This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview Steve Molkentin, Microsoft Career Factor Idol Winner – The Job Seeker.
Steve is a passionate IT professional who firmly believes that Information Technology is nothing without a grounding in excellent customer service.
As a career Microsoft IT professional, Steve has been involved in designing and delivering deployments of all key server and OS products into the enterprise since NT4 and Windows 98, and is seeking to grow his skill and certify as a Microsoft Certified IT Professional on Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 through the Career Factor program. He’s also looking forward to sharing his experiences through social media and in speaking engagements during and afterwards. A motivated and dynamic leader, Steve is excited about developing a skill set that will benefit a future employer and allow him to offer significant benefit through his knowledge of best practices and the application to the enterprise.
Living in Brisbane, Australia, Steve enjoys spending time with his family (gardening & watching movies & TV with his wife; reading books, playing Lego, & chasing his young son and daughter) and encouraging the IT community within Australia and New Zealand as a core team member of www.autechheads.com – the largest online user group of IT Pros in the region.
He enjoys playing guitar, Xbox/Kinect, reading & generally being a proud #geek evangelist. He often talks too much and enjoys television far too much.
Steve, thank you for coming in today to share your insights and experiences with the audience.
A: "No problem – honoured to chat with you."
What initially drove your passion for technology?
A: "I’ve been interested in technology for a long time. The first indications of future geekdom spawn from Year 10 in High School (circa 1988), where I worked at the local Fruit Shop all summer to save enough money to purchase a Commodore 64 with a 5 & 1/4" disk drive. It was awesome. Beyond that, it was the opportunity to get my hands on the latest gear and help solve problems for people in an area I showed aptitude."
Can you profile your history up to your selection by Career Factor?
A: "I lost the full-time job I was in just prior to the global financial crisis, and bounced through a few contracts which helped keep the money coming in but didn’t allow me to establish myself anywhere, and I felt my technical skill set suffered because of it (in that I didn’t progress it as cash was tight and there was little opportunity to get my hands on the latest technology during that time)."
What was the catalyst in applying for Career Factor?
A: "I saw a friend of mine (Farhan Sattar) tweet about the fact he was applying, and I asked him what it was. I looked into it to discover the applications closed that night Australian time, and left it at that. Another good friend (AuTechHeads Group Lead Matt Marlor) was chatting with me on Twitter with an hour to go to the deadline, and really encouraged me to do it. I filled in the application and uploaded the video with minutes to spare. Ultimately, I saw it as an opportunity to upskill in preparation for hunting for a (full time) job again in 2011."
Can you describe your personal experiences for the challenges and process leading up, winning, and after winning Career Factor?
A: "Leading into Career Factor I was excited about the opportunity it presented – upskill, be mentored, grow as a technical professional. Hearing I’d been selected in the program was massive…especially as the only person in the southern hemisphere (which presents its own challenges, but such is life)."
How does social media accentuate what you are doing in Career Factor?
A: "It’s critical. To be able to connect with like-minded technology professionals, as well as direct access to product owners and teams within Microsoft really helps when you’re working through a section of new technology you don’t understand or are having trouble with, they’re just a tweet away. It’s also good to keep track with my CF buddies and how they are doing, and what’s happening within tech trends globally."
From your experiences with Career Factor, what tips would you provide to job seekers to help them in their journey?
A: "Stay in touch with technology trends; have a great support network of friends & tech professionals to talk to and talk through how you’re feeling (being unemployed can really affect how you feel); set solid and achievable goals as far as plans for study and exams."
What are the most exciting opportunities you are working on with Career Factor?
A: "Studying for certification to update/upgrade my old MCSE to an MCITP cert. It’s a lot of work, but entirely worth it. I won’t make an MCITP before TechEd like I was planning, but working hard."
What are your future career aspirations? What are you most passionate about?
A: "Establish myself in an organization where I can have real influence and offer direction that will help the company save money yet utilize the latest Microsoft technologies to help their business run better. More than anything, I want the teams I run to deliver a superior level of customer service for the business and its customers."
What drives your passion for Microsoft and Microsoft technology solutions?
A: "Microsoft works hard to develop a complete suite of enterprise-grade and market-leading products that exist to help a business compete in a global marketplace. My experience with them has always been that they deliver on what the products set out to do, and in doing that you know that the next version will (generally) add significant features that benefit their customers."
What are your tips, lessons, and best resources for those wanting a career in computing?
A: "Talk to people in the industry. Network every chance you get. There are lots of good online resources to start learning, quite often including 90-day evaluation versions of products that are the full versions that you can use to gain experience and help with certification. Getting certified helps too, but (at least in Australia) it’s not critical. Have a great attitude and be prepared to start on a HelpDesk answering the same question 50 times in an hour. And get involved with a user group – invaluable skills and information can be gained from working with and listening to your peers."
Why does certification fit into your career plan?
A: "It’s proof of what I know: a validation of the effort put in and an acknowledgement of the skills I’ve worked hard to gain. Microsoft certifications are globally recognized, so I know the skills I have are transferable all over the world."
Can you describe your experiences with IT communities and then provide your recommendations?
A: "Being involved with a user group has been a complete win for me – the Microsoft user community is alive and well online and offline, and I’ve found a heap of support, encouragement, conversation and thought that has challenged the way I think about technology. It’s critical to any IT professional to be involved… to both learn and give back. I entirely recommend getting involved. I’m connected with a great offline one (Brisbane Infrastructure Group), and a spectacular online one (http://www.autechheads.com) which has challenged the way I think about the application of technology as much as confirmed the way I understand it should be used."
In all that you do, what are the biggest challenges, and their solutions?
A: "Convincing the organization to spend coin on technology in smarter ways. If the decision has been made to licence a specific way, it can be tough to help the company see the investment by altering that even though significant benefits exist when you do. Also, sometimes convincing the organization OR the tech professional to see the benefit in certification. One sees it as a threat that their employee becomes more valuable to others; the other sees it as a burden (sometimes)."
Provide your predictions of future IT trends and their implications/opportunities?
A: "Cloud services will feature prominently (but that doesn’t do away with the need for supremely skilled IT Professionals). More and more options will be available in the cloud, offering flexibility to the organization that will challenge old "we need metal in the server room" mindsets. Also the locked in SOE on specific hardware will become less commonplace, and more and more organizations will lean on a "BYO" client approach. Services will need to suit this model, and IT teams will need to be prepared and supportive of these changes. Good customer service ALWAYS wins out."
Please share some stories (something surprising, unexpected, amazing, or humorous) from your studies, work, or time with Career Factor?
A: "The camaraderie within the CF team has surprised me pleasantly, especially as I feel so generally disconnected from everyone being all the way over here in Australia. It shouldn’t have, as all the other participants are wonderful people. I’m really looking forward to meeting them at TechEd in Atlanta. Also the support from the IT pro community of my journey has been excellent and very encouraging."
If you were doing this interview, what 3 questions would you ask and then what would be your answers?
- What has been the best resource you’ve found to help you on your Career Factor experience?
A1: The practice exams, no question, along with the Microsoft Press books. Detailed, functional and spot on.
- How have you found juggling life and study through your time in Career Factor?
A2: Really difficult at some points. Finding the motivation or beating off the demons of anxiety and the feelings of being depressed due to being unemployed has been hard. The support from the wider community has been invaluable.
- What are you looking forward to most about TechEd North America?
A3: Seeing a much larger community come together and the conversations and challenges that represents. TechEd in Australia is about 3,500 people – North America is (I’m told) at least 3 times that! Can. Not. Wait.
What three lessons have you learned from your life experiences?
- Trusting people doesn’t cost anything. Believing in them does, but it’s so worth the expense.
- Smile when you talk to people, especially when you answer the HelpDesk phone. Usually people are cranky, and an understanding and positive voice on the end of the phone can usually fend off all sorts of tirades that were previously locked and loaded.
- Don’t be afraid to say no, but don’t have it as your default setting.
Steve, we will continue to follow your contributions with Career Factor and more broadly. We thank you for sharing your time, wisdom, and accumulated deep insights with our audience.
A: "Thanks so much!"