What is this all about?
I volunteer to take part and present in classroom interactive sessions arranged by Nepris.com. It is mostly with grade and high schools who want to talk with experts on a particular topic. I’m honored to do the work. This morning, I had the opportunity to answer the following interview questions via video chat with Stephanie Edmiston‘s class in BENTON MIDDLE SCHOOL, BOSSIER PARISH via Nepris. Here’s the session description:
“Students enjoy learning about careers from people who are in the field. They like to understand how they can get on a career path and greatly appreciate practical insights and advice.” – View Session | Nepris – https://app.nepris.com/#!sessions/view/36551
Since I was going to answer these questions live, I decided to write out my answers beforehand to think about my logic, and so I’d be able to share the answers with you.
27 Interview questions for John LeMasney about being a technology consultant.
1. For an information technology/cyber security related career, what paths, opportunities, and/or strengths should the student identify or focus on?
JL: Mathematics, observational skills, and Linux. Also, try to understand every detail of knowledge contained in some thing. It can be anything: flowers, food, language. Be the most dedicated enthusiast of something, and know it through and through. Mine is Inkscape.
2. What is the job outlook in the information technology/cyber security field?
JL: Increasing exponentially. Internet of things, Cyber attacks nationally and internationally, Sony, etc.
3. How did you become interested in this field?
JL: I first caught the bug in a class in college where we were in a computer lab. I wanted desperately to be a computer lab tech for the classroom. I wanted to help people to know what I knew about computers and technology. It excited me, and I spent the rest of my life doing that.
4. Did you know you were going to do this job when you were a teenager?
JL: Not really, but I was an early enthusiast. I learned Basic on a TI99-4A at 12, basically at the urging and influence of my mother (sensing the increasing importance of technology), and I fell in love with technology in waves throughout my life.
5. What is your educational background?
JL: I have a Bachelor’s of Fine Art in Sculpture, and a Master’s in Organizational Leadership with a focus on Communications. I am a lifelong learner. People tend to find my Degrees odd, in that there are not technology degrees there. My knowledge about technology comes from my passion for it. My degrees helped with understanding creativity and organizations, and I use those skills every day in my technology work.
6. What types of courses do you recommend for high school students?
JL: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. (STEAM)
7. Did you find any clubs or extra-curricular activities especially helpful?
JL: I find the rise in robotics teams and Makerspaces to be amazingly helpful. There are often computer enthusiast clubs, and lots of opportunities to learn about making and hacking. We are having a Princeton Hackathon to help solve civic problems like potholes with tools like Arduino. The entire community is welcome to learn to hack.
8. Is an advanced degree essential to career success in this field?
JL: No, though I find that pursuing higher levels of knowledge to be very common among hackers. Hackers are often lifelong learners.
9. What skills are the most important to acquire in this field?
JL: Learn and practice open source code. Learn everything you can about the ways that code works, which you can do with open source projects. Then, use it in unexpected ways. Figure out the essence of what makes code work, and you can be a stellar computer security specialist or technologist.
10. What professional organizations should students join to be successful in this field?
JL: Join Maker groups and find Makerspaces in your area, often in libraries. Look for Linux Users Groups (LUGs) and Computer Users Groups (CUGs), and find topics to present on.
11. Your consulting practice covers a wide range of services. What is your primary focus, and what are your major job responsibilities?
JL: My primary focus is Web Development, and my job responsibilities include Server Management (Apache, MySQL), Service Management (WordPress, Drupal), Graphic Design (Inkscape), Branding (a marketing imprint), and Customer Service (how can I help you?).
12. Do you work with other people, on a team, or by yourself?
JL: All of the above. I am an individual consultant, with my business. I work alone a lot, or in co-working spaces, like my library, because it often leads to new connections or re-connections with colleagues and clients. I often pair or team up with people for short-term or long-term projects. I just had dinner with the team for TEDxCarnegieLake, in which I was the technologist on staff. I also teach at several local libraries, schools, and universities, all of whom have people I have to work with to arrange times, space issues, technology infrastructure, etc. I recently worked with the technology staff of a local school district to migrate to Google Apps for Education, all of whom knew most of what I knew.
13. What is your typical day like?
JL: I start at about 9 am, and often go until 2 am. My life and work float in and out of each other, which keeps things interesting. If I have meetings that day, I usually arrange them in places near each other to keep travel down, and often between 10-12 or 2-4. I have some luxury with my meals, which is nice, because I love to cook and I’m a foodie. Also, I will often reward myself with a nice walk if I’m keeping up with projects. The work-life balance of a consultant can be very rewarding. I usually keep coding work for late at night, when it’s quiet, and I can focus. But it’s hard to describe a typical day, as I don’t often have two days alike. http://doodle.com/lemasney
14. What are the greatest challenges and rewards of your position?
JL: The greatest challenge, by far, is keeping a steady income and managing it. In the work that I did in Academia as an Instructional technologist, there was a check that came every month. Now, I get lots of checks, but all with relatively small amounts compared to a 9-5 job. There are a lot of $125 checks that have to come in to add up to a $40,000 salary.
The greatest reward by a mile, is flexibility. If I don’t want to work today, and can afford to take a break, I do. No demerits, no excuses, no concerns. If I want to go take a walk because it is an amazingly beautiful day, I do. It would take a hard, hard year to make me want the 9-5 schedule back.
15. Do you travel in your work?
JL: I travel a lot! I travel every week to NYC, Princeton. Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, Bucks County, Trenton, and other local areas for work. However, I visited (with gratis travel) to LA, San Francisco, Washington DC, Maryland, and Chicago since January. I really do not enjoy driving, but I do get to listen to my favorite podcasts, like All About Android, and This Week in Google.
16. Can you work from home some or part of the time?
JL: I work from home most of the time, unless I am meeting a client, or presenting. There are days where I work all day from home, and never leave.
17. Are there any health hazards in this profession?
JL: Generally speaking, not really. I encountered a lot more danger in my time as an artist with chemicals and solvents and tools. There is a lot of driving, and the issues that go with that. I guess inhaling solder fumes or getting electrocuted, maybe? There are a lot of amps in a power supply.
18. How would you describe the culture of your workplace?
JL: Casual, organized, comfortable, utilitarian, knowledge-oriented, natural, creativity-oriented, mindful, technological, healthy, sunlit, cat-friendly, human friendly, equal, warm, garden.
19. What is a common myth or misconception about your job?
JL: I am often surprised at how often truly brilliant people marvel at what I know about technology. I think that people think that it is a special kind of knowledge, but it’s only as special as 1000 other expertise areas, like cooking or gardening or fishing or selling, all of which have an amazing depth and breadth to explore. The myth is that technology is especially difficult to learn or know deeply comparative to any other expertise worth diving into. .
20. Contrast the role of an independent consultant with employment in a large company.
JL: I’ve done both. In a large company, you are a cog. I am not using the term negatively. You might be a very important cog that keeps the mill running, but at the end of the day, you are a small part of a large machine. As an independent consultant, you are the entire machine connecting to cogs of other machines.
21. What do you enjoy most about your job?
JL: It’s a toss-up between waking up when I want and the pride that I feel in my work.
22. Can you describe related jobs in your field of work which might also be of interest to the students?
JL: System Administrator, Emerging Technologist, App developer.
23. What type of student work or internship experience would employers look for in a job applicant?
JL: Library, volunteer, tutor, study abroad, web development intern. At least that’s what I would look for. In all honesty, the interview is most important, and it’s the answers you can give to problems they have more so than anything else. If you can describe how to solve a problem the employer didn’t know they were having, that’s impressive. Security expert applicants should find holes in the systems of their potential employers and demonstrate them in interview. I’d hire that person.
24. How did you locate the right people to help you along the path to a successful career?
JL: I have no earthly idea. My best explanation is that I made myself available, offered to volunteer, and put myself in contact with ‘hubs’, people who enjoy connecting people. The person who launched my independent consultant career asked me to speak at a library about technology, and that is when everything changed as far as considering technology as an independent consultant. She ended up creating hundreds of connections for me, including many other hubs, and I will be forever grateful. Her name is Janie Hermann, she is at the Princeton Public Library, and she is a force to be reckoned with. She and other members of the library recently won an award for programming at PPL from NJLA. #Libraries have become incredibly important to my work, mostly because of Janie.
25. What type of compensation range and benefits should students expect in this industry?
JL: As a technologist or manager at a university, expect between 50-90 unless you pursue administrative positions, which can be 120,000 or more. As an independent consultant, expect more like 40-60 for a few years. Develop a business plan if you want to be an independent consultant. Know your expenses through and through.
26. In this field, is it more common to be paid by a predetermined consultant fee, sales commission, or salary?
JL: I don’t know anyone in my industry who works on commission. We are often selling ourselves or selling an idea and executing it, but not for commission. Technologists in organizations are often salaried. I work on a rate that varies according to the client. Here’s my Rate and Policy Doc:
27. What is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone going into this career field?
JL: Treat people well. Treat people with kindness and dignity and truth. Learn everything you can and then give that knowledge away as freely as you can. Become a source of joy for the people you work with. Laugh every day.