Guang Ming Whitley, Co-founder of Lattice Climbers, is here to chat about where the next generation of folks woking on the cloud are to come from. Guang Ming is someone who has lived her life through a series of seemingly disparate phases. From a law student, to mom and author, to public servant, and most recently—a new business owner.
Guang Ming and Corey talk through her versatile career that has led to her co-founding Lattice Climbers. Guang Ming tells us how her business is helping new and emerging professionals set themselves up to succeed in the “real world.” Guang Ming brings an ease and levity forward in conversation, but it shouldn’t be misconstrued as an indication of her drive. The work that Lattice Climbers is doing is invigorating to say the least, tune in for the details!
About Guang Ming
Guang Ming Whitley was elected to Mount Pleasant Town Council in 2017 and resides in Old Mount Pleasant with her husband, four children, and a dog.
She earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Southern California and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, where she was a member of Law Review and a moot court semi-finalist. After completing her law degree, Guang Ming taught at the University of Chicago and practiced intellectual property law in Los Angeles. She then retired from active practice to serve as Chief Operating Officer of the Whitley Household. In 2020, she cofounded Lattice Climbers, a company dedicated to teaching soft and life skills to young adults.
Guang Ming is also President of the Girls State Alumnae Foundation and attended the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State in 1996, where she was elected governor. She has volunteered with the ALA Girls State program in a variety of capacities since 2000.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. Sometimes people like to ask me what this show is really about and my answer has always been, “The business of cloud,” which is intentionally overbroad; really gives me an excuse to talk about anything that strikes my fancy at a given time. A recurring theme has always been, “Where does the next generation of folks working on cloud come from?”
That’s not strictly bounded to engineers; that goes throughout the entire ecosystem. There are a lot of jobs that are important to the functioning of businesses that don’t require a whole bunch of typing into a text editor and being mad about YAML all day long. Today, my guest is Guang Ming Whitley. Guang Ming, thank you for joining me, I’ll let you tell the story. Who are you exactly?
Guang Ming: Oh, my goodness. That’s a tough question. Well, I am someone who has lived my life in a series of segments. I started off as an engineer—a chemical engineer—then went off to law school, taught for a year—
Corey: Well, let’s interject as well. That is how I got looped into this whole nonsense; you were law school classmates with my spouse. And whatever you’re in town, she gets very excited at the chance to see you, and we finally got to meet not that long ago, had a great conversation. It was, “Oh, my God, you need to come on the podcast.” Which is neither here nor there. Please, continue.
Guang Ming: So, then I had a segment as a stay-at-home mother. I started having babies and I had a lot of them. I had one daughter, then a son, and then I had identical twin boys. And once I started having them in litters, we decided that it was time to stop. So, four kids in and about a decade as a stay-at-home mom, during which time I wrote some books.
And then ran for office back in 2017. And then in 2020, was working with someone just, kind of, over coffee, just having, you know, conversation, and we came up with the idea to start a business, and Lattice Climbers
was born out of that.
Corey: And Lattice Climbers is what I think we’re going to be talking about the most today because there’s an entire episode baked into every one of those steps. Maybe not every one of them would fit on a cloud-oriented podcast, but there’s a lot of interesting backstory there and it resonates with me because my entire life has been lived in phases as well. And the more I talk to people, the more I start to realize that maybe I’m not that bizarre. People go through stages and they’d love to retcon what the story was at the time and make it all look like there’s a common thread and narrative running through, but when we’re going through it, it feels—to me at least—like I’ve been careening from thing to thing to thing without ever really having an end goal in mind. But in hindsight, looking back, it just seems like it was inevitable that I would go from where I was to here. It never feels that way at the time for me.
Guang Ming: Well, I think for me, where I’ve ended up with Lattice Climbers has felt sort of inevitable because one of the through-lines of all my segments that I’ve gone through is a program called Girls State, and it is one that I have volunteered with. It’s sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary and it’s a government simulation program. Over the course of one week, you simulate city, county, and state government. And it’s all about civic engagement and education of young women, and empowerment. So, it’s such a fantastic program.
And I love it, but one of the things that I’ve seen with this program is, as the young women come through the program, some of them have skills, and some of them don’t have skills. And there’s elements that are missing, and that’s something that I want to try to help with, with Lattice Climbers.
Corey: So, what is Lattice Climbers in a nutshell? It’s still very early days, which is fine, terrific; the fact that you care enough about a problem that is clearly plaguing not just our industry, but arguably our entire society is worth exploring in-depth. And with the understanding that the narrative may very well shift as times go on what is Lattice Climbers today?
Guang Ming: So, Lattice Climbers steps into the gap between formal education and the skills necessary to actually adult at life, to survive in the real world.
Corey: That is an area that is of intense interest to me. For listeners who may not have listened to every single episode here, my academic background is checkered, to put it politely. On paper, I have an eighth-grade education and no one can take that away from me. I was expelled from two boarding schools in high school, I wound up getting a diploma from a homeschooling organization that years later I discovered was not accredited, then I failed out of college. But again, no one can take that eighth-grade education away from me.
But also look at me. I am a white dude in tech where my failure mode is a board seat and a book deal somewhere, and there are winds of privilege at my back when I do that. What also has been a strong contributing factor is that when I was 12 years old, my dad sat me down and had a long conversation with me about how to handle a job interview, what a job interview was—because when I was 12, I had no idea—and what they’re looking to gain from asking you these questions, and why they’re asking you the things that they do, what answers they’re looking for, and the purpose behind the meeting that you’re in. And that more than almost anything else as a single moment in my childhood shaped the reason that I became moderately successful [laugh] in my career, depending on what phase of my career we’re talking about. That’s stuff is super important and they don’t teach it formally in any program I’ve ever seen. How do you approach it?
Guang Ming: So, what we do is we have an intake quiz that assesses your skill gaps, sort of like a self-assessment, and then it gives you a customized curriculum just meant to fill your specific skill gaps. So professionalism, where we cover things like interview skills, behavior at events, table manners, those kinds of things. Financial literacy, we have little mantras like, “Credit cards are not free money,” [laugh] which some people never learned that. And then there’s different tracks, so depending on whether or not you’re college-bound, or vocational school, or military-bound, you can pick a different track for that and receive two-minute lessons, sort of the gems, distilled down. And there’s little animations; we try to keep it as brief and information-packed as possible.
Corey: Would it be fair to categorize this as more or less micro-lessons in how to adult?
Guang Ming: Exactly. That is exactly what we’re trying to do.
Corey: I somewhat recently read one of the best stories I’ve ever heard about teaching students in middle school about financial literacy. And invariably, the financial literacy courses are all sponsored by financial institutions, and that’s great. So, what happened was, someone from the bank came in and spoke to the students and then took them all to the bank and had them all open a bank account and deposit $5 into it. Great. A couple of years go by and it earns interest—not much because $5—the bank was then acquired and acquired again and eventually became rolled into Wells Fargo, and had a small balance fee, which then of course wiped out all of these accounts.
And I don’t think that there is any better lesson in the way the financial system works—in some ways—than that. And yes, that’s cynical, but that idea of, if you are sort of toward the bottom, this system is basically stacked against you in a bunch of different ways. Look, I’m not here to rail against capitalism or society as it stands, but understanding that basic concept is foundational to realizing that maybe the credit card company isn’t always your friend with your very best interests in mind.
Guang Ming: Mm-hm. And we tried to explain that, too, you that when you get a credit limit, that is based on what your ability to pay the minimum balance every month. They don’t care if you can pay it off. They care about making that interest off of you, and I think that’s something that children and young adults need to understand.
Corey: It feels like it ties into the idea of thinking critically. The problem with that is the root of that entire financial literacy anecdote that I came out with just now, is that the financial literacy program was developed and promoted by financial institutions. What I like is that I checked your website very briefly, and given the significant absence of a pile of disclosures at the bottom, I don’t believe you’re a bank.
Guang Ming: We are not a bank, and we are not sponsored by a bank. We want to provide practical real-life advice that is useful, and in digestible chunks.
Corey: A while back, before I wound up starting down the path that I’m on now, I basically yelled at people for fun on the internet. I know, imagine that. I was the moderator of two particular subreddits: personal finance—which, great, I spent my 20s in crippling debt; there’s no one as passionate about that stuff as someone who has been converted. Great. And the other was the legal advice subreddit, which is probably horrifying to people like you who are actual attorneys.
But it turns out that an awful lot of what I was doing in both of those subreddits was giving life advice to people on how to function in society. On the legal side of it, “You can’t sue a dog.” “Okay, you are not going to be able to go down to the police station and explain your way out of troubles. Get an attorney.” It’s baseline-level stuff.
“Oh, you’ve been given a contract that seems unreasonable, but they’d say that you need you to sign it.” “Yeah. How about don’t do that without having someone review it?” It’s not actually legal advice. It is how to function in society as an adult, but that’s a less catchy subreddit title as it turns out.
Guang Ming: Well, it’s all about raising your awareness level. So, I have a friend and she tells this story, MBA grad and spent her first six months on the job wearing sneakers every day to work—they were cute, fashionable sneakers, but they were sneakers—and they were not part of appropriate business attire for the work environment she was in because she just was oblivious to that as being an issue. And it took someone who was more senior to finally sit her down and say, “You shouldn’t do this. You need to wear appropriate shoes to work.” And she was mortified but learned from that experience.
So, what if you never had to have that? What if you never had to have that sit-down conversation with someone correcting you? What if you had a little, sort of, pocket guide that gave you that level of awareness? It’s like, “Take a look at your office. See what people are wearing. You can’t wear what the CEO is wearing because you’re not the CEO”—I mean, unless you are the CEO, then you can wear whatever you want, but if you’re just an underling at the company, if you’re just starting out, you need to understand what the company culture is and you need to conform to that culture. Unfortunately, that’s just, like… the truth of the matter.
Corey: The common wisdom is, “Oh, if you don’t know how to dress or how to behave in a certain scenario, reach out to one of your mentors and ask them for advice.” Not everyone has one of those things. I get some crap sometimes through it, but one of the big reasons I have open DMs on Twitter is specifically so people can message me and ask me questions about the industry generally, life in general; I’m always willing to talk to folks who are trying to figure things out. That’s important. Since a disproportionate number of the listeners to this show do work in tech and the idea of having a dress code is ridiculous, yeah, in a lot of tech culture at t-shirt and jeans is just fine, but in other cases, it’s not.
And, for example, I’ll get on stage wearing a full bespoke three-piece suit and give a talk. And it’s fun. It’s hilarious. It plays with people’s expectations, but it’s important to understand I view that more as costuming than I do how I believe someone should necessarily dress in that environment. I am, for better or worse, a very distinctive personality in this space, and using me as a blueprint for someone who is starting out their career is going to lead to disaster.
Yes, I’m mouthy and I make fun of big companies because that’s my thing. I also got fired an awful lot in—
Guang Ming: [laugh].
Corey: —my career, and those two things are not entirely unrelated, let’s be very clear here. There’s a lot that we can learn through observation, but dialing it in and figuring out what the expectations, are important.
Guang Ming: Well, I think a lot of young adults—one of the things we focus on, as well, is the importance of mentoring and finding good mentors. And then you being the kind of person that a mentor would want to mentor. Because I think there’s a lot of formal mentoring in work environments, and those don’t always work as well as the organic relationships. So, we want to be that mentor that you never knew that you needed, the mentor that you wish you always had, to give you all that baseline information so that when you do meet with your substantive mentor, they can truly help you in ways that we cannot with our scalable mentoring micro-lessons.
Corey: I have to ask, what is your revenue model? Because if this turns into charging kids money to learning these things, that has a giant exploitative flashing warning sign around it.
Guang Ming: So, what we’re planning to do is work with school districts and with nonprofits, and do sort of like a B2B model where we pilot with the school district, we pilot with the technical college, and give them an opportunity to add 30 to 50 students, work with the program. And if they find it something valuable, they find that it’s a value-add and it’s helping their students land jobs and have a better career, I think that then they’ll use our program for their full technical school.
Corey: I’m done a fair number of mentorships in the course of my career. I helped administer and run the LOPSA 00:13:43—or League Of Professional System Administrators—mentorship program for a couple of years. The reason that I have a career at all is that people did favors for me, and you can never repay that; you can only pay it forward. So, I had a number of people assigned to me through that program and through other areas as well, and what I’ve learned is that the success of a mentorship is almost entirely on the person seeking guidance: how diligent are they about following up, about going and asking great questions? Because otherwise, if someone comes and says, “Hey, can you mentor me?”—they never frame it quite like that, but that’s fine; the terminology is always squishy here.
Like, “Hey, can you give me advice on things?” “Sure.” And then they don’t ask any questions. Well, if I just butt in with unsolicited advice, that’s not helping them in a mentoring capacity; that’s being a dude on Twitter. So, I’m trying to figure out the way of solving for that, and I don’t know if there is an answer. What’s your take?
Guang Ming: I think that for many young people, there is a baseline level of information that they need, that almost any mentor can give, but it takes up a lot of time to get to that point. So, for example, I had a young woman reach out to me, and she wanted to get a foot in the door in the legal world and wanted some advice. And I couldn’t. It was like, pulling teeth. I couldn’t get her to say a word about herself. And our conversation lasted less than five minutes because I couldn’t get her to speak about herself.
And I almost let it end at that. But then I circled back with her a week later, and called her and said, “You know, I’m going to connect you to someone because I want to help you in your journey. But I need you to think before you get to that conversation about who you are, what you want, where you’re going, what’s your story. You know, I know just from the person who connected us that you’re the first in your family to go to college. Speak to that.” And just really tried to help her understand that she needed to craft a narrative around herself. And I think a lot of young adults don’t know how to craft that narrative.
Corey: The problem that I see when I look at this systemically is that all of this stuff seems like it’s very bespoke. It’s [spreading an 00:15:45] opportunity, but it is incumbent upon folks to learn about it for themselves. One of the most foundational memories of my ill-fated academic career was in public school for my first sophomore year of high school, where the US history teacher said, all right. Today, we’re not doing our traditional stuff, what I’m about to do is not in the curriculum. Please feel free to complain to your parents and then have them take it to the school board.
And what he did was he passed at a flyer where each one of us had different numbers on it, and it was a, “You are a family of x number of people; you made this much money last year.” And then he passed out 1040-EZ forms. And he taught us how to file a tax return in the course of that 45-minute session. And it was, instead of learning a series of whitewashed facts about American history, I was learning how to function as an adult in society. And the fact that he had to do this almost as a subversive thing as opposed to being an accepted part of the curriculum is just mind-boggling to me. I see what you’re doing is important and valuable, but it also in some level kind of feels like a band-aid over a massive societal failing. Is that accurate or am I missing something?
Guang Ming: No, I think that certain school districts are trying to do this, they’re trying to integrate financial literacy into calculus. Some schools will even offer a course, but the course isn’t an AP course; it doesn’t give you special credit, and so students don’t take it, or it’s viewed as a less valuable course even though it’s probably the most valuable course. And there’s also a level of embarrassment. Like, for certain things, we cover personal hygiene. The importance of brushing your teeth every day, and taking a shower, and wearing deodorant.
Which is something you wouldn’t necessarily think you would need to teach someone, but wait till you’re in certain work environments, and that is actually something that people need to know that they’re bothering their coworkers by this lack. That can be really embarrassing.
With Lattice Climbers, you can do this in the privacy of your own home, you can do it in your bedroom, you can do it wherever you are, and you can get these little lessons and not feel embarrassed. Or sometimes you are afraid to ask a question because you feel dumb asking it. When we did a pilot with 17-to 19-year-olds, the favorite video was actually making an appointment. Just giving tips on how to gather the appropriate documentation you would need to, say for example, make a doctor’s appointment, and sample scripts—we have downloadables that go along with—sample scripts of how a conversation would potentially run if you were to call.
Corey: The way you describe this and the problem you’re solving, I have a hard time seeing this as the business opportunity that becomes a $60 billion company because to do that, you would have to do something that is abjectly terrifying. So apparently, becoming rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice is not the reason that you’re doing this. What made you decide that this was a problem you wanted to address?
Guang Ming: So, I am the daughter of an immigrant and a first-generation college student. And there were so many things that my parents just didn’t know to teach me. They were very focused on academics and there was no focus on anything outside of book smarts. So, when I had my first college interview, my mom took me to the Fashion for Price Boutique next to the Drug Emporium in the strip mall near our home and bought me an interview suit—we didn’t have a ton of money—and the interview suit involved zebra print zippers and a very short skirt. And that is what I wore to my Harvard interview. The one [laugh] school I didn’t get into.
And not only that, not only was I dressed wholly inappropriately, I also was a deer in the headlights. I had never done a mock interview, I had never done anything that would help prepare me for this situation. And I look back at that 17-year-old and I think, “How can I help her? How can I help people like her who don’t have the social or cultural capital to know these things, to know how to move in the world that they want to be in desperately? How do I help them overcome that obstacle?” And that is how Lattice Climbers was born.
Corey: The idea of having an experience like that as being necessary to forge this is—it’s moving. It’s the sort of thing that you hear about other people—you [unintelligible 00:20:04] secondhand cringing from hearing that sort of story, at least I do. And I can definitely understand not wanting other folks to have to go through this. We talk about hilarious interview mistakes that we’ve made, that we’ve had candidates make, and in some cases, most of the ones that I like to talk about are the folks who are—let’s [unintelligible 00:20:23] here—25 years into their career or so, where they really should know better. Because making fun of some naive kid who’d never been in an interview scenario before is just being shitty, let’s be clear.
At some point, though, you should learn how to comport yourself in a working environment that makes sense. But without having mentorships or guidance like that, it feels like a lot of people have stories like this. I think what makes your story different than most of them is that you’re willing to talk about it in public. Most of us bury those things down the memory hole, I would think.
Guang Ming: Yes. I very much own the zebra print story, and it is something that I share when I speak at Girls State. I speak at Girls State just about every year to the young women, and I talk a lot about some of these things that we go over in Lattice Climbers to just try to impart, even in a six-minute speech, some of the key nuggets that I want them to take away with them, as they move through life.
Corey: Tell me a little more about Girls State. I’ve heard the term a couple of times, but know remarkably little about it because, for better or worse, my daughters are still at a point where—I regret this constantly—I have to know entirely too much about the Paw Patrol.
Guang Ming: So, Girls Day is a program sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. It is a week-long civic engagement program that simulates government over the course of one week. And for California Girls State, it is one girl from each sponsored high school, with about 540 young women—and of course, we’ve had to be virtual for the past couple of years, but they’ve done it in a webinar virtual sessions—and the program is all about women empowerment and encouraging civic engagement. And one of the things that has really impacted Lattice Climbers has been my observations in Girls State as a counselor for over 20 years. Because we work with young women from all different backgrounds, whether their parents are migrant workers in Modesto or doctors in Big Sur, there are gaps that these young women have that differ based on their backgrounds.
And what I’m hoping to do with Lattice Climbers is fill those gaps and help them avoid these missteps and increase their trajectory as they climb the lattice. And that is one thing that we do is we don’t talk about climbing the ladder because a ladder implies that there is one pathway to the top, there’s room for only one there. We approach it as you’re climbing a lattice: we’re all in it together and there are infinite paths to success.
Corey: All of these things that you talk about are challenging at the best of times, and these are very clearly not the best of times. One of the reasons that, to date, we at The Duckbill Group have not hired junior folks is because in a full-remote environment—and to be clear, even without the pandemic The Duckbill Group has been full-remote since its inception—I don’t know that’s necessarily the best way to expose someone new to the workforce. It feels to me like there’s not a lot of examples around there. There’s a requirement to be a lot more self-directed, and it’s likely, for example, that someone will get stuck and spin on something for a while rather than asking for help because they don’t want to appear like they don’t know what they’re doing and inadvertently make things worse. Do you think that remote as we move forward is going to be an increasing burden on folks like this, or—which I’m perfectly willing to accept—am I completely wrong, and that in fact having a full-remote environment like this is in fact a terrific opportunity for folks new to the workforce?
Guang Ming: No, I think full-remote is an issue. I think that it takes so much more emotional energy to connect through a video than it does to connect in person. And there’s also the lack of organic interactions. There are so many mentorships that develop just from walking down the hall and running into someone over coffee, or at the wat—I mean literally at the watercooler and having the opportunity to chat with someone about something non-work-related that can then evolve into a mentoring relationship. And there is just a lack of that.
All these young people entering the work environment, they can wear pajamas all day and lay in bed with their laptop on their laps and work, and they may love that, but I think that if you want to work in a professional office environment, you need to understand appropriate attire, you need to understand appropriate behavior at events. I think that, especially if you’re from certain backgrounds and you’ve never been around an open buffet before, it can be very tempting to just pile that plate as high as you can with crab legs or, you know, shrimp cocktail. And it’s not appropriate in that setting. And so we cover those—
Corey: Wait. It’s not?
Guang Ming: [laugh]. Well, it depe—if you’re the CEO of the company, Corey, you can do whatever you want.
Corey: No, no. That’s my business partner. I am just the chief cloud economist because it’s not professional to put the word shit-poster on a business card. Or so they tell me.
Guang Ming: [laugh].
Corey: In my experience, the worst of all worlds, though, is not the full-remote; it’s not the in-office; it’s the hybrid scenario where you have some people that are in an office together working and then you have folks who are remote, and regardless of what your intentions are, it is almost impossible to avoid having a striated structure where the in-person folks collaborate in different ways and make decisions informally to which remote folks are not privy. And it’s not to do with cliques or anything like that, but the watercooler discussions, or, “I’m going to go grab lunch. Do you want to come with me?” Type of engagement stories. And I can’t shake the feeling that remote really needs to be all or nothing, at least within the bounds of a team, if not company-wide.
Guang Ming: I think that a hybrid version could work if there was a concerted effort to include the remote individuals if there was a scheduled Zoom happy hour. So, one of the things that happened during the COVID times is there’s a group that I’m a part of, and we just had a happy hour on Saturday nights. At 8 p.m. everyone just kind of logged on and hung out for a period of time. And it was really good to connect with people in that casual environment; there wasn’t always pressure to speak, there wasn’t always pressure to perform, it was just being together and having that togetherness. So, I think that in a work environment, you could create opportunities for that. And then also, I think, bringing people into the office for specific meetings and things that are important like that. And then potentially—I don’t like assigning mentors, but I think you almost have to assign mentors when you have remote workforce.
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Corey: The challenge also becomes one of, great for junior folks, that makes an awful lot of sense. Hire someone with 15 years of experience, and, “Oh, we’re going to assign you a mentor here.” And they’re like, “Oh, really. So, that’s what condescending means. I was always looking for a perfect example.”
Guang Ming: [laugh].
Corey: That’s a delicate balance to strike in my experience.
Guang Ming: Oh, very true. Very true. I was thinking more of, like, the young adults starting out in their career because our focus is really early career, as well as young adults in high school.
Corey: And that’s, I guess, my question for you next is why is that the target age range that you think is best served by this? Now, having, again, spent too much time gazing into the mess that is the Paw Patrol, I understand why preschoolers are not the target market for this, but my approach has generally been targeting folks who are entering the workforce. Although let’s be very clear, a large part of that is because I generally don’t appreciate the optics of going and hanging out at the local high school trying to talk to kids.
Guang Ming: Well, I think that high school is really where it starts. This is the age at which brains are starting to develop a little bit more; they’re starting to have more social awareness. This is where beginnings of your network are important. And I think that the sooner that we can convey to young people that they’re only as strong as their networks, the better. If they can understand that it’s their teachers, their coaches, the parents of their friends are all the beginnings of their network.
That’s how you get internships, that’s how you get a leg up is through these connections because if you’re just a resume floating out there, your chances of getting looked at—and we all know how the world works—well, we should all know how the world works, which is it’s all about your connections that helps you launch to the next thing.
Corey: That’s the thing that I think is understated in this is that we wind up telling students a whole bunch of things that are well-intentioned lies. The, “Oh, put your nose to the grindstone and work hard, and one day you will surely be promoted.” Now, I get flack when I say this sometimes from folks who’ve been at the same company for 15 years and demonstrated growth trajectory internally, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Big moves generally look a lot like transitioning between companies.
“Oh, you don’t want to be a job hopper. It looks bad on the resume.” Yeah, you know who says that? People who don’t want you to quit your job because you’re unhappy because then they have to backfill you, or people who are trying to recruit you in and want to make sure that you when you show up at this new job, you stay there for a while. It’s self-serving.
Yeah, there’s going to be some questions about it in the interview process, but you should have an answer ready to go for it. It’s the interview skills piece of it and make sure that you don’t inadvertently torpedo your own candidacy with conversations like that. And this is stuff that I find that is—it’s not just the newer generation that we’re talking about here; people well into their careers still haven’t cracked a lot of these codes, mostly because, for better or worse, it turns out that people aren’t nearly as cynical [laugh] about things as I am.
Guang Ming: Well, and we also cover things like how to leave a job professionally. Because as we live in a world where you’re not going to go work for one company for the next 30 years, or where you shouldn’t go work for the same company for 30 years necessarily, but there are stories out there of people just ghosting on the job, ghosting on job interviews, and that burns bridges. And everyone you meet is a potential connection in your network as you climb the lattice, and so you need to preserve those relationships moving forward because you never know who you help out along the way, or who helps you out along the way, you never know how that connection is going to play out later on in life.
Corey: That’s the trick is that it’s talking to people and being friendly with them. And there are ways to do networking properly in my world, and there are ways not to. And, “Oh, I should talk to you because down the road you might be useful to me,” is just cynical and terrible. I hate the pattern.
Whereas, I like keeping in touch with people because I find them interesting. My default assumption has always been that I’m going to be talking to someone for longer than either one of us is going to be doing whatever it is we’re currently doing, and trying to treat relationships as transactional is a mistake. But that’s what networking is often interpreted as.
Guang Ming: It’s so true. And people can tell. They can tell when you’re being fake. They can tell when you’re being transactional. They can tell when you just are waiting for the ask.
I think it actually is really hard to be genuine and natural for some people that comes across as transactional, and one of the ways that we talked about avoiding that is through just an ongoing relationship. So, you don’t only reach out to the person when you have an ask, you reach out to the person quarterly. And you can have a spreadsheet—almost—about it, and of the people that you want to contact and maintain cont—and even if it’s just a text message that says, “Hey, this is what I’m up to. Hope all is well with you.” And even if they don’t respond, or just it’s a one-word answer, you’ve at least had that touchpoint with them over the course of time.
Corey: There’s often a criticism levied at folks who are advocating for networking, that it is a lot harder when you’re an introvert or when you are neurodivergent, in certain ways. To be clear, I’ve neurodivergent in ways that do not directly negatively impact my ability to socialize with folks; it just means they think I’m a jerk. But there are folks who definitely have different expressions of different divergences. And that’s fine. How do you view the networking aspect for folks who do not work nearly as well interpersonally?
Guang Ming: That’s so hard because interpersonal skills are something that is so necessary, and I think that unfortunately, there are people who get by one hundred percent on their social skills. Like, their people skills are all they need to move forward in the world. And I think that you have to work at it, and you have to study how to behave in those situations. It’s almost like—so for example, my husband is an introvert, but he was also an actor in college. And when he goes into these situations, it’s almost like putting on a show.
Like you talked about putting on your three-piece suit. There is the extrovert persona that he wears in these environments, and then he takes it off when he gets home. And I think that you almost have to create that persona for yourself. And you can acknowledge that you’re neurodivergent, and you can acknowledge that you’re an introvert, and I think that’s way more acceptable these days than it used to be. And there are lots of people that are in the world that are neurodivergent and are introverts, and so I think it’s completely fine to be that way.
Corey: I’ve never had a good answer for folks who ask those questions, just because it is so different from my lived experience that I don’t have an answer that’s worth listening to, and I try very hard to stay in my lane. I don’t ever want that to be interpreted as it’s not important because it very much is.
So, one last question I have for you is I love, love, love your zebra print suit story, but it’s also back when you were applying to school, back in early career, which you are very clearly not now; it’s decades old. Do you have any other similar stories from folks that you’ve been working through, either at Lattice Climbers or through Girls State, that illustrate this in a somewhat more modern era?
Guang Ming: Oh, absolutely. So, there was a young woman at Girls State; we were all in a room and they were talking about colleges, the girls were talking about colleges. And this one young woman remains silent during this conversation. And so I approached her. I said, “Well, what about you? What are your plans for college?” And she shared that she wasn’t going to go to college because her parents didn’t go to college, they didn’t have a lot of money, and she just didn’t think that college was in the cards for her.
And I disabused her of that notion. I told her absolutely not. You’re here at Girls State, which means you’re the top girl from your high school. You absolutely should go to college, and I told her that there were so many paths to college. You could go to community college and then transfer; you could go to technical college; there’s so many different options.
And there’s so many scholarships out there, especially for low-income individuals. Well, we became friends on social media, and about three years after Girls State—because they attend the summer after their junior years—I received a message from her, sort of, out of the blue, and she let me know that that conversation that we had changed her life because she had gone to community college—she had taken my advice; she had gone to community college and had just been accepted as a transfer student to UC Berkeley. And that story just makes me tear up every time I think about it. And that one conversation had that huge impact on her life, and I’m hoping that through Lattice Climbers and our little lessons, that we can have that kind of impact on young lives, that we can help them avoid these missteps that could have huge impacts on their trajectory, and we could help them increase their trajectory on the lattice.
Corey: It’s similar in some respects to the folks I talk to who are building products for the cloud industry. It’s, “Yes, yes, of course. You’re always going to have a story about how it works for you. That’s fine. Let’s talk about your customers.” Like, “Find me a customer, someone else in the world who has a story like this that really demonstrates the value you provide.”
And I love the fact that it is so easy for you to come up with these things off the top of your head, even when you weren’t necessarily expecting the question. So, you’re onto something. This is a clear problem, and it’s not going away anytime soon, and it’s largely underserved because there’s no opportunity to invest venture capital into it and make a ridiculous return on that investment because there’s not money in solving it that I can see—and apparently, most the industry can see—compared to another Twitter for Pets app.
Guang Ming: [laugh]. Well, there is not that much money in them there hills because no one owns the problem, and because no one owns the problem, it’s very hard to find people willing to pay to solve the problem. But that doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t there and that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be solved. And I actually think that companies should have an incentive to do it because it will help with employee retention, it will help with employee performance if they do invest in their workers, and in high school students who, the sooner that they know these things, the better it will be for their long-term careers.
Corey: And if nothing else, I think that’s the lesson to take away from this for the young folk—the youth, as it were—that this is the single greatest thing I look at and credit my professional trajectory has been in learning to handle expectations in corporate environments. And sure, I have fun with them and I play games with them, but you have to know the rules before you can break them in this context. And there are business meetings in which I assure you, you would question whether it was the same person. And that’s what it comes down to, I think, on some level is, if you know how to handle a job interview, you will always be able to find something to put food on the table. Conversely, if you’re terrific at any number of different things, but absolutely cannot handle the dynamics of a job interview, you are going to struggle to find work anywhere until you find someone willing to alter their corporate process just in order to bring you aboard.
It’s a skill that you need to be at least conversant with. And what makes it even worse, as it’s a skill that you only really get to practice when you’re looking for jobs. I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me so much about all this stuff. If people want to learn more about what you’re up to and how you’re approaching it, where can they find you?
Guang Ming: So, we are at latticeclimbers.com
. And we are currently in waitlist mode, so you can sign up on our waitlist and get more information about when we’re ready to launch. We are working with some nonprofits and some school districts on some pilot programs, and we’re hoping to have that going, hopefully by the end of the year.
Corey: And we will, of course, put a link to that in the [show notes 00:38:07]. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I really appreciate it.
Guang Ming: Well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to share what we’re doing with Lattice Climbers, and I just hope, like I said, if I can get one person to not wear zebra print to that Harvard interview, [laugh] then I will view Lattice Climbers as a success.
Corey: [laugh]. Excellent. Thank you so much. Once again, Guang Ming Whitley, co-founder of Lattice Climbers. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with a rambling comment explaining why we’re wrong and that a zebra-print suit for a college interview is in fact a best practice.
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