clean up line printer or something?
[00:12:24] Zoe: Brilliant. Well, we met, Oh, when did we, We met in 2015, didn't we? It was at Cisco Live, isn't it? Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And when we met you, either you were a Cisco champion then, or you became one after. I can to remember that one.
[00:12:38] Justin: I think I was at Cisco Champion at that point.
[00:12:41] Zoe: Okay, so you went from Cisco champion to Cisco employee.
[00:12:45] Zoe: Obviously you're not a champion now, um, but we still get to chat with you in that community, so that's fun.
[00:12:50] Justin: Yeah. There's this like internal thing we have, we kind of call it the champion emeritus, like people who ended up as a Cisco employee. We kind of, they let us hang around if we're nice.
[00:12:58] Zoe: Yeah, exactly. do you think that that's kind of led you to your position now?
[00:13:03] Justin: A hundred percent, yeah, Absolutely. I will say, without question that I got the job. Because, partially because I was a Cisco champion and involved in that community and absolutely got the job because I was involved with Cisco Live 100%. Uh, I, I know for a fact. Now, you know, just to go back one step, I was working for a Cisco partner who was, um, I was running a delivery team, so I was responsible for people doing installation, and I was doing design and, and I was managing a group of people.
[00:13:29] Justin: Uh, and I loved it. It was really cool. Managing people was fun because unlike technology, people are not ones and zeros. They're totally squidgy and different, and they're random a little bit. So it was really fun to help build the team. And then I saw. This posting for the job I have now. And I looked at it and I went, There's no way this is real.
[00:13:48] Justin: I'm like reading the description and I'm like, "This is a job?" Like I could do all that, like day to day. I'm like, I gotta go and talk to these guys and see what the deal is. So I went and I, and I spoke to the person who's now my boss, and I, I looked right at him and I said, Are you like, you're seriously, this is what the gig is?
[00:14:03] Justin: And he is like, Yeah, I'm like asking him a million questions. And I'm like, Okay. So then I did some more digging and then finally I, I said, Okay, I threw my hat in the ring and some of the recommendations I got were from people that I knew at Cisco as a result of being a part of Cisco Live and Cisco champion community.
[00:14:23] Justin: Those people wrote me recommendations and you know, that probably sealed the deal. So, yeah, like I got the gig because of that.
[00:14:31] Justin: Awesome.
[00:14:31] Chris: And I think, you know, that goes back to what that, uh, that old saw, right? It's not, uh, what you know, it's who you know. And I think in, in tech, it, it, it's a little bit of both, right?
[00:14:39] Chris: You gotta know the tech, but, uh, but it helps to have some friends who you've met along the way and been kind to, to, to hold the door for you when you're coming along.
[00:14:46] Justin: Well, I think in the world where there's a whole bunch of, you know, resumes in a pile, right? I think sometimes it can help to just put yours on top or at a minimum allow somebody to say, you know; "that person's worth looking at," you know, But at the end of the day, I mean, everybody's gotta get it on their own merits.
[00:15:02] Chris: Absolutely. And, and speaking of the merits, I think since you've been at Cisco now, you've been awarded a global Ecosystem Champion award. Is that right? Or is that before?
[00:15:11] Chris: What, what, what is that?
[00:15:13] Justin: Yeah, there was a global ecosystem. Champions was one that we got for. Sort of building up more innovation around the ecosystem of what we do. And we've done a bunch of different projects that we've received awards for, uh, within our department. So we've done some pretty neat stuff.
[00:15:29] Justin: Uh, some stuff that we're pretty proud of, uh, as a team. And it's been, it's been super fun to be able to do that stuff. Like there's some stuff that we do where you sort of get up in the morning, you're like, This makes me really happy to go to work. So, as an example, the biggest one the last couple years was we had a project called Digital Canopy, um, which is where we delivered internet service to 13,000 people in the city of Toronto for free during Covid because they were stuck at home and couldn't get to the library and couldn't get to places where they access internet service.
[00:15:58] Justin: And then recently, like a month ago, there was a study, a really good study that came out. Outright said that our project was directly responsible for a 14% drop in Covid 19 infection. Wow. And I was like, Darn man. Like, that's, that's pretty awesome. So that was one of the coolest projects. It was, it wasn't about money, It was about helping people.
[00:16:20] Justin: It was legitimately about helping people and we got to do it. So, you know, it's stuff like that that makes me love what I do now.
[00:16:27] Zoe: Yeah. It's a, it's the internal motivation. It's the, uh, like feeling a part of something bigger and making a difference. It's definitely, that's definitely how I, I'm motivated, well, that's how most people are motivated, but it's really cool to see, actually see that impact and see the, the benefits that you've yourself have been a part of.
[00:16:45] Zoe: That's really cool. Yeah. I suppose if we started in the beginning of going into tech. Why? Why did you choose technology? Was it curiosity? Was it you just ended up here without even realizing? I don't know
[00:16:59] Justin: It, so I haven't talked about this. Really, Cuz you know, stuff falls off your resume after a while. So, way back when I first started getting into tech, it was a summer job for me.
[00:17:08] Justin: So I had actually applied to go to college. To take, uh, 3D animation, art technology. So like, and I'm not a super artsy person, but I, I had been doing some 3D animation art with some friends and I was like, Oh, this is really cool. It's really fun. So I'd actually applied to get into a program and I never got into the program.
[00:17:25] Justin: They were very choosy and the reason why I didn't get into the program was I had to pass a visual art test, like drawing stuff with a pencil and I can't draw like at all. At the time I could build stuff in 3D S max and build like cool animation and stuff, but I couldn't draw stuff. And as soon as I found out what I have to draw stuff, I was like, Forget it.
[00:17:42] Justin: I'm never getting into this thing. And I completely failed. So I took a summer job working at a telecommunications company that my dad was there and I was working in the stock room. And some guy was like, Hey, we need these like cables soldered, and it was like, for music on hold, for phone systems. So I was like, Okay.
[00:17:59] Justin: So I did that and, and then they were like, Oh, and then I really wanted to get outta the stockroom, and one guy was like, Well, I need help pulling cable. So I was like, Okay, I'll help you pull cable. I didn't know what I was doing. He taught me how to pull cable in ceilings and stuff. So the first part of my career, I sort of just sort of slowly worked my way towards, Working within the, you know, traditional telecom area.
[00:18:20] Justin: Um, working on stuff from Nortel, small phone systems and stuff like that. So I had done that for the whole summer and it came time to sort of figure out what I was gonna do with college again, and I kind of looked at it and went, Well, I actually kind of enjoy what I'm doing. It seems to have a road to a career.
[00:18:38] Justin: I'm gonna stick with this for another year and see where we end up. So I did. And then, uh, I ended up as a field technician. So I was, you know, in my car driving around, fixing people's phones at businesses, pulling cable in ceilings, which I hated. Um, you know, doing phone system installs and stuff like that.
[00:18:56] Justin: So I started, I did that for a lot of years of the first part of my career. And then like mergers and acquisitions have been my life. I think I've been a part of six companies that have been acquired. It's horrible. And then I started working on PBX technology. So the bigger stuff made by Nortel and the owner of the company that I worked for, who, by the way, I treated horribly.
[00:19:15] Justin: I was a kid and I never appreciated what this man did for me. You know, I was like this punk kid that thought I knew everything, but he was like, I went to him cause I wanted a raise. And he said to me, he said, You know what? I'm not gonna give you a raise, but we're gonna send you for training instead. And I was, Okay.
[00:19:31] Justin: I went, sure. I mean, at the time I should have been like Sweet , but I didn't know any better. He goes, But we'll send you for training and then you'll get to work on cooler stuff. And I'm like, Okay. So I spent like an entire summer in Texas at Nortel getting training. Like this guy spent like a hundred thousand dollars training me.
[00:19:48] Justin: I mean, it was, it was as good as a college education. Over the course of a summer and it was like learning how to work on big nortel telecom com equipment and I learned how to do contact center and all this stuff and I was like in my twenties and I was working ridiculous hours just killing it. And that's where I started in, in the industry was in TDM Telecom.
[00:20:07] Justin: And uh, it was, it was interesting cuz here I am this like, you know, early twenties kid working in an industry with a whole bunch of people who were like late thirties and they're all looking at me like, who's this kid working on this equipment? Like, why is he working on this stuff? So it was interesting and that's where I was by the way, that year 2000 switch in 99, I actually worked in a control center like overnight, waiting for the whole world to blow up at, you know, January 1st.
[00:20:29] Justin: And nothing ever happened for us. But that was, that was where I was. And then what happened was when Nortel started to die off and that equipment started to disappear, I had gotten into voice over IP because like I was a computer guy, I knew computer stuff and I fixed computer stuff around the office. So when voice over IP arrived, all the TDM Telecom guys were all like, We don't understand this.
[00:20:52] Justin: What's this network thing? So you gotta understand that. Back then, TDM Telecom guys that worked on telephone systems, they were like, they didn't even know how to use a laptop. When a computer turned on. It had to like start pro com. If it didn't like Auto Start Pro Com, like the computer was broken to them. So when I worked on that stuff, I didn't know as much about tdm, but I knew a heck of a lot about computers.
[00:21:12] Justin: So when voice over IP showed up, it was like. This is a pretty natural switch, right? I had a bit of a leg up, so I had moved around a little while, you know, and uh, got myself in trouble a couple times. Got fired. You know, for being an immature brat, you know, went back to selling computers in a retail store, which was horrible.
[00:21:32] Justin: And then I got another job and then I started, I started doing more. I worked for another company. I did some LAN and some WAN stuff. So I started learning that from this, this older networking guy who was there and he kind of took me under its wing and taught me like lan and wan and, and frame relay and a couple things.
[00:21:49] Justin: So that was kind of neat. And then I got hired by this company called Info Stream many, many years ago. The guy who hired me, who by the way, I'm still very good friends with, he lives not far from me and we're still very good friends. He hired, they were a Cisco shop and I'm like, I went to the interview, I was referred to them and I went to the interview and he goes, I said, Hey man, like I don't know anything about Cisco voice.
[00:22:12] Justin: Like, and he goes, Yeah, but you know, voice. So he goes, What I want you forge your Nortel knowledge cuz we're gonna rip out all those Nortel systems. And you're gonna help us do it. And I'm like, Okay. He goes, I'll teach you the Cisco stuff. That's fine. So that was my first foray into like hardcore working at a Cisco company.
[00:22:28] Justin: So that's kind of how I made the switch.
[00:22:30] Chris: That's awesome. That's a, that's a really cool story and, and quite a path. And, and I think it, it mirrors to some degree, right? Some of our paths, folks who are, I'm of a similar age as you are, and I definitely think that was kind of how you got into networking and, and, and IT, uh, at the time that may, it may be a little different now.
[00:22:46] Chris: Maybe it's not, I don't know we'll have to talk to some. We'll talk to some other folks as well. I wonder though, throughout that, what was the worst job you've had up to this point? We know that the current job, you've, you've, you've kind of reached at least a local maximum, right? And you're loving your, your work now. But what was the, what was the low spot along the way or the lowest spot?
[00:23:05] Justin: I mean, the, I don't know. I don't know. There was a super low spot. I'm sure I hated some of them more than others. Right. Or, or disliked some more than others. I can't say there was a really a low spot because every single one, even the ones I didn't like, I learned from those places and, and I know that now.
[00:23:21] Justin: I didn't know that then necessarily. Even some of the, the leaders that I worked for that I liked less than other leaders, if I go back and I think about it now, I think, yeah, I didn't like that person at the time. Maybe, but you know, I learned from that person regardless. So I think that I don't have one that I like.
[00:23:40] Justin: I mean, I didn't like my retail jobs and like stuff like that, but I don't consider that as part of my career, like working in retail. Although everything you've ever done is the culmination of who you are as a professional. So I'm sure there's something that I know from working in retail electronic sales that, you know, I remember to a certain extent, but I, I've tried to not continue doing things that I didn't really like for that, for that reason, because if I didn't like it, you know, I just wouldn't do it.
[00:24:07] Justin: You know, I, without having a college education, right, I always would always go into trying to find something and be like, Well, I don't have a college education. And I always thought that gave me a leg down. And for many years, you know, it probably did because I didn't have that. Like, you know, you look at the ads and it's like university education and blah, blah, blah, or five years experience, or X years experience, right?
[00:24:29] Justin: And I was like, Man, if I can just get to that X years experience. Then I qualify. But the biggest mistake I always had, and I always tell people this, they, they'll look at an ad, you know, an ad for a gig and they'll say, Well, I don't meet this one requirement. And I'm like, Just apply anyway. Like a friend of mine applied for a tech support job at a company I was at and he said, Uh, it says you have to have a high school diploma.
[00:24:49] Justin: I said, What part of having a high dose school diploma helps you be a tech support person? You know everything that they need. Don't worry about it. And he went for the interview. And did they even ask him about, No, they didn't ask him about his high school diploma. Come on. Right. So I always tell people, just apply.
[00:25:05] Justin: If you like the job, apply for it. Like maybe you'll get it. Maybe you have the skills they need or the, sorry, the talent that they need, not the skills. And, and because those things, you know, the things that matter, I mean, there's so many things HR puts on the thing. Don't matter. So, yeah, I'm always, I'm always, My thing is I'm always super worried.
[00:25:25] Justin: There's two things I'm always worried about. I'm like, Am I good enough for that? I don't know. And then the other thing that I have an ir, I'll call it an irrational fear, cuz everyone calls it, it's not an irrational fear cuz it's a legitimate fear, but everybody says it's irrational. I am constantly worried, always.
[00:25:42] Justin: I'm constantly worried I'm gonna get fired next week, even when I've had a good week. Okay, now my boss now is an awesome guy. Like I, I love the man to death. He's amazing. He's so nice to me and he knows that he can't call me up on a Friday and be like, I need to talk to you. You know, I need to talk to you Monday about something.
[00:26:00] Justin: I'm like, Don't do that to me, man. Like, do you know what that does to my weekend when you're like, We need to talk on Monday, and I'll call. I've called him up before and been like, No, we're talking right now cuz I'm not stewing all weekend.
[00:26:11] Zoe: I've done the same thing to my boss, .
[00:26:14] Justin: I always have this fear that I'm gonna get canned.
[00:26:16] Justin: And everyone's like, But don't worry about it cuz if you did, you could like get a job tomorrow. I'm like, Really? Show me that job that's waiting for me tomorrow. Right. And so my, the thing I, yeah, I don't talk about it a lot, but I am always afraid of being canned.
[00:26:32] Zoe: I have the same issue. Like my boss, if he, even if he says, Let's talk in an hour, I'm like, No, you need to tell me what it's about.
[00:26:39] Zoe: If you book a meeting with you, you have to tell me the agenda. If you wanna talk to me, you have to tell me the context. Otherwise, I panic. I used to have the problem where I would wait until I was absolutely panicking before I raised it to my boss that I was panicking. Now when I'm feeling. Slightly overwhelmed.
[00:26:58] Zoe: I'm, I have a quick catch up because then that allows me to kind of put my head in the right context. But no, I, I'm in the same boat. I'm like, No, you're gonna fire me. ,
[00:27:08] Justin: Have that conversation with your managers. What I tell anybody, right. That feels like that. Like this is, this is a struggle for me that I, I have tried to manage.
[00:27:16] Justin: It is a, It's a stressor and an anxiety case of anxiety for me that I have to manage. And I manage it now by working with my supervisor to sort of say, Look, And I've told him, I just tell him I feel that way. And he, he's like, he's like, It's fine. He's like, It might seem fine to you, but like it's not for me.
[00:27:33] Justin: Mm-hmm. . And you know, he's really good about it. So now he'll say, Hey, can you talk at three o'clock? Everything's fine, . And he'll like, capitalize it, you know.
[00:27:45] Zoe: Yeah. Yeah. But I think that's part of managing upward, isn't it? If you don't want to do your job well, you have to manage people below you, but you also have to manage people above you and manage expectations.
[00:27:55] Zoe: Right. And I think for me, I have to do that because if my boss tells me we need to talk, I a hundred percent believe the world is on fire. I am fired. And it's the end of the world. You know, like, I dunno,
[00:28:09] Justin: but is that the sign? Is that the sign for imposter syndrome? Like legitimately, like you think, Cuz when people say to me, they're like, Oh, you could go to job tomorrow.
[00:28:16] Justin: I'm like, Really? Who's that person that's waiting to hire me? And I, I think I'm gonna get fired all the time. Like I, Is that the number one sign of imposter syndrome? I don't know.
[00:28:24] Zoe: I dunno. Cause I think for me it's because I don't think I'm good enough. That's why I struggle with, I'm clearly the worst.
[00:28:31] Zoe: You know, there's so many better people out there. I have no idea what I'm doing. And that's why I think I'm going to be fired. So maybe that's why, I dunno.
[00:28:39] Justin: So I can tell you this, I've worked in two situations. So I've worked in a situation where I was the smartest person in the room on a particular topic.
[00:28:48] Justin: Not every topic, but on particular topics. I was the lead person. There was no one who knew more than me about a particular topic. In the room, you know, in the organization, because it was a small company, it was usually the startups that I've worked for. I've worked for a couple. And first of all, I'll tell you this, um, being the only person with a skill set in a startup is boring as heck because like, who do you talk to to bounce ideas off your head?
[00:29:10] Justin: Right, By the way, which is why I love the champion community, because I can always find people who like, hey, just like validate my thinking. So there's no imposter syndrome when you're the only person in the room with all of that, because you're the only one. Right now, let's go and look. Flip the other way.
[00:29:26] Justin: Okay. I work, obviously, you know, where I work now we have like distinguished engineers that have like invented protocol. Like, I mean, how, you know, like how am I supposed to, you know, sometimes you look at that and you're like, How am I going to ever, How am I ever gonna measure up to that? Right? But you know, as, as some of my mentors have told me, they're like, everyone has their own.
[00:29:47] Justin: Benefits that they bring to the table. Maybe that person spent their whole life working on that one thing and they don't have the breadth of experience you have. And I'm like, is that my college degree? Is that my university degree? Is the fact that I've done all this stuff in all these other areas? So I have a perspective.
[00:30:04] Justin: I don't think so. Like for me, that doesn't stack up. Like does that stack up as you know, skill to somebody with a CCIE? I don't know.
[00:30:13] Zoe: I think when I, when I talk to you, it feels like even if you don't know a topic, you have so much experience. You know where to find more and you know how to learn. You know, And I know that there's a lot of people that I've spoken to you that are really, really good at one thing, like really good, like bloody impressive, but they can't go past that thing.
[00:30:34] Zoe: You know, it's, this is my thing, this is what I'm good at. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I think, I do think that there is a skill. There is a, an ability that you have that not everybody has that I think is really impressive. And it's the ability to think outside the box. I know that sounds really stupid, but it is that ability.
[00:30:54] Zoe: I mean, in your job you look at, here's the problem, how do I find the solution? It's not, let me Google this, it's, I have to create a solution that's not happened before. You know.
[00:31:05] Justin: No, there's a lot of Googling. Well, yeah, no, no. There's a lot of, there's a lot of Googling.
[00:31:09] Zoe: You're able to put things together. I mean, that's my job too.
[00:31:11] Zoe: Half my job is on Google . But, but, um, but I think, I do think that makes a difference. Yeah.
[00:31:19] Chris: Right. I think that, you know, when you're, when you're a super deep expert in one thing, you get that hammer problem, right? Where everything looks like a nail because you've kind of turned your mind into a hammer, which is, which is great, right?
[00:31:30] Chris: As long as you hang around with a lot of nails and then, and we need hammers, right? I mean, we need a lot of that. But I think, yeah, to, to your point, Zoe, I think the counterpoint is, you know, knowing how to learn, knowing how to synthesize information, knowing how to pull things together quickly and to new things is, is another just as good skill.
[00:31:46] Chris: I think.
[00:31:47] Justin: So I think the pathway that people have taken, if you look at career path for a second, right? So career path for me has been a little bit broken compared to what a lot of people do in the industry. So, you know, a lot of people see working for a manufacturer as like the holy grail. That's where I want to be is working.
[00:32:01] Justin: For some manufacturer, they see that as top tier or maybe working for a service provider or whatever, you know, is top tier, whatever is top tier for them, right? Some people come outta school and they like, they'll get a job at a, at a manufacturer. Right outta school. Right. I personally think that's a mistake.
[00:32:20] Justin: Not to say negative things about my coworkers who came out of school and immediately started working for a manufacturer. They have their own path for what I do for the things I want to do. I don't believe that's a super great path. When I started working for what we call an interconnect back in the day, and now we call it, some people call it a var, right?
[00:32:37] Justin: Value added reseller company that resells other people's stuff and installs it, but there was. Perspective I didn't have working for a var, and that was being a customer. So when things were going not awesome at the VAR I was working for, who was also a service provider at the time, they had done a reorg, which I've been through so many reorgs.
[00:32:56] Justin: It's crazy. They had reorged and the new org I was in, they wanted me to sell MPLS service. They're like, We want you to sell MPLS services. And I'm like, That sounds boring, . So I, at the time I had had a customer had come to me and said, uh, hey, if you ever wanna leave, you should talk to us. And I went and I was like, Oh, okay, let's talk.
[00:33:16] Justin: So I worked for a company that manufactured ice cream . Literally that's what they did. And, uh, they were building a new plant facility because they had had a disaster. And I was their, I was like their field engineer. So I started working there as a IT director. And, uh, that was the first time I was ever a customer.
[00:33:33] Justin: And being that I had been at a var, it actually gave me some cool skill because, you know, I mean, the stuff I knew from working at a var, I could apply to working there, but it was very different being a customer. And it felt like a step down in my career. And I was always very worried. I'm like, Oh man, this is a step down.
[00:33:50] Justin: Like everyone wants to get out of a customer, go to a var, or get out of a customer, go to a service provider, and I'm like, I have made two steps down. But at the time it sounded like a cool opportunity, so I was like, Eh, let's go with it now. Luckily a friend of mine contacted me a couple years in and was like, Hey, we got this startup going.
[00:34:08] Justin: We're doing like virtualized like data centers and stuff, which I had never done. And he is like, I, we need your network and security stuff because no one for this company knows that. And all the guys said, The project we did with you was awesome. You were great at that. So do you wanna come work for us doing that?
[00:34:24] Justin: And at the time I was like, I'm kind of done doing what I'm gonna do here, so yeah, let's go and do that. So I was like, Oh man. So I went back and worked for that startup and it was the first startup I'd ever worked for. Yeah. And it was startup life. I mean, for anybody that's done it, startup life is crazy in all areas.
[00:34:38] Justin: And then after doing that for a while, I got an opportunity to go back to a VAR who was opening in the east part of Canada. They were very much on the west coast. They wanted to open in the east coast. And I had a bunch of friends who were there and I was like, Oh. So I went and met with them and that was cool.
[00:34:54] Justin: And we went from like, I think when I started we had like six employees and when I left we had like a hundred something in the east coast. We had built up this pretty cool team, which was awesome. But you know, I was sort of making my way back. From customer back to var, you know, cuz I figured that was the hi, you know, where I wanted to go and I always wanted to work where I'm working now.
[00:35:13] Justin: It was kind of like the holy grails, the place I wanted to be, but I always never felt that I was gonna fit in there or here for that matter until I found this thing. But I still, you know, I still go to work every day with the anxiety of, am I gonna, am I gonna get canned? You know, and my boss will say, You're crazy.
[00:35:30] Justin: I don't know why you think that, but it, that's my stressor. I don't have a university degree. I don't have a college degree. I'm just bouncing around the industry trying to get things done for the company as I work for, and make my customers happy. And that's it. That's all I've got. Right? I've got some, I also, you know, I have my cka, You guys brought that up before.
[00:35:50] Justin: I have that, that's the first cert I've done in like over 10 years. So I'm not very certified. I don't have a university degree. If I, and I'm constantly sitting here thinking if I lose my job tomorrow, I'm gonna be homeless. Like I, I'm not be able to feed my family seriously. It's not even a joke. And that's my stressor.
[00:36:08] Justin: And you would think that that would drive. Make me like work harder cuz I'm worried about it, but it doesn't, I just, I just get anxiety about it and I just freeze up. And, and sometimes I don't sleep. And sometimes, you know, I I, I'll say to my wife, I'm like, Oh man, something's going wrong at work. I, I think I'm gonna lose my job.
[00:36:25] Justin: I, I, and I get all stressed out about it. Everyone says I'm crazy, but that doesn't fix how I feel about it. And I felt this way my entire career because I don't have the paper. I don't have the paper to prove what I can do.
[00:36:39] Zoe: Mm-hmm. . That's literally the only reason I went to college.
[00:36:42] Justin: It's a good reason.
[00:36:43] Zoe: For that paper.
[00:36:44] Justin: It really is.
[00:36:45] Zoe: Well, I'm still paying off the debt. So ,
[00:36:48] Chris: was it worth it, is the question, right?
[00:36:50] Justin: Well, yeah. I've never really talked about that. I've never really talked about the fact that like, I live with this, this irrational fear. I mean, everybody else says it's irrational, but I live with this fear of I don't have the receipts if I lose my job to prove that I'm any good.
[00:37:03] Zoe: But I do think you take the right approach though, in the sense of you communicate that with your boss. Because it's not something you can solve. It's not something you can get rid of. It's something that you have to address.
[00:37:13] Justin: I can say this, it doesn't matter the company you're at, whether they're good or bad, what matters is the person that you work for.
[00:37:19] Justin: Because I've worked for some pretty horrible places that people hated. But my direct supervisor, my, my boss, was so awesome that they made it good. I also know people worked for really great companies that had a horrible manager, a horrible boss, and they're like, That company stinks. They're like, I hate it.
[00:37:36] Justin: But really it's not the company that they hate. It's really just their manager they don't like. I'm gonna just say this. When I, when I managed people for the first time, I was like trying to figure out, Oh my God, I have to manage people. What am I gonna do? I read this awesome book. I listened to an awesome audio book.
[00:37:51] Justin: I wish I could say I can't sit down and read books. I just don't have that much attention span. There's a book written by a guy named Marcus Buckingham and it's called First Break All the Rules., What, I Dunno, thousands of managers do differently that make them successful or something. And it was like this science-based management book and they did all this research.
[00:38:09] Justin: I am totally in love with that methodology and if you manage people, go and listen to that book. Because it will teach you some amazing things about how to manage people effectively and how to find great people. And, and that was one of the things I've, I've always watched is like, or, or listened to, is how that guy talks about managing people is super good because there is a way to manage people that can, can get the best out of them.
[00:38:34] Justin: And then there's ways that don't work. And managers, the difference between, between happy teams that get a lot done and poor teams is not the company but the manager.
[00:38:46] Chris: Yeah, I think that's very, very true and I think, you know, looking back at your career, I think one thing we can say, or maybe my observation is that, uh, that nothing's permanent, right?
[00:38:54] Chris: You thought you took some steps down, you brought those steps back up, and now you've made it to this, uh, this dream job. Unfortunately, just like jobs in our careers, this, uh, podcast is also not permanent. And it is time to wrap up for today. So thanks for joining us, Justin, and sharing your story with the Imposter Syndrome Network.
[00:39:15] Chris: This was awesome. Really appreciate it. I think it's a really, really neat look behind the curtain of, of a really, really successful person who has a really long and illustrious career to understand that there is that anxiety there that, that a lot of others feel that, that all of us feel it sometimes. So I really appreciate you being honest and, and, and open with us on this really cool treat for the listeners and, uh, and yeah, to all you imposters out there, listen.
[00:39:37] Chris: We know that your time and attention are the most valuable things you have and we really appreciate you spending them with us. Thank you. Don't forget to subscribe so you can catch the next episode when it comes out on Tuesday. And if you haven't already, please feel free to join us on LinkedIn. We have a group for conversations about all things related to our careers and lives in technology.
[00:39:57] Chris: Justin, are there any projects you're working on or involved in that, uh, The Imposter Network should be aware of?
[00:40:03] Justin: I don't know of any specific ones. I mean, we have, we have some great stuff that we did. You know, we did our massive public wifi project that was awesome. We're working on inclusive innovation programs now.
[00:40:14] Justin: Uh, trying to do some new stuff. I don't know. Oh my God. It, I don't know if I can talk about those on the podcast or not. There's so many things we're working on that I can and cannot talk about. Um, but all I can say is the projects that we work on are really cool. If you follow me on Twitter, I talk about the ones that I'm allowed to talk about.
[00:40:31] Justin: You know, go and find that thing that makes you happy. And, uh, and just keep doing it.
[00:40:35] Chris: Awesome, thanks Justin. We'll have links in the show notes as well, uh, to your Twitter and, uh, maybe anything else that, there's a public site where, where folks can, uh, can find information on, on what you're working on there in the lab.
[00:40:46] Chris: And, uh, that's it. We'll be back next week.