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Joel Beasley from Modern CTO, Part Two

Published 8/9/2021

Joel Beasley is the host of Modern CTO, a podcast with guests coming from IBM, Microsoft, Nasa, Reddit, and hundreds of others. Joel and I have wanted to have this discussion for a long time, and we finally found the right overlap to do it!

You can learn more about Modern CTO at https://moderncto.io and listen to this episode in the alternate podcast universe here.

Thanks for joining me on Developer Tea, Joel!

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Command Line Heroes is a podcast that tells the epic true tales of developers, programmers, hackers, geeks, and open source rebels who are revolutionizing the technology landscape.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, welcome to today's episode of Developer Tea. This is the second part of my interview with Joel Beasley. Once again, this is a little bit of an unconventional type of interview for Developer Tea. Usually I have guests come on my show, I ask them all of the questions. In a way, Joel and I were kind of just having a conversation about the things that we do with our shows. So it kind of feels like he's interviewing me sometimes, sometimes it feels like I'm interviewing him, and sometimes it feels like I'm talking it's kind of a meta show about Developer Tea. So hopefully this episode is insightful to those of you, especially those of you who have been listening for a while, you can kind of see why I continue to do this show, even after six years going on, seven years coming up in this winter. Why we continue plugging away doing three episodes a week. And it really, the sneak peek here is that it's all about you, you guys, the listeners. So thank you so much for listening to this episode. Let's get straight into the second part of my interview with Joel Beasley. So I met this gentleman named Etienne De Bruin, who owns seven CTOs. He said they do like executive peer groups for technology leaders, BP's and engineers CTOs. They're on the more like premium side where people are paying like $20,000 a year, and it's facilitated by a professional facilitator you have to pay in on that. So it's definitely a good value, but he wanted to create something for the mid level of the market. Like, people that are, they want to become a manager for the first time, or they want to move from manager to director, and that was at a price point that was like much cheaper than that, like super affordable, even if they wanted to pay for it for themselves. So I said, okay, because I have the audience and you have the knowledge of how to run these communities and the staff and the support. So we created elevate 150.com. And the idea was elevate, you know, bring people up to the next level. And then 150 was like, one of Dunbar's numbers of community size. So we cap the community at 150 people. So we have 100 people now, and we've grown that over like the past eight months. And every week we have speakers. And then see, it's like a 10 minute topic conversation. And then you go into a small group that's like three to four people, and that speaker has set you up with something. It's not like a generic cycling of speakers that are doing sales pitches. Like they have to adhere to our format. And so what it does is it gets you in these communities having these small discussions and building relationships, and that's been like unbelievable. So now I've got this like community where I can go. And then every, every week or every other week, I'm getting introduced to three or four new peers, and we're having legitimate conversations. This kind of thing is lacking so much. I'm so glad you're building it. Because I really believe we could have about 100 more of these and it wouldn't be enough. This is just sorely lacking. And it's, that's a huge kind of open opportunity for growth and for business, for making something that could be a sustainable business. I could actually, absolutely, I'd love to be a part of that. I think a critical component of what you're saying on that is that everybody's bought in. And it's very hard to do that in a self-organized way. Okay, everybody, we're going to break out into groups, you know, just on our own without having any format that's input, you know, it's provided to us. But having that as, hey, look, this is when you come here, this is what we do. This is kind of the prescribed format. And if you're going to speak here, this is the prescribed way that this group works. I think that's really, really important. And having that kind of structure, you know, it's very similar to what we experience on teams. Being doesn't have a structure, it kind of devolves. People each have their own way of doing things and everybody kind of clams up. It's very hard socially to build that, you know, kind of organically. So I really love that idea. Yeah, thank you. Yeah, it wasn't mine. It was the community. Right? And so I'm just tried to do, you know, what we do a lot, professionally is facilitate, right? We allow, like you said earlier, we grease the wheels. We connect the right people and we help achieve the outcomes. And I love, I love getting to be a part of something like that. And I hope it grows. I hope it, like I hope we have a bunch of these 150 groups. One of the big things that we notice because, you know, for one of my resistance areas of doing this at first was, you know, I'm a part of RANDs and Repos, you know, 14,000 members slack. He's awesome. And, you know, there's a couple other leadership groups. I'm a part of that have four or five, 10,000 people. And what I realized is the reason why I don't spend time in these groups is because they get so big because they're so useful. And then everybody, like, asked the same questions and then people get, then you get the core group of people and then they start getting frustrated for these questions and then it creates this wrong dynamic. So I was like, if we could solve that. And so we did a bunch of research and found, found Dunbar's and I'm going to be like, let's just create a community, but then cap it out 150 people and then create another community and just keep doing that. Yeah. It makes sense. I can just intuitively hearing, you know, 14,000 people, I feel like I would disappear. I would get tired of the notifications that are popping up probably. So it silenced that. That would be step one. And then nobody knows me from the next, you know, Jonathan on the list because it's alphabetically sorted and so, you know, I just disappear. And it's not because there's not meaningful things to say. It's just there's too much. I did an episode along or maybe it was a blog, but I don't even remember. But it was the concept was the noise floor, the noise floor. And we know that's an on you engineering that you have a floor on the noise on any given channel, right? There's an in order to have any kind of signal processing, especially into digital. There's some level of noise. And that comes in the form of some kind of static usually. So if you turn your gain up all the way on a microphone, this is kind of inside your baseball, but you get a lot of static on that microphone, right? So one of the measures of quality, typically kind of a rough measure of quality is signal to noise ratio. If you have high signal to noise ratio, then generally speaking, your declarity of that audio is going to be much better. And the concept of this blog post is used as a metaphor for any kind of communication platform, right? Right now we're on one, but we do this so much more publicly now that the noise floor has risen. There's a lot more channels to listen to. And so that kind of acts as noise. It's detracting from the signal that you're trying to produce. And so I see this as a way of saying, okay, we're going to cap this both for the relational kind of evidence based approach for relational development, but also because it quite simply just reduces the noise, right? You're going to have a higher signal ratio in a smaller group. I have a question for you. It's probably kind of switching gears. Is that all right? For sure. So what is a moment in your journey on this podcast and not just podcast, but all of the various channels that you participate in, where you are the closest to quitting? The closest to quitting was when I started making a lot of money. So I started making a lot of money and then my episodes increased at that same time. And I kind of realized that I had gotten everything I wanted, right? I was talking to the creator of the internet and the CTO of NASA and Microsoft. And those were my days. And like, you know, I'm on text threads with, you know, very popular people and it's like it feels surreal. And so I got a little depressed and I realized that this 20 year goal I had of getting to be in this sort of cohort of technology leaders at the top, I achieved within three to four years and I kind of got depressed about it. And I was like, that happens. Like if you listen to people like Tony Robbins, he'll tell you like when you achieve these goals, you have to make sure you have another big goal set up after that because you have no direction now. And so that's when it went from me extracting the best knowledge from leaders because I thought it would be cool to these principles that we developed called like why the company exists and there's three parts of it. It's to educate, entertain and elevate. So the education part, how do you be a good leader? How do you grow in your career? The entertainment part, 3D printing houses, right? Elon Musk putting in the neural link. You know, all of these types of things. Open AI. So we have the entertainment part and then the elevate part. Again, in every episode there's a section that specifically talks that we ask people out advice about growing themselves in their leaders and then the community itself we call elevate 150. So I said, okay, if we can be doing those three things, have you seen that movie Soul by Disney, Kid Movie? Okay. So I think that's the original musician struggles his whole life dies, then he gets to come back and like do this show and then he's like, is that it? And then she's like, yes, we do it again and we do it again. So I got my dream and then I figured I had to figure out like, how do I do this more? How do I keep myself engaged and how do I keep myself wanting to do this? That's the journey I was on. We'll get right back to my interview with Joel right after we talk about today's sponsor. Today's episode of Developer Tea is supported by Command Line Heroes. Command Line Heroes is a piecast that tells the epic true tales of developers, programmers, hackers and geeks, open source rebels. You should decide which one of those you identified most with as you go in to listen to season seven because season seven is all about the founders, the pioneers. Host Serrani Barak takes us back to the pivotal, very important year of 1995. It was the start of the dot com boom, but a lot of things had to come together. The stars had to align, so to speak, for the internet to succeed. Long before you could hop on GoDaddy, for example, to grab a domain name, there was a specific number that you'd have to call and not just a specific number. It was actually a specific person, a specific woman named Elizabeth Jake Feinler. Elizabeth was the keeper of all domains. When I listen to this episode, believe it or not, the means once upon a time were tracked on paper. Elizabeth now in her 90s is featured on this very first episode of season seven of Command Line Heroes, and it is a season full of these kinds of pioneers talking about this incredible story of the platform that we all have come to rely on so heavily. You can find Command Line Heroes wherever you listen to podcasts. That's Command Line Heroes, season seven. My huge thanks to Command Line Heroes for their support of Developer Tea. And much of my story is similar to that in the sense that my lowest point is at a moment where I feel like the thing that I wanted to get I either no longer want, somehow I've just lost whatever that desire was to have that thing has expired. I think back to when I was a teenager, I'm wanting to tour as a musician. That's what I wanted to do with my life. And now I think I cannot imagine. I couldn't imagine doing that. And I think that taught me a lesson about the fluidity of what we care about and being able to follow that and kind of morph it as we move forward both as people and in our careers. That fluid desire, we shouldn't necessarily try to push back against it, but instead we should find a way to follow it in kind of a sustainable fashion, right? It's okay that I didn't want to tour as a musician. I can still keep my gear and play whenever I want to. There's a way to kind of the metaphor that I always come back to for this for myself is the river kind of flows around the rocks, right? You don't move the rock out of the way, but eventually, eventually that rock gets smoothed down, right? So what may feel like kind of an obstacle or a frustration in your life if you kind of act like the river, that smooths over over time. And it may change things, but it's not going to ruin, it's not going to stop the river. That's kind of the persistence mindset in combination with, I guess, the acceptance mindset. As the river is going to keep flowing over these rocks, no matter what you do, it's going to find a way very persistent in that nature. But it may not always be the way you expect it. And to invite that change, I think, is kind of a superpower. It's really hard for people to change. But if we can invite change, that can really change the way, you know, really we approach our entire life with certainly our careers as well. It's almost never like we imagine it. It's always kind of close, but it's almost the rule that you have to have this vision, you have to go for it, you have to work really hard, you have to get knocked down and get up and try again. And then you will get something and it won't necessarily be exactly what you imagined, but you'll get somewhere close to it. Yeah, yeah, 100%. And, you know, I think you did this really interesting thing by developing these principles. Because what you had to do and what I had to do when I came up with the three kind of goals of Developer To help driven, oh, man, I'm going to completely, I say it in the beginning of every episode to help driven developers find clarity, perspective and purpose in their careers. This is something that's evergreen, right? And what you're saying is something that's evergreen, you could do that forever and never be done. You're not going to finish that. It's not something that you can check that. Well, I did it, I helped everybody find perspective. That's never going to happen, but it's an ongoing function of your life, right? It's more about who do I want to be rather than what do I want to do? Yes, yes. We should set up a meeting between me and Etienne. You know, I just got to meet him for the first time in person. We did this whole business. We became business partners, grew this whole elevating for the past, you know, almost a year. And then just last week, he took his family from California to like Wyoming. And then I took my family from Florida to Wyoming and we camped out together and made a campfire and our kids played and it was great. Oh, that's a blast. We did something very similar with spec, by the way. Speck was the podcast network that I started with, Brandon Bryan from Design Details that eventually we grew and had like 10 podcasts as a part of the network that we actually shut down last year. And all under good, you know, situation, it was just timed in and so, but we hadn't met each other for I think it was a year into growing this network. We had shared bank accounts before we ever shook hands, you know, it was kind of a wild experience and it really kind of reinforced all of the things like it kind of tested my, you know, what I say about remote work. I had to kind of buy into that. And it was great. I mean, it was one of the best experiences in my life starting that network. Yes. I love what you've built over at Developer Tea. I think you're out there helping so many developers and I was so excited. You know, I think we talked two or three years ago about potentially getting together and then just time is, and that's one of the things I love too is, you know, specifically with Etienne as well. Like we had talked, you know, four years ago once and he was doing his seven CTOs. I was doing my modern CTO and then to see someone still doing it and still going after it after three, four or five years, that's the most rare thing ever. And that gives me respect because I, that's why I give respect because I talk to so many people and so many people quit. They start something, they do it and they quit within a year or two or when it gets difficult. But I like the people who don't give up. Yeah, I don't, I don't see an end to this certainly and I appreciate your persistence, which seems to be a theme here. And you know, some of me believes that I do it for myself as much as anything that I can't stop. I know that's, that's kind of a common refrain that I've heard from some creatives that they're kind of addicted to their work. I wouldn't say I'm addicted to this, but it's so gratifying. I would like to hear from anybody that something I said helped them change the way they think. That's kind of the most gratifying part of my career is helping people adjust, which seems kind of crazy, right? It seems like a small thing, but just a slight change in perspective, really, that is kind of my goal. Or I guess my, my measurement, are people changing the way they're thinking? If they're not, then I'm probably not doing the right thing here. Do you have a book? I don't, not yet. I have certainly thought about kind of collating a lot of these ideas, but so much of what I want to say or would want to say has been said in different ways. And so I've struggled with what is the right angle to present this. And I've thought about doing almost like a cone style. I'm not sure if you're familiar with it. You probably are familiar with this idea, but it's kind of a daily thought, like a way to ponder a concept that hopefully again is kind of a, it will change your perspective even slightly for that day. I've thought about kind of creating that kind of thing, but I haven't really committed in either direction yet. Which kind of thing I want to actually build for that. Yeah, I think taking your most popular episodes and looking at those topics and developing a chapter outline, that's one of the strategies that we're using here is like which topics do people respond to the most? And then how can we, you know, it's like music. You have the same argument and music, right? You could say, oh, that chord progression's been used before, but it's when you down and that's when it comes out. You're absolutely right. And there are definitely themes. You know, I did something called the developer career roadmap. I guess that was probably four years ago now. And the whole idea was I'm going to commit to a specific pathway, even though it goes against every fiber of my being, right? Because I really believe so much of it is about context, but hey, if you want to become a developer, this path would work, right? It's intended to be something you can all memorize and just follow that. And you can find yourself on the path, right? You can say, okay, where am I on this? I'm step one, step two, step three. And you can identify, okay, if I'm at step three, this is what I should be thinking about. This is what I should be doing next. And that, I think that was very useful. And what's interesting is it's very boring in terms of like, it's not really changing much, right? There's not a lot going on with that concept, but so many people don't have that. They don't have the basic guidance that this is kind of a step through your career way to get into this industry. And they rely on, you know, I guess osmosis. They look at what other people are doing, they try to emulate it maybe and develop some kind of implicit goals like we were talking about. So that might be an angle that we explore a little bit more in the future. It's not about doing a revised version of it as well for manager, kind of higher level career roadmap as well. Yes, this is good. The thing that excites me most about this conversation and us getting to know each other a little bit better is not any sort of like immediate business thing that we might do together, but just knowing that like the odds of you still doing this in 10 years is really high and it'll be so great to see what you learn in 10 years to talk to you again in a decade. One of my favorite things about you was when I saw that you're a long term thinker and if you look at our company website, one of our core key values is we think in terms of decades that helps us make like better decisions. It's the only way I think, well, it's the only way I can think. I know there, this is what I was talking about outlining the differences between the startup and probably why I'm not at a startup anymore right now is because my brain kind of breaks a little bit when I have to think about what's going to work for three weeks. And I love that you have decided that that's a value for you and for all of your ventures. The thing that has stuck out so much about you to me, I think that probably the most present and continuous publication that I've seen has come from you and your team, of course, there's no way that you could do it alone. But when you said persistence, I thought, yep, that's exactly if I could sum up what I've gathered from your body of work, it's that you're persistent and the changes that you make won't ever be to stop something. It'll be to change it to more of it. Or if it's going to stop, it's going to be replaced with something else. So that's really inspiring. Or handed down to the next generation. Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Grow it further, right? Expand it. Yeah. But don't make their mark and make it their own. And as long as, you know, that's what's so great about the foundation and the principles and the value, something is built on. As those things will continue to occur, as long as it's like, I often consider myself a gardener. Like, I can't make the plant grow, but I can put the seed in the right soil and I can make sure that there's like the right weather happening around us and I can make sure the water happens correctly, but I can't make the plant grow. I can just create an environment where things can grow. You're not going to believe me when I say this. It's wild that you say you think of yourself as a gardener. This is exactly the metaphor that I used in my interview to join PBS, actually. They asked me, you know, what is your management style? And I said, I think managers are gardeners. They cultivate the ground for the engineers that they're working with to grow in there. They can't force them to grow, right? You can't look at a flower and scream at it. They say you need to be taller or you need to bloom prettier. You know, your job is to focus on the soil, your job is to focus on the sunlight. Everything that's going on around this is that's your job. So it's kind of strange. It's not that strange, I suppose. We do think a lot of like in some regards and that seems to be a very big overlap there. Thank you so much for listening to the second part of my interview with Joel Beasley. Make sure you don't miss out on the first part of this interview. We did this two parts with an episode in between. So make sure you go back into the feed if you missed out on the first part. You can also hear the interview on Joel's feed. If you're not subscribed to the Modern CTO podcast, you can find that at moderncto.io. Another huge thank you to Command Line Heroes for their support of Developer Tea. You can learn all about how the internet came to be from the very roots, from the very beginning, everything from DNS to design and all of the things in between. You can find season seven of Command Line Heroes, wherever you listen to podcasts. Speaking of where you listen to podcasts, if you have not left a review or rating for Developer Tea, I'm going to ask you to go and do that. The show comes out three times a week, usually. And this is completely free. We also run a Discord community. It's totally free. The only way that we fund this show is through our advertisers. And the only way we get advertisers is to continue growing our audience. So that is the model that we live by and you can help influence that model. You can help influence that model in really two main ways. The first is to go and leave review and rating in whatever platform you use. iTunes is the most important one still for podcasts. But also sharing these episodes with people that you think specifically will respond and appreciate this content. The value of the content is still the most important factor in other people actually continuing to listen to the show and to the growth of the show. So thank you so much for sharing. Thank you for listening. You can join that Discord community by the way. I should have mentioned that at developertea.com slash discord. You can join that community. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.