DevOps Institute

[EP89] Navigating Your Career During Times of Crisis with Lindsey Pollak


In this episode, Eveline Oehrlich is joined by Lindsey Pollak, a New York Times bestselling author and a leading career and workplace expert with a focus on generational diversity.

Her latest book is a response to the Covid crisis: “Recalculating: Navigate Your Career Through the Changing World of Work,” published by HarperCollins, is available now.

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Narrator 0:02
You’re listening to the Humans of DevOps Podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas, and learning, or the SKIL framework.

Lindsey Pollak 0:16
I lost almost all of my speaking business at the beginning of COVID. And I had to pivot very quickly and the metaphor that I used was recalculating, like when your GPS takes you down a certain road and you make a wrong turn, and you have to find a different path.

Eveline Oehrlich 0:33
Hello, and welcome to the Humans of DevOps Podcast brought to you by the DevOps Institute. My name is Eveline Oehrlich, I’m the Chief Research Officer at the DevOps Institute and your host today. Our podcast today is Navigating Your Career During Times of Crisis, and we have an exciting guest, Lindsey Pollak. Hello, Lindsey.

Lindsey Pollak 0:58
Thank you for having me.

Eveline Oehrlich 1:00
Yes. excited that you’re here. Thank you for giving us your time. We’re very grateful. Let me tell the listeners a little bit about you because there is a lot of things here I want to make sure that they know so first of all, Lindsey is a New York Times bestselling author and one of the world’s leading career and workplace experts. She was named the 2020 thinker, 50 radar lists, which honors the top global management thinkers whose work is shaping the future of how organizations are managed and led. Of course, that is a very important topic in where we are in this world. She has written many books. Her latest book is the response to the COVID crisis. It’s titled “Recalculating, Navigate your Career Through the Changing World of Work”. It was published in 2021. Other books, the remix “How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace”. Then she wrote to the yearbooks for some of the younger professionals, which I was just telling Lindsey, I was going to order for my daughters, but I’m don’t want to intrude on them. So if they’re listening in ladies, maybe you should get them. The first one is called Becoming the Boss new rules for the next generation of leaders and getting from college to hear your essential guide to succeeding in the real world. Normally, Lindsey has a great speaking audience and consulting clients, which include more than 250 corporations, law firms, and she speaks at conferences and universities. She has appeared on today’s show, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and NPR. And she’s also an ambassador for CAP Finiti V. Brand, LinkedIn, and a millennial workplace expert for the Hartford and Chair of Cosmopolitan magazine millennial advisory board. Welcome again, Lindsey and thank you so much for being here today.

Lindsey Pollak 2:59
It’s my pleasure, Eveline and thank you again.

Eveline Oehrlich 3:02
So when I was listening to one of your stories, where you talked about hiding under the cover after you graduated eating ice cream, not knowing what and how to get started, and that reminded me a lot of myself when I started my career at 24. Not really wanting to be a programmer, and somebody called me a programmer, which was a very huge disappointment. I wanted to just walk out, because I was a 4.0, master’s student in computer science and the gentleman called me a programmer. So I thought, wow, we have to have this wonderful woman on this podcast. So again, thank you. We have ambassadors at the DevOps Institute as well. So I’m curious, what does your work as an ambassador actually include Lindsey.

Lindsey Pollak 3:53
So I’ve worked with a couple of organizations linked in, I was an ambassador for six years from 2009 to 2015. And now, as you mentioned, I work with kept FINITY. And it’s essentially aligning myself with organizations that I think have a lot of value to the people I serve, which is people who are interested in their careers. So I guess it’s similar to being a spokesperson or a partner. But I like the word ambassador, because it really is a community oriented role that I partner with organizations that I believe in to get more people involved in their communities and kept FINITY has a Strengths profile product that helps people find the strengths that they have that are unique to them that can still serve them in their careers. And I really believe in that mission of having a strengths based career as you said, a lot of us aren’t sure what we want to do when we graduate. And I think when we start from our natural strengths, we often find a lot of value and a lot of happiness and fulfillment when we follow that path.

Eveline Oehrlich 4:53
Yep, that is exactly what I keep telling my daughters to try look for that happiness and fulfillment, and as they’re just starting out the career, of course, they sometimes think their mom doesn’t know anything, just because I am old. But I sometimes give them a hard time that I am not yet old. I am still here. And have advice to give. Great, yeah, we have forgot. We have over 250 ambassadors who help us in a very similar role. So that’s great. I was curious about that. All right, let’s talk about this whole topic on Skilling and Upskilling. And in the future, we’ve just done some research from the DevOps Institute where we found that getting, there was a significant amount of lack of skill. That’s really the number one challenge for our audience, which is IT leaders, CIOs, and so on. And they’re having a challenge in terms of keeping and retaining and hiring new skill. So I want to explore this term of with you. Of course, the great, great resignation is one great vinegar. Yeah, but I have also heard about the great renegotiation and a great reshuffle. The three sometimes seem to be used at the same time, but wanted to see what you’re seeing relative to this whole grade resignation. Is that a US thing? Is it you see it in Europe? I do see it in Europe, because we’ve, you know, where I live it, it is Europe. But I’m curious, what do you see in your work and in your day,

Lindsey Pollak 6:28
You know, I prefer to call it the great reshuffle or the great reevaluation, because some people, they’re not actually resigning, but they are rethinking how they want to do work or how they want their careers to be. So we do see a lot of the statistics of people actually quitting their jobs and starting other jobs in the US and elsewhere, like Europe, as you mentioned, but I think the broader picture, which relates to rescaling and upskilling is that COVID And the advancement of technology and globalization and all of these different factors generational change, as well, are all causing people to pause and say, Am I doing what I want to be doing? And is this a, an industry or career that has a future to it. And for a lot of younger people in particular, who see many adults now working into their 60s into their 70s, even some people into their 80s, it’s a very long term choice. And so when you think about what you want to study in school, what kinds of organizations you want to work for? I think the skill conversation is really important. We have a huge need, particularly in the US for STEM talent, science, technology, engineering, and math. And I know that’s a global phenomenon. But we just simply don’t have enough people to fill the jobs that we’re going to have. I think that’s also a really important point for older workers who, you know, maybe are in their 40s and 50s. And say, you know, I’m nowhere near retirement, what kind of career is going to carry me through the next several decades where there are going to be jobs available. So I think a lot of it has been accelerated by COVID. But these trends of looking for more fulfillment, looking at the future and what it’s going to be, I think that’s been going on for a while, and it’s only accelerated with the pandemic.

Eveline Oehrlich 8:18
So do you think this is going to get better or even worse than where we are at this point of time? What’s your crystal ball saying?

Lindsey Pollak 8:26
My crystal ball is saying that we are in the messy middle of this, we are at the moment where people are quitting, people are restarting people are searching. I think there’s a lot of uncertainty right now that has continued on from the pandemic. So I think that it’s a tremendous opportunity for job candidates and employees to use their leverage right now and say, particularly if you have a technical skill that you are in demand, if you are eager to learn a new skill, I think there are tremendous programs and opportunities globally to rescale or upskill. In technology fields, there’s a lot of government and nonprofit funding for that. Now. I think if you’re an employer, this is a challenging time because employees do have leveraged, there’s a lot more opportunity out there, particularly for organizations that offer some kind of workplace flexibility. So I think the companies or the employers that are smart, are saying well, we should really look at our well being offerings or employee benefits, how well our managers manage talent, how well we train employees to keep their skills sharp. I think I’d be a little concerned as an employer and make sure that I am looking at the future and I think for employees use this moment of leverage and opportunity to put yourself in a good position and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.

Eveline Oehrlich 9:49
Mm hmm. Yeah, so we see some changes in of course, the work hours right? Friday’s off. We’re to DevOps Institute have actually implemented that for our team to have a Friday, summer day, that means that’s the day where we start learning, doing some training to ourselves or having some special projects. I hear a whole bunch of new things. I keep saying to some of my enterprise clients that just putting up a workout place in the basement or having a beer fountain in the developer community. That’s kind of a popular thing, having the, you know, 12 different liquors, or whatever it is to your developers or others is not going to cut it, you have to dig a little bit deeper and think a little bit deeper. So yeah, interesting. Most we’ll see how that does. I want to shift our thinking a little bit, particularly in light of your book, “Recalculating”. I have ordered it, it’s not here yet. But I do know that you have written and talked a lot because I listen to some of your speeches. They are around the mindset. And I am actually a big fan of Dr. Carol Dweck, who I’ve tried to get onto the show, hopefully one day she will say yes, I’ll keep working on her. Tell me about this mindset. And what what can we what have we learned during the pandemic? In terms of our mindset?

Lindsey Pollak 11:19
I love this topic. So I wrote recalculating because of the pandemic, I lost almost all of my speaking business at the beginning of COVID. And I’ve had to pivot very quickly. And so I started researching how people were responding as employees or business owners like I am to the pandemic. And the metaphor that I used was recalculating, like when your GPS or your Sat Nav takes you down a certain road and you make a wrong turn or what have you. And you have to find a different path. And so when I think about people navigating through any environment, but particularly challenging times, I think about how they make choices. And what struck me as I was interviewing people, is that you could have two individuals in the same situation, for example, somebody who had been unemployed for a long period of time, and one of the people would say, I’m never going to find a job, nobody’s going to hire me because I’ve been unemployed. And the other person in the same situation would say, everybody’s gonna want to hire me, I’m so refreshed. I’ve been out of work for a while I can start, you know, hit the ground running. And that’s where I decided to start the book with a chapter on mindset. And I think those two sides are very good examples of what Carol Dweck refers to as a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset says, This is what it is, it’s never going to change. So for example, I don’t have a good singing voice, or nobody’s going to hire somebody who’s unemployed. And a growth mindset, all you have to do to adopt one is to add the word yet to the end of those sentences. So nobody’s going to hire somebody’s unemployed yet, well, I haven’t found a way that they’re going to do it, or I don’t have a good singing voice yet. I’m sure if I took some classes and practiced, I could get better. And what I found is the people who were willing to find different paths, try different strategies, use their network, get some extra training, who had that growth mindset that their situation could change, even during COVID, which was such a challenging time, that made all the difference. So I really think while a lot of people are experiencing burnout, and mental health challenges that often need professional help, we also sometimes do ourselves a disservice when we sit in a negative mindset. And assume that things can’t change when actually very, very, very small steps can make a big difference in finding a job or even when we’re in a job making the changes that we want to see for our well being or for our career development.

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Eveline Oehrlich 14:30
Yeah, so in our field in it, there is of course, a lot of topics around automation, right? We NIT doesn’t matter if we’re an IT operations, if we’re a site reliability engineer, or if we are developer, we are wanting to do an automate ourselves, to some extent out of a job and for some individuals. That’s a significant challenge in my research, over the years, in large and with Corporation, there’s always this one or multiple people who are saying, I’m just going to do it the old way. I’m not going to be out of a job, I’m not going to be automated away. And, and that’s, I think the biggest challenge our community has, to some extent because there’s this fear, right? What advice could you give those folks were saying, Hey, I’m going to do my process the way I’ve done it always, and I’m not going to be replaced by a machine even so that individual could do something much more valuable, and maybe even something more interesting. They still will not be able to change the mindset. How could these folks think differently? What would you say?

Lindsey Pollak 15:43
That’s such a good example in I think of a parallel in journalism, you know, that so many journalism jobs have been lost, but many people have survived and thrived by pivoting their skill set to something else? So I think it’s a classic growth mindset exercise, which is, where are the opportunities? What do we know is growing? What does work what people have found success despite automation, and rather than focusing on what is not going in your favor, what is not helpful to your career, look for the opportunities, and I’ll give you a framework to think about one of my favorite frameworks for generational thinking is rather than doing things the old generation way, or the new generation way, I like the word perennial, which was a term coined by a technology entrepreneur named Jean appel. And a perennial is someone who knows their history, they know the way things have been done. So they have that grounding that a lot of IT professionals have. And they keep up with the times. So it doesn’t mean you erase everything that made you good at your job in the past, it means that you use that foundation that you continually build on it. So I think of some architects I worked with, who had learned how to design with a paper and pencil. And then in the 1980s, CAD technology came along. And so they learned how to design in CAD, but they know how to do both. And they see value in both. So when they see a new technology coming along, they don’t say I’m a dinosaur, I’m never going to learn it. They say, Oh, great, here’s another tool to add to my toolkit. So I think it’s really about being willing to change with the times and putting yourself in a mindset of saying, okay, things may be different, but I’m going to seek out the opportunity. And I think sometimes older people get more worried that they’re not going to be able to keep up with the times when I think we’re all perfectly capable of it. We just have to make a choice to adapt with those times and not decide that we have been overrun. Does that make sense?

Eveline Oehrlich 17:51
Yeah, makes perfect sense. And I have actually a follow up question, because I know you’ve done some research in the millennials as well. What I also see in the, in this space is that of course we have folks like myself, I am you know, a baby boomer, I’ve been in it, I know how to do certain things. But there’s new folks coming in. They have great capabilities. They, for example, can manage five different screens and write code on all of those together. I can just follow one. And I may be content switching maybe in two things, but they’re just incredible. And I can deal with it. Because maybe I don’t know, maybe I’m having a growth mindset or because of my personality. I’m not sure. But there’s a lot of folks that I meet in IT organizations who are threatened by millennials, not just because they have technical skills or abilities, but they’re just different. What advice would you give those folks because I know we have people, mainframe folks, we still need them. Some of the largest financial institutions, if we turn the mainframe off, and we go to cloud, it’s not working, we cannot we cannot get our money. So what what advice would you give somebody like, like a baby boomer, like myself or even older? How to deal with that?

Lindsey Pollak 19:06
Yeah, I see this all the time. And I think particularly in technology where things are so stark and move so fast. I think that one way to reframe it is rather than saying they’re faster, or they’re better, is to say that they’re from a different culture. So just as you’re in Germany, and I’m in the United States, if I came to Germany, I think I’m an expert on my topic, but I would inherently understand that I would probably have to adapt a bit to the German culture. And so it’s not good or bad, right or wrong, better or worse. It’s just a different culture. And so if you see it that you come from the culture of a baby boomer IT background, and the young people you’re working with or in a millennial or a Gen Z it culture, then you both have things to offer. And so if you come at it from that level playing field, a lot of younger people would love to hear how you learn to code 10 or 20 years ago, they would love to hear about your purse. spective that the architect who learned to design a pencil, he said, a lot of young people say, show me how to do that. I’ve never done it that way. That’s really interesting. I can learn from that. And so I think that the magic happens when we just spend time together and have curiosity, rather than judgment. So I love to talk to people who did business in the 80s or 90s, you know, pre email, pre technology, you know, how did you do sales? What did you do? What are the tricks that you used, and there’s a lot of value in that in some of the tools that other generations haven’t use. So I think if you see it as a cultural difference, rather than a judgment call, and you bring your natural curiosity, I often find younger people think that older employees are resistant to that conversation. And the older employees think the younger people are resistant, and when they actually get together, they have a lot to talk about.

Eveline Oehrlich 20:50
I love how you face that the magic happened. And actually, has happened to me at the DevOps Institute, just recently, so. And we actually learned from each other. And I think that made us both a better individual, and it has tightened us or connected us towards a better team. I love the term the magic happens. All right. Fantastic. I have another question. Because of we also do assessments at the DevOps Institute, we have an assessment, many enterprises do assessments, but not as much about the skills as you have written and you have an assessment model, but we assess the capabilities around processes. How fit are you around technology, but I’m really want to dig into your example. In your book, you said you had that you have a capability to assess skills, how and what would you suggest? How was it? Because I always thought I cannot? How can I assess my skills? Because if you would ask me, am I my human skills? Right? Am I a great collaborator? Am I a great communicator? For Yeah, I think I am. Am I empathetic? Yeah, I think I am. So I’m sometimes thinking, how can I assess my skills? Yes, I can say, I’m not really good at cloud, or I’m not really good at security. Because I’m not a security expert. I’m an operations person. But assessing skills tell us a little bit more on that topic, because that really intrigued me. And I know, our listeners are curious, because we just did a upskilling at 2022 research, and we’ll talk a lot in that research, we talk a lot about different skills.

Lindsey Pollak 22:31
So I like to differentiate between skills that you can learn hard skills, like written communication, like particular coding languages, and then the word strength, which is the company Captain entity that I’m an ambassador for. And the difference is a skill is something you do that you’re good at doing. But a strength is something that you’re good at doing. And it energizes you. So you could be very, very good at filing papers alphabetically, but it doesn’t excite you. Right, it doesn’t interest you. So the difference with a strength is that it excites you, it energizes you. So it’s something that you want to do. And what’s really interesting about a lot of strengths, and I think the difference between a strength and a skill is there a lot of people, for instance, who are really good at math in school, and so they became an accountant. And they don’t really like it, they’re good at it, but they don’t like it. And I’m sure that’s true with a lot of technology jobs, you had an aptitude for it. So you did it. But if it doesn’t energize you, it’s not a really great career choice. So the magic is finding the things that you’re good at, and you enjoy. And what’s very, very interesting to me, is a lot of times, we actually do a terrible job of knowing our strengths. Because when something comes easily to us, and it doesn’t feel hard to learn, we don’t think that it’s a particular strength, because we think though, everybody must be good at that, right? So if math comes really easily to you, or coding comes easily to you, or empathy comes really easy, easily to you, you might not value it, because you’re just don’t think it’s a big deal, that you’re good at it. And so when you assess your strengths, and I can be happy to provide you with a link in, in your show notes to take a simple strengths profile finder, there are things for instance, I was speaking to an academic, a PhD professor, and he said, he’s really burned out on writing. He’s very good at it. But it doesn’t energize him anymore. And so he doesn’t want to do it. It also tells you what are what’s called your unrealized strengths, which are those things that you’re good at, but you don’t even realize about yourself. And sometimes that’s really helpful for people who are reskilling or who are looking to change careers because again, it’s something that you’ve been really, really good at. Maybe you love introducing people to each other. Maybe you’re very social, as you said, maybe you’re very empathetic. And so maybe you’ve been coding, but you’d actually be really good at managing other people to code because you’re very empathetic and a good teacher. So I kept filling his strengths profile and happy to share that link. But I think that magic again, is the skill that you actually enjoy doing.

Eveline Oehrlich 25:09
Hmm. That relates to the great job then right? So what is that great job, is the great job, the place where I have energy? My husband, sometimes I have to tell you this, my husband sometimes says he cannot. He’s in construction. He does all kinds of things, right? And on Sunday night, he’s like, I cannot wait till Monday. I’m like, Oh, wow, that’s really exciting. I’m just saying way I love what I do. I’m an analyst, I get to do research, I get to write, I get to speak to very, very good and fantastic people like you. So I love my job. And I would say I have a great job. But there’s a lot of others who don’t, because they don’t have that excitement. So that is the great job. One part of the great job is that excitement, I know what I’m good at. And I can thrive in that. And I learn what else goes along with the great job, because I know you talked about that as well.

Lindsey Pollak 25:59
I think that’s a really good description of it. And look, we can be you know, happy in our jobs, but not every minute. And every task that we have to do, I don’t want people to think that work should be bliss that you know, and if not, you’re miserable. I think it’s a combination of where you feel fulfilled. And I actually use the word energy, instead of excitement. It’s not like you’re giggling every second, but you really feel energized by it, you feel like you’re making a difference. You feel like your work has purpose. You’re not slogging through the day. But I think the environment in which you do it is equally important. And I think this is a big change in the workplace, which is do my values align with the organization that I’m working with? So do I feel that the work that we’re doing and a big picture, there’s my job, but then the bigger organization, I think millennials and Gen Z’s have put a lot of energy and attention into making sure that their values align with the organization they work for. And I think that’s part of the great resignation that you brought up, is during COVID, people had a lot of time to think about what they really wanted in life. And if the organization they were working for was at odds with what they wanted from their own values, I think a lot of people made a change, not necessarily always because of the actual job, but sometimes for the the broader picture of the organization.

Eveline Oehrlich 27:17
Yeah, absolutely. I am hoping my daughters are listening into this at some point to get them excited about or energized. I love that word. You have given us some great language. Well, this has been fantastic. where can folks go to learn more about your work? Of course, the books we read about the books, but is there a place you would tell our listeners to go and say, Hey, check this out?

Lindsey Pollak 27:42
Yes, I’m very active on LinkedIn. So feel free to connect with me there at my name, Lindsey Pollak. I also have a website, And under the tab that says Recalculating, that’s where you can find that free Strengths Assessment if you’re interested.

Eveline Oehrlich 27:58
Fantastic. I have one more surprise question for you. What’s your favorite thing to do on the weekend?

Lindsey Pollak 28:04
Oh my, favorite thing to do on the weekend. You mentioned the ice cream. The ice cream example is I live in New York City and there are a lot of ice cream trucks. So my daughter and I go out and I love vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. So taking my daughter for an ice cream cone on a sunny weekend is my favorite activity.

Eveline Oehrlich 28:21
That sounds fantastic. That’s what I might do this weekend too. We have 33 Celsius here in Germany, so now’s not the time to visit. But if you ever come over here, I’ll take you for ice cream. We’ve got some great Italian ice cream. Lindsey, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for your time. Enjoy the weekend. Enjoy the ice cream and everybody else. Thanks for listening in. Have a great day. Cheers.

Narrator 28:47
Thanks for listening to this episode of the humans of DevOps podcast. Don’t forget to join our global community to get access to even more great resources like this. Until next time, remember, you are part of something bigger than yourself. You belong

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Upskilling IT 2023 Report

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