Episode #60 Interview with Justin Bain

On this episode of the NewyTechPeople Podcast we interview Justin Bain, CEO at 3ME Technology. We discuss the projects happening at 3ME, Justin’s background in the military and how this has helped him in his current role.

Hope you enjoy the episode!

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.

Time Frames:

00:37 – For those who don’t know who you are, give people a bit of an overview. 

01:23 – Can you give people an overview of what you do at 3ME?

02:45 – How did 3ME start?

03:55 – How did the army set you up for this role?

06:25 – How have you gone about growing your team at 3ME?

07:10 – Where have you seen the macro trends from the battery space impacting 3ME?

08:00 –  Exciting projects Justin has been working on.

08:44 – Breaking down what Justin is doing at 3ME these days.

11:07 – Staying niche.

12:00 – Projects currently underway at 3ME.

13:00 – What problem do you solve with the business?

14:28 – Are the multiple vehicles running this platform now?

15:50 – Saving machines.

17:45 – growth at 3ME.

21:50 – Future plans for growth at 3ME. 

24:50 – Culture at 3ME.

26:30 – Why Newcastle?

29:50 – Advice for those wanting to get into to Stem or coding. 

31:11 – Have you had mentors in your career?

32:25 – How do you best manage your day?

34:50 – What resources would you recommend to our listeners?

35:50 – Is there anyone you follow online you would recommend to our audience?

36:40 – Advice for a younger Justin. 

37:44 – Easiest way to get in touch with Justin. 

 

 

Transcription:

James: welcome to another episode of new tech people today we have justin bain ceo of 3me technology welcome justin.

Justin: thanks james pleasure to be here.

James: i learned about 3ME probably six to 12 months ago and was my mind was blown that uh a story like three main technologies is local to newcastle i couldn’t believe what you guys were working on. For those that don’t know who you are because i believe you are sort of a hidden secret, can you give people a bit of an overview?

Justin: yeah we have been hiding away in in cardiff there chipping away. it’s great been in the business for three years now to come up for a breath and and get out and and talk about what we’re doing but yeah so 3ME technology we do electric vehicle systems for mining military and marine applications we’re a prime systems integrator with the proprietary battery system and a few other bits of tech on it on their way.

James: all right mate let’s break that down a little bit for people that don’t know what it is like i’ve walked into into your offices in the warehouse there and we’re seeing you know big diggers and you know big mining machinery which have been retrofitted with batteries for people that don’t understand can you give people a bit of an overview of what you guys sort of do in layman’s terms?

Justin: sounds good i was going to delegate that answer to you and say you know when you came out to cardiff what did you see what did you think but yeah that’s right we uh we generally on the on the workshop floor have at least you know one two three four different platforms undergoing various stages of integrations so that may be a retrofit so from a diesel platform over to full battery electric which we do with our close vehicle oem partners and then we also build batteries for the highest deepest and toughest applications.

James: yeah right highest deep is toughest so we’re talking military i know i’ve seen like a little four by four vehicle that you were doing that was to be used in the military as well as you know deep underground mining vehicles.

Justin: yeah so talking through the highest so at the moment we’re building batteries for a large eev tool a large cargo drone partner and then talking deepest underground mines has been a big focus of the company battery systems battery electric vehicle systems for mining applications and then in the marine sector yeah some projects are in the pipeline in that space as well but yeah toughest toughest talking to the defence military applications a few projects on the books there from soldier system battery systems through to electric vehicle systems.

James: We’ll get to the the office fit out the warehouse fit out in a second because i was super impressed when i went out there but for those that don’t know where 3ME came from or how it came from this startup to scale up journey can you give people an overview?

Justin: yeah so the company has had a long history of research and development in the automotive electric vehicle space and then i was approached around towards the end of 2017 by one of the investors in the company and said hey the company doing cool stuff electric vehicle systems uh we want to take it into the mines we want to take it into the military and we want your help help doing it.

James: yeah nice you come from an army background right?

Justin: yeah that’s correct.

James: why is a guy like you approached to come and join this company.

Justin: yeah so i was an officer in the army i went through duntroon the royal military college down in canberra i was a signals officer initially so i guess you know technical background in regards to that but in a broad management perspective i guess what officers in the army do is problem solving strategy leadership and yeah blank sheet of paper for the business plan get on board sort it out.

James: so we’ll stay there for a sec so the army best set you up with that sort of the more leadership skills is that probably the best platform that the army provided you for your career?

Justin: yeah i’d say so yeah definitely certainly from the human resources management perspective you know you manage small teams large teams um you know work in conjunction with with foreign nationals foreign militaries so very broad leadership experience.

James: yeah nice and then you’ve obviously been able to take some of those core skills and take them out out from army world into you know corporate world or startup world which is obviously going through those those growth pains as well that come along with startup to scale up.

Justin: yeah definitely i think a lot of the skills are very transferable.

James: i think you touched on it just then obviously your startup to scale up you know does require a lot of resilience and that’s that’s certainly something that you pick up in in your time in defence yeah cool i think the other the other part as well is just that they’re having to wear many hats right you sort of made mention of it before in the army you’re having to problem solve and you know look at different situations and probably play different parts within your role in different situations and then you’ve obviously taken that to the startup world.

Justin: yeah definitely multiple hats when you’re running a tech company we’ve got a diverse workforce and we do a lot of engineering we do the tech development you know we’re progressing into production obviously there’s arms of you know getting cash in the door to keep the business on its fast trajectory so yeah it’s very much a multi-multi-hat job.

James: yeah it’s it’s interesting to hear from my perspective there are going to be a lot of tech professionals in particular and you’re obviously the ceo of a tech company now coming from that army background you’re not the first i don’t think, i think i have one other guy on here that had that military background, he spoke very very strongly again of leadership and team building as a you know core aspect but it’s definitely not the common path for the ceo of a tech startup.

Justin: yeah i think i think when you’re when you’re in the military you know say as a troop commander i mean you’re solving problems you’re pulling together either a team to just to plan a mission um you know whether it’s it’s more more deliberately planned or whether it’s a you know short short notice type thing but you you’re getting people together in a room with different capabilities uh and you and you’re solving a problem and you know that’s what we’re doing at 3m we’re solving solving problems.

James: yeah nice now you and you’ve got three core markets here you’re solving problems for, how have you gone about building out and seeing its remake because as you said you’ve gone from a smallish team to growing and growing pretty rapidly and i know you’ve got good solar plants ahead aggressive plans ahead for future growth so how have you gone about growing that team there?

Justin: Yes i think that the the growth has started initially i mean when the team was very small there’s a lot of recommendations from yep we know this person let’s get them on, working on the exciting tech the recruitment has been been pretty easy and then now getting into that next next stage of growth and obviously we’ve used you at new tech people for recruitment and we’re you know we do get also a lot of direct approaches. you know people might see a snippet of something on linkedin or in the media and say hey you know there’s electric vehicle systems doing it in newcastle interesting markets keen to get involved.

James: yeah definitely i think your company or industry are definitely appealing to a lot of people speaking of which that whole battery is a it’s a global trend i think it’s going to continue to grow where have you seen i guess the macro trends from that space you know impact 3mE?

Justin: yeah so i mean there’s a global energy transition happening at the moment and obviously a core part of that is batteries even with hydrogen systems and other you know future fuel cells you know batteries still play a huge part in this transition and there’s a lot of people doing batteries and a lot of large multinationals doing batteries so where we’re targeted is that highest level of safety and compliance and systems that are more modular and scalable to meet our customers requirements.

James: yeah nice mate i’d love to talk about some of these projects in a little bit of detail it’s fascinated me learning more and more about them so if you had to talk about you know that’s a couple of the most exciting projects you’ve been working on of late or coming in the future i’m sure some of them are still confidential but let’s talk about the ones we can and what are some of the more exciting projects from your side yeah i was going to say the most most exciting ones are in the in the tents uh so we’ve got a few tents set up now for for the more private projects that are progressing along but uh yeah certainly you know just comparatively excitable with bortana ev project that we did in collaboration with safescape so that was the electrification of a three and a half tonne utility vehicle mostly focused in underground mines but obviously can be used in a number of other applications.

James: right, so i came out and saw your offices in the warehouse in all these vehicles there as well as obviously the tekken cars were working on stuff which is way above my technical knowledge mate you live and breathe it every day for those who don’t know what it is, can you break it down you know what are you guys doing on a day-to-day basis?

Justin: yeah just off the back of that i think i’m not i’m not one of those smart technical people either so um i think our chief bd officer generally does a good intro and says you know the business is full of you know a huge number of smart smart people growing number of smart people uh of which jb and i are not.

James: we need we need our type as well.

Justin: i’ll explain to you what a battery electric vehicle system is, that’s a pure battery powered system. we’re also involved in some hybrid projects but breaking down say the bortana ev it has two batteries, one in the front one in the rear these batteries are assembled by 3me in cardiff we have a proprietary battery management system and a proprietary cell management system which is where i guess our point of difference comes into play with the provisional patent that’s in progression and so we build the batteries, the batteries get installed the batteries connect to a power distribution unit that has one stop safety shock with isolation and other requirements to meet mine site specs there’s a charger there’s a motor so the system runs dc but the motor controller is effectively like an inverter and then we have a permanent magnet motor which is like i could almost lift up the one in a three and a half ton vehicle but you know 350 newton meters of torque. you know highly efficient great tech so we import the motors uh we have a custom charger in partnership with a dutch us company we build the batteries and make a system. the software ties it all together.

James: yeah which is another core part of the business the vehicle control system architecture so a really key point for you guys is obviously the building of the batteries and that building of those integrations between the systems.

Justin: yeah so what we’re not a vehicle oem so we’re working in conjunction with vehicle oem partners so we’ll assist them with maybe just supply batteries it may be a full system integration it may be just a individual component that they don’t have as part of their broader architecture so we have that kind of sliding scale of products and services.

James: i love that, i love companies that know exactly what they do what they are and what they’re not and they don’t try to be everything to everyone i think there’s some real success in really knowing your spot and being just really good at that have you guys seen some success on the back of hey this is what we do we do it better than anyone and then just the build and growth from there.

Justin: yeah definitely um i mean one of our core values is nail our niche and so you know batteries if the company was like an onion ring you know at the core is our battery system outside of the battery system is the software that ties together the battery and also the vehicle architecture and then we have this exclusive access to some certain components around the periphery digitization space that we’re driving into as well because the systems are deployed in the field we’re getting the data off them we’re supporting them remotely and so what we’ve done quite recently is broken our technology down into three key pillars or calling them spears so they’re not silos but and we’ve got power solutions digitization and mobility as the three core pillars.

James: yeah nice and out of those projects uh i’m sure there’s some exciting things that we can’t talk about here but for the things we can talk about can we go into a couple of those projects that yeah you’ve been excited about working on.

Justin: yeah so what is in the in the public domain is a project called project ev mine so electric vehicles mine as part of that was the electrification of the bortana ev and the tritiv in conjunction with our vehicle oem partners and aeros resources being one of the mining companies so that was a three year long project. because it went from its infancy of you know planning on plans on a page to modeling through to the system integrations through to the trials out at mines and what’s really exciting is that these these projects it hasn’t just been r d they’re into production you know we’re into beta phase we’re into production and and they’re ramping up so that’s that’s been a core focus in the in the mining industry.

James: mate on those just for a second before we go into the next phase because i’m sure defense might come in here as well yeah but in particular that mine what does your project mean for mining companies or for the the actual machines themselves what problem do you solve there?

Justin: yeah so three words would be safety performance and sustainability yeah so i guess diving into the safety aspect you think of an underground mine you know you’ve got a you’ve got miners down there surrounded by vehicles that are pumping out diesel exhaust there’s heat you know it’s noisy and then you think about replacing that vehicle with a battery electric vehicle that is almost silent so very quiet heat generation is reduced significantly which impacts a lot on the ventilation infrastructure we’re trying to pump air conditioning down into these mines someone’s giving me the analogy one day about you know blowing down straws and you know the further you get down the mine and the pressure and trying to keep these places ventilated so you know we’re creating that uh removing the diesel particulate matter which is a known carcinogenic you know like asbestos yeah we’re creating a quieter environment from a hearing perspective.

James:yeah and a more enjoyable environment i mean the platforms you know drive better the one challenge is meeting the the duty cycles for for the range and we’ve been able to to do that through on-board charging infrastructure at the voltage for the underground mines so effectively. every location where they have these these jumbos all these dcbs becomes your charging network there are so this is uh you mentioned you still early ish in in this is uh we’ve got multiple vehicles out there running this at the moment is that where we’re at

Justin: yeah so the bortana ev safescape our partner they’ve they’ve deployed that underground in in bendigo underground over in wa the beta phase is in full swing so those platforms will be ramping up on mines this year the the tri-tev the 20-tonne large 20-ton loader is in its in its beta phase so there’s you know what is on the books and platforms getting getting built nice fantastic building a lot of that here in cardiff and then shipping it out yeah that’s right so i think that was on the safety side of things performance i think we covered in terms of you know the electric motors is you know instant instant torque and they’re far more efficient than combustion engines so the performance and the combining that those digital motors with our software profiles.

James: you’re able to uh have a road map to autonomy and and get a much much better performance out of the platforms all right you know sustainability is is a core focus of the business obviously reducing reducing the greenhouse gas emissions through taking those diesel platforms out of operations quite exciting seeing a lot of mining companies moving to having solar arrays and offsetting their their greenhouse gas emissions with renewables yeah and then i think you mentioned at some point to me in a different conversation about i guess saving some machines from you know the end of life as well and the potential to give them a longer life is that another part?

Justin: yeah that’s right so the the platforms we do achieve a lower total cost of ownership and the retrofit model so what some of the platforms are working on we’ll take a second hand one in conjunction with our partner we’ve got a great partner over in hexham batmobile equipment yeah you know they’ll prepare a platform we’ll supply equipment uh we’ll collaboratively retrofit that commission it and deploy it into operation so yeah it’s a second life opportunities uh whilst we’re churning through the retrofit phase and designing new platforms.

James: nice on top of that project as exciting as that is is there any other projects you’d love to talk about.

Justin: yeah so another one in the public domain is one called c4 edge so it’s a military project the evolutionary digital ground environment is the edge part and the c4 is the command controls computers communications i think i probably get smashed by some marine mates, sorry military mates on getting an acronym wrong after all my time in communications but yeah it’s a really exciting project where we’ve got 17 australian companies collaboratively working together to deliver a sovereign communication solution so battle management system solution.

James: And what does that look like for people that have no idea yeah so a battle management system is your common operating picture or your tracker you know so if you think of this tv screen there you you know you turn it on you can see where people are you can communicate across the force you know there’s radios involved there’s data involved it’s it’s quite a complex network and our part in that project is the battery system so the soldier level system and then progressing to an interoperable battery unit system.

James: wow how do these opportunities come about? obviously you’re in a multiple different fields now and you know going down the marine path as well how’s that growth come about for 3ME?

Justin: yeah i think you know one thing kind of leads to another in certain situations with this particular c4 edge project we were asked to present today at a showcase for a land tender of which we did and of which we’ve had some some positive progression in that space as well and then that led on to an introduction and and we managed to yeah to put our capability forward you know having having the operational background does cut through a lot of requirements because you don’t have to go on that steep learning curve of you know what’s required.

James: how does it fit in?

Justin: yeah we can you know from a battery perspective we can say we’re going to make it lighter and more energy dense than than our competitors.

James: yeah and as you said before i guess it just ties into what is the core of what you do you know exactly what you do and then you know you use that as you’re in and then you can build upon that right so very nice mate and have you seen have you seen i guess global trends play into the growth of where you’re at at the moment? obviously you know becoming more sustainable is a global trend as do people like elon musk help your causes?

Justin: yeah definitely, i mean what’s happening in the automotive space you know is is in my mind just the prediction of what’s happening in the you know broader industrial space so you know we’ve got a partner in in the netherlands who’s retrofitting construction equipment because of the paris agreement impacts on on greenhouse gas emissions obviously there’s a huge huge shift in automotive electric vehicles i mean my my mum’s in her you know 60s and for an electric vehicle and loves it and it’s like learning to drive again so yeah there’s a huge shift, most people i speak to say oh the next one you know next one’s going to be electric and i’d say that you know the four big trends in the automotive space and in this kind of electric vehicle spaces i think it was the ac es so the automation the connectivity the electrification and the shared mobility so you know these self-drive driverless cars aren’t you know too far away electrification i mean the range on some of these new teslas is you know is phenomenal there’s no that range anxieties out the door you know fast charging networks from companies like tritium up in brisbane another australian company the the shared mobility piece talks to like the ubers and turning your model 3 into a robo taxi.

James: yeah and connectivity and obviously they’re having all the data out there having all the systems interacting and all the smarts behind it.

Justin: yeah so you see it obviously where it’s oh we tipped the iceberg here yeah well certainly the tip the tipping the tipping point has occurred like it’s it’s it’s happening for those that aren’t in the industry it does feel like a you’re in the space race or the com days so driving hard and fast to be in the game and be at the top of the game.

James: yeah nice so obviously as you said the automotive industry is probably the one leading the path almost visible to everyone yeah where are the other industries that this is going to affect on track.

Justin: yeah and and just on the automotive piece i mean we we saw that coming and saw so the company previously working on automotive on-road platforms saw that and we did projects you know on volkswagens and mazda2s and things like that but you know we saw the shift was coming and went you know one of the hard targets that you know as a small australian company that we can go after and dominate before the wave comes and then build that strategic position and so the other other industries i mean it’s coming across the construction industry i think really good momentum growing in the mining industry and defence you know defence is kind of that longer-term horizon but starting to see the understanding and the uptake of the opportunities for electrification in the defence market.

James: nice mate the excitement of hearing about a start-up to a scale-up really excites me there’s a lot of companies that you know go through that phase and it’s really exciting to hear about their growth one of the challenges though is getting the right people on board obviously you’re facing that technical side of things super technical different variants of engineers electrical engineers software is playing a part in that how have you gone about going from very small team to currently mid mid to high 20s? that growth is going to continue to you know take on how have you gone about building that team out today?

Justin: yeah so collaboration is i mean it’s been everything as we as we’re growing and just being able to you know find the people who can gel with the team on a cultural front and you can inject them and they can just make themselves busy and then it’s almost that you know self-organising i know that’s you know one of the agile terms or whatever but we do find that the team kind of continues to self-organise itself and then and we kind of then hit a point we say all right you know stop we need to re-org how do we how do we get the next framework in place yeah but we keep the business very flat but you know there is obviously a core need for structure as well so trying to find that happy medium where we inject the next next level in.

James: yeah cool i think that’s it’s one of the growing pains for a lot of people is that structure i think there’s a lot of value in being small and agile and then you have success on the back of that and then you grow and you need more capability and how do you build those same you know small and agile principles into a growing team and it’s a challenge a lot of people face.

Justin: yeah i think i think one of the common misconceptions of someone who’s come from a defence background and say oh but you must have had so much structure and you had all the resources and like you know it must be really difficult for you you know growing things and and but the reality is you know in defence particularly on operations is you might get sent over with a couple of people you know with a handful of people and you’re starting things from scratch and you’re building capability and you you have to use the resources that you have to achieve an effect and then when you have the opportunity to get more resources then you start achieving more effects and you start growing the structure then you reorganise and you can keep growing but i think one of the really good things about you know defence people certainly from particular organisations is you know it’s a constant growing capability how do we make this better what do we do next.

James: yeah mate there’s a there’s a lot to do with that you know that agile consistent improvement i really like that and you’re up to the mid to high 20s at the moment what does future growth look like i know you guys are definitely on a growth curve what’s future growth look like for you?

Justin: yeah so we need to double the the tech and engineering team over the next 12 months at least we’re we’re driving into production scale up so there’s a you know a new production workforce that that we need to bring on board from a technical perspective i mean we’re pretty broad on who we can inject in the traditional software engineers mechatronics pcb hardware engineers and then on the electrical space it’s you know electrical engineers and electricians.

James: nice, exciting times exciting times that obviously challenging times as well challenging from a positive perspective in you know you’re just dealing with different challenges what might have been a challenge for you when you’re a really small team is the more technical side to you know when you’re at 20 and beyond it’s just different challenges you’re talking about people and culture challenges as well i know culture is a big important part and i think it’s come up in most of the conversations i’ve had with you which is it’s uncommon i would say you actually give that a lot more thought than most people probably have previously to a certain extent kind of compromised on culture.

Justin: when you’ve got such a small team and you’ve just got to deliver on capability but now we’re getting to that point it’s like no if i would it’s do not compromise on culture we’re growing the team but also in terms of culture i’ve probably tried to be less forceful on like this is how we’re creating the cultures what we’re doing and just kind of we just you know get on with business keep getting people who are aligned the right people align to the business into the business and just keep driving it forward and then it kind of you know it builds itself.

James: i guess the industry you’re in as well it probably provides you the opportunity to do that i think somebody that’s showing a keen interest in you know what 3me technology is about the industry that you operate in.

Justin: i think getting people those key interests in that can obviously lend themselves to positive culture i mean a great example is we’ve got to go on at the moment and he saw us on the news nba news with the electric loader yeah he contacted the company and said hey i’m studying mechanical engineering degree at the moment at uni you know i’ve got this 12 weeks work placement to do would love to you know if there’s an opportunity we said yep come on come on in and he’s been you know outstanding you know it’s been he’s been phenomenal unfortunately he’s part of a navy program we’ve got to send him back yeah but um no it’s it’s it’s been great just getting those direct approaches and driving ahead.

James: fantastic man as a growing company there’s obviously opportunities are plenty you guys continue to operate in newcastle and cardiff, why newcastle?

Justin: surf.

James: yeah that’s an easy one one line answer.

Justin: yeah one word answer yeah mate there must have been as you’re growing right you’re building out teams uh are you building out your team here the company’s growing here the um the newcastle offers a lot for 3me i mean we’ve got proximity to partners in the in the mining vehicle yeah space the port from an import export perspective as the business grows yeah you know we’re a stone’s throw from from sydney my perspective you know jump on a train if you need to go down for meetings or access resources that aren’t available you know from a high level corporate perspective access to the uni i mean the uni is churning out some some great you know next-gen technologists a few of them in the company and looking to continue to grow that out we’ve got the near the newcastle institute of energy and resources so i mean for us at the moment newcastle’s got everything we need including good surf.

James: nice you mentioned the university there as well you you obviously come from a military background you’ve got people there you’ve had mentioned you’ve got graduates coming through that you know university degrees you’ve got more technical people which obviously degree qualified is there have you found you know an optimum space or an optimum background for people really mixed i mean. if someone came through the door tomorrow morning and said hey i don’t have a degree but i’m self-taught in you know c-plus plus and i’ve designed this or whatever and and could demonstrate the capability that they could inject into the company then you know would would get them involved and obviously there are certain positions that from a legislative or you know compliance perspective do need those formal qualifications and we’ve got that in you know the electrical engineers and we’ve got that in the hardware engineers from design reviews and compliance but you know someone like that you know ideally you’d be able to support them injecting and being involved in the business concurrent to formalizing some of the skills that they need to.

Justin: yeah so whilst the degree is important for some of the positions or absolutely necessary for some of the positions it’s not for everyone.

James: yeah nice sounds like you’re finding a nice mix there as well because i think it’s something that’s ever-changing right especially with more and more people with you know raspberry pi and things like that are becoming technical and tinkering and i think you know that ability to tinker or the desire to it can be a really good indicator for somebody that might have some success in a place like 3me.

Justin: yeah for sure i mean we’ve got a work experience going on at the moment just finished school he’s heading off to do a double degree in mechatronics and common science and we’ve had him on board for some work experience and we’ve put him to work yeah because the skills that even they’re doing in at school now in stem and obviously he’s a passionate guy who’s been doing a lot in his own time but yeah it’s really exciting i mean even my little boy finn is five and you know got to get him started on on coding or bring him in on the friday afternoons.

James: yeah and how do you go about that i’ve got a seven-year-old myself who i think we got him uncodeable and there was another one another platform as well and he had a bit of a tinker with that in the holidays wait for let’s let’s start at younger age because we’ll go through but if you had to give any advice to somebody that’s got children that are interested i mean either stem or coding any advice?

Justin: yeah so there is there is a program that’s running in newcastle it escapes me maybe including in the notes whatever but it has been recommended for an entry level programming but i think there’s just there’s so much online now i mean that’s it’s you know you could sit down with your your son or daughter on on youtube and find the right thing and you know order a raspberry pi off off ebay and yeah and start tinkering.

James: yeah nice and then as they go through like i think newcastle university is absolutely fantastic and some of the people that are coming through there i think that the quality is fantastic um outside of uni degrees you mentioned people that tinker with it in their own time is there any advice you give to people or is it just straight up?

Justin: start playing yeah so start playing because we work in high voltage battery systems i’d say i’d have to get you know caveat that with safety yeah but i think it’s you know about networking with the with the right people that are you know have a head start in that space or have experience in that space you know finding yourself a good mentor or getting involved in programs that are already available yeah nice i think that mentorship as well you just made mention of that yeah it’s something that it’s definitely becoming more common i think as an advice piece is find somebody that’s been there done that before or somebody somebody that you can learn off yeah and lean on them.

James: have you had any any strong mentors in your career to date?

Justin: yeah definitely and i think it’s you’re right you need to you need to kind of wake yourself up every now and then and say you know i’m surrounded by you know these great people within the network you know why not reach out i did that recently with a family friend who’s based in new zealand you know he’s in the finance sector and and said hey you know what do you think and and he said oh you need to speak to this person do this and and that’s kind of kicked off a whole a whole new thing and yeah so certainly just having the i just just reached reaching out and and seeing who’ve you already got in your network that may be able to actually support you and people you know people if someone came to me and said “hey justin i see you’ve done this in the military you know like would you any advice on this you know which people have” it’s yeah like you it’s it’s great to be able to impart some advice.

James: yeah i think that as well i think i think most people don’t understand the the people that are being asked if you go about it the right way um some people are short on time everyone’s short on time i guess but most people will give that time and actually you know uh appreciate you know giving advice if somebody’s taking that on board so i think uh you know don’t be afraid to ask uh you’re you’re a busy man obviously you’ve taken a a small company to a you know growing significantly growing company and what are the sort of productivity tools that you’d use to you know to manage your day?

Justin: coffee yeah i did that well in terms of like i mean like software tools that you’d use to manage your day and manage your workload i mean we use this we use the standard rollout of the teams and the planner and all that sort of things um i think from a on a personal side of things i’ve kind of taken the step the step back now to kind of get away from a few of those things and and just make sure that i’m not it’s not information overload on on tasks and task management and that i am correctly prioritizing what are true high value activities and so the way i do that is i’ve got i think it’s almost like an a3 size piece of paper and it’s got you know the days down one side and i’ve just list my three high value activities for each of each one of those days to just hold myself accountable to doing the uh the hard things yeah and focusing on what what i believe to be truly you know high value problems to solve and i’m trying to i guess this year coming up for a bit bit more of a breath you know get back on top of the the healthy habits so yeah i’m i’m up in the surf every morning and yeah diet exercise rest recreation how to choose a mind tick them off each day that’s a challenge all right really very real challenge i think everyone especially during covert especially during covid but i think everyone you know that’s facing a you know highly stressful or you know entrepreneurial type role can easily prioritise work there’s always something more to be done right.

James: yeah definitely if you had 40 hours a day i’m sure you could work 40 hours a day or find 40 hours a day worth of things to do on a business right?

Justin: yeah no sure so yeah i’ve been more disciplined um this year in terms of like weekends uh weekends and obviously you know families so important and you know and when you are so busy time can fly by so you know i’ve got a little five-year-old and a three-year-old so it’ll make sure we’re prioritising time with wife and kids on the weekend so weekends are definitely family and and and that’s now being sustained and during the week is is pretty flat chat which is why it’s good to do this on a monday not on a friday it’s generally pretty fragged by friday.

James: i understand i did exactly myself and i’ve yeah not definitely not on top of the healthy life habits at the moment you know obviously none of this comes about by just chance  do you do any ongoing reading podcast any education you continue to look at for your ongoing growth?

Justin: linkedin’s not always the one you want to be recommending whatever but certainly in the electric vehicle space you know there’s a lot of good information that’s kind of constantly turning around i guess because i’m following the right things or the right people in that space so i do find that keeps me kind of on the you know on the edge of knowing what’s happening and what the announcements are and things like that but yeah i really i rely really heavily on the experts in the business that they’re you know researching excel technologies that they’re looking at motors and and just getting the constant feeds uh from them so that’s not trying to be the expert in everything but actually hiring the people to be specialists right.

James: oh yeah definitely i mean i think one thing i do is i don’t i don’t go deep unless i have to and yeah i think we’ve um we’ve got some great experts in the business and yeah i mean the idea is growing a business is to keep you know keep trying to have him define yourself make yourself relevant and and and get to the next level yeah nice obviously following people you mentioned linkedin there right i have the same thing if you follow the right people you know there is a lot of garbage here as well but i linked it can be valuable if you’re following the right people for the sort of right sorts of information so is there anyone in particular that you follow that you’d make recommendations for?

Justin: it’s quite focused on the ev automotive space but i follow a guy called James carter he does a lot of uh release stuff on on electric vehicles and so that’s a good one and then on the battery tech uh it can be a little bit adversarial but uh a guy called paul martin who’s he’s almost like a mythbuster.

James: yeah right.

Justin: you know someone makes a new release and then someone you know at paul mart and then he’ll kind of tear it up or you know get the data behind it so yeah there’s a couple ones off.

James: yeah nice it might give people that have got an interest in this you know somebody to follow as well people are always looking out for that mate if you had to wheel it all back and provide some advice for an earlier version of yourself and any key piece of advice that you think’s been life-changing?

Justin: i think on reflection i think when you are you know when you are flat chat whether it’s in the military or in a startup you know scale up i think you know you’ve really got to take the time sometimes to stop and you know enjoy the present or you know enjoy the process and so yeah certainly certainly focusing on that that this year and i’m really enjoying the process like even when things are are challenging going you know this is all part of the process and and i guess in focusing on the present a bit as well you know if you’re down at newy beach in the surf at sunrise it’s a good snap back into the present.

James: oh mate for sure yeah i think i mean i’ve read something similar before about you know just enjoy the process because you know the goals that you know you only have achieved that once right and it’s a long way to get there and sometimes it’s never as special as you you’d hope but if you enjoy the process along the way i think it’s a you know a lot more enjoyable to go through a day-to-day life you guys obviously growing we’ll do a quick plug mate if people are keen to sort of reach out to you or interested in joining your team at some point what’s the easiest way to get in touch with you?

Justin: i’m probably not super efficient on linkedin but yeah certainly reaching out over over linkedin and if you’re in in the newcastle area i mean we’re on moneybung road down there in cardiff you won’t miss us if you drive down moneybung so you know pull in knock on the door come through and have a chat yeah and obviously you know through the website if coming through on giving us a call.

James: yeah fantastic man thanks for your time today.

Justin: Excellent thanks cheers.

Episode #59 Interview with Mitch Brindle

In this episode of the NewyTechPeople Podcast we interview Mitch Brindle, Cloud Operations Manager at nib.

We talk about Mitch’s passion for technology and how this has influenced his career, his decision to move into people management and advice for companies looking to make the move to the Cloud. 

Hope you enjoy the episode!

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.

Time Frames:

00:37 – For those who don’t know who you are and your journey to date can you give people a bit of an overview?

03:56 – How have you found the acceptance of the Cloud now versus the early days. 

09:17 – For companies that haven’t made the move what would be your advice to move to the Cloud?

13:20 – What advice would you give to someone that is currently working in a traditional infrastructure stack?

21:54 – Staying technical or choosing the people management route. Why did you choose to go down the people management route?

26:20 – How important do you think that communication part of your skillset has enabled your success?

29:15 – What are some of the key skills you look for in building out your team?

35:05 – Presenting at the AWS conference.

40:45 – Facing challenges working in technology. 

44:18 – Why Newcastle?

48:30 – How do you (Mitch) keep up to date with your education?

51:54 – How can people find you if they’d like to get in contact?

Transcription:

James: Welcome to another episode of newytech people. Today we have mitch brindle cloud operations manager nib welcome mitch.

Mitch: cheers

James: how are you?

Mitch: i am very good

James:  this is the first uh first podcast i’ve done in a while so welcome to our first episode of 2021.

Mitch: yeah awesome great to be here

James: mate i’ve known you for a number of years now with your journey definitely one of the first guys i knew in the devops space and obviously you’ve grown your career for those that don’t know who you are and your journey today can you give people a bit of an overview.

Mitch: yeah sure all right so i guess um been in it now for about 10 years i originally started in traditional it so servers help desk networking stuff like that moved up from victoria so first gig was a support tech at hospitals down there got a job up here at calgary healthcare doing again more that support orientated work but then once i got a bit more skills under me i decided to step into the server networking infrastructure.

first thing fell in love with was networking um anything cisco at the time that was me i went and got some certs etc then calvary went through a transformation so essentially i went from a support role to an engineering role which then essentially catapulted that exposure to that that tech space so going from networking then to service to citrix everything once calvary was done essentially i moved on to shangri-la track which then the networking side just exploded that’s kind of where we managed our internal networking completely we managed the actual track network as well so that was huge exposure there once i had done everything that i could there we then moved into nib and this is where the career just on its head nib was a place where they had a lot of that traditional infrastructure but because i had a lot of development focus too that’s where the the kind of shift from you know thinking around that tech stack to that more software stack happened and i guess when in late 2015 so i joined nib in 2015. they decided to go down the devops route and the first iteration of that was essentially splitting off the infrastructure team with people who wanted to get more into scripting more into programming more into automation and essentially once that happened i i bid in hard on that i thought that was fantastic i was already into automation a bit and because of like command line with networking the command line wasn’t too spooky so i kind of gravitated to that side more of the infrastructure side and then yeah went through that for a number of years now being on that aws journey did migrationary work but then also lift and shift from on prem to aws looking at any automation between those two environments as well and then today well i actually after that i i did leave nab for a proportion of time to go to coal lsl, fantastic time there and that was to take an opportunity in the management space um that’s where i want to take my career and then nib had a opportunity of a lifetime which is essentially managed the team that i was in before so my old peers were were there still and just working back in that tech space that i love and obviously nlp is a great company too so yeah that’s where i am today.

James: nice mate you mentioned definitely the early early stages of cloud early stages of devops, mate back when you were sort of putting your foot in there to start with i think cloud was still seen as a risk right? it wasn’t overly well adopted at that stage. how did you find that and how have you found the uh the acceptance of cloud now versus the early days when you guys were starting to work in there?

Mitch: yeah okay so yeah i guess the early days aws was still i don’t want to say new in australia but it was essentially the same services weren’t available they are today cloud was always seen as this oh you know it’s easy it’s cheap it’s blah blah blah but until you start to do it you realise well you know it’s maybe easy building a green greenfield up or something like that but in terms but in terms of moving a business system and transforming that from a tech stack to aws that can be quite daunting but then you’ve also got the the operational side of that as well in terms of like change management any sort of business processes affected and then that one system may talk to others so i guess at nib the very early days was around that discovery piece around well what what operating model changes do we need to go to the cloud and one of them like i saying earlier with my career is that we needed to form up a devops team that could work cross-functionally with these dev teams and start to bring them along our cloud journey what some of the the challenges were that i i faced like me personally was having that infrastructure background versus a development background that’s one thing that devops people probably wonder a bit about is that if you have a traditional infrastructure background how does that translate into aws because a lot of them like you hear words like our infrastructure’s code and codified deployments and stuff like that it’s like well i i don’t really deploy a cisco switch or i don’t really deploy a you know server as such i may deploy from a vmware template but it’s not well how do i use the new tooling so i guess the one you know thing that probably i had to do at the very beginning was just jump in and do it you know aws is a great place or any any cloud environment really is a great place where you can spin stuff up and learn there’s a lot of material out there where you can basically experiment and play and all that sort of stuff.

but i guess the one another hurdle we had as early adopters was then also being early adopters you get a bit of scrutiny from regulators and you get a bit of scrutiny from the business too when in terms of well why are we doing this why are we going to the cloud is it just the it people wanting to play of some new tech or what’s the business advantage behind going to the cloud and that’s probably something that’s sometimes lost in in that in that move and i think nib did that quite well where you know we emphasised on speed to market and we kind of emphasised on our deployment pipelines for our internal systems because we do the majority of everything in-house having that scalability during campaigns etc

you know we could correlate campaigns to downtime or outages or slowness where now we have campaigns that run and there’s been numerous examples of when a campaign is run in aws that now it was up it handled it the traffic we watched the scaling events and it was like a good news story so in order to overcome that hurdle we’re essentially having the appropriate communications and the appropriate good news stories like have a brag yeah you know just honestly if you do something great and infrastructure land like it is now you know like an enabler share that success with the business stakeholders and then you know they’ll be happy when you go to the next time and go hey we’re going to do this really cool thing they’re going to remember oh when you did that last cool thing we got this out of it yeah let’s go do that cool thing.

James: definitely for infrastructure because it could without actually telling that story it could be very easily seen as a keep the lights on type roll right?

Mitch: oh 100% it’s been traditionally bau since i’ve started in it like it was never really such as a like like i saying like an enabler where it you know typically was even in the finance sector it wasn’t really its own kind of thing it would report to the cfo so it was always like a cost center it wasn’t really anything that was kind of could in one way or another generate any you know income revenue or whatever it is even if it’s indirect revenue you know it’s it’s they they’ve never been seen like that but i think now with any sort of cloud computing or whatever it is that’s where that is shifting and i think you know the the the stronger the bond between the business and i guess it is or tech teams in general you know you can do amazing things and you know to not you know bang enough drum this entire thing but like look at like our chatbot staff look at any of the wellness stuff that we’re doing as well our cloud journey today it’s all been driven essentially from business direction to and you know if if nib spins up a new initiative or if your business spins up a new initiative do you really want to say that technology is going to be a bit of a hurdle or do you want to go yeah look you know easy peasy we just have to do x y and z or no we’ve got to buy some kit.

James: yeah you mentioned a couple things i’ll just make notes on um you mentioned there’s definitely an acceptance and more acceptance now of cloud than the initial periods as you said it could be hey is it just tech guys wanting to play with new tech there’s definitely an acceptance now that you know public cloud is uh can be very uh enabling to businesses for companies that haven’t made that move yet uh is there any advice that you would give them is it is it for everyone is it is there a discovery phase that people need to go through what would be your advice you’ve obviously you’ve seen a couple of companies go through that move i would say you’ve got more exposure to this space than the most definitely newcastle any advice you would give to a company that’s not not there yet but considering that move right now?

Mitch: yeah sure i guess the one thing is don’t don’t assume you have to go like the cloud it’s fantastic but it’s not for every business not for every workload it’s not for every scenario neither is one cloud like just because you’ve got you know industry you know colleagues peers whatever they’re in aws does not mean that you need to or your business need to go to aws there are many other well there’s two main uh others out there but you know it’s all about finding out i guess what your business wants to do with its infrastructure and when i say infrastructure like that’s currently talking about the server workloads and stuff but then also what about the systems that it currently has it’s i guess some people will even say like if if you aren’t in the cloud now it’s too late i don’t agree with that because if you’re not in the cloud now then you obviously haven’t had a big enough driver for it to actually do it or if you you know if it and also that the old if it isn’t broken don’t fix it well you know you’d think you know maybe someone myself would be like oh no let’s move let’s move let’s move fast it’s it’s honestly it’s up to the business but i i think there are many different models like you could have a hybrid cloud too you don’t have to go full cloud because when you go to a cloud environment like a lot of time people don’t um remember like you know what bcp or dr or what what workloads have you got material workloads have you got system of record workloads are you regulated it’s you know there’s so many different caveats where you you may have to have a contingency like an alternate provider where like if you move a workload to aws as an example you know your your business or your stakeholder or even if you get a third party assurance from another company if you like your white labeling or anything like that it’s you know you have to then answer questionnaires around your data sovereignty integrity backup yeah there’s so many different things but in you know kind of like a you know to um summarize that essentially i don’t think it’s ever too too late to go to the cloud or any other sort of like hosted cloud you know it doesn’t have to be aws doesn’t have to be azure it could be anything definitely not too late but i the one thing i’d probably say is that you don’t need to go to the cloud if you you know if you don’t have an actual driver for it and if it’s scaling then yes the cloud’s a fantastic place to go you know because that solves it but if you’re just going to go i’m going to go to the cloud and just move up some servers like vms and turn them into ec2s your price is going to be crazy and also don’t think the cloud’s cheaper it’s cheaper if you re-architect and redesign for the cloud and use the services appropriately but if you’re just moving workloads lift and shift yeah you aren’t gonna get a lot of the sort of cloud benefits and then if you do that due to the shared responsibility model and when i say that is that essentially when you go to the cloud the shared responsibility model shifts so essentially you know you’re you’re on the hook for security you’re on the hook for everything don’t just think if you move workloads up there i you know aws is going to protect it no it’s you know you need to own a lot more than probably what some people think yeah so i guess if people are still thinking about the cloud stuff like that get a good strategic partner get an implementer i’m not saying outsource stuff i’m just saying get someone who’s been and done it that can give you appropriate guidance on this stuff.

James: good advice mate good advice another point i just made before you obviously came at this from a more traditional infrastructure background right now if somebody’s looking to get it in the devops it’d probably be an easier move coming from a dev background as opposed to an infrastructure background you’ve done the opposite if you had to give advice to somebody that’s currently sitting in a sys admin role dealing with i guess more traditional infrastructure stack what advice would you give you you mentioned playing with something spinning it up yourself is that is that the advice?

Mitch: yeah like i i guess if if we split the two aside for a minute in terms of like that like infrastructure let’s just say you know you’re a server admin you rdp to staff etc but then if you’re a dev you’re essentially writing programs or at least doing some sort of scripting or whatever it may be the the developer will probably have an easier time in in that devops space when working cross-functionally with the developers and just just to be clear too when i say devops i’m not talking about ah you can do some powershell and you do a bit of scripting and automation i’m talking about the devops principles of there’s an infrastructure and operations engineer working with developers in their own squad so essentially we think of like a capability matrix think of it as a team and in that team if you look horizontally you’ll have a ux ba devops senior dev you know whatever it may be right think of them as another entity in this team so if that person there had an infrastructure background versus a dev they’ll probably i mean sorry a dev first infrastructure a developer probably have an easier time understanding the concepts of what the developers are trying to do they’ll probably understand maybe database structures a bit more they’ll probably get that lower level coding principles and stuff like that that’s that’s fantastic but then where the infrastructure person will shine it’s like when they start doing their deployments to aws that infrastructure person’s going to know about dr’s backup et cetera because as a devops engineer at a senior dev yeah they know what a backup is but do they really care about that backup in terms of like is that their responsibility to make sure that backup is a backup because the backups only back up when you restore it and it works otherwise it’s just some files and a storage somewhere you got to test that stuff and that’s where the devops engineer the infrastructure background will excel because they have that infrastructure ingrained in them about backups dr they’ll be able to do like storage monitoring alerting you know they’ve got that stuff so i guess each of them have their pros and cons but in order for the infrastructure person to kind of get into more of the aws coding space the one thing that you would really need to look at is some learning some languages getting that fundamentals from the like dev perspective like how to do clean code and stuff like that understanding what github is or any other other sort of code look up any sort of code deployment strategies as well is really useful but then from the devs perspective then you need to then also take an account and there’s some guys in the team at the moment who have got that really heavy dev and they’ve had to come in and learn more of this infrastructure and stuff because it doesn’t matter how you’re in the cloud that stuff still exists it’s just called something different yeah dns is route 53 your sans called s3 you know it’s everything’s just it’s just a different name the same principles so i guess any advice would be for either of them it’s just look at the other domain it’s like you know look at what a devops engineer does in a cross-functional environment and see what their responsibilities look like and i guarantee you’re going to find stuff that you’re like oh i haven’t really done that before and it’s honestly it’s just looking at the the opposite domain of what you know and then starting to pick at that.

James: yeah i think that’s devops engineers i remember when we started working on those type of roles together uh you know three four five years ago verse now um the the the rise in the need for those roles have risen dramatically and the skill sets definitely aren’t there of you know really seasoned devops engineers so it is looking at people that come from one of those two backgrounds and then seeing who can pick up those other skills to round themselves out right i think companies trying to to hire for somebody that’s going to come in and hit the ground running that talent pool is still very very short.

Mitch: 100% and they’re you know what we kind of call like a unicorn it’s like you know finding someone that oh i’m a dev but i also love playing of servers in my spare time and it’s kind of very unique and if and if you use terminology like full stack like a full stack dev go go back five years ago that didn’t that didn’t have the underlying infrastructure as code in their development pipelines but when you kind of look at things now it’s like you know that that development pipeline can go down further into the actual infrastructure depending on how it’s deployed it could be like a lambda function it could be fargate it could be some sort of containerization thing where it’s handled in the deployment step there’s so many different ways you can do it and again it depends on how the business wants to architect their cloud environment but when you have a cloud of environment architecture to get the advantages of the cloud then yeah like that’s when that stack will expand a bit but then that’s when you have that devops and again that devops cross-functional person that can at least facilitate when it gets a bit deeper down into the actual like if you want to call it the osi model like to get old school i guess you know when you start getting down deeper that’s where that infrastructure devops engineer is going to shine but then you know when you have that developer devil’s engineer they may not be able to go that one level deep you know but they’ll be able to still go well they’ll go instead of one one deeper they’ll go one higher so they can kind of assist with some of the co-deployment stuff the apps but but for hiring it would be very difficult especially in newcastle because i guess we don’t have huge businesses on every corner of the street with multiple teams that have enough demand that can have these traditional like well not i guess devops engineers that can work cross-functional with devs i guess what what i’m seeing at the moment and you know speaking to you know friends in the industry and stuff like that it’s more of that they just simply want a cloud cloud engineer someone who’s got that you know infrastructure background but they know enough about the cloud environments where they can kind of do a like a translation between on-prem to cloud but then also assist with any sort of movements to and from or what i’ve seen in the past two is where like an implementation is moved or built a cloud environment implement is now gone because now it’s back to the bau and they want someone to come in essentially maintain manage and go forward so i guess that role in my eyes is a cloud engineering or an sre site reliability engineer that’s what google terms that but then that devops engineer again is that cross-functional resource and finding that in newcastle would be it would be quite rare yeah super difficult definitely super rare and i guess you know i guess with the remote workforce now it’s kind of making things a little bit easier because we can kind of like look further but then newcastle people like to hire newcastle people too right you know it’s it’s still yeah i i would not want to be a recruiter.

James: yeah we’re definitely not there yet from most companies looking fully remote and i think as you said i think you if a company is struggling or looking to do this you know having that implementer or the partner to work with to make that move initially and get get everything built uh have somebody that really knows their stuff come in and get it built and then hiring somebody to manage that is definitely an easier pathway than trying to hire a unicorn to come in build it own it manage it um because i guess those people do tend to get bored as well once it gets at you know that management stage right it’s that the sexiness the architectural side of it’s gone and it comes bau right?

Mitch: 100 and that’s kind of where you do get those um people who who would like love to do the building is that when you do get to the bau it’s like well what’s next and you know it’s again should be that enabler where you know yeah the platform should be out it should be kept up to date but that’s bau but in terms of like you know getting it ready for the next big thing to come in from the business it’s depending on the size of your business and their rate of change you could be sitting on your hands for eight months yeah 12 months and you know that’s okay but again those hungry people the ones that are actually going to want to build the next best thing and want to develop everything.

James: yep completely agree mate uh you’ve obviously gone through that technical background and still still technical yourself but you’re now managing a team it’s a question i like to ask a lot of people that get to your sort of stage in your career i guess as technology professionals you can sort of go one of two routes you can you can continue to grow your career and stay extremely technical and not manage your team or you can go that people management route and they’re two different routes and it comes down to personality style and what people want to get out of their careers. why did you decide to go down the the team management people management route?

Mitch: sure i guess and real quick like i’m sure my um team if they hear this they’re going to probably like scoff at the still technical bit um but i guess for for me i technology has always been like a passion for me like it’s it’s it’s been a hobby it’s everything like i love it always have so i guess i was always going to be in tech but i guess in terms of why i i kind of decided to look you know i’ve kind of hit where i was happy to like peak i guess you could say and we’ll go in into the management side of things i think it’s probably my personality where i do like the people engagement i i do like talking to people you know i i tend to gravitate to that side of stuff um while i do still appreciate the actual tech i guess there are people out there that are smarter than me in that space that’s dead you know it’s their want to also get into that nitty gritty and to really deep dive where i guess i’m kind of more interested now in the business aspect so kind of um i guess the why like why are we doing this this x y and z at all or how do we evolve a platform that’s going to be ready for the next business initiative to come through and i guess you know when you’re in in a cloud environment like you are so flexible in that space and being like i guess a people manager or even like interfacing with the business you then basically have that conduit from the the reasons why we’re doing stuff in tech so having that conduit and me being that conjurer back to our cloud team it’s i still feel that i’m part of the technical decisions but um you know relaying the why and i think when when tech teams aren’t just churning through jira tickets and stuff like that because that that that’s that’s how like you know if that’s what you do fine but i i i much prefer that a personal approach like just jump in a room or a zoom these days and just look what’s your problem you know and having that kind of and then i can then relay that back to the leads in the team and then we can form something up because arguably still a little bit technical i love being able to sit there and whiteboard and understand what’s happening yeah i’m not probably going to make many decisions sometimes so sometimes it’s probably going to be arguably poor decisions made but i still understand i i like being able to have conversations with the team i don’t want to be essentially like a lead approver yeah so and also having an understanding of the technology being used and stuff it’s very easy then to to talk to like other stakeholders in the business higher ups and stuff like that so if i have to do any presentations or anything like that which is quite common at nib i’m quite comfortable i can talk to anything in our aws environment around any sort of approach yeah i won’t be able to tell you every single little detail of the code used but you know i can talk about any initiatives or what’s going on because at the end of the day my position is not only just a people manager but it’s like going through our road map it’s working with the business to get what’s happening next to make sure our platform’s agile enough to support it looking at any initiatives coming through as well to make sure we’ve got the bandwidth it’s it’s kind of like a like a pmo slash people manager slash pseudo architect in some ways because you know we’re small we kind of do things as a collective yeah not so much there’s not one person they’re just going hey that’s what we’re doing.

James: yeah no i think also being in that role and being you call yourself technical or not but you’re reasonably technical it’s you know being able to have those conversations and i’d still have the respect of the team from hey i’ve been there done that i still know what i’m talking about from the technical perspective definitely makes a difference i think the other key point you made there is communication right i would say infrastructure roles a lot of people would have had a picture of old school technology there’s an infrastructure guy that you know probably sits since then doesn’t communicate with the business whereas you’re all obviously now especially the higher up you’re going to get in that managerial level is that presenting to the business being able to communicate with the business how we’re enabling what you’re trying to do that business technology focus uh you know the continuity there how important. do you think that communication part of your skill set has i guess enabled your success?

Mitch: i personally think it’s quite a large part um like i i will be the one that will like ask a question and you know talk in meetings i will you know not shut up so i guess i think the the communication part is important in sort of any career but when it comes in it um or tech in general like honestly i think it’s like everything it’s huge it’s because it’s not only you know communicating like it’s a two-way street so you know you being able to communicate well doesn’t necessarily mean all you can talk well you can listen well and i think that’s really important because you know your customers if you’re an internal technical team is the business that is your customer if you can’t listen to your customers wants demands etc then you’re just going to be presenting a product or a solution that might not be fit for purpose and you’re just wasting everyone’s time so i think communication is a huge one and that’s where i believe like myself and my team and and my peers as well like in the wider rt team we’re very good at that we you know well it’s not death by meeting so let’s not you know let’s just you know scrap that but you know when it’s needed like we will make sure that we know exactly what we’re doing yeah there’s some times where you know a ball gets dropped but at the same time we’re also you know like i guess professional enough to admit that and go okay well let’s nip this in the butt now and then we can move forward but communication it’s it’s huge yeah it’s massive.

like honestly having even in the skill matrix of someone in tech these days especially in this kind of new age world with like scalable everything and infrastructure is code and all this sort of stuff communication i think is up there with even your technical ability especially because now the way that things are costed in terms of business like cloud environments kind of cost per day etc you know being able to communicate fluctuations being able to un talk to them and then predict costing because again it’s not like a flat fee week okay we’re doing a hardware refresh guys it’s the you know we’re at year four or five of our maintenance there’s a couple of mills just go and put in some new blades that doesn’t work like that anymore so you need about a listen to the business coming through with initiatives and demands so that way you can then communicate back well okay well that looks like we’re going to be going up in price and that’s kind of communication is huge massive.

James: yeah i think it’s a rising skill and it’s it’s definitely an absolute necessity these days is it’s not you can’t get away with it you’re without it i guess now in technology um there’s definitely that that that mix between technology and business where communication is absolutely paramount on that no then you’re you’re obviously building a team managing a team these days uh what are some of the key skills you look for in in the people that you’re looking for in building out your cloud team?

Mitch: yeah look i guess our doubled inside over over the past two years i believe now and i guess when i’ve been hiring i don’t really look for a specific skill set it’s kind of more of the individual you know like yeah having a fundamental knowledge on stuff is fantastic but essentially that’s that’s not everything the one thing that we do at nab and specifically myself is we’ll hire for that cultural side of things but also that that straight drive you know let’s be real people work to to live right you know you want you know someone who’s going to be you know putting in what they essentially can to either learn the skills or they’ve got the passion to learn the skills to be able to deliver whatever the business wants so i guess if i had to name summers because obviously i aws fantastic or any cloud stuff a development background is good too but infrastructure is good too the last couple of highs was a mixed bag we had some that was a dev some that was infrastructure dev one guy that hadn’t even seen aws really before now he’s running the show so it’s like it’s kind of it’s it’s more around when we go through the recruitment process and we sort of ask our questions etc is how it gets answered and especially it’s always interesting as like when you kind of you know start that whole process and and you start talking to you know engineers that wanting to join etc it’s the ones that um when they start talking about their previous workplace or wherever it may be or even a problem at home like someone said oh look i’m doing stuff at home and i’m getting agitated it’s the ones that when you see they’ve got a problem they are very you know animated on how to fix it and you see them they start to adjust themselves in their chair because you can tell they’re getting a bit passionate and worked up over it so when you kind of start to reading the body language on like you really you know like that process that you’re talking about that you aren’t allowed to fix at your workplace currently or whatever it may be you know you not only know how to fix it but it bothers you that it’s not fixed so just knowing that essentially tells me it’s like well you’re probably going to do something about that then or you’re going to want to do something about you’re just going to go ah that’s the way it is or look just another day it’s that you know you want to it’s as cringy as but you know be the change you want to be all sort of stuff but you want to legit make it change and that’s where nib like you know we want people like that straight up it is it is 100 you know we’re not going to give you a jira board full of tickets to do they may look like that but you know we’ve got projects on but if you see something that you don’t like or you’re not happy with change it yeah you’re encouraged to actually you are encouraged to spit the pill and come and tell me hey this i can i don’t think this is the best way to do it i’ve done blah blah blah here’s the thing look i think this is the best way to do it let’s do it as simple as that and there’s numerous examples of that going through nib and i think that’s when i be you know ken can retain these like very passionate skilled hungry people because we give that opportunity.

James: yeah mate problem solving’s probably you know one of the biggest biggest parts you’ve mentioned there right somebody that actually does get agitated by a problem and will find a way to fix it i think that’s that’s that’s something in technology as a whole i think problem solving people that are actually passionate about it because they said like technology changes so quickly whether they’ve got uh whether they’ve got experience of the current tech stack or not it’s going to continue to evolve anyway so they’re going to have to learn within the next three six twelve months anyway so them not having every box ticked from a tech stack perspective on day one it’s not the biggest issue it’s have you shown you know an aptitude to learn in the past like or solve a problem i think that they’re the sort of things that i know that have worked in your teams in the past.

Mitch: yeah just honest that problem solving is good probably the one thing with problem solving it’s there’s with problem solving i guess the one thing that we also don’t ex well i don’t expect really is you don’t need to solve it on your own either like i guess don’t don’t forget like what we’re doing is some stuff maybe bleeding edge nothing’s like you know mostly cutting edge there’s probably someone in the business someone around that might be able to help you yeah so i guess you know with the problem solving it’s like a fantastic skill to have and naturally enough like you need it but i guess it’s also being able to admit when a problem when you’re defeated it’s when that problem has defeated you that you now as a person can kind of admit to figure some people tend to not really like you know they don’t want to go i can’t do this i need help and then if you’re in the asking in a public forum they may not want to look silly so that’s kind of a thing as well so it’s been able to again solve problems but then realise you can’t solve it because you just can’t find the resources or whatever it may be nothing against your technical or whatever ability that you’re struggling with at the moment to like solve this but then able to ask for help from your peers or whatever it may be so yeah that’s that’s another really big one.

James: nice man that’s enough about your team i guess to start with it but individually from your career perspective uh i know you’ve uh presented remotely at the aws or the remote aws conference recently how did that come about because that’s something that not everyone gets into from a career perspective i know it’s something that there’s quite a few people from nib that have done that in the past it seems like it’s definitely encouraged there but why did you do that?

Mitch: yeah so a bit background then so aws um has a like an alliance program so essentially aws goes out to the enterprise customers and go hey would you like to put any people forward to represent your company with aws and like companies as well so myself and tony brown we got nominated accepted so last year we were part of the 2020 aws cloud dev alliance um of australia pacific so we got to present basically nib aws you know nutshell i guess plus some slick stuff tony’s been working on naturally enough anyone that knows tony brown you’d assume he’s working on some um pretty slick stuff so we presented um in front of basically all the other members of the alliance um we got really good the feedback from it because the one thing about our presentation that i guess caught a lot of attention was that typically in these things you’ll hear about the good stuff of aws you’ll hear about oh we’ve done this serverless thing and it’s been fantastic and blah blah the one thing that nrb is you know currently doing at the moment obviously we’re on our cloud journey we’re looking at moving everything at data centers all that stuff right but the one thing that our our presentation touched on and it was kind of it was like a tag team approach where we started off talking about well how do you move like legacy to the cloud so we’re talking about things that aren’t cloud native and stuff like that and then we moved all the way through to tony’s whiz-bang serverless architecture right because a lot of companies and when you were talking earlier around you know when’s the right time to go to the cloud there are still companies out there moving to the cloud but they’ve got legacy workloads that are pretty honestly lack of a better word pretty scuffed in terms of architecture because they’re like an old monolith style thing where they’ve got a database on it it could be it could be any data you know what i mean it’s like a single tiered instance it’s not scalable it’s disgusting and it can’t go in a cloud natively right so we’re looking at doing how does that work in cloud but then because these other companies you know they’re in the same stage there’s a lot of requests for tony brown and i to do the talk again but to the um asian community as well so we did a nut so we did the presentation again to another aws like dev cloud alliance team um another part of the world which was fantastic like it was really good because like these i guess are aws enterprise partners so they’re quite quite in bed with adepts as well but you can do things so many different ways so when you’re in these communities you can hear these talk you know they’re all different topics and stuff like that so you can really get some really good insight into aws so that’s really really good and nib is fantastic with that they’re very they’re very willing to enable like well yeah enable someone to not so much promote their personal brand but able to talk on nib’s behalf around look this is the tech we’re doing this is the really cool stuff that that we’re doing um but then also giving you again like you that platform to present and get that own personal skills as well so that you can further your own career you know and i think as a company that’s fantastic and that’s a really it’s a testament to them to show that is somewhat indirect development of their staff but it’s more giving the staff that i guess who want to do that and have that opportunity to do it that platform so it’s yeah i i i think it’s fantastic so like robbie williams and i um he’s the cyber security manager at nib we need a talk as well with um sumo logic and crowdstrike i’ve got another one coming up with sumo logic and pagerduty and it’s just really good also talking about the nrb story just because like the majority of us now have been there since day one of our cloud project it’s kind of like sharing what we’ve done and realizing that oh what we’ve done is it’s pretty slick like yes and not many people out there have either moved us quick or done things as wild as we have too um which is great but yeah so the talks just come about about just you know having that strong vendor relationship too so while i was talking earlier around having strategic partners from their tech space awesome again you can use them for what they’re used for but there’s opportunities like this that come up where you can either boost your company’s personal brand because other people see and they can get either confidence of you know well they’re using at the vendor so you can get like different arrangements and stuff so just you know there’s lots of different opportunities working with strategic partners than just purely tech and i think that’s something that you know some people may not realize even that even that should that that strategic partner can team you up with another customer who’s going through a similar thing have a bit of a forum a bit of a chat yeah and you know they might be able to help you or you could help them and then all of a sudden you’ve got another networking you know so you just you think of it as not a vendor but a strategic partner and then that strategic side of things isn’t just the tools or the product it can be more.

James: yeah can it can open some doors for you right and as you said being able to talk with other companies that are doing the similar things to you to your point earlier about problem solving you don’t have to have all the answers yourself right?

Mitch: correct

James: i think the other thing i know you’ve mentioned to me before uh as you said most talks at conferences and things is it’s all the bells and whistles and and none of the dirt behind the scenes uh i know you’ve talked about how you attacked it a little differently and we’re happy to you know the warts and all story about hey this didn’t always go right this you know we had these issues and this is how we went about it i think people find that quite refreshing in may we all make mistakes you’ve mentioned it before we we all make mistakes we all face challenges we don’t know how to do and uh it’s refreshing to actually hear of people that had success in the long run but it had wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Mitch: oh correct and and that’s probably the one thing that when  i do go to conferences and i watch or uh like do talks and whatever it is the one common theme is it’s always some good news thing it’s always um you’re doing some new function i’m like yeah but look you know from someone who’s been on the ground and still quite on the ground in the weeds in terms of light from that like the technical problems of the business i know you’ve got some little sneaky applications sitting at the back there that’s not really in the cloud yet but kinda is like why don’t like that’s something that most businesses have if they’ve been around for a while like that’s the stuff that personally like i find you solving that that’s much harder and to me more impressive than deploying a greenfield app to aws using a new service that’s a couple of lines of code and the way you go you’ve got a website or a pipeline it’s like no like you you you move the stuff that you don’t talk about that that that’s impressive and i guess that’s kind of the part where nib is up to now as we’re moving the stuff that wasn’t very it’s not easy to move to the cloud but you but to be able to move those workloads to the cloud but get the benefit of the cloud and then that’s the key thing here right i’m not talking about our lift and shift as such even though for the most part it can be but it’s leveraging the appropriate cloud services so you have a reduction in cost or you have the correct governance around cost management or you have the correct governance around dr and bcp and when i do my my talks and like um the ones i’ve done at aws and sumo and stuff like the one thing i really like to really do is emphasize like yeah look you know these things aren’t perfect look nothing’s perfect especially if your company’s been around for 10 20 30 years but they’ve gone from physical like my first job in like a rural calgary was peter ving probably a lot of kids in the in the early start of it now don’t know what physical to virtualization means we add physical servers we used vm conversion tool to put it as a virtual vm like it’s you know you know you’ve probably got servers that have been pdv’d in vmware and now you’re doing a bmdk to ec2 conversion you know solve that right tell me how you’ve solved that but enabled to keep the slas of the business rtos rpos all that sort of jazz that to me is impressive not i’ve just built a lambda that’s deployed in our website it’s like a few milliseconds quicker now yeah but but still like not to diminish that that’s pretty cool but from that again that infrastructure mind of mine in terms of that’s my background right getting doing a cloud migration you know that’s moving the stuff that is in the back server room.

James: yeah so mate you’re obviously doing some pretty cool stuff you’re getting to speak at you know conferences with international companies there and you’re doing all this from a role in newcastle you’re still based in newcastle i know you’re passionate about staying around and why newcastle for you and what’s kept you in newcastle?

Mitch: it’s just an awesome place so i was i was born here but moved around heaps when i was younger so i spent most of time in in victoria after e12 straight back up here look newcastle is fantastic like yeah it might not have all the big name businesses but it’s got the ones that you know are doing the cool stuff too so i guess i haven’t really had a need to go anywhere else with the um new remote workforce etc that does open up um avenues and opportunities but i’ll be real i’m not even looking at it newcastle is just a fantastic place it’s like you know everything is close it’s like you got the beach you got the lake you got you know bushland you’ve got everything here it’s in terms of even it’s it’s not that busy yet it does sometimes but it’s you know you got half an hour vineyards depending on where you live half an hour away you can kind of get to so many different areas so i guess in terms of i guess to that what kept me here is just the area yeah um but again like where i currently work i haven’t had any real need to go anywhere else i’m you know from a creep i creep that career progression point of view.

James: yeah you’ve been provided opportunities ticking the boxes as i go um so yeah on the flip side of that what’s the biggest challenge for us yeah i guess attracting talent to newcastle or keeping good talent in newcastle.

Mitch: well probably depending on the business it would be the rate of change in the business i think a lot of talented people are people that probably don’t want to do a lot of bau yeah they may do it if they have to or whatever but i feel the one thing that keeps these really passionate strong people is the rate of change in your business to be able to give them new things to challenge autonomy i think is a big one too and i think newcastle from the businesses that i’ve dealt with are quite good at autonomy but yeah i guess like we spoke early about the unicorns as well that is difficult to find in newcastle you know obviously if one comes along you you keep retain you do whatever you sort of can to make sure that they’re happy honestly that’s probably about it’s that rate of change is to keep people here because you know they know i in six months there’s going to be a new thing that i can i can do so i guess that’s kind of the business side of thing um but then it’s also that person having the autonomy to be able to show the business hey did you know about this?

James: yeah, agreed man. mate from a productivity perspective is there a is there a tool years or any software you use on a daily basis you know help you manage your day your team?

Mitch: um not particularly like apple onenote outlook my team know how much i love at out looking quite versed at it um i hope some watch this because yeah they will not like that and yeah honestly i just trying to let’s just do any notes reminders um my phone like i kind of put as much as in in my calendar i can in terms of work stuff jira through work but i’ve got a personal trello board which i do kind of put stuff in that too just to make sure that everything’s sweet yeah i don’t really have anything fancy or anything like that pretty old school when it comes to that.

James: yeah mate i think you know between between the the suite you’re using it probably takes monster boxes right?

Mitch: yeah it’s fine um the only real stuff just just the calendar um is probably the biggest one like i’m i i like to think that i’m quite good in terms of like remembering to do stuff myself but just really apple knows like i’ll kind of drop down or any reminders if it’s something that’s like a priority or important just a reminder but in terms of that like i don’t really you know at nib as well a lot of stuff’s not so much reported back so i i tend to just put some of my own personal stuff in like i’ve got my own jira board as well i kind of do my management stuff in there i’m not surely about it that helps me keep track.

James: i know you know a big you know podcast reading books perspective that’s not how you go about your education mate how do you how do you you know keep up to date?

Mitch: honestly it’s it’s stuff like this like it it it’s talking to communities it’s this understanding um what other businesses and what other people are the same level of their organisation are doing i was being in in the aws um dev cloud alliance that’s fantastic wearing a slack together so ask questions in there a lot talk to other colleagues as well or um other people in that community that are at similar or organisations as nib so ones that are like in you know regulated stuff so that way we can talk around well in your cloud movement you know did you get kicked back from this or you know or blah blah right you know yeah that that kind of stuff but with the educational point i i tend to really talk to probably people that are usually at i don’t know because it’s the easy point but those probably seen you guys it’s kind of like making connections with the senior leadership management kind of like that mentoring kind of approach not official mentoring right but you know getting guidance and stuff or hey i’m doing this thing and you know just you know if if it’s kind of down their path versus you know another head-off or something like that i’ll kind of ask them for a bit of guidance and hey can you like proofread this thing or can you give me support which at nib that is that is something that is is amazing so yeah it’s really just i kind of like to have it have a knock myself.

James: mate i really like that i think there are some people oh there’s a lot of people right everyone goes about education different ways for my education and then courses short courses then podcast books yadda yadda but man the fact that you’ve gone about it from like i guess unofficial mentoring and also communities like building communities building those networks and relationships i really like that i think it’s a different approach to most people or people maybe have that as a minute part of their education or maybe don’t focus on the educational benefit of a network or building a network or community but i really like that i think it’s a good point people could really take a lot from.

Mitch: 100% it’s massive because you know you are not talking theoreticals yeah you know you’re talking to people that have either been done or doing and we’re in tech this you know half the stuff’s been done before it’s like you know don’t don’t beat yourself up trying to solo something like you know if you need any and i’m not talking from like a technical perspective here but from like a management perspective there’s so much knowledge out there from these people and even if you look from like at a senior in terms of age like you know they’ve been around longer they’ve probably seen more things they’ve been through more different changes they’ve been through so much it’s like really look around because also when you do do read as well i find that you can get like sometimes the context isn’t there in terms of what organisation do you work for but if you know you’re looking for some sort of guidance here and now talking to someone in your organisation or in a similar organisation to you also you know they can give you guidance around you know what to do in this current situation so therefore it’s not so much theoretical it’s more in the now.

James: mate on that note then finishing up for people that are out there and don’t want to reinvent the wheel themselves i want to sort of ask you for some advice they might be looking at a cloud journey or looking at something you’ve mentioned today what’s the easiest way for people to get in contact with you?

Mitch: linkedin really i’m not a huge social media guy um or anything like that so honestly linkedin search me yeah you’ll see it don’t have the beard in the photo so might look a bit older and a little bit thinner but no look um but linkedin’s fine i’ve just got my email stuff on that.

James: so all right man thanks for coming in today.

Mitch: no problem

 

Episode #58 Interview with Nathan Hookway

In this episode of the NTP Podcast we interview Nathan Hookway, General Manager at Zimple Digital. We discuss his role at Zimple, his experience at University for the past 13 years now studying a Masters degree and plans for growth at Zimple Digital.

Hope you enjoy the episode.

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.

Time Frames:

00:37 – How did your (Nathan) role begin at Zimple Digital and how has it evolved since then?

01:58 – Tell us about your experience at University.

05:53 – What advice would you give to students wanting to start a career in marketing or digital?

07:20 – Lets talk about Zimple Digital’s growth.

08:01 – Can you talk about some of those plans (for growth)?

10:15 – What can you tell us about some of the clients that you work with?

11:33 Are there any particular skills that you see becoming more and more popular?

15:00 – What can you tell us about the culture at Zimple Digital?

16:35 – Is there anything when you’re looking to hire people that is a must have?

18:30 – Are there any productivity tools that you use as a team?

20:30 – Are there any areas where you support your staff with learning or personal development?

24:00 – What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

25:10 – What podcasts do you listen to?

26:20 – If you were to give your younger self advice, what would it be?

27:30 – Where can people find you?

Transcription:

Linda– hi everyone welcome to the new tech people podcast this is one of our first episodes for 2021 and today we’re going to be chatting with nathan hookway general manager of zimple digital about his career today and zimple’s plans for growth in 2021 and beyond.

hi nathan welcome to the new tech people podcast thanks for coming and spending some time today so i understand your role as capacity of general manager at zimple digital can you tell us how that began and that’s evolved over the last several years you’ve been there for about eight years now.

Nathan- yeah so zimple’s been around officially i think in about 2012 we got all the company documents together and kicked it all off prior to that the other two directors ryan and blake were you know forming the foundations of what the business was yeah in that time i was i was in a another business so i had a franchise on the central coast um it was gnc yeah so that was um sports supplements so and that was good we ran that business for two and a half years but in the background there was conversations around you know digital and the impact it has on business which was sort of the inception of zimple and then and then the boys sort of picked it up and ran with it and i decided that we found out that we’re going to have a baby so my priorities changed and i was like okay i don’t want to work for frank… anymore, i’d like to sort of do my own thing so i was feeling the constrains of a franchise model. We wrapped that up after two and a half years and I came back in as a director with Zimple around 2012,2013.

Linda- Good and we’ll get to that in a minute and talk more about um simple’s growth so in terms of you starting a career in marketing and digital yes i know that you began starting studying a bachelor of biomedical sciences so tell us about that journey.

Nathan: So in 2007 i was 24 so i decided that i wanted to go back to school at 24. i was in real estate and it wasn’t really you know ticking boxes for me so yeah instead of just joining the university of newcastle i decided that i’d moved to perth. ryan was already over there finishing his um his degree at curtin so i thought okay well i can go over there and sort of see what happens so i joined the university of notre dame as an undergrad in pe teaching and got bored with that within the first semester and i kind of i did pretty well at anatomy and physiology so i transferred across to biomedical science and i continued with that for two and a half years moved back to newcastle and the curriculums didn’t quite line up between university of notre dame and university of newcastle it was essentially double the duration and when i moved back i met my wife so again priorities change in life um so i finished that up i i just deferred the rest of the course i had i could have had it wrapped up in probably about six months but i decided that wasn’t my path and we bought the the business on the central coast.

We bought into that business i was a typical franchise model so gnc are sort of a worldwide well they were they’re bankrupt now

Linda- so good old franchise models.

Nathan – they were a big deal in the united states um yeah throughout australasia but the model didn’t quite transpire to to australia when i picked up the franchise they were moving from a corporate to a franchise model so there was a good opportunity on the table and we took it but yeah that’s where the sort of digital stuff came in i recognized when i was in the franchise that digital was starting to take a big slice of the pie in terms of retail revenue yeah um but i couldn’t do anything in the franchise model so that was the inception of the conversations yeah and a digital agency you can’t just go and create your own e-commerce site it hasn’t seen that has to be from the brand yeah we couldn’t even run a facebook page so right um that was quite frustrating we built a website ryan built a website for for the store to try and build it and they squashed that so yeah it was it was quite frustrating so during during that two and a half years i transferred what i could to the university of newcastle and i started in undergrad in com finance um so that’s my my official undergrad is com finance and i finished that up probably two or three years ago while we were sort of growing the business so it’s been a long long haul um i think i’ve been at uni now….

Linda –For most of your yeah most of your working career.

Nathan- My awakened life yeah i’ve um it’s coming this is my 13th year so i’m starting a master’s in marketing at the moment so 13 years part-time studying at university yeah and a business and a wife and two beautiful little girls.

Linda – i’ve had two career changes in my career so yeah it’s just i think it’s um too much pressure for students especially just to figure out what they want to do straight away out of high school.

Nathan – You’ve got to be passionate about what you’re doing particularly uni i mean uni teaches like technical skills which is is really good but it also teaches you time management and and how to control yourself that’s the the biggest lessons i got out of that so that’s flowed into everything i do now so what advice would you give to students wanting to start a career in marketing or digital yeah digital marketing in particular the curriculum’s still pretty light at the uni it’s changing rapidly but it’s still pretty traditional so i’d still say focus on traditional marketing so everyone within our team at zimple is a marketer first and then we span off into our sort of you need the foundation and the fundamentals first and that’s just different applying it across different channels yeah different platforms i mean if you specialization is is still recommended like you can still need to so like seo or sem social media content production there’s there’s a whole range of areas that you go into but the output of those particular skills are only as good as the strategic thought that’s gone into producing them yes so yeah we always try and take a strategy-led approach based on objectives and then back that up with skills so yeah anyone looking to start a career in digital i’d say focus predominantly on the soft skills so thinking listening being able to synthesize information and then put it onto paper and then have you back up in the tactical execution of that yeah definitely and market research obviously because that’s okay if you yeah exactly can we helping your clients grow their businesses.

Linda- So let’s talk about simple so you’ve been steadily growing the business over the last several years which is exciting and you’re a sort of full-service creative and digital yeah agency based in charlestown.

Nathan – Yeah so there’s there’s 18 of us now which is great so last year we moved into a new premises um just above rascals in in Charlestown up in the new corner development which was pretty exciting so we did a full fit out and that was to accommodate the short term and future growth of the the company we’ve hit the short-term growth already and we’re looking to expand beyond that yeah so yeah we’ve got a pretty diverse team up there and everything seems to be moving in the right direction so we’re pretty good and can you talk about some of those plans for growth at this point and what are you going into other sort of areas or new client segments yeah so traditionally our client base is businesses that are already sort of executing some marketing but due to competitive pressures they need to sort of increase their their digital presence in particular and that’s why that would come to us what we’ve observed is the barriers to entry in business have lowered considerably off the back of you know digital means of communicating with people so yeah businesses have been around for 20 or 30 years that have a great reputation they’ve got plenty of word of mouth business are starting to notice that their revenue is in decline right due to all these upshoots so that’s where we come in and different channels people there yeah yeah well it’s very accessible yeah you don’t in the past you know you put a billboard up you run a radio campaign or you do some tvc but now everyone seems to think they can put together a facebook page and campaign and go for it.

Linda- Yeah no we certainly don’t have a lot of followers on our facebook page our main channel is linkedin obviously yeah that’s i guess our business but um yeah it certainly pays to pay an expert to optimize that for you.

Nathan – you touched on it earlier the the research that goes into anything that we do at Zimple you know we want to be agnostic enough to be able to say okay well not everyone needs this particular application of our skills we might need a specialist in this area over here it depends on the nature of firstly what the business wants and then what the data’s telling us about what the opportunity is in the marketplace and a lot of sort of smaller businesses really don’t don’t fully understand what their market segment is as well so i guess you can provide advice around yeah it goes straight back to the marketing plan and yeah and before that even a business plan so it helps to we’ve learned over the years to position ourselves to work with established businesses typically in the service based industries but it does expand beyond that because without a business plan it doesn’t matter how good a job you’re doing at the tactical execution of digital marketing or a website if it has no context higher up the chain then you know it doesn’t end well.

Linda- And what can you tell us about some of the clients that you work with?

Nathan- So we work with a broad range of clients our primary personas that we work with are marketing managers um sort of those passionate doers that are in their sweat equity style we work with legacy builders so the people are trying to you know build a sustainable business long term and they want a scalable infrastructure in their marketing plan to to be able to do that and then there’s the freedom seekers and they’re the sort of the the tradies that are you know they’re applying their craft and they’re they’re they’re winning but they want to take a step back and and get some time so and that those personas can apply to a broad range of industry sectors we do a lot of work in the construction industry i think that’s just more so reflective of the economy.

Linda- yeah definitely there’s heaps of construction going on in newcastle as well which is exciting.

Nathan- yeah so we work down into sydney as well a number of our larger clients are in sydney a few major home builders and other housing construction industry sort of businesses but then we work with service-based businesses right across newcastle you know digital skills are changing quite rapidly and i think the marketing area is no exception are there any particular skills that you see becoming more and more popular or more in demand or is there skills that you know that you find hard to find yourself i mean skills can be taught the our approach is that it’s more about the attitude and the way of thinking rather than the actual skill set itself that’s why i went and made a recommendation around soft skills so the ability to think and synthesize information is probably more important than the actual tactical implementation particularly in our team where say the designers and developers will be talking to the header strategy who’ll be talking to a social media manager who’ll be talking to account management so the way that our agency is structured we apply that sort of design thinking so we try and say okay well here’s the problem.

Now let’s all look at that same problem with our different expertise and and create a solution the skills predominantly line being able to understand what a client wants and then apply their craft yeah based on that but also more and more account managers are having to sort of up skill in the analytics area as well because if you are developing a campaign or a website for your client or a facebook campaign you need to be able to translate what the results that’s that campaign has been and that’s if you can lock down the objective of what the business owner wants and then put a clear sort of target on that through data then the sustainability of the campaign is is almost guaranteed so our account managers in particular lean on our header strategy and digital marketers on a daily basis but their skill set is is quite high our account managers are very good at opening up analytics and and wrapping a story around what’s actually happening you have to want to do that and i think our account management team genuinely want to get a good result so they’re willing to to jump in there rather than saying that’s a bit scary in the back of google analytics um so yeah the ability to interpret data but as as most people are aware you can do what you want with yeah with the data.

Linda- I certainly remember my days back in account management with leo burnett yes just at the beginning of online advertising and flash banner ads yes yes showing my age now but you know these clients you know we’re used to um getting results from tvc and print campaigns and outdoor campaigns and then having to deliver the results of an online campaign where the click through seems like really minimal but it was probably yeah the industry standard at the time it’s a hard there’s still residual from that constantly trying to marry above the line and below the line activity it’s just as much an art as it is a science the correlation between you know running radio tv billboard and then marrying that with the data that we’re seeing through analytics is is a challenge um and and really it’s kind of that holy grail that everyone’s searching for in terms of attribution.

Nathan- Yeah if you can get that right you can scale really well but i think that’s also explaining that to the client that just because it’s lower it doesn’t matter it’s failed exactly and quite often marketing is a necessary evil to a lot of businesses i think um which is why it often gets relegated to sort of an office admin or someone yeah that you know is interested in instagram or facebook but isn’t necessarily qualified to yeah to deploy a campaign so yeah sure yeah so what can you tell us about the culture and what it’s like to work at Zimple it’s fun it really is it’s we’ve got a we’ve got a good group of people in there i guess from an academic or a theoretical point of view we’re probably mixed with a market culture so kind of like a corporate family where everyone’s ideas are sort of valued i mean everyone gets an opportunity to put forward ideas and and discuss things we’re pretty flat in that regard but then from a market perspective everyone prides themselves on being a professional and driving themselves and driving results for the clients so it’s a combination of those two elements probably front-facing with the client it’s the the market culture but internally yeah it’s it’s it’s a pretty good place to be yeah i know i’ve um i know a fair few people that work at simple and they’ve enjoyed working there yeah yeah and that’s um culture’s a funny thing it’s not necessary i’m learning over the years it’s not something that you can dictate or sort of put a slogan on the wall and then everyone just buys into that vision and that culture yeah exactly taken time to get the right mix of people into the business it’s no good coming from director level so it’s no good myself blake orion saying okay this is where it needs to be we’ll set the financial and growth targets for the business and my role then is to facilitate the team and letting that culture reveal itself and it’s done that it’s taken a long time but yeah we’ve got there good.

Linda- You touched on sort of attributes that are really important to you in terms of those soft skills is there anything else when you’re looking to hire people that you look for?

Nathan – Our growth to date hasn’t really been offered a specific formula in terms of acquisition of of new staff i majoritively will be the one leading that new hire the first thing i’m looking for is team fit that’s that’s always the the first thing and generally you can pick up on that in the first 10 minutes or so and then closely followed by that is the skill set of the individual to understand whether or not they can meet the demands of the role. i heard a good saying it’s hiring new people like giving the keys to your house and letting someone in taking care of your kids and it’s kind of on the the gatekeeper there because i understand that the wrong person in in a role can have a bad effect on the business.

Linda- you know where i was explaining to you before we’re hiring at the moment as well and we’re really protective of our culture and it’s really important that the next people that come into Newytechpeople as well are going to add positively to the culture and yeah i think you don’t have to all be the same personality type that’s for sure but that’s the challenge you know is diversity. thought diversity of people i think that’s the sort of zeitgeist of the business.

Nathan – i guess it’s sort of it’s it’s a collection of individuals that you know come together in our case to be Zimple the gravity that comes from that but we’re finding word of mouth is a just the same way it would be in marketing word of mouth is quite a strong driver for new new hires yeah um you know you’ve had a couple of people come back as well yeah people want to work in a place with good people that are professional.

Linda- absolutely yeah and is there any productivity tools that you guys use as a team?

Nathan – So what works for you guys from a team perspective operationally we use stream time as our sort of project management software so that is that specific to advertising or i’ve never heard of it yeah it’s it’ll be akin to like a monday.com or okay it can be repurposed for multiple industries it tracks our productivity our burn rate and all of our projects how we’ve costed the project who’s working on it how it finished and it archives all that information so in conjunction with that i use a program called magnifier that our accountant’s maximum accounting advisory um put us onto so i bring the capacity side of the productivity and efficiency side of the operational execution into our projections and um it gives us a pretty clear picture of the future so that drives a lot of the growth being able to forecast three six twelve months into the future and then just be constantly navigating around where we are relative to that target makes my job pretty easy.

Linda- i’ll have to talk to you about that later.  james and i are thinking we need to improve some of those back office systems.

Nathan – yeah well we we spent a lot of time ryan’s  an electrical engineer by qualification so he’s um he put together a whole suite of um spreadsheets that we’re using for a number of years there to sort of track where we’re at and where we’re going and we build a back-end system blake led an internal project called the xanth that was used for a number of years which helped us to step to where we are now and that that was tracking a lot of our stuff but this this program integrates all of that and it uses apis to pull in information from different areas and yeah we haven’t looked back.

Linda- yeah good so i know you’ve got a pretty strong growth trajectory for this year yeah which may often open up opportunities for career development for others is there any particular areas that you support your staff with learning or professional development?

Nathan – yeah so there’s a number of our team that are just by their own motivation studying so i had a strategy is doing psychology content producers doing law which is interesting um i’m doing my masters as as i said earlier so we’re pretty broad in terms of education we support that our videographers on the path to studying robotics at as well yeah so that’s been quite a good hire and a new introduction of service offering um through video and photography at simple which is really exciting that’s something that’s going to form a big part of our growth as we recognise pretty early in the piece that video is a primary form of communicating yeah and that ramped up certainly yeah yeah the trend towards the way that people consume content and and the time video is going to be integral to that so yeah we’re pretty excited to have have Garth on board he had his own business for eight years so he’s bringing a lot of energy to the team which is good but outside of my traditional education paths monthly we hold lunch and learns so that’s just where a team member will get up and talk about their specific role and then that becomes an open forum where everyone can ask questions and help to understand you know what what an account manager is doing versus a developer versus content.

Linda – Yeah so is there anything else you want to add in terms of zimple’s growth any exciting plans that are coming up?

Nathan – yeah the the growth is managed growth in alignment with you know our constitution and our financial projections so the a lot of our growth has been driven through demand we can we can model everything we can make spreadsheet and our projection software look great but the unknown variable there is is the market and actually acquiring that new business and making sure it’s a good fit for the company so that that is the unknown but during times like this and we just don’t know what’s yeah yeah yeah that’s happening so it’s it’s about positioning um positioning the business in sectors that are relatively maybe recession proof if anything does come down the pipeline yeah we’ve been fortunate that to to date um the whole COVID period was actually okay for zimple we grew through that period which was it was a result of a lot of businesses pivoting towards digital because they had no other means.

Linda- It certainly sped up everyone’s fans during that time after a bit of a lull everyone was a bit in shock i think.

Nathan – yeah well it forced people to face um digital so people that maybe were hesitant about using zoom for meetings and and jumping on there and using that form of communication were forced to adopt it and then that bled out into broader sort of applications of what they can do with their digital presence so we capitalized on that and that’s where we were able to grow last year with six new team members through that period.  i think like you you touched on before diversification of customer base yeah it’s really critical to see you through those times yeah and we the way that we structure the company is we have a like a shareholder meeting on a monthly basis where we review progress today towards our targets but also what happened historically being able to lean on our accounting team to be a trusted advisor throughout the whole covert advent was was pretty powerful it was good yeah they they steered the ship.

Linda – So what about you personally what do you like to do in your spare time?

Nathan – yeah spare time (laughter) and studying yeah for 13 years my spare time was uni not so much now i found undergrad versus masters is totally different the the stuff that i’m learning currently is just directly applicable whereas com finance was was relevant but it wasn’t something that i could take and apply i was never going to be in corporate corporate land doing that stuff so yeah so outside of my studies spending time with my family and friends food i like listening to music aussie rules yeah good i feel tragic watch cricket and science.

Linda – who’s your team?

Nathan –hawthorne

Linda – yeah ah my kids follow hawthorne through their father. I played in a previous life and it was back in the 80s i think so from from a pretty young age 80s and 90s i started following hawthorne so i went through the the big dip and then we had our good times and then um yeah let’s not talk about it now.

Linda – Do you listen to podcasts? 

Nathan – i try to listen to podcasts pretty regularly rather than i try and use that down time in the car to yeah get some good stuff in there and i jump around a little bit i mean i try and jump across genres and i tend to lean towards podcasts that have a pretty diverse sort of guest lineup so i listened to hamish and andy pretty regularly they always put a smile on my face aubry marcus podcast um so he’s the founder of uh on it a sports supplement business so yeah listen to that a fair bit um obviously still interested in the health industry then yeah just in general just general health um more so around how to optimize so burnout doesn’t occur but yeah yeah so that’s that’s good. tim ferriss has been a staple for a long time i think he is for a few people and yeah joe rogan joe rogans he gets some pretty diverse guests on there he found alternate ideas so i enjoy that.

Linda- yeah good and so if you were to thinking back during your career and you know the study that you’ve done if you were to give any career advice to your younger self what do you think that would be?

Nathan – I mean career wise i didn’t start thinking about that probably until 24 and that was you know i came out of school not really knowing where i wanted to go i went to good schools local schools and it was all fine but nothing really grabbed me. it wasn’t until i stepped into sort of academia that i sort of started to find my feet a little bit the advice i’d give my younger self though would probably just be to find something where i can sort of genuinely be myself and help other people. I found zimple’s been a great platform to do that particularly as we grow more and more it’s a real opportunity to help people so that’s been good and don’t choose a career where you’re going to live in quite desperation that’d be the other one yeah just taking the clock away just for a paycheck it doesn’t work it’s not sustainable.

Linda – So where can people find you?

Nathan – they can find me on linkedin so just nathan hookway or they can shoot me an email through our company website.

Linda – well it was really good to see you today and thanks for coming on the new tech people podcast it was a really interesting story to hear about your career journey and your plans for growth at Zimple.

Nathan – yeah cheers thanks for having me Linda thank you!

Episode #57 Interview with Glendin Franklin-Browne

In this episode we interview Glendin Franklin-Browne, Technology Consulting Manager at Diamond IT. We chat about his personal journey into his current role, the importance of Cyber Security and examples of local businesses that have been affected by breaches to their security systems.

Hope you enjoy the episode!

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.

Episode #56 Interview with Jodi Stapleton

In our latest episode of the NewyTechPeople podcast, Linda Apostolidis chats with Jodi Stapleton, Head of Transformation at Newcastle Permanent Building Society.

In the episode we discuss Jodi’s personal journey, how she started a career in data and technology, the strategic roadmap currently underway at Newcastle Permanent Building Society and her advice for young people choosing a career in technology. Jodi and Linda also discover a shared love of true crime podcasts and thrillers! 

Hope you enjoy the episode!

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.

Episode #55 Interview with Pru Killick

In our latest episode of the NewyTechPeople podcast, Linda Apostolidis chats with Pru Killck, Head of People and Culture at Pegasus – a local Newcastle success story.  Pru shares their plans around Pegasus’s growth, recent investment from Silicon Valley, their partnership with AKKR and their intentions to create further jobs in the local Newcastle market.

Pru also talks about their investment in graduate programs, engagement with the University of Newcastle and Fast-track HSC program giving more young people a head start in their careers.

Hope you enjoy the episode!

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.

Episode #54 Interview with Tom Howard

On this episode of the NTP Podcast I chat with Tom Howard from the Greater Bank. It was really interesting to hear from Tom about inspiration he has taken from the marines into building software development teams. 

Hope you enjoy the episode!

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Episode #53 Interview with Justin Stafford

On this episode of the NTP Podcast I chat with Justin Stafford, Co-Founder and CEO of Blueshift. We spoke about how Blueshift has grown, how they have adapted to new working conditions, methods Justin uses to organise his day and how he hasn’t stopped tinkering even as a CEO. 

Hope you enjoy the episode!

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Episode #52 Interview with Adam Amos

On this episode of the NTP Podcast I interview Adam Amos, Director of Robotic Systems. In the episode we discuss the growth of Robotic Systems locally, Adam’s university experience and his team’s unique approach to maintaining motivation in the workplace.

Hope you enjoy the episode.

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.

Episode #51 Interview with Arjun Ramachandran

In this episode we sit down with Arjun Ramachandran, Principal at elevenM to talk about all things cyber security, the changing needs of University degrees, the challenges of working from home and some key resources he recommends for those in the tech community.

We hope you enjoy the episode!

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe

  

Watch the Episode

Show Notes

Here you can source all the things we have talked about in the podcast whether that be books, events, meet-up groups and what’s new in the newcastle tech scene.