In this episode, we chat with John White, the Chief Operating Officer of US Signal, a cloud and data center service provider.
John has over 20 years of experience as a technology leader, working in various roles such as engineer, architect, and innovator. He’ll share his journey from building websites for a robotics company to becoming a COO and a board member of multiple organizations.
We discuss how he deals with his intellectual curiosity and attention to detail and helps his teams solve complex and challenging problems.
We’ll also explore his experiences with imposter syndrome and how he learned to trust himself and others in his career.
Join us for this inspiring and insightful conversation with John White.”
When you’re smart and you’re a go-getter, you’re going to do the next thing, have some patience, and celebrate some of those wins.
Thanks for being an imposter - a part of the Imposter Syndrome Network (ISN)!
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Make it a great day.
Machines made this, mistakes and all...
[00:00:00] Chris: Hello, and welcome to the Impostor Syndrome Network podcast, where everyone belongs, especially if you think you don't. My name is Chris Grundemann, and I'm here as always with the unflappable Zoe Rose. Heyo! Hey!
[00:00:21] Chris: This is the John White episode, and I think you're gonna love it. John is a dad, a technology lover, a self reported bad golfer, and a car enthusiast.
[00:00:31] Chris: He's been working on computers since a young age when he was drawn to them, and once he was able to get a high speed connection at his house, he was hooked. Over the years since then, his entrepreneurial spirit combined with his technical aptitude has led him down a path of highly technical and complex solution design for a wide variety of business and IT problem.
[00:00:52] Chris: Hey, John, would you like to introduce yourself a bit further to the imposter syndrome network?
[00:00:56] John: No, that's, that's, that's pretty good though. I mean, that's a good start at least, but that's, that covers all the basis. I think the only thing that missing out of that is, uh, soccer, uh, football is life inside of my house.
[00:01:07] John: If you've watched Ted Lasso, it's, uh, one of my favorites. And, uh, we, we play a lot of soccer in the house. I have three out of the four kids play soccer all the time. My oldest plays six days a week. I coach a team and I've, I've been coaching for a lot of years. So like that's the other side of it, but it's.
[00:01:23] John: I'm pretty simple. It's soccer, kids, cars. When I get a chance, some golf every once in a while. And that a lot of work.
[00:01:30] Chris: Nice. Yeah, I, uh, makes sense to me and, uh, and you and I know each other. I had the great pleasure of working with you at Myriad360, um, the reseller, VAR. And I know before that you had a pretty amazing and fairly long career at expedient, which, you know, in, in the reductionist view, I could call an MSP. Uh, they're also a cloud operator and a few other things, but...
[00:01:50] Chris: And since then, you've had leadership roles at AWS, at Effectual, and now at US Signal. It really seems that the theme, um, that ties those companies together is that they're all essentially, uh, services organizations, right? And so, you know, at least for the last 15 years, whether your role was changing quite a bit, but those organizations were all kind of focusing on providing services to other companies.
[00:02:10] Chris: Um, and I wonder if you can maybe talk to us a little bit about why that is. You know, in, in contrast to, you know, the other option or one other option anyway, would be to like go into a big enterprise and then kind of build out the, the, the infrastructure yourself, you know, kind of have that ownership over it versus being more consultative.
[00:02:28] Chris: And I know your role has changed a little bit now, but at least the organizations kind of are, are still on that consultative side of the house. So maybe, you know, what's, what's kept you on that side of the, of the fence and what's drawn you to that kind of work?
[00:02:37] John: Uh, yeah, that's a really good question. And a good, good, good point.
[00:02:41] John: Uh, I think it's pretty easy. I think if ADHD was a thing when I was growing up, I would have had it. I always need something else. I need something else to stimulate me. And if I go to an enterprise, I don't get that something else. I don't get a hundred projects on my plate. I don't get these big hairy, you know, problems and challenges to deal with.
[00:02:58] John: You get one. And so in a services industry, you get a, you know, a million things to do and a lot of different challenges and technology problems and people problems and business problems to kind of work and fix. And that kind of satisfies, you know, my daily need. Uh, but that is a pretty, I, I mean, I actually hadn't put that together, but, uh, that's a pretty interesting correlation you have.
[00:03:21] Chris: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And then, you know, w w within that, I think one of the big things that's interesting to me is. Your current role now is chief operating officer, which, you know, in some ways is pretty big shift from being more of a pure technologist. You've had, you know, titles of chief innovation officer and, uh, architect and principal architect, and, you know, lots of other kinds of more technical titles along the, along the way.
[00:03:46] Chris: And I'm wondering, you know, it's, it's a C COO role seems like a big move away from more technical. Roles. Is that a misunderstanding or is that really kind of what's going on?
[00:03:56] John: No, it is kind of, you know, what's going on. I I've had a lot of success on the technology side. It's like, I love engineering. I mean, that's still like every part of my blood and dream is engineering, but I really, you know, I wanted to jump outside of that box a little bit.
[00:04:12] John: Cause that's kind of my safety net. It's like, if it's tech, I can kind of figure it out and kind of, and learn it and own it. The business side is something I've been ramping into for a long time. I probably started getting into. More business esque things when I became, uh, chief innovation officer, which would have been about 18, or 17 or 18, somewhere around there.
[00:04:29] John: And so when I was looking for kind of my next big role, I wanted more ownership of the business side of things. That was, it was just something I wanted to explore. So. Um, I got an opportunity to start working as an advisor for, uh, private equity firms starting in 2020. And that brought me more into the business, more, you know, studying P and L studying, um, you know, the financial data of the business that kind of makes it tick.
[00:04:54] John: And so I really wanted to bring the technology element and then the business side of it to kind of get, you know, get rounded out there to, to kind of complete my journey that I kind of set off on when I was. You know, going into college a million years ago, but that that's always been my path, but I always just really, you know, kind of stuck the first 20 years, maybe on the tech side, more than more than the business side,
[00:05:15] Zoe: I find um for my personal journey.
[00:05:18] Zoe: It's been, um, I would agree with that, the whole tech being the safety net, you feel safe and it's easy to see your achievements. I'm curious what you found in being a little bit more hands off, uh, and how you measure your success and how you measure your achievement.
[00:05:36] John: I started being a little more hands off of the tech probably in 07, 08, when I started.
[00:05:43] John: Do we be more solution architect and so that was where, you know, I work with the customers to kind of figure out their business needs or technology needs and then help guide my internal teams to, you know, help build that solution. And that was a really weird jump for me. And I was. It was one that actually, when I, when my boss approached me about becoming a solution architect, I said, look, I'm a pretty good windows engineer.
[00:06:06] John: Like I've, I've gotten a got seniority inside the team. Like, I don't want to know, I don't know that I want to give that up. And he's, and he's like, okay, fine. We'll write an agreement that if you don't like solution architecture, you know, you can go back to being, you're just hardcore tech person. I'm like, cool.
[00:06:20] John: That's fine by me. That's all I needed. And then as soon as I got the other side. Um, I, I saw what he saw and I was like, okay, I was off on this path of intermingling the business, not being completely hands off. But for me, that was a, that was a big challenge. Um, cause I love to control things and I love to be, you know, the person solving the problems.
[00:06:40] John: And, um, you know, when you had to kind of elevate and escalate, and that's something I'm doing that even now in this role, and you have to kind of depend on your team, it's. It's a little bit of a weird feeling, but it's a good feeling. And I I'm more measured when I see the success that they're having and when they're having the aha moments and when they're, you know, achieving something that anything possible that drives me more now than me fixing the problem of the past.
[00:07:04] John: So it's, it's, it's kind of a weird shift and it's, it really parlays into a lot of my life with the kids and like soccer. I mean, I tell the kids I'm there to coach and do two things. I'm there to, you know, help create a element of team, but also individual success. Uh, because every kid is a little different on what they want to achieve and I want to help them achieve something, but at the same time, keep it inside of the whole team mentality.
[00:07:28] Zoe: Yeah, that's a really good point. I like the kind of alignment with the football and, or sorry, I guess you call it soccer, and then children. Not to say that employees are children, but it is nice to see the success of them, um, and be able to feel like you helped that. I, for, for me, it's, it's more interns cause I'm not, I'm not C suite, but maybe one day, but I think another thing that we like to ask people is.
[00:07:53] Zoe: Defining their role, like what would a current day to day look for you? Because I think even if people are in the exact same role title, it actually varies company by company.
[00:08:03] John: Right now as a COO, I have a whole bunch of teams that report up to me that, uh, really make up a good majority of the business.
[00:08:11] John: And so it is pretty still heavy, heavy tech, uh, but like on the product solution architecture, which has been like my world forever, which I love. Uh, but I also have all the engineering. So we, we build data centers. Um, we, you know, build fiber, uh, all those folks roll up through me as well. So I'm getting to learn a lot about fiber, which I'm very, you know, data center managed services, like I get fiber.
[00:08:33] John: I'm still learning. I had the, the first day though, one of the guys that runs the optical team. I sent me 120 page PowerPoint, understanding how waves work and color and light of fiber. Like I'm learning a ton there. So I am scratching that engineering itch, kind of learning that. Uh, but then I have pricing and procurement and a lot of those, you know, functions are all to me.
[00:08:52] John: So, um, our day to day, my day to day right now is a lot of, since I'm two months on the job and we're, we're, um, you know, we're, we're, we're changing some elements of the business to kind of set us up for future success and long term success. Yeah, it's a lot about thinking holistically of like how we get work done and how we can provide a great customer, uh, success element so that they, they're happy and they're, they're satisfied with us.
[00:09:16] John: Cause I also have customer support inside of my organization as well. So, um, it's, it's kind of a myriad of things, but we're also, you know, I'm handling pricing negotiations and, you know, helping think through future technologies. It's kind of like a scattering of, of different stuff right this second. Uh, but one day we'll be more focused on strategic thinking to kind of operate the business.
[00:09:39] John: Um, we have a lot of storming, norming, conforming that we're doing right now, and we're, we're still, I think, heavy in the storming phases, which is really exciting. And also, uh, a super crazy, uh, busy work schedule when we're, we're still all storming towards, uh, you know, one potential part, which would be hopefully the norming where life calms down a little bit.
[00:09:58] Chris: Yeah, it makes sense. Is this more of like, kind of, uh, like a restructure pivot? Like there's, there's growth going on there or, or is it really just a brand new company that's still kind of forming overall?
[00:10:09] John: The company is, um, I think about 20 years old and, uh, it was a single owner operator business. And, uh, a lot of family, like a real, like a family owned style business.
[00:10:20] John: That's what it feels like. And it was just purchased, uh, by Igneo, uh, infrastructure fund, which is a private equity firm based out of Australia, and they own all kinds of different assets, uh, solar and renewable energy and, um, uh, trains. And they have, you know, all kinds of big infrastructure. This is one of their first in North America technology companies.
[00:10:41] John: And so, um, I was brought in, uh, they brought in a new CEO, new CIO, and we're helping, um, kind of point and build, uh, the company into the, it's future self. I mean, it was super successful, a lot of great customers, great customer satisfaction. Almost every call I get on everybody, all the customers rant and rave about how awesome we are, which I'm like, okay, that's great.
[00:11:02] John: Um, and we're, we're looking to just continue to expand. Um, our footprint and, um, you know, service more customers and maybe get more specific inside of verticals in the future. And so we're all, you know, a few months in, um, two months in the, the CEOs, probably five months in and Igneo itself, um, the acquisition happened in February, so there's seven months in.
[00:11:24] John: And so we're really, you know, um, I wouldn't call it a turnaround personally, cause I think it's a pretty great company already, but it's a, um, uh, maybe a pivot and accelerate style that we're on, which is, uh, you know, super exciting for me again, I'm not coming in and trying to kind of just operating something.
[00:11:42] John: I think my ADHD would go a little, you know, crazy there we're going in and we're, we're trying to figure out and, um, and strategically set us where we want to be in the future. So we're building your five year, 10 year forecast. On where we want to go, what we want to look like, um, and, uh, and building to that.
[00:11:59] Chris: Nice. And so this is, I mean, I was going to say this is similar to, but it's kind of completely different, but the entry road was similar. And the board seat you have at Light Edge Solutions, I think was also kind of triggered by a PE firm coming in and buying a company. And then you're on the board now, at least around the same timing as when that happened and advising from there.
[00:12:15] Chris: So. It's kind of similar to the situations here where new ownership comes in and you're brought in as like the big hitter, the heavy hitter to come in and help, uh, make things, uh, even better.
[00:12:25] John: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's, I think that's a, I think a heavy hitter. I, I think that'imposter syndromure right there.
[00:12:31] John: It's like, I'm not sure I'm a heavy hitter. I've had some really good experience. I mean, I learned a ton of Expedient. I came there out of college and got a great base education about the space. Uh, light edge is a little bit unique. So I started working with GI partners in September of 2020, doing due diligence work for them.
[00:12:48] John: So looking at these style businesses, you know, saying, you know, finding, you know, gaps and opportunities during that process, helping them evaluate a business before they make a purchase. And so I worked for them for about a year until we closed on light edge. And yeah, luckily enough for me, I was, you know, they offered me a board seat.
[00:13:08] John: Uh, which allows me to help guide them on, uh, some of the product challenges that, that they were having at the time and, and, you know, where they're kind of focusing on today. And I use that board seat to do that. So I help, you know, take a lot of my education that I got from expedient and, uh, give them, you know, some.
[00:13:25] John: Ask them questions. That's actually majority of what I do is I ask questions to kind of go and hopefully drive to an outcome. But they're, they're a pretty focused and tuned business, which is, which is great. So I just get to ask a few questions and then sometimes steer them into a different path or, or reframe some of their thinking.
[00:13:42] Zoe: Nice. Well, one thing that I was thinking is like working with organizations to essentially build to the future, you know, you're future proofing, you're innovating, you're expanding. Part of that requires hiring people, and I'm curious about the approach that you take when it comes to hiring other technologists, or like, what would you prioritize when you're looking at hiring people to be the most effective?
[00:14:09] John: Good background there. And I think it's pretty simple, really. The biggest, the biggest element that I look for is that intellectual curiosity. You know, if, if I'm hiring a technologist, I want them to ask questions. I want them to challenge. I want them to think outside the box. Um, I also looked in and try to understand their attention to detail and situation.
[00:14:31] John: And when I was at AWS, uh, If you've ever read about AWS is hiring practices. It's pretty, it's pretty wild. It's a really AWS inside it's the self. I mean, I say that I got an MBA from AWS because I learned a ton there and how they operated and like the, some of their secret sauce, which, you know, didn't.
[00:14:49] John: Far, you know, it wasn't too off of alignment from where, what I have, and then I'm trying to also integrate some of those, those learnings that I had, um, into my day to day life. But 1 of the things that they do and all their interview questions is, um, star. So it's situation, task, action, response or something like that.
[00:15:07] John: So it's basically you ask a question and you want to understand the situation. What did you do? You know, what were your action items? And then what was, you know, how did it actually go? And that was one thing I always dug deep in with all of my engineers that I would hire because I want them to understand and know the details.
[00:15:25] John: And I don't want them to just be there thinking about it in a fluff way. And I'll never forget that I was hiring this one guy at Expedient. And, um, I was going through and he was telling me about how he created all these different cloud designs. And I was like, wow, this guy's pretty detail oriented. And so I asked, I said, what color were the cat six cables that you put into the servers?
[00:15:44] John: Well, I use yellow for this. I use blue for the ISTA that I use red for this. I was like, okay, my guy right here. He understands that that detail and why it's important, especially when you're in a cloud provider, when. Yeah, you can't have somebody pull the wrong cable, um, because the documentation's wrong or somebody didn't, you know, meet, meet the, uh, the standards you wanted to hit.
[00:16:04] John: So intellectual curiosity, attention to detail. And then, you know, at AWS, one of the leadership principles that we had, cause there was like, I think there were 14. Was the ability to disagree and commit. And I think that's the one part that I've had a lot of technologists struggle with over the years is they'll disagree and then they'll, they'll do stuff behind back, you know, whether it's a, you or the organization to actually hurt the project.
[00:16:29] John: And that's one thing that I try to pull out of everybody is like, are you going to not be happy with maybe something that I say or somebody, you know, a decision that somebody else makes. And sabotage it, or are you going to say, you know what, I don't believe in that. I don't think that that's the, that's the way we should do it, but I'm going to, I'm going to commit to this anyway and make sure it's successful.
[00:16:48] John: And weeding that out, I found is one of the biggest things that either makes or breaks the technology organization. You have to get everybody pointed and working towards the same direction. Or else chaos ensues and nobody really gets anywhere.
[00:17:01] Chris: Is that something you can question for or spot like, or, you know, in the interview process?
[00:17:05] Chris: I mean, how do you, how do you look for that? I think, I think you're right. It's, it seems really key, right? You definitely don't want conscious or unconscious saboteurs among the team, but it is also pretty common, right? If my idea doesn't get picked at the very least, I may not participate very willingly in the solution.
[00:17:19] Chris: And at worst, like you said, there could actually be some feet dragging and things like that. So anyway, how do you, how do you spot that?
[00:17:24] John: Yeah, it goes back to that star framework that we use at AWS is we, we understand the situation and we get them to talk to it at a personal level. And you can usually hear if there's some sort of condescending tone they might have about it.
[00:17:37] John: Or if you know, I, I, the big thing is, Hey, talk to me about a project that didn't go well, if they throw, you know, Sam and Sally under the bus, well, you know that that's their, that's their behavior and that's their model. If they are, you know, they're, they're against everything that you hear, you know, I, I knew it wasn't going to work and, you know, I didn't want to do it that way, but we did it that way.
[00:17:56] John: You can just, you know, and that's for me, the biggest red flag, as soon as I started hearing that, it's like, okay, you know, we, we probably, uh, you know, you can't change that. That's something that's in their DNA, whether something happened. 20 years ago in their career or whatever, but they, they have created that mindset that, um, if it's not their own, it'll be failure and it's just, it's just something I really don't want to deal with.
[00:18:20] Zoe: Yeah. And another point is, is the bit about, um, people that can't reflect. You know, they can't acknowledge that they made a mistake because people make mistakes. I make mistakes all the time. I made one the other day and got in trouble for it, but, but, uh, but I learned from it and I'll grow. Uh, but, but sometimes you work with people that can't do that.
[00:18:42] Zoe: So it's, it's the integrity of, you know, being able to disagree, but commit, but also recognize when they're the ones at fault as well. I think I really liked the point you made about, um, how important that is because I've seen excellent teams struggle so much because that one, one person or one attitude really brought the whole thing down.
[00:19:05] John: Yeah, it's, it's, it could be, it can be a virus inside of a company and it could be something where it's just, you'll never, you'll never get to achieve the goals that you set out because there's somebody always holding you back. We had a referee at our game on Sunday and he said to the kids, he's like, look, I'm going to make mistakes.
[00:19:25] John: Your coach is going to make mistakes. You're going to make mistakes on the soccer field. During the game, it's not the time to talk about them. But if you want to talk to me after the game, you know, I might even tell you I made the wrong call, but that's what we, you know, that's how we have to operate and we can deal with it then.
[00:19:40] John: And I thought that was, that was amazing. I mean, I've coached a ton of games, um, over the years and I've never heard a referee say that. I was like, I love that. And the kids were like, yeah, that's great. And so after the game, I asked them, was anybody having anything? No, I thought the referee was great. Like, this is awesome.
[00:19:55] John: First game, I mean... They're they're 11 and 12 year olds. They're starting to get pretty opinionated and the testosterone is flowing. Uh, but they were actually really happy with the referee for, for the first game in I think a long time. Opening that window made the difference.
[00:20:08] Chris: Yeah. I've also never heard a referee say that.
[00:20:10] Chris: And I think you're right. I think that's just reframing the space we're in. Right. I think it's super, super helpful. Uh, for sure.
[00:20:17] Chris: Speaking of that, everybody making mistakes. What's, what's the most embarrassing mistake you've ever made, John?
[00:20:22] John: Uh, career wise. Yeah, I got, I got, I got, um, I mean, I was embarrassed.
[00:20:30] John: I was, I was humiliated. I was, you know, I was just down my leader kind of brought me up. So I think it's probably the best one, but I was, when I first started Expedient, I was inside of the support organization. And then, uh, they found out that I could do some programming. And so I got asked to do some special projects and we were doing, we had this, uh, voice over IP telephony product at the time.
[00:20:53] John: And so we would do these SIP connections and everything was done inside a command line and I was going in and they asked me to write a front end interface for it. And so I wrote this front end interface for it and, uh, you know, work pretty decent and, you know, I was making some changes the one day.
[00:21:10] John: Probably about five in the morning, not a good time to do it. And it's not like I woke up at five in the morning. I was up then from the night before and, uh, everybody was coming to work the next day. And I, uh, I forgot my where statement and a SQL command and I blew away the whole database. And so we could not pass traffic because of course I was working in production.
[00:21:33] John: I mean, I was 24 at the time, somewhere around there, you know, whopping 12 months into a job and, uh, yeah, I blew away the whole database. And so I, I had that feeling where like, I swear to God, every pore in my body opened up and sweat came out of it. I mean, I didn't even like, I was like, Oh my God. I mean, I think my hair follicles were sweating.
[00:21:56] John: We were so nervous. And I was like, Oh my God, and nobody's in the office, nobody's around. And I was like, I got to get this thing back up and running. I'm I'm done. I'm I'm fired. But at least, you know, I got to get this thing fixed or else, you know, I'm really going to be in trouble. They're going to sue me.
[00:22:09] John: Like I didn't even know what was going to happen. And so I found a copy of the database that I made earlier in the night when I was working on something. And kind of humpty dumpy stuff together to put a rescore or script back together on this. 'cause of course, we didn't have backups on it. I mean, why wouldn't we have backups on it?
[00:22:26] John: And so I, I put it back together, it probably took me 30 minutes. So we had a 30 minute outage at five in the morning. I think it was a Thursday or Friday, but I sat there and I was like, you, I don't even know what to do. I didn't call anybody. I just fixed it. And so I just packed my stuff up. I was done. Oh, wow.
[00:22:43] John: I was ready to go. And so my boss came in. And, uh, I told him what happened. He's like, well, did you fix it? I said, yeah, he's like, okay. And I'm like, okay, you know, we just like, there's like, I was expecting to get fired and he expected him to flip out. And he's just like, okay, go home. You've been up for 24 hours.
[00:23:02] John: And I'm like, okay. Like, just still like in that weird, awkward, did I come back? I don't know. Exactly. Like, am I permitted to come and work here? Like, do you, you shut all my accounts down? Like. Is there like an exit like that? I need to do here. Do I need to turn my badge? And he's just like, and so I asked him, I was like, do I, well, do I still work here?
[00:23:19] John: And he's like, yeah, go home, go to sleep. See you tomorrow. And I'm like, okay, good. And I'm like, I'll never forget. I came home and I was just laid in bed. I'm like, oh my God, I can't believe I did that. But I mean, I learned a lot just from that interaction. I was super embarrassed to buy it, but I learned, I think a lot of on the leadership side of things.
[00:23:39] John: Um, I learned to obviously make copies. I learned to not write in code and prod anymore and make changes in prod anymore. So I think it was a pivotable, pivotal learning experience for me, but man, it was one that I was, I was not happy about. Like, I mean, I could just see it. Like my, I was going to default on my student loans because I lost this job.
[00:23:57] John: I mean, like, it was like, I was going into like, you know, scorched earth mode and it really didn't happen. So I was, I don't know, I'm still shocked about it to this day. But I'll never forget it.
[00:24:07] Zoe: I was going to say, like Eddie mentioned, is that it is a really good indication of a leader versus manager, because it's so important to support people when they make mistakes.
[00:24:17] Zoe: But I, I can totally relate because I've done very similar things, um, where it's like. You still like me, my friends?
[00:24:27] John: It was, it was, it was weird for me because there was other engineers and architects that, you know, would make a big screw up, would get fired. I mean, it was this, we were in a services world, we were in an SLA world.
[00:24:39] John: And what changed my perspective there is that, you know, I think how I, I might've handled it help is I fixed it. I owned it and I didn't try to hide it. And I think... Now that I, I've, you know, I'm older and I can see a different perspective is, I think that was the challenge with the other people that I didn't see as a peer engineer at the time, but my, my leadership probably did.
[00:25:03] John: Uh, I can ask him, he's still a friend of mine and, and, you know, ended up being one of my biggest mentors that took me into solution architect. World, uh, but I think, you know, that might've been the element that, that kind of saved me is by just kind of owning it. And I, I tell my kids that all the time is like, you're going to screw up.
[00:25:19] John: If you own it. I feel like it's a lot less, you know, worse offense. And uh, and if you can learn from it and you can even verbalize how you learned from it right away. It's in my world, even, even much lesser of an, uh, offense. That reflection goes a long way. Right.
[00:25:34] Zoe: I was just going to say, it's going back to the integrity point is you didn't just disappear.
[00:25:38] Zoe: You didn't make the mistake and disappear. You stayed there, you fixed it.
[00:25:42] John: What do you mean? I was sleeping at five in the morning. I have no idea who this, John Weiss. Somebody must have, you know, came in and stolen my computer. This is horrible. I hate this.
[00:25:51] Zoe: It's not a real name anyway.
[00:25:53] John: Exactly.
[00:25:56] Zoe: One other question I had was, um, was there a time, I suppose besides that moment, where you felt like you weren't smart enough?
[00:26:04] Zoe: And how did you overcome that sense of, Maybe imposter syndrome, maybe, uh, just being really overwhelmed, um, how did you move past that?
[00:26:14] John: Yeah, I've had that many times. I mean, imposter syndrome, I didn't even, I didn't even know that was a real thing until somebody, I remember I was at a talk. I used to go to a ton of conferences and somebody talked about it there and I was like, that's what I have.
[00:26:26] John: I didn't even realize that's what I have, but there's been plenty of times. I mean, I, out of high school, I started working in a robotic company. In 1999 and it was like eight CMU grads and here I am with my 700 SAT score, you know, high school diploma that I, I barely got. I think I got a lot because I played soccer and people just let me go.
[00:26:47] John: And, you know, I'm in here working with these people and I mean, I felt that many times I shouldn't stack up majority of times I have barely a high school education. I went to a college that's good, not great. And there are so many times I'm in a room of, with doctorates from MIT and Stanford and, you know, all these high end things.
[00:27:06] John: And I never, I never saw it. And I think the, the big thing is I would just keep getting up. I mean, I gave a, I gave a keynote address at a VmUG, Ohio VmUG with like a thousand people in the audience in like 2007, and I seriously got off the stage and I was like, why the hell, what did I just say? And like, why, why, like, why did anybody even listen to me?
[00:27:27] John: And I would feel that all the time. And I, and I still feel that to this day, it's like. I don't know what the heck you even listening. Why do you even care? Like what I, what I say or what I'm interested in. Um, and I think it's, it's a challenge is a real challenge and I'm, I felt better talking about it, you know, and I talked to my mentor about it over the years and, um, you know, we, we came to, you know, some agreements that, um, and I came to an agreement with myself is if I keep getting asked the opportunities, there must be something worthwhile there.
[00:27:56] John: And, you know, I might not be able to see it. Um, I might not be able to agree with maybe some people's opinions, but, you know, if I keep getting the opportunity, it has, there has to be something more than, than I know. And so, you know, maybe that's a coping mechanism with it. I don't know, but that's at least how I've handled it.
[00:28:14] John: And really, I mean, I could probably talk days on on all the different examples, but. I've got products put in Gardner Magic Quadrant, and I'm like, what, like how, how, like it's like, I understand what we developed was really cool. And again, like the team put it together. I, you know, I didn't do it. Like you're asking me about it.
[00:28:32] John: I did, you know, the team put it together. I just talked about it. And so there was a lot of situations there that I'm still somewhat perplexed on, but I still feel it on a daily basis.
[00:28:41] Chris: Is that the number one kind of go to, and like you said, I like coping mechanism, I mean, you know, maybe that term doesn't have the most positive connotations, but, but I think, you know, everyone we've talked to, especially people who are like more, much more experts on this than anecdotal, talk about the fact that it's not something that's going to go away, right?
[00:28:56] Chris: You don't cure. Feelings of, of imposterism, um, but you can deal with it and it sounds like kind of trusting the people around you is, is a big way that you're dealing with it. Right, right. You know, if they offered me the job, if they brought me to this interview, if they gave me this speaking slot, uh, if they did clap after the talk, you know, maybe I should trust them that they're telling me the truth and these actions.
[00:29:15] Chris: Um, are there other mechanisms you use to kind of deal with it or, or get past it or, or use it to your advantage?
[00:29:20] John: Uh, no, I think those are the biggest things. And it's, it's, you know, my, my CEO now, the big, one of the big things he talks about is fact and data. And, you know, I was, I did VMworld, I spoke in VMworld five years in a row, which is, you know, somewhat unheard of.
[00:29:35] John: Um, and they were sessions that were not purchased. Like we, you know, sessions that I, I actually got voted or, you know, approved. And so I, you know, the topics were relevant and then, you know, they would give you your listings of like your scores after it. And, you know, you get some that were like, Oh, John was an idiot.
[00:29:54] John: But then you'd get like 10, you know, that were like, I learned something here that was valuable. And so I go to fact data too, is like, okay. You know, and I would write blogs and stuff back in the day, and, you know, tech work, we do the tech field day stuff. And so people would, you know, listen. And so there, there was those elements that I'd look at the fact and data is like, okay, people read the blog, people actually read the blogs, you know, not just clicked on them.
[00:30:17] John: Uh, people ask questions about, um, you know, people, you know, stuff that I was talking about. You know, people liked, or, you know, they were, they thought it was relevant. So the fact in the data actually existed to make me kind of feel better. You know, sometimes when I would, when I would start to have a little, maybe a little bit of a, you know, a slip of maybe, you know, or the imposter isms that I would be feeling.
[00:30:36] Chris: Yeah, that makes sense. I like that. The facts and data piece of it. And we've, we've heard that advice from other folks too. Well, a related piece of advice anyway, which is. To kind of keep this file almost of when, when people give you a compliment, when folks say something nice about you, if you, if you receive more of those reviews or something like that, actually taking that stuff and filing it away.
[00:30:54] Chris: And then maybe when you're having some doubts or just need to pick me up, you actually can kind of go leaf through or, or scroll through or whatever it might be. Some of these things to kind of reset your mind a little bit on it.
[00:31:04] John: Yeah. And I, so I was, I remember listening to somebody, I think it might've been like a docker con or something, give a talk about it.
[00:31:10] John: And they, one of their suggestion was creating a folder, um, in your inbox called awesome. And like, every time somebody gave you a compliment or like you thought you did something good, pull that email into awesome. And then that way you go and you look in that box and you can look at all the different places where somebody else thought you were awesome or you did something awesome and like, that's kind of your view to kind of reset.
[00:31:31] John: And then send you there. So I've, I've done that for every inbox I've ever had since then. So I always had an, I've always have an awesome folder that I can look at.
[00:31:40] Chris: Nice. Awesome. Literally, or I don't know if that's a pun or not. Um, unfortunately, uh, the facts and data right now are that we're out of time.
[00:31:48] Chris: Um, John, do you have any projects or any causes that you'd like to highlight for the Impostor Syndrome Network?
[00:31:54] John: Projects or causes? Um, I don't think, you know, anything right now. I guess I probably should though, you know, I think the, the big things that, um, You know, passionate about on the side and my family is as well as we try to, uh, you know, help kids as much as possible.
[00:32:11] John: So like the 1, the 1 thing that my wife does a great job of, of resetting some of the kids expectations. And so we do a lot with, um, you know, kids that are going to be, you know. Being pulled out of one house, maybe for a myriad of different reasons and then helping them land into a new house. And so one of the things the kids do and my wife organizes is put together backpacks for kids, um, to, you know, have them have a go backpack.
[00:32:36] John: So when they're getting pulled out of one household that they have some stuff with them, they have their own clothes, their own teeth, toothbrushes and that thing. So, um, I think it'd be my biggest call out is I feel like. You know, kids all over the place need extra help, and, uh, we try to help as much as we possibly can inside of, um, inside of that.
[00:32:56] John: The one we deal with here locally in Pittsburgh is called foster love project. And so I think that that's probably one that we're we're passionate about as a family, because, man, that's a that's a that's a rough life and a hard go. You know, when you're, when you're a kid and you're trying to understand the world and all of a sudden your parents not there or something.
[00:33:12] John: So anytime we can help make life easy there, that's, that's great. And then my, uh, my one son has hemophilia and so, uh, it's a blood clotting disorder. Medicine is stupid expensive. Um, so we try to help and give back to that as much as possible. So trying to raise awareness about it. Um, is a big element for us.
[00:33:30] John: I mean, it's, we're lucky is very mild, uh, but there's some people with some serious issues that, um, you know, don't have the financial wherewithal to get the help they need. So we try to help out there as much as possible as well.
[00:33:43] Chris: Nice. Two really good causes. And yeah, a good reminder to kind of. Pay attention, maybe to kids in your own community.
[00:33:48] Chris: There's different ways you can help really locally. Um, I like that a lot. Well, John, thanks for sharing your story. Thanks for coming on and sharing with us and the imposter syndrome network. Really appreciate it. Um, and thank you to all of our listeners for your time, your attention and your support. If you found this episode insightful or interesting or even just entertaining, please consider paying it forward by letting others know about this show and the great guests we have on.
[00:34:11] Chris: Before we do close out, John, I am curious. Looking back kind of over your career, uh, there's a lot of stuff we didn't even touch on. Um, there was a car forum in there somewhere that you built up and sold off. But anyway, might have to have you back to talk about some things, but, but through the course of your career and all these things you've done looking back over all of it, if you could, you know, open that, uh, interdimensional portal, uh, and, and whisper something in young John's ear when you were first starting out, maybe doing a websites for that robots website or robot company.
[00:34:39] Chris: Um, what advice would you give yourself just starting out? If you had to do it all over again?
[00:34:44] John: Oh, man, that's a big question. Um, have patience, you know, I was, I've always been impatient and I feel like I've maybe rushed or not, you know, lived in the moment as much as I should have. Um, and so I think the biggest thing, and I tell people all the time is like, when you're smart and you're, you're a go getter, you're gonna, you're gonna want to do the next thing, have some patience and celebrate some of those wins.
[00:35:09] John: Uh, I think that, that goes a long way, so. I, if I think I was a little more patient sometimes, maybe I wouldn't have rushed through, maybe I wouldn't have deleted that database that night, who knows. Uh, but I think that's, that would be a good piece of advice for me.
[00:35:20] Chris: Awesome. I like it. Uh, it's one I need to pay more attention to and, uh, we will be back next week.