Looking for the Opportunity: C2C President Josh Berman Reflects on Working in the Tech Sector | C2C Community

Looking for the Opportunity: C2C President Josh Berman Reflects on Working in the Tech Sector

Categories: Careers in Cloud
Looking for the Opportunity: C2C President Josh Berman Reflects on Working in the Tech Sector

For many months, the tech sector has been experiencing intense change, spanning layoffs, re-organizations, and budget strategy pivots. Now, a few months in, many of us have likely either been directly affected or worked closely with someone who has. As a community leader in the tech space, I want to take this opportunity to share some of my own perspective, for the benefit of those who may find themselves in a difficult place. I invite the community to also weigh in. The more we share and compare experiences and recommendations, the stronger we are.

There’s truly a confluence of events going on right now. Much will and has already been written about this particular moment. Restated simply in my own words, we are through the pandemic, but we experienced a huge growth surge in all things tech. Now we’re on the other side of it, and we are dealing with it. Seemingly all tech companies are facing a combination of heightened demands to achieve profitability, rapid spikes in interest rates, and slowing sales motions. Most notably, a lot of earlier stage companies or companies with investors involved have incredibly different expectations on them today compared to a year or two ago. Until recently, the emphasis had been topline growth with long-term trends toward profitability, and the market responded well to that. Needless to say, there has been a big shift in short term profitability expectations, and it’s impacting the tech sector quite a bit.

We now find ourselves in the midst of tech sector economic ripples. Every company is going to address it. Every person is going to feel it, and we all will navigate our own way through it. This will be hard, especially for those professionals who have never experienced anything like this. A lot of younger professionals wouldn’t have any reason to have had this happen. We’ve been in such a growth mode for so many years that this is really a rude awakening, and it’s personally hard to navigate. We all need to use a mix of common sense, smarts, and all the empathy we’ve got. While a layoff feels incredibly personal, we have to rise above that and recognize that it’s actually not personal. Like most tech sector cycles, this cycle is a step or two back to take us many more steps forward.

To me, this feels very similar to tech adjustments that we’ve experienced before, going back to my own personal experiences in the early 2000s and again around 2008. The early 2000s, known as the “dotcom era,” gave us the term “irrational exuberance.” You saw a lot of growth on growth, and it was relatively easy to raise money, relative to the past. Professionally, for most in the tech sector, it was easy to change jobs. People were tripping over themselves to seize what appeared to be frequent and unlimited upside opportunity. There was a kind of hyperactive energy that eventually ended, quickly and aggressively, for many people, myself included.

In my early twenties, I was getting promoted every year. A lot of my friends were changing jobs regularly. I remember vividly being put in situations that were unrealistic given my limited experiences, skill set, and professional background. Things were moving fast, to the point where I’m quite sure customers were not receiving the value exchange the tech providers and consultants were promising.

In October of 2000, I went from being a rising player to laid off along with most of my teammates. This stung, as I was the 89th employee at a company that grew to about 1000+ employees in just a few short years. We even experienced an IPO! All kinds of exciting things were happening. Sure, there were “growth concerns” and business hiccups along the way, but my experience was that we always found our way up and to the right.

 

“There is no better trusted place to step forward than within and among the diverse professional community you call home.”

 

Then, overnight, most of the company’s personnel was let go. It was nothing short of shocking, and certainly a difficult personal experience for me, but time has given me perspective on it, even appreciation for having gone through it. Many important lessons were learned––namely, that a career trajectory isn’t always a straight line up, but if you work hard, keep up a strong network, and actively work to put yourself in a good position (working with good quality people, smart solutions, healthy industries, smart financial governance), when you zoom out from a moment like then and now, all historic signs indicate that the trends are truly up and to the right.

Once I was laid off, I was on a journey. I took time to evaluate my interests and the unfolding new market. I took stock of my skill set, my network, my experiences, and what I liked and didn’t like about where I was and where I had been aiming to go professionally. A lot of my now newly available work friends, who decided to stay in industry, ended up taking a step sideways or even back with their next job, specific to role and compensation. Many ended up going to grad school, or pivoting completely to another industry or profession. 

For me, after much self-reflection and market research, I chose to stay in industry, but retool myself, shifting from technologist roles to business operating roles. I found a path forward. The client I was working with asked me to come onboard to help them transition away from the company I had worked for. The original contract was for two to three weeks, and I ended up being there for about five and a half years as an hourly contractor. Along the way, I earned my MBA part-time during my nights and weekends. At the same time, I upped my industry network, and developed what I viewed as next-level experiences and skill sets. As that pullback faded, I found myself better organized, more focused, and more qualified for the next step in my professional journey. 

When I look back, community greatly helped me, shaped me, and motivated me through unplanned, uncharted times. In that sense, I was developing a passion around all things community, even back then. I was not afraid to admit that I needed help. I was also not afraid to admit that I needed to work on my game. My solution was to actively look around for people with experiences to learn from. I leaned into my network for ideas, feedback, and guidance. I have always been a big believer in having your own personal board of directors, in always surrounding yourself with trusted, diverse thinkers, people that have no reason to give you anything other than unfettered, honest feedback that supports you. 

If you’re one of the many who was recently laid off, you remain in control. I say that from personal experience. This is a setback surrounded by opportunity. Back up and really think about where you are, what you’re curious about, where your passions lie, what your requirements are, and don’t be afraid to knock on doors. Don’t be afraid to get into conversations. You now have that precious time and space you lacked before. To think. To share ideas. To explore opportunities.  Like 2000, this is a wonderful moment for many people to ask “Am I where I want to be? Is this really an area of personal passion?” 

And there will be lots of opportunities. There are interesting migrations and paths that people are going to find that they wouldn’t have thought of or pursued before. I view this era’s tech layoffs as much like picking up a rock in a thriving garden. We’re going to see a tremendous amount of talent moving. To new industries. To emerging roles. To classic industries taking on technology like never before. I suspect, like I did in 2000, that a lot of tech employees are going to find their way to their previous customers. We’re already seeing a lot of hiring in banking, retail, and in pharmaceuticals. 

It’s a hard experience to go through, personally, but look for the upside and the opportunity. Push your network to help you. They will. Most of all, don’t be afraid. I don’t know anyone I have studied or personally look up to who has it all figured out or has experienced a straight up-and-up journey. There is no better trusted place to step forward than within and among the diverse professional community you call home.

Hey @josh.berman, It was nice to read a message of empathy and inspiration.  Here’s my $0.02.

It’s been a very painful lesson to learn… If you build it, they will NOT come, they will not (that’s a quote from a former CEO of mine).  That’s been what I’ve most learned about the “business” side of tech.  So the lesson for me, as you emphasized, was that you/I/we need to build and/or be part of a community in order to realize greater successes.   Said another way, it’s always about the human experience, and tech just provides tools for humans to enhance their interactions and experiences with each other and the world/reality around them.

In regards to you “shifting from technologist roles to business operating roles”, lol...It cracks me up whenever I read/hear such one-liners so casually thrown out there, and then quickly moving on.  It reminds me of one of the GCP youtube tutorials in which a Google Engineer is talking about deploying web apps to App Engine in order to leverage auto-scaling.  During the video he just casually states, “… and because your application is stateless….”.  What?!  Did that dude just throw a on-liner stating that I need to make my web app entirely stateless?!  Yes, that’s getting more and more common these days, but that on-liner amounts to weeks if not months of very serious engineering effort.  It’s arguably one of the toughest engineering challenges when developing a web app.  So, when you write/say that you shifted from technologist to business operator/exec, that tells me that you changed your evolutional path.

Having seen a few people do that, I know that there’s a lot of truth in your post.  In fact, the formula/recipe you used to change your path, your life, is the exact same formula/recipe that I’ve seen others use, very successfully.  But, they became different people.  It’s not so much that their values and beliefs changed, but that there was a reorganization of their values and beliefs, with reprioritizations.  It’s kinda like they remade themselves.  So, again, a very, very difficult thing to do, requiring significant sacrifice.  Just wanna point out that there’s a lot to unpack in that one statement you made.

When you wrote/said, “I upped my industry network, ..”, can you elaborate.  I think I know what that means, and that it’s part of the secret sauce.  Is “upped” socially upped (ex just more interaction)?  Professionally upped (ex networking more with execs than with engineers)?

When you wrote/said, “I was also not afraid to admit that I needed to work on my game”, can you elaborate on the game part?  That’s where I think I (and others) struggle the most (being a highly introverted technologist/engineer). 

In regards to “I have always been a big believer in having your own personal board of directors”, yeah, that is a very valuable thing to have.  However, I think fate/luck/gods/timing ultimately dictates being  so fortunate to have your own board of directors, with your interests at heart.  That is, I don’t think you got where you are with just a lot of hard work and sacrifice.  There were other forces involved, such as timing :)

In regards to “Most of all, don’t be afraid.”,  Agree, 100%.  That’s good inspiration. Fear is the decay[er] and destroyer of realized potential.  

In the spirit of providing inspiration and guidance for those facing job/financial uncertainty, my advice, after ~40 years of professional software/systems engineering, working for a wide range of very large and small organizations, is this:

  1. It’s never about the technology or about how great of an “engineer” you are.  It’s ALWAYS about the social and the political of the community you’re interacting with.  People, as with almost all life forms, need to feel important, and we/people can only feel important when we interact with other life forms.  Humans want other humans to make them feel important.  It’s that simple.  In short, put just as much effort into developing your social/political communication skills as you put into developing your engineering skills.  If you want to be an employee that is, and want someone to pay you to do work for them.
  2. don’t sweat it - blanket the Internet with your resume(s) and job applications.  No worries here.  If you got skills, you’ll always be able to find work, and keep the lights on.  Finding that perfect fit/match is another story, but don’t sweat keeping the lights on.
  3. Focus on cloud-native tools/APIs/tech.  Be comfortable working with at least 2 of the major cloud providers (GCP being one of them of course 🙂.  Full stack, network, DevOps & UI/UX remain the core and overwhelming areas of job opportunities.  JavaScript-based Frameworks/APIs are becoming more popular than Java & C# based frameworks, and you can learn them in least than one to two months
  4. You can become very knowledgeable and fluent in GCP in just a couple months, and for damn near free.  Seriously, GKE, GCE, Storage, Cloud Run, Cloud Build, Cloud Source, IAM, Big Query, Functions, you name it, you can quickly get hands on experience and learnings for less than $10 to $20 a month, and FREE if you don’t already have an account with GCP
  5. Change brings about new opportunities.  TAKE YOUR SHOT(s).  As Dave Mathews says/sings “Take these chances….”, and don’t be like ants who “...are all doing the same...they are all doing the same...”