April 23, 2021

ShipTalk Podcast - From House Fires to Production Fires

Table of Contents

In this episode of ShipTalk, we are joined by James Bohrman who is the founder of Cloudspeakers. James had an interesting path to technology. James started his career as an emergency dispatch technician for a security monitoring firm. From receiving calls about literal house fires to putting out metaphoric fires in production as a Site Reliability Engineer.   

Making the initial jump from a dispatcher to a DevOps Engineer then to an SRE, James created a blog detailing what he has learned along the way. The art of storytelling for James was a conduit for building his brand and getting into technology. James a neurodiverse individual chats about how perceived weakness can be used as a strength in the technology world.   


Ravi Lachhman  00:06
Well, hey, everybody, welcome back to another episode of ShipTalk. I'm very excited today to be talking to James Bohrman who's the founder of Cloudspeakers. For those of you who don't know, James, James actually started as an emergency dispatch technician, and actually jumped into technology as a DevOps engineer and an SRE.  Even working at a Continuous Delivery firm. But James, for those of you for those listeners who don't know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

James Bohrman  00:30
Yeah, so I have a background in SRE, I'm neurodiverse, you know, I'm actually on the autism spectrum. And I've actually made a variety of pivots. I started off after I worked in DevOps for a while, I ended up pivoting from that and do content writing. And that's where, you know, cloud speakers actually blossom from, and now I'm doing content writing and creation for a variety of industries, and basically just storytelling.

Ravi Lachhman  01:03
Storytelling, it's quite an important skill. I mean, it's, I'll kind of take the listeners back, I was thinking of a funny title, what to call this podcast and had the opportunity to talk to you, I was gonna say, from paramedic to production, but being a paramedic is quite not accurate. It's your emergency dispatch, but in your in your background, and we can start that I think is pretty, pretty funny or not funny or ironic that you are literally getting calls for actual fires. And in the DevOps world, and SRE  world, we're like, oh, we have to go put on fires. But literally, you were receiving calls about fires, and having to send people to actually put them out. So when we talk about that, what are some learnings you had as maybe a stressful situation as a dispatcher? And how does that how does that play into your DevOps and SRE roles that you had?

James Bohrman  01:54
A lot of very interesting ways, communication skills, most of all, I think working as a  dispatch operator, definitely helps me communicate with other people a lot better. You know, one thing I learned dealing with high stress situations, you know, there were times where I would all you know, I would call people and, as you said, you know, their houses would be in the process of burning down. And I think that, that really taught me to learn to listen to people, as opposed to try to talk to people. Because, you know, in situations like, when, you know, you can't really there's not much you can really say to so to calm them down when their house is burning down. And a lot of times, you can say too much. And that's one thing, you know, just listening to someone, letting them vent letting them talk about their frustrations, and just telling them things are gonna be okay. Is that that I mean, obviously, that doesn't translate directly over into DevOps. But just the general concept of being a good listener, has always been a very beneficial trait.

Ravi Lachhman  03:21
Yeah, that's very, very, very helpful. And it's a trait that's actually really hard, you know, when people ask you for help, and this is, I've been going through this journey, too. When if I'm getting asked for help, or an opinion, I would immediately start kind of spewing everything that knows like, Oh, yes, do this, this and this. You're like, I didn't do this step. And then I got burned here before. But that the art of listening, it's really important, right? Like in sales training, or I spent some time in sales in my background, the ability to listen to people like first you kind of understand where they're coming from, is pretty critical. I like I said, if I call them said my house is burning down, I didn't want you to it's really ironic if you kept talking to me, like, Oh, yes, put some water on it. But Oh, yeah. That's so funny. And it made me help draw a parallel to being in DevOps is a movement, right? So there's no like one DevOps product or DevOps switch. And a lot of times that it the rationale behind why a firm will invest in DevOps is because there's so much pain, right? It's like, Oh, well, our developers are gonna storm off or we're not, we're losing productivity because we're not agile enough. And a lot of times, and you know, looking kind of at your background as you start as a new DevOps engineer, how about you walk through the process of I'm a brand new DevOps engineer, what would be some of the first steps that you took, you know, when parachuting into an organization?

James Bohrman  04:54
Oh, that's an interesting question. I definitely think yes. Asking questions. But listening is important. Taking being able to take feedback. You know, interacting with peers is hard. And I definitely think it's important as a new engineer, to be able to ask as many questions as you can, you know, just be able to be a sponge, by being the sponge and soak up as much information as you can. And, you know, I don't think that's people. It's a bit of a gray area, you know, whether you should be like, doing learning on your own time. But you know, if that's something you want to do, you know, that can never hurt you.

Ravi Lachhman  05:54
Yeah, absolutely. And having the ability to, it's always that people think that you know, as a kid, you learn as a sponge. And then the older you get, you know, that sponge is less absorbent as time goes on, but in especially in it in newer fields, like being a DevOps engineer, as an SRE, there are a lot of emerging practices. And so you just have to sit there and learn and draw on your expertise. Another question for you, James. So for folks who are just maybe getting into technology for the first time, maybe, how do you how did you go from an emergency dispatch technician to a DevOps engineer? Like it seems that's, I mean, for me, that would be a really far jump, but I'm curious to hear your story and hopefully inspire others who are listening.

James Bohrman  06:42
So a lot of what I did was, so I ended up self-educating a lot with Linuxacademy.com, you know, a lot of the resources that are available out there now. And I think the biggest thing that shoots me forward was my blog. Which is a lot of why I continue to block these days. And, you know, I've been doing that for time. But my blogging is one thing that really started getting noticed, and has gotten me quite a few job opportunities these days. That's okay. I don't think I don't think you know, I definitely am of the opinion that people should blog if they're passionate about it, but I don't think it can ever hurt.

Ravi Lachhman  07:34
And that's a very, very good point, right? Like, how I like how I learned is actually by teaching, there's just like a German word for it like learner, I'm going to mess it up. What the learning there sounds like the word learn. In German, it's basically how I learned is by teaching other people. So if I put myself in their positions, like if I have to learn this, I should be able to teach it back. It kind of structures how I learn in a certain way. Not sure if that's Blogging?

James Bohrman  08:02
Oh, yeah. I mean, yeah, there's, you know, blogging isn't the only way of doing things these days, you know, I know the, you know, I'm, I'm 28 now, and, you know, it seems like the younger Gen Z crowd is all about Twitch Streaming. And, and, you know, like, YouTube, creating YouTube videos. And, you know, there's, there's all I think there's all kinds of ways to create content, and learn while you're creating content.

Ravi Lachhman  08:36
For perfect. Another harder thing to answer is something that it's it I think, I think you would have probably one of the best answers out there is, as an engineer, your accomplishments don't follow you around, right? And so going firm to firm. I'll give you an example. A lot of what I worked on out of university was in the federal space, no one will ever see it unless you go to jail.

James Bohrman  09:10

Ravi Lachhman  09:13
No one really knew who Ravi Lachhman is, right? my resume might tell a story. But if you were to Google it, you will read about my love of Zaxby's. I really like that's true. I know there's a Zaxby's where you live. So you know. I just love fried chicken. And but building a brand is important. And I think that you're doing it fairly well as that you were able to build a brand to get recognized to get into your first set of technology roles and furthering your technology career, but maybe you can talk about how does the average person even start building a brand and is it worth it or is it not worth it?

James Bohrman  09:52
I 100% believe it is worth it. There was a I'm trying to remember the person's name, the person who gave first gave me the top gave me the importance of building a brand was someone from here in Knoxville. I can't remember his Twitter or his name. But it was a talk here in Knoxville at the KnoxDev community. And this was right now is really starting, and he talked about the importance of building your brand. And I definitely think, you know, it's like you said, you know, your accomplishments don't follow you, from company to company, but your brand does and who you are, and that kind of stuff. Do you know, your personal projects, your blogs, and stuff like that, like, you know, the Gist that I, if you've probably seen my Gist before, for those who don't know, I have a Gist of all, all the blogs that I've created for a long period of time. And that follows me everywhere. You know, that allows me, I think that's important to have things that follow you from company to, from company to company that are, I guess, company agnostic.

Ravi Lachhman  11:08
Yeah, perfect, perfect. And that's important, right? Like that's, you know, especially with that helping build a community or being standing out in a community, or even standing out in a huge pool of applicants that for any type of job. It's just that Yeah, I like how you summarize that, like your brand follows you around. A different part of your background. So for those who don't know, James, will James mentioned in the beginning of the podcast that James is actually neurodiverse. And so I'm very fortunate to talk to you, you're probably one of the first, you're actually the first neurodiverse person who's been on the podcast. And just for the listeners out there, let's say for those who are on either side of that pendulum. Let's talk about how you in the technology world, how can we get engaged with more neurodiverse people? And how can we be engaging in your opinion? And also, how can folks who are neurodiverse if they're aspiring to the technology, what are some first steps they can take?

James Bohrman  12:14
Um, I think it's very important for companies to embrace different minds. That is 100%, the first step to attracting neurodiverse talent. You know, we talked a little bit about it at the beginning of the podcast. I think it's important for anyone to not even just in the tech world, for anyone who has someone who is autistic in their lives, you know, a problem I see. With a lot of, you know, obviously, me being autistic, I view people's interactions with autistic people differently. And there's this trope, you know, a thing I see a lot with parents of autistic children, is, this is kind of interesting, a little off topic. But a thing I see is that parents of autistic children have this mentality that their kids are always going to get their autistic children are always going to be children. And I think that that, inherently is why parents need to see content by people who are on the spectrum, as opposed to, you know, hearing from people who are just friends or, you know, interacting with people who are autistic. And I think that looping back is why it's important for companies to talk to and hear from autistic minds, or neurodiverse minds, not even just thought it's, I mean, this relates to like DiD, you know, bipolar, you know, any neurodiverse, you know, mental health issue, and I think it's important that companies hear from those people who are struggling with that, as opposed to just hearing like a doctor say this or something.

Ravi Lachhman  14:28
Yeah, perfect. I mean, it's one thing to be empathetic but also it's it's what building software or like building anything, it's, the more I say points of view that you get across or that you come across, it's that makes things better for the collective good. As let's say that some folks might be this is for some neurodiverse folks, if you're listening to the podcast if you want to get technology for the first time. What were some, you mentioned that you did a lot of self-learning and a lot of online. resources. But is there any other specific advice you might give someone who's starting out, you know, say in their, to their technology journey?

James Bohrman  15:07
The advice I probably give to neurodiverse people is probably embracing your neurodiversity, as I wouldn't say embracing it as part of your brain, because not everyone is comfortable with that. So it's not that that's not always the advice I would give. But, you know, I would say embrace your passions, you know, because one thing that really helped me was, you know, when I, I, one thing about me is I hyper fixate a lot, you know, and that's one of my very positive traits of being neurodiverse is that, you know, I will hyper fixate on a task, and I will not deviate until that task is done. And I guess, on that topic is is, is the answer to that question is embrace the, your neurodiverse traits, you know, because there are a lot of people, I think a lot of people love to tell, focus and focus on neurodiverse person's negative traits, but never give credit to the positive traits.

Ravi Lachhman  16:36
And that's, I think that's excellent advice, right? Like, anyway, like, you know, embrace your strengths. Even if it's, some people might view it as a weakness, if it's to be your strength, how you learn and that know, to your point, your ability to hyper fixated, something gives you a lot more drive to come to a conclusion, versus maybe someone like me who's like, yeah, give up.  Thank you so much for that very candid and very personal, personal stories and advice. Shifting gears now to storytelling. How do you tell a good story? So So James is a writer, like myself a funny background, James used to work for a competitor. You know, actually, James and I would have been enemies. If, you know, months ago, but we're not we're buds right? So we can look past that. But how do you tell a good story? And why is storytelling so important to technology? I know this is very abstract question, but the you're right guy to answer the question that.

James Bohrman  17:42
I think telling a good story. Definitely. It from the company perspective, we're involved involves, you know, empathizing, and getting yourself in the customers shoes. And I think it's important to just because, I mean, if you don't have people don't hear you hear your about your product from other customers perspective. I mean, then it's all just marketing at that point.

Ravi Lachhman  18:17
And I think it's the art of storytelling that I think we're touching on but it's making something credible, right, it's one thing you know, one person say that is completely the other thing, you know, like multiple people are saying it's like, oh, they might be onto something you know, it's always as a human a skeptic. Well other humans said it. Not  just the system once was saying that. Um, let's see. If going back to your, your blogging days, how what's the easiest way? So let's say someone's listening to this podcast, and they've never blogged in their entire life, and it's something I've picked up on a few years ago. But from another perspective, how does somebody in the technology world as an engineer start blogging if they want to start blogging?

James Bohrman  19:15
That's big this is just my stickler response because I see so much that it's installing the Grammarly pro plugin.

Ravi Lachhman  19:34
Yeah, my boss definitely gave me that he's like, you're gonna get Grammarly. So, for those of you don't know what Grammarly is, it's a it's a tool. Basically, not only does it check your spelling, it checks your usage and the checks. Are you following certain syntax rules are you following certain complicated grammatical rules. I like to put commas in a lot of places that don't belong. So Grammarly will pick up on that.

James Bohrman  20:07
But I have more of direct, like a more practical advice, I'd say. I think it's important that, you know, finding the right niche, you know, finding the right platform niche, or being able to distribute and find your tone, find your voice, and finding the voice that fits you. Obviously, grammar is important, but so is, you know, finding the right tone that fits your voice and brand.

Ravi Lachhman  20:45
I think that comes with time, but you might not have it the first day. But yeah, would you advice the kind of stick at it if someone was starting?

James Bohrman  20:53
Yeah, just Yeah, yeah, just stick out. Uh, you know, it might not look perfect right away, you know, but I think my advice for that would be, you know, blog, because it's something you're passionate about it because we're trying to develop something else. If that makes sense.

Ravi Lachhman  21:20
That makes sense. Sometimes blogs be self serving, sometimes you can serve in the public. So finding that right balance. I have one more question for you. And it's, it's an intrinsic question. And I always ask all the guests of the podcast kind of like the same question at the end of the podcast. So let's say, take it back. 10 years ago, let's say you're walking down the main streets of Knoxville, Tennessee, and you ran into an 18 year old version of yourself. Right? It was the current rendition of yourself, what would be any advice you would tell? A younger James, it could be any set of advice that you would tell your younger self?

James Bohrman  22:06
Oh, that's a great question. I would probably tell myself younger question myself, to not overthink so much that everything was going to work itself out in time. And that to just enjoy my youth a little bit more.

Ravi Lachhman  22:27
Awesome. Yeah. Great. Great, great advice. Once youth is gone, youth is gone. So James, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I really enjoyed your time here. I'm sure listeners love your insight onto many different aspects of tech and non tech world. So yeah, James, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

James Bohrman  22:50
You're welcome. That is definitely a pleasure.

Ravi Lachhman  22:54
Cheers, everybody.

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