Today’s guest is the source of what Corey considers some of the most “horrifying feedback” he has ever gotten from his audience. Namely, that one of his Twitter threads was the catalyst for the change in the course of a career. But, thankfully it was for the better, and Johnny Podhradsky, Technical Program Manager for Offboard Infrastructure at Waymo, is here to tell us why.
Johnny talks about being a TPM, what exactly it is, and all that at a self-driving car company. Johnny takes a crack at working in a space where the outcome isn’t always tangible and at hand, and how he interprets that as an “anti-entropy agent”. Johnny reflects on Corey’s well timed Twitter thread that caused a major career shift. Johnny’s refreshing perspectives on program management, combating entropy, structuring your life and work, and more are wise beyond his years!
Johnny was born in Cleveland, OH and graduated from the University of Toledo with a Bachelor's in Computer Science Engineering. He began his career as a software engineer focused on embedded device protocols and systems engineering. Eventually he realized that Program Management worked better with the grain of his brain, so he took his career in that direction.
In 2019, he was hired by Google Cloud to serve as a Communications Lead on their incident management teams. Most recently, he joined Waymo in November 2021 as a Technical Program Manager, acting as an anti-entropy agent for the self-driving car company's offboard infrastructure teams.
Outside his day job, Johnny enjoys mountain biking, playing piano and trumpet, personal finance, coaching, and studying complex systems. He currently lives in Sunnyvale, CA with his wife Emily, and is expecting their first child in April 2022!
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. Every once in a while I get feedback from people who I’ve encountered who are impacted in various ways. Most of it is feedback delivered of the kind you might expect, like, “Unsubscribe me from this newsletter,” or, “Block,” or sometimes bricks thrown through my window. But occasionally, I get some truly horrifying feedback, and far and away one of the most horrifying things I can ever be told is, “So, I was reading one of your tweet threads and it changed the course of my career.”
It’s like, “Oh, dear,” because nothing good is going to happen after something like that. It’s, “Yeah, they were going to name
something terrible here at AWS, so I ran over my boss in the parking lot,” is sort of what I’m expecting to hear. But I got that exact feedback about life-changing tweet threads from today’s guest. We’ll get into what that tweet thread was a little bit, but let’s first let the other person talk for a minute. Johnny Podhradsky is a technical program manager at Waymo. Specifically, of Offboard Infrastructure. Johnny, thanks for suffering through a long, painful introduction, as well as, more or less, the slings and arrows that invariably come with being on the show.
Johnny: Thanks, Corey. I’m grateful to be here.
Corey: So, first things first. I always like to find out what people actually do for a living that is usually a source of entertainment, if nothing else. You are a technical program manager—or TPM as they say in tech companies—of Offboard Infrastructure. I’m assuming because Waymo, is at least theoretically, a self-driving car company, ‘offboard’ means things that are not on the vehicle themselves.
Johnny: That’s exactly right. Yeah.
Corey: Fantastic. Now, ask the dumb question because I’m still not sure I have an answer after however many years in this industry. What does a technical program manager do?
Johnny: [laugh]. I get that question a lot. Often people try to distinguish between what’s a technical program manager do versus what does a product manager do.
Corey: Or a project manager, too, because there’s a lot of different ways it can express itself, and I’m a PM, and it’s, “Oh, wonderful. That’s like four different acronyms I can disambiguate into and I’m probably going to get it wrong.”
Johnny: And to make it even more confusing, it varies company by company. So, just focus in on specifically what I do as a technical program manager, I’m an anti-entropy agent, right? I make sure things stay on track, specifically embedded into technical teams. So, I have a degree in engineering; I’m able to speak fluently about technology. And the entire idea, the entire purpose of my existence is to make sure that things don’t fall apart. So, I’m keeping track of people and resources; I’m keeping track of overall timelines; risks and mitigations for programs that are ongoing, whether they’re small with just a few people or cross-org, cross-functional teams; serving as an unblocker and making sure that all the dependencies that exist between the various tasks in the teams are addressed ahead of time so that we know what needs to be done when.
Corey: It’s one of those useful almost glue functions, it feels like that is, “Well, what have you actually built? Point at the thing you’ve constructed yourself from your hands on your keyboard?” And it’s hard to do and it’s very nebulous, when you’re not directly able to point to a website, for example. “Yeah, you see that button in the corner? I made that button.” Great.
Like, that’s the visceral thing that people can wrap their heads around. Project and program management feels to me like one of those areas that, in theory, you don’t need those people to be a part of building anything, but in practice you very much do. Another example of this—from my own history, of course—is operations because in theory, you just have developers write code correctly the first time and then they leave it where it is and it never needs to be updated again, and there’s no reason to have operations folks. Yeah. As they say, the difference between theory and practice is that in theory, there is none.
Johnny: I’ll buy that. Yeah, when it comes to actual, I mean, digital, but physical deliverables and things that you can show that you’ve done, there are standards that you can have with documentation, like Gantt charts and risk registers and all that sort of thing, but it is very much a glue role. It is very much a gentle nudge to get things done. And it really revolves around the transparency and making sure that the people who are invested in the success of whatever it is that you’re doing program-wise are aware of what’s going on as far ahead of time as possible. That’s why I like to consider it sort of an anti-entropy role because things will just naturally go off the rails if no one is there to help guide them.
I mean, that doesn’t happen in every situation, of course, but having someone dedicated to the role of making sure that things are moving according to a good rhythm is a critical role. And it just so happens that that is sort of the way the grain of my brain works and I discovered that throughout the course of my career.
Corey: So, let’s get back to the reason you originally reached out to me. I think that is always an interesting topic to explore because whenever someone says, “Wow, your tweet really helped me with my career,” I get worried. Because as I said before, I am one of the absolute best in the world at getting myself fired from jobs, so when it comes to being a good employee, mostly my value is as a counter-example of advice I’ll give [unintelligible 00:05:49] job interviews. For example, when they say something condescending and rude, insult them right back because A, it’s funny, and that plays well on Twitter. And B, interviews are always two-way streets, and if they’re going to treat you like crap, you don’t want to work there anyway, so you may as well have some fun with it. But a lot of what I say doesn’t really lend itself to the kind of outcomes that lead to happy employment scenarios. So, I’ve got to ask, what the hell did I say?
Johnny: Yeah, it was kind of serendipitous. I’m in a number of Slack communities, one of them being the Cleveland Tech Slack—if you’re in Cleveland or around Cleveland, I highly recommend it—and someone just randomly posted this thread right in the middle of me interviewing at Waymo. So, previously before Waymo, I was at Google, and I loved my job. I loved the team that I was on, I loved the—I mean, I was still very much in the honeymoon phase of Silicon Valley. I had moved to Silicon Valley from Cleveland in 2019 with my then fiance.
And so I was just, you know, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and everything was just incredible to me; why would I ever consider leaving this? So, I had an interview at Waymo and I ended up getting an offer and I just didn’t know whether I should take it. Because I loved where I was at and I really enjoyed the opportunities, so it was just, you know, ten out of ten. One of the things that I was thinking about then was, you know, I kept thinking back to our first team dinner where our teammates were sharing their stories of their careers. And my mentor, Ted, had mentioned how he had worked on the iPhone at Apple and was in the same room with Steve Jobs.
And me being a Cleveland boy, just it sounded like, “Whoa.” My eyes got really big like dinner plates. And it’s just like, “I’m sitting at a table with people who have done these things with these people.” And I was wondering, like, what did that mean for my career? And so where did I want to take my career and have those kinds of stories? So fast-forwarding, you know, I was interviewing at Waymo; I ended up getting the offer. And I was just on the fence; I couldn’t decide if that was the way I wanted to go, if I really wanted to leave my amazing job at Google.
Corey: What was holding you back on that? Was it a sense of well you want to be disloyal to the existing team? You were thriving in the role you’re in? Was it the risk of well, I don’t know how I’ll do in a different company solving different problems? What was it that was holding you back?
Johnny: It was all of those. When you do an apples-to-apples comparison, you don’t really know what you’re getting into when you’re going to a new company, and that’s part of why your thread was so critical in making my decision. Just to say exactly what you said in the tweet, “So, an anonymous Twitter person DM’ed me this morning with a scenario. Quote, ‘I work at a large cloud company that makes inscrutable naming decisions, and I have an offer elsewhere for 35% more. Should I take it?’” to which you said, “Oh, good heavens, yes. A thread.”
What followed is a number of questions that you asked exactly like you just asked now and your short answers to them. And they were just so on point and so quick, and it was so serendipitous for me to see that because this ended up being the tipping point that made me decide that, yes, this is the direction that I want to go. And you know, I’m—let’s see, I started in November, so five months into the role. It was more than I ever expected; it’s harder than I ever expected, but I’m growing so much, I’m getting a ton of eustress, if you’re familiar with that concept of the positive stress that makes your muscles grow. And just wanted to give back to you and in thanks and gratitude for being that tipping point. And that thread definitely led me down this path, so thank you for that.
Corey: It’s interesting because so far as of this recording, there are no two podcast episodes that came out of that thread because, to be clear, this was the thread-summary of a half-hour conversation I had with the person who messaged me about whether or not she should take the role. Because her manager had gone to bat for her to give her a raise and… yeah, she wanted to be loyal and show thanks for that. Which I get, but the counterpoint to that is okay, you turn down the offer out of loyalty. Great. A month goes by.
Now, your manager tells you that he or she is leaving to go work at a different company. Well, that opportunity is gone. Now, what? When it comes to career management, you can’t love a company because the company can’t ever love you back. And I got some pushback on that from Brian Hall, the VP of Product Marketing at Google Cloud—something about Google seems to be inspiring feedback on this one—because he spent something like 20 years at Microsoft and learned how to work within an organization, and then transfer jobs a couple of times to Amazon, they tried to non-compete lawsuit him on the way out—because, I don’t know, his PowerPoints were just that amazing or something, or they’re never going to replace his ability to name services badly—who knows why.
But he took the other position on this. And I’m not saying that my way is always right, it is provably not, as a self-described terrible employee, but it really is interesting that that’s the thing that resonated the most. I take a very mercenary approach to my career and I’m not convinced that’s at all the best way, but when someone dangles a significant opportunity in front of you, I always take the view that it’s better to explore and learn something about yourself if it appeals and the rest of the stars tend to align. And there’s a certain reluctance to go out and try new things, but it’s not like you’re leaving your family. It’s not like you’re selling out people who’ve come to depend on you.
Employment is fundamentally a business transaction and the company is never going to be able to have any sort of feeling for you, so you shouldn’t necessarily have this sense of loyalty, and oh, it’d be it would leave the team in the lurch if I left. That is the company’s problem to deal with. No one is irreplaceable.
Johnny: Yeah, and a lot of times when you were talking there, you talked about ‘the company, the company,’ but really, it’s the people that you’re working with that—and that was really what was weighing on me the most. I found myself in the same position. I had just recently gotten promoted. You know, my manager, and my team had gone to bat for me a lot, and so it’s hard for me to walk away. But it was ultimately the strong relationships that I had built with the team and my managers over time that allowed me to make this step because as a program manager, I’m always thinking that anything I work on needs to survive multiple generations of stakeholders.
So, everything that I do on a day-to-day basis has a breadcrumb trail, so that, hey, if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, someone with minimal amount of effort, can pick that up and move forward. And I’ve actually built that mindset into my entire career. Walking away from a role, you know, it’ll always leave a gap, it’ll always be challenging for the people and the teams around you, especially if you, you know, have a great affection for them, but by setting myself up to exit and still being there, since you know, Waymo is within the Alphabet companies and I can still talk with my old team, it wasn’t like I was completely leaving; I was kind of still there if I needed to be, if they needed help or needed to find something. But I can definitely see what how that would be challenging moving to a totally different company. But yeah, it’s really important that if you’re thinking about exiting, you have a good exit plan. And I’m all about planning as a program manager, and that just helped kind of grease the wheels a little bit.
Corey: I want to call it my own bias. You’re right, I use the term team and company interchangeably because that’s been my entire career. I, right now, have 12 employees here at The Duckbill Group and it is indistinguishable for me to make any meaningful distinction between team and company. Personally, I’m also not allowed to leave the company, given that I own it, and it looks really bad to the rest of the team if I decide, yeah, I’m going to go do something else now. People don’t like playing games with their future.
You’re on the exact opposite end of a very wide spectrum. It’s not that Google slash Alphabet is a big company, but you went from working on cloud computing to self-driving cars and you didn’t leave the company, you’re still at the same place as far as the benefits, the tenure, the organization, the name on the paycheck in all likelihood, and a bunch of other niceties as well. It almost presents is looking a little bit more like a transfer than it does leaving for a brand new job slash company.
Johnny: It definitely was a soft landing to go from Google to Waymo. There were a lot of risks—again, talking about risks and mitigations—that I was concerned about that we’re just kind of alleviated by the fact that okay, you can keep your same health care plan and various other things. So, that made it a soft landing for me. But yeah, it really was just making sure that the thing that I was working on at Google was able to be carried forward by the team and the people that I really enjoyed working with. So.
Corey: As you went through all of this, you said that you were in Ohio before you wound up taking the job at Google—
Johnny: Yeah, Cleveland [crosstalk 00:14:22].
Corey: —and one of the best parts about Ohio [unintelligible 00:14:22] family and spending time there is you get to leave at some point. And—
Corey: There was a large part of that of, great. I felt the same way growing up in Maine, let’s be very clear here, where when I came to California, it was going to this storied place out of legend. And that was wild. And once your worldview expands, it feels very
hard to go back again. At least for me.
It took me years to really internalize that if this particular job or this particular path didn’t work out, my failure mode—if you want to call it that—was not and then I return to Maine with my tail between my legs and go back to the relatively dead end retail fast food job that I was working before, comparatively. No. It’s like, you go in a different direction; you apply the skill set; you have the stamp of validation on you. I mean, you have something working for you that I never did, which is the legitimacy of a household name on your resume. Whereas you look at mine, it’s just basically a collection of, “Who are they again?” And, “You make that company up?”
Which, fine, whatever. There’s a bias in tech—particularly—towards big company names because that’s a stamp of approval. You’ve already got that. The world is very much your oyster when it comes to solving the type of problem that you’ve been aimed at. I’m used to thinking about this from a almost purely technical point of view.
Johnny: So, part of the way that program managers can be successful is through anticipating what’s coming next and understanding not only the patterns that were implanted over time, but also thinking ahead. And this actually kind of takes me back to why I learned program management in the first place. Pretty early in my life, I started feeling a great deal of anxiety, especially thinking towards future situations, or, you know, even in the present moment. I mean, we’ve all been through it right? Right before the big test, you’re feeling anxious; maybe talking to your crush—or before you talk to your crush—you’re feeling this anticipatory anxiety; in hindsight replaying that interview that you just went through.
For me, I was kind of like, constantly stuck in this future-state mode about being anxious about what’s coming next, and that combined with ADHD—which is something that I also have—is kind of a wicked combination. And we can talk about that separately, but once I started understanding what program management did and how program management allowed businesses to keep things on track, I realized that there was a parallel into my own life there. The skill of program management actually became my defense against the crippling anxiety that I felt anticipating future events. And it’s really become kind of the primary lens by which I understand and synthesize the world around me. And I know that sounds kind of weird, but with ADHD, I have a tendency to either being total diffuse mode and just working on nothing in particular, and letting my attention take me, or being in hyperfocus mode. And when you’re hyper-focused and anxious, it can be a deadly combination, right?
So, what I learned was taking that hyperfocus and taking that idea of program management and figuring out what it takes to get from here to there. I’m a strong believer in go as far as you can see, and when you get there, you’ll see further. And this skill of program management kind of becomes the stepwise function by which I get to that later point, very much like you were saying with coming to Waymo: You never know what you’re going to get until you get there. Well, now I see further and in hindsight, it was the right decision. So, the concept of program management is bringing structure, is bringing order, is bringing hierarchy to the chaos and uncertainty that we all naturally navigate in whatever we’re doing and trying to transmute that into some kind of transparent order and rhythm, not only for my own benefit to reduce my overall anxiety, but also for the benefit of everyone else who’s interested in what’s going on. Does that answer your question?
Corey: No, it absolutely does. Dealing with ADHD has been sort of what I’ve been struggling with my entire life. I was lucky and got diagnosed very early, but I always thought it was an aspect of business, but in many respects, it’s not just about owning a business; it’s about any aspect of your career, where the hardest thing you’re ever going to have to do, on some level, is learn to understand and handle your own psychology where there are so many aspects of how things happening can impact us internally. I can’t control what event happens next, of people yelling at me on Twitter, or I get a cease and desist from Amazon after they finally realized five years in, “You’re not nearly as funny as we thought you were. Stop it.”
Great. I can deal with those things, but the question is how I’m going to handle what happens in that type of eventuality? It’s, am I going to spiral into a bitter depression? Am I going to laugh it off and keep going on things that are clearly working? Am I going to do something else? And so much of it comes from—at least in my experience—the ability to think through what’s going on in a somewhat dispassionate way, and not internalize all of it to a point where you freeze. It’s way easier said than done, I want to be very clear on this.
Johnny: That’s absolutely right. Stepping back, seeing the forest for the trees. I’ve recently become fascinated with systems thinking. You know, I’m in Silicon Valley, so I might as well start looking into a complex adaptive systems—
Corey: Oh, no.
Johnny: —[crosstalk 00:21:09] buzzword. We don’t have to go down that thread because I’m very much an amateur when it comes to it, but what it does is it forces you to look at the connections between the components rather than the reductionism approach of let’s look at this component, let’s look at this component… instead, it forces you to step back and see the system as a whole. And so when you’re responding to you just got a cease and desist, you know, of course you’re going to feel depression, of course you’re going to feel anxiety, and understanding all those as part of the system of experiencing that situation, it lets you kind of step back and say, okay, it’s normal to be feeling this, it’s normal to be feeling that. How can I harness these and structure my approach so that I can get to some further point where I not only know what I can do, and what options are available to me, but I have a clear path forward and strategy for how I want to approach this.
Corey: How long have you been in your career at this point?
Johnny: So, I graduated college in 2009. And I worked at my first company for about ten years from 2005, so I guess you could say 17 years, plus or minus, if you don’t count internships.
Corey: Looking back, it’s easy to look at where we are at any given point in our career and feel that, oh, well, here’s where I started, and here’s where I am now, and here are the steps I took along the way where there’s a sense of plodding inevitability to it. But there never is because when you’re in the moment, in the eternal now that we live in, it’s there are millions of things you could do next. If you were to be able to go back to your to talk to yourself at the beginning of your career, what would you do differently? What advice would you give yourself that would have really helped out early on?
Johnny: You know, I think the thing that gave me the most leverage in my career was—as I move forward—is seeking out communities of like-minded, positive people. On the surface, that sounds a little shallow; of course, you would want to seek out communities, but what I’ve observed is that the self-organizing communities that pop up around technologies, or ideas, or roles, their communities of people who want to help you succeed. And I think, you know, one of the ways I reached out to you and was able to contact you was through one of these communities, right? So, you know, I talked a little bit the Cleveland Tech Slack earlier; most people aren’t familiar with what mediums are even available. There’s Discord, there’s forums, there’s Slack, there’s probably other areas that I’m not aware of, where you can find people who will help you find that next step in your career.
Actually [laugh] I got my first taste of community in online video games, so—
Corey: Oh no.
Johnny: —playing World of Warcraft back in 2003, you know you would have a guild—I was, gosh, how old was I in 2003, basically, early-20s and, you know, you’d have a guild of 40 people trying to coordinate all over one single voice chat server. And there was various groups and subdivisions, and so that was almost a project management exercise in itself. That’s where I first learned project management. By the way, I have a sneaking suspicion that the roles that we play and that we are have an affinity for in video games mirror the roles that were best suited to play in life. So, I find myself playing a support class in League of Legends or a priest in World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online. I’m always that support person, the glue that helps keep things moving. And surprise, that’s exactly what I do for my career. And it works perfectly. So.
Corey: The accountant I keep playing gets eaten by goblins constantly, but, you know—
Corey: —that’s the joy that I suppose.
Johnny: So, pretty early on, I developed this skill of creating friendships, and those friendships, in turn opened me up to these new communities. So, if I were to give one piece of advice to my early self, it would be to put more emphasis on finding and seeking out the communities that consists of people who are interested in the things that you’re interested in, but also are willing to help you get to where you want to go. How do you succeed? Well, you find someone who is doing what you want and you talk to them. About it and you figure out how to get to where you’re at from where you’re at.
And maybe they can’t help you, maybe they can help you but, you know, we have a unique ability to crowdsource our questions, whether it’s on Reddit, whether it’s on Slack or Discord, and just say, “Hey, I’m thinking about this thing. Does anyone have any thoughts?” You’re immediately—you know, if you ask the question correctly—given five or six different opinions, and then you can kind of meld and understand, okay, here are the options. Again, going back to what we were saying about how do you even decide what the next steps are? You can crowdsource that now, and so the one piece of advice that I would give is to seek out
communities of like-minded positive people.
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Corey: And I think the positivity is important. There’s a lot as particularly in tech, that breeds a certain cynicism that breeds a contempt almost. And Lord knows, I’m not one to judge; I revel in a lot of that when it comes to making fun of companies’ ridiculous marketing and some of the nonsense we have to deal with, but it has to be tempered. You can’t do what some of the communities I started out with did. IRC, learn how to configure Debian or FreeBSD, where it was generally, “Oh, great, someone else joined? Let’s see what this dumbass wants.”
It doesn’t work that way. It’s like just waiting for someone to ask a question so you can sink the knives in is not helpful. Punch up, not down. And making people feel welcomed and valued, even if they don’t understand the local behavioral norms quite yet is super important. I’m increasingly discovering, as I suspect you are as well, that I’m older than I thought were when I talk to folks who are just starting their careers about here’s how to manage a career, here’s how to think about this, I am veering dangerously close to giving actively harmful advice, if I’m not extraordinarily careful because the path that I walked is very much closed.
It is a different world; there are different paths; there’s a different societal understanding of technology and its place in the world. There’s a—what worked for me does absolutely not work the same way for folks who aren’t wildly over-represented. And I increasingly have to back off lest I wind up giving the, I guess, career Boomer advice style of irrelevant and actively harmful stuff. How are you thinking about that?
Johnny: So, I guess that kind of gets into the underpinnings of what I think it takes to be successful, right, and how do you find success in any aspect of your career? And—
Corey: And what is success?
Johnny: It differs for every person—yeah, what is success? And we were talking just before the show about how every person experiences not only what is success, but what does success mean and what do you believe the key is differently. For me—and this is pretty on—brand with where I am in my career and what I do—is I think the key to success is preparation. And it really ties into finding those communities and asking those questions, right?
There’s three key aspects to it, right? First is understanding how you learn. Everyone learns differently, and so knowing how you learn—and you know, college and school is kind of meant to kind of eke that out; it’s how best do you learn? How best can you succeed with these tasks that we give you, study for this test, learn these concepts? If you can understand how you learn, that’s the first step in preparing correctly, right, building your personal knowledge systems around that, taking notes, ordered hierarchy, structured thinking, that sort of thing.
Knowledge management is a good field, if you ever have some time to figure out what you want to do with your external hard drive of your whiteboard like I have back behind me here. The second aspect is just mastering how to seek out information, right? So, how do you prepare? Well, you have to understand how to seek out information. You mentioned, you know, positive communities versus potentially cynical or toxic communities. Their opinions are still very valid.
They might be jaded and they might provide a cynical opinion, but you still need to encompass that within the spectrum of your understanding of the world, right, because they have something that happened to them, or they have some experience that still is very valid from their perspective. So, seeking out information, understanding the people and the tools at your disposal, the communities that you can go to knowing how to discern the signal from the noise. And again, that’s really where your thread that really helped me—because you nailed a bunch of the questions that I just wasn’t entirely sure on in that Twitter thread, and when I went through that, it hit some of the major points that I was just uncertain on, and you just gave very clear, albeit, you know,
somewhat tongue in cheek cynical advice, to say like, don’t worry about the company, worry about yourself. And that really was
helping me get to that next step.
And then lastly, how do you prepare? And this is the one I always struggle with. It’s calibrating your confidence barometer. What
does that even mean? How can you calibrate your own barometer of your confidence? It’s a knowingness; it’s knowing what to expect.
And so for example, when I was getting into Google, I had no idea what to expect in terms of the interviews. So, what’s the first thing I do? I go out and I ask a bunch of people, people who know people who are at Google people who are at Google, what do I expect? What should I prepare for? What communities should I join? What books should I read? What YouTube videos should I
I ended up finding a book called Cracking the PM Interview by Gayle—I think her name is Laakmann McDowell. There’s a Cracking the Coding Interview as well. That ended up being, like, exactly what I needed, and going through that cover-to-cover got me into Google, amongst other things, and talking with the community. So, calibrating your confidence parameter, that knowingness of, I know that I’m ready enough for this. There will always be things that catch you by surprise, but knowing that you’re ready and having that preparation and that internal knowingness not only increases your confidence, but it also increases your ability to operate improvisationally when you’re in the moment.
And in fact, that’s exactly what I went through for this podcast. I have a little document in front of me where I just jotted my notes down last night, I was thinking through, what do I want to cover? What do I want to say? How can I respond to the questions that he’s going to ask me? He might ask me, you know, a curveball, but I have some thoughts that are structured, I’m prepared for this so that no matter what happens, I’ll be okay. And again, that really gets down to that essence of philosophy of program management that I have. No matter what happens, I’ll be okay; no matter what happens, we’ll be okay. And believing in that and having a level of knowingness—[laugh].
Corey: I am not a planner at all. For me, my confidence comes from the fact that I can’t predict what’s going to happen so I don’t even try. Instead, what I do is I focus on preparing myself to be effectively dynamic enough that whatever curveball comes my way, I can twist myself in a knot and catch it, which drives people to distraction when they’re trying to plan a panel that I’m going to be on. “Okay, so we’re going to ask this, what’s your answer going to be?” I have absolutely no idea until I find the words coming out of my mouth.
And if I try and do a rehearsal, I’ll make completely different points, and that really bothers folks. It’s, I don’t know; I’m not here to read a script. I’m here to tell stories, which is great for, you know, improv panel activity and challenging if you’re trying to get a software project off the ground. So, you know, there are different strengths that call us in different ways.
Johnny: Exactly. I mean, the flip side of preparation is improvisation. And you know, I spent ten years as a jazz musician playing trumpet in a swing band back in Cleveland before I moved out here. And that really helped me understand how to think
improvisationally, right? They give you the chords, the underlying structure by which you can operate, and then you can kind of choose your own path through there.
And sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, you learn over time, you come up with libraries of ideas to pull out of your head at any given time. So, there is an aspect of preparation to improvisation. And I think if you, I would encourage you to think about it more; I bet you do more planning than you think you do; maybe you just don’t call it that.
Corey: No, I have people for that now.
Johnny: [laugh]. “I have people for that.”
Corey: I am very deliberately offloading that. Honestly, that was part of the challenge I had psychologically of running my own place. If I were just a little better at following a list or planning things in advance, all these people around me wouldn’t have to do all this extra work to clean up my mess. Instead, it’s okay, let it go. Just let it go and instead, focus on the thing that I can do this differentiated. That was my path. I don’t know how well it works for others, and again, I’m swimming in privilege when I say it.
One last topic I want to get into, I think it might be part of the reason that you and I are talking so much about the future, the next generation, and the rest is we’re recording this on March 9th. I don’t know the date this is going to air, but there’s a decent chance that will be after April 22nd, where you and your wife Emily are expecting your first child. So congratulations, even though I’m a little early. I definitely want to get that in there.
Johnny: Thank you.
Corey: Have you found that since you realized you were expecting a child—with an arrival date, which is generally more accurate than most Amazon order dates—that you find yourself thinking a lot more about the future and how you’re going to wind up encapsulating some of the lessons you picked up along the way for, I guess, the next generation of your family?
Johnny: Yeah. I mean, everyone who finds himself in this situation, finds himself somewhere between panic and bliss, right? There’s some balance that I have to find there. And fortunately, my wife Emily, and I have a very strong rapport when it comes to how I think and how she thinks, and so we’re able to—you know, our emotional intelligence is very high; we talk about that sort of thing a lot. And we try to plan for the future as best we can, knowing that things will go off the rails as soon as you know, what’s the old saying about the best laid plans and how, you know, every plan is—
Corey: Man plans and God laughs.
Johnny: Yeah, or goes awry as soon as the first shot is fired, et cetera. Thinking more than five years out is still pretty challenging for me, but thinking within the first five years, we can already sketch out some plans. I already have some ideas of where we want to go and what we want to do and how we want this new child, this being, to experience the world and how we want to impart the things and the wisdom that we’ve learned and experiences and skills that we’ve developed—Emily and I—to this new child, realizing that I have no idea what’s coming and I have no idea what to expect because I just really haven’t had much exposure to babies or children at all in my life, so I’m just kind of rolling the dice here and trusting that it’ll all work out really well. And again, going back to communities, the communities that I’m in, there are parenting channels, there are friends and family that I can talk to. So, I have everything that I need in terms of knowledge.
Now, I just need to go through the experience, right? So, I’m definitely thinking a lot about the future. In fact, I’ve got a—I don’t know if you can see it here—quarterly plan for my life up here on the wall that I [unintelligible 00:35:33]. It’s just something that I can glance at every so often, and there it is, right, there: ‘Q1 2022: Kid.’
Corey: How long has that ‘Q1 2022: Kid’ been on the board? Like oh, since 2014? Like that is remarkably good planning.
Corey: Okay, fair enough.
Johnny: No joking: Mid-2021.
Johnny: Yeah, just even having that up there and writing a sticky note and slapping it on there for, like, a hey, here’s what I think,
some of them fall off, some of them don’t fall off, but I’ll tell you what, more than more often than not, it actually ends up working and happening and being realized, no matter what it is. Because just having it there and glancing at it every so often is that repetition, it keeps it on my mind. It’s like, hey, I should probably think about that. The next thing you know, it’s done. And then I can take it off and put it in my binder of accomplishments.
Corey: I am about five years ahead of you on that particular path that you’re on because five years ago, I was expecting my first child. And I don’t want to spoil the surprise entirely, but I will Nostradamus this prediction here, five years from now, when you go back and listen to or watch this episode and listen to yourself talk about how you’re planning to parent and your hopes and your dreams, you are going to, in a fit of rage, attempt to build a time machine to travel back to what is now the present day for us, in order to slap yourself unconscious for how naive you are being [laugh] because that is—I’m hearing my words coming out of your mouth in a bunch of different ways, and oh my God, I was—it’s the common parent story you all these hopes and dreams and aspirations for kids and then they hand you a tiny little baby and suddenly it becomes viscerally real in a different way where, “It’s going to be a little while until I can teach you to do a job interview, isn’t it?” And other things start wind up happening to, like—
Johnny: [laugh]. Right.
Corey: —what do I do? I’ve never held a baby before. How do I not drop it and kill it? And later in time they learn to talk. They talk an awful lot, and then it’s like, how do I give them a bath without drowning them in the process? Not because I’m bad at it, but just because I’m at my wit’s end because I haven’t slept in three days.
Parenting is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do and everyone has opinions on it. And it’s gratifying to know that the world continues to go on even in these after-times where things have gotten fairly dark. It’s nice to see that flash of optimism and remember walking down at myself. It’s exciting times for you. Congratulations.
Johnny: Yeah. Thank you. It’s a beautiful thing. And I’m self-aware and I have a knowingness of my naivete, right? And that’s part of the fun.
And the whole idea of it is an explorative journey. I have no idea what to expect, but I have a good support system; my wife is incredible. She has an early childhood education degree, so that’s going to be really useful. Yeah. And so kind of going back to that concept of preparation.
And I don’t feel a lot of anxiety about it because I am feeling like I have the knowledge, the community, the friends, the family in place so that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to maneuver through it. And I can ask, and I can get help. Yeah, so that’s where my head is at with that. [laugh].
Corey: We’ll be checking back in once you’re up to your elbows and diapers and I assure you, you’ll be lucky if it stops your elbows.
Corey: I really want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me about your own journey and, I guess, a variety of different things; hard to encapsulate it all at once. If people want to learn more or chat with you, where’s the best place to find you?
Johnny: Yeah, thanks for asking. So, I have a website jmpod.com
, JM Pod. My middle name is Michael. So, John Michael Podhradsky. jmpod.com
. That links to my blog, there’s links to LinkedIn
. I’m most active on Instagram.
I’m always looking to connect with and just chat with new people, people who want a new perspective, people who are interesting or want to share their stories with me. Coaching is something that I thought of doing in the long-term. It’s not on the plate right now
because I’m focused on my current career, but that’s something that I’m very interested in doing, so you know, happy to field that questions or if anyone wants to reach out and hey, what communities can I look for or where should I be looking for communities, I’m happy to help with that as well.
Corey: I will, of course, put a link to that in the [show notes 00:39:39]. Thanks again for your time. I really appreciate it.
Johnny: Yeah, this was a fantastic experience. It’s the first podcast I’ve done, I’m hoping it went well, and I really appreciate that you even asked me to do this. It was a surprise. My eyes went like dinner plates when you said, “Hey, why don’t you come join me?” And I said, “Absolutely. That sounds like a fantastic idea.” So, thank you again, Corey. I really appreciate spending time with you and looking forward to doing it again sometime in the future. With a baby in the background, screaming. [laugh].
Corey: Oh, yes. They do eventually sleep; you won’t believe it for the first three months, but they do eventually pass out. Johnny Podhradsky, technical program manager of Offboard Infrastructure at Waymo. 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, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with an angry comment telling me exactly which tweet of mine you followed for advice and it did not in fact help your career one iota.
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