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This is What a Technologist Looks Like

Presented by Gretchen Scott, Jon Meyers
Originally aired on 

Today we are catching up with Jon Meyers from UpBank. From teaching technology at university, to becoming an engineer at one of Australia's most well known neobanks, we can't wait to explore Jon's journey.


Transcript (Beta)

Hey there, I'm Gretchen. You're listening to This is What a Technologist Looks Like. So it's been a series of talks, it's gone over six weeks to show you what opportunities exist in the technology sector, kind of what the people in the industry look like and how they got to be where they are.

Today is my last last fireside chat, if you like, and I'm a bit excited and a bit disappointed at the same time.

Some say we saved the best for last, but Twitter has had some, a few discussions around this from other guests on the segment.

But today we get to chat with Jon Meyers.

Thanks for getting up bright and early. Jon's always had a really strong interest in technology.

He worked at an Apple store, then spent a whole heap of time in tech education.

And now he actually, for fun, creates some of the best educational content I've seen.

So look him up on LinkedIn. Some of the posts on there and the tutorials are solidly good.

And when I get stuck, it's often the stuff I go back to.

Now at the moment, he still he works as a software engineer at UpBank.

So Jon, thanks for coming along this morning. And I'm loving, is that an actual drum kit in the background?

It is an actual drum kit. Yes. It really just sits there taunting me and reminding me of what I don't have time to play with.

I like to surround myself with the toys that I'm that I'm not allowed to play with because I'm too busy.

But it's nice to remember that I could one day if you wanted.

And then people say stuff like it's just five minutes a day and you're like, yeah, I'm still I feel bad and don't do it.

Stop. Yeah. So you're at UpBank at the moment.

So one of one of Australia's kind of neobank startups with fantastic marketing.

Like honestly, I love how they've done it. What's your role there and and what do you actually do?

Sure. So firstly, thank you for the for the lovely comments and introduction.

So, yeah, I'm Jon. I work at at Ferocia is the tech company that I work for and the product that we build is up.

And so, yeah, most of the engineers at Ferocia are full stack.

And so they can, I guess, yeah, features come up all over the place.

And so we have people in ops doing GCP cloud infrastructure stuff.

Our main kind of API and back end is rails. We have react native for.

Yeah. Rails is very. Yeah. Yeah. It's very cool. What what they. Yeah.

What you can do with a whole bunch of really, really good rails devs. It's amazing.

And react native on the front end so that we can kind of target iOS and Android.

And I spend most of my time working on the marketing site these days. So that's a Gatsby app with lots of pretty colors, lots of nice animations and basically just implementing lots of crazy ideas from really, really great designers who were very good at what they do.

But mainly what I do at Ferocia is play Mario Kart.

We play a lot of Mario Kart. I guess I would take back that comment about not having five minutes to play your drums.

This is on you. I'm training. It's I'm an e-sports champion in Mario Kart.

It's important. It's more important than drums. Trust me.

Track time. It's all about hours. Exactly. Exactly. On a given day other than playing Mario Kart and not the drums, what do you do?

What does it look like?

Do you sit there in the corner and code? So part of my day is spent coding. Usually in the mornings we have stand up meetings.

So, yeah, a chance to kind of just catch up with people and make sure there are no blockers or, you know, you have all the answers to the questions that you need.

Thankfully, Ferocia kind of banks a lot of those a lot of those meetings up in the morning.

And so other places that I've worked, you've just kind of got a full day of meetings back to back all over the place.

It is kind of nice that at Ferocia we try to make sure we bank those up a little bit so that you actually get some time to concentrate on something else and train for Mario Kart in the afternoon.

But, yeah, so depending on the day, we have, you know, some planning sessions or maybe retros, coffee catch ups with people, lunches with people, lots and lots of Mario Kart.

Seriously, the Mario Kart is crazy.

Like it's calmed down a bit since we've gone remote. But when I first started, it was like daily games at like 1pm and 4pm.

And apparently back in the office, it was just like constant.

Like it was just like that room was filled with people playing Mario Kart all the time.

But yeah, once all of that's done, I get a little bit of time to write some code.

It's really intriguing because, well, there's a couple of things in that.

When I first came into tech, it frustrated me knowing that a stand up wasn't always standing.

I just got a little bit stuck. I used to make people stand.

When I started, I was like, no, no, no, no, no, we stand. Everyone up.

We stand. And I guess the idea around that was everyone gets restless and sick of standing and wants to sit down.

But a lot of people I've seen in tech get restless sitting down and want to get up and move around.

Maybe doing sit down stand ups is the better way to do them.

That's true. And move through the space.

Maybe you should just have different people alternating so people feel even more uncomfortable that some are standing and some are sitting and they just want to get the meeting over and done with as quickly as possible.

Yeah, it's a good tactic.

I like it. We're solving all the big problems in tech this morning. The only way is up.

See what I did? The playing, the Mario Kart. I know you're joking, but I think there is serious, serious merit in two things here.

One, you're allowed to block off actual thinking time and do deep work, which is so needed.

But the other, that piece of playing lets us be a bit more free and confident and I guess crazy and you get to like interact with your designers who are then coming up with this beautiful stuff for you to create.

Have I just made that association up or do you think the playing actually does help?

No, playing definitely helps.

Yeah, especially when I first came on board, like I came on board entirely remotely.

And so I feel like, you know, my work tasks and stand ups and stuff, I was feeling much more, you know, more anxious about being out or whatever.

Like, you know, I didn't want to speak up.

I didn't want to, you know, just kind of being brand new at a job.

But I felt like in the Mario Kart, maybe it was like the constant stream of swear words and maybe it was a little more casual in the Mario Kart space.

But yeah, it was, it felt, I felt more connected to the people I was playing Mario Kart with than the people in my team probably initially, like in those first few weeks.

It's good. Okay, serious question here. Are you good at Mario Kart? Do you think actually, because when you start somewhere new, everyone knows more than you, right?

So there's a sense of anxiety a little bit. But if you're actually quite good at Mario Kart, I can re-level that playing field.

So were you good before you started?

I thought I was good before I started. So I like, I actually talked about it because I knew that that was a big thing and like a big part of the company.

And so, yeah, I bragged about my ability to play Mario Kart in every one of my interviews, in like my application for the job.

And then I got there and I just got absolutely decimated.

Like they are just, yeah, scarily good at Mario Kart.

I guess that's what, you know, when you don't, when you don't spend your time actually building apps and building technology and you just spend your time playing Mario Kart instead, you get really, really good.

So there is a book I read years ago that suggested 10,000 hours of practicing is what you need to be good at something.

So you're fitting into it, but the counter to that, right?

Like say I joined, I guess I wouldn't get through the interviews, perhaps if I was like, I hate Mario Kart.

Oh yeah, you'd be out. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's the first question.

There's an element, if you totally go down that route, that you might be losing other good people with a diverse, I don't know, life experience, all the other things that they could bring.

Is there a risk of that, Jerrigan?

And can you counter it differently? Definitely a risk. There is, yeah, at first there are different, like that, that's kind of one, one group that I guess I identified with and that was, that I knew was a thing from the outside and that was, was a way that I could get, get involved and, and be a part of that.

But yeah, there are, there are lots of other, other things that, yeah, lots of other, other little kind of social groups.

Because I used to lose to my six-year-old, like way back six years ago.

So it's like. Yeah, Mario Kart tends to have those, those difficult memories.

Yeah. You wait. Yes. I mean, we also play Smash Brothers. We also play Rocket League.

There are, there are all kinds of other options here. Yeah.

No, there are more diverse, more diverse things that people get involved in.

I just, I just went heavy in the Mario Kart space. The one you like. Hey, did you always, when you're in high school and thinking about being an adult and growing up, which I haven't seen happen in your world yet.

Did you think, were you always like, hey, tech, tech is the thing, tech's where I want to be.

Was that your, was that always your end goal?

I think computers, definitely. Like I was definitely interested in computers, but programming or like writing code or like doing it as a job.

Absolutely not. Like I, I, I had an interest in, in building computers.

Like I, I built gaming. Yeah. I built gaming PCs to play Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft.

And I built computers for all my friends. And I used to go to like the, the like computer markets on the weekends.

I was, I was a total nerd in that space, but I was just like, yeah, I don't, I wasn't very academically interested at school.

I think I, I wasn't really, I don't know, looking back on it, maybe I wasn't challenged in the right way, but at the time I just thought school isn't for me and I'm not going to learn, you know, what I wanted to do here.

You did finish high school, didn't you?

I did. Yes, I did. I did finish. I ended up not finishing with an, what's called an ATAR here in, in, in Victoria, but for everyone else in the world, just a, a score to enter directly into university.

Yeah. I didn't actually end up finishing that part of it, but I did get what's called a year 12 certificate, which is.

You went for enough days. Yeah, that's right. I turned up to enough days, but in that, in that time at, at, at school, I got put in or not put in, I chose to do a networking course because I thought I had an interest in tech.

I kind of had an interest in the more like hardware side of things and how things were connected.

And so I thought that, yeah, that if I wasn't likely to get good academic results, maybe I could finish with some sort of qualification.

It was actually a, it was actually seen or recognized by Cisco as it was a Cisco networking course.

And so at the end, you would end up with, you know, a tiny certificate part of the way to towards CCNA or whatever the networking qualification is.

But the teacher just mysteriously left after like six weeks. And so what did you do?

I don't know. Again, reflecting on this later, maybe we should have been more concerned, but he I don't think they really gave us a good, a good reason, but he just wasn't there anymore.

And he was the only one that was actually certified to teach this course by, by Cisco.

So we ended up, they just took all of the kids that were in this networking course and like dumped them into a programming class, but they didn't think like, oh, hey, these people have missed out on six weeks of programming.

They just went, yeah, I'm in school, school and computers are computers.

Here's a programming class. And they didn't slow it down at all.

And so I just, I just got dumped in, in the middle. And they had obviously already gone through like maybe what a variable is and a loop and a function or whatever.

And it just seemed so complicated and that it was just like, so beyond me that, that kind of scared me off in completely the other direction.

So I kind of like pulled right away from, right away from, from tech and I guess came back to it much later.

That's a horrible experience. I'm sorry. I made it. Still stuck by.

So how then did you end up, because you then went on to get a tertiary qualification in exactly the thing you got traumatized by.

Yeah. I'm concerned, John.

I had to prove I could do it. I see what happened. How did you even get into university then, given you didn't have the entrance requirement piece of paper?

Yeah. So after, I guess, I started off because I knew that I had an interest in some sort of tech stuff.

So I started doing musical theater, lighting and sound. And so I liked like, you know, playing, playing with lights and that side of things.

And I quickly realized at the time I was in it, that industry isn't, isn't the nicest.

And that I wasn't going to last, you know, getting up at 3am to build up big pieces of set and stuff.

And so eventually decided that, you know, I should take this, this, this tech thing a little bit further.

Maybe I don't want to do programming or anything like that.

But, but since I can build computers, maybe I want to do more of the hardware stuff.

And so I started off doing an Apple traineeship.

And so to become an Apple certified Macintosh technician was the name of the qualification.

But just basically, you have the green tick from Apple to, to pull apart their computers and fix them.

So do warranty repairs and things like that.

And so I did that for a few years and kind of, I guess, worked my way up until the point I was like managing the whole arm of a company doing that stuff, focusing on, on like high schools and like the kind of education onsite side of fixing computers.

And I realized that I'd pretty much hit a ceiling and yeah, the pay maybe didn't reflect the seniority of my position.

Yeah, that's right.

Exactly. It's all about money. And so I, I decided that I wanted to go back to university and, and kind of raise that ceiling a little bit.

But yeah, it was really hard for me to get back to actually get into university because I didn't have that, that university entry score.

And so I had to go and do, I forget what it was called, but like basically a, an English test and a maths test.

Sorry? They'd make you do bridging papers too. I'm a little bit personally scarred because I've had to go through the same journey.

Yeah. Yeah. That was, that was the one.

And so I had to, yeah, just write, it was like a six hour test and there were like three hours of writing and three hours of like more mathsy logic stuff.

And I, yeah, I must not have done very well there either because I was pretty out of practice of doing that stuff.

And so I ended up only being able to go into one of the, like, it was like a, not a bachelor, a, a diploma of IT at Swinburne College.

So it was like the TAFE version of, of Swinburne. But the, the thing that it, that it gave me at the end was the ability to transition into, like if I, if I passed the, the diploma, I could transition into the second year of the computer science course.

And so at, at, at Swinburne Uni. And so yeah, I, I think because it was so difficult for me to get there, I took it really, really seriously and did like quite well.

I started teaching because they were impressed by, you know, my, how much I was, I was interested in it and how, how well I had, I had engaged with it.

And so it was kind of weird because I was teaching like the second, I was teaching the first semester unit in like my second semester there.

So it's like I did the course and then the next, the next semester I was teaching the course.

And that was a little bit weird later on because I started having like peers in certain classes that I was like teaching in the other one.

It was, yeah, it was, it was weird. But yeah, I, maybe because I knew the lecturers, maybe because I put a lot into it, I ended up doing quite well.

And, and yeah, went and did honours at Deakin University and then came and worked with you at Coder Academy.

So once I finished my, my degree I decided that teaching was, was what I wanted to keep doing.

And so I took a leading teacher role at the, at the full stack bootcamp Coder Academy.

And then after that I decided that I wanted to move more into a software engineering role.

I felt like I really enjoyed teaching and always have, and probably always will, and it'll always be a part of my role.

But I was kind of missing those really complex technical problems that you get that aren't as, aren't as common in the classroom.

Where usually when you're teaching a concept, you, you're kind of giving people like a little bit of a walled garden of like, you know, yeah, exactly.

You've already proven out it works.

And, and you're just kind of like, you're, you're giving people an example that allows them to focus and learn on one part without kind of being overwhelmed by all of the other stuff.

And so I wanted to be overwhelmed by all of the other stuff.

So I went and worked at, yeah, yeah, yeah. Always, always go the hardest path possible.

I went and worked at REA Group, which build .au here in Australia, which again, total institution here, right.

In terms of tech career progression.

Yeah. Yeah. It's a, it's yeah, definitely an important, important part of our Melbourne tech scene.

And then after that, I was there for about a year and a half and then moved to Faroesia, which is where I am now.

And so yeah, on the side of that, I'm, as you mentioned, building online courses and tutorials and blogs and things.

I started as a learner advocate at Egghead, which is basically writing additional course notes and, and things for existing courses.

And yeah, and I found that that style really fit me professionally.

Like I think, yeah, their style of really, really short, concise courses was, was a really good way for me to continue learning concepts while I was working full-time in tech.

Cause you don't necessarily have as much time to go and do a full online course or whatever.

And so being able to have these little like kind of bite-sized courses that just focus on one, one thing specific in a short amount of time, I found was, was really helpful.

And so I've kind of nagged them enough that now I will be building an Egghead course soon.

We have some, one of our fabulous team members on my workers team, Christian Freeman has some really good content up on Egghead.

And I agree as a platform, it's unreal.

It lets you do stuff in bite-sized pieces. It's so easy to use.

It's not like you've got to sign up for a six week, 12 week program that you just kind of never finish because who does?

How many of those have you got?

I love, you've had the most, when you think back through your education pathway and you did choose the hardest path or get nudged into the most difficult route at every point here.

Do you think that's helped give you empathy for when you write content or when you try and impart knowledge?

Because I was always so engrossed at Coda with how you, you took stuff back to the most simple uncomplicated piece you could so that people could hold onto it.

Is that because it was rubbish for you?

Yeah, just wanted to make sure it wasn't as hard for anyone.

No, it wasn't, it wasn't that, it wasn't that hard. It was fine. But yes, I think that has definitely given me a lot of empathy for people struggling with it, especially that experience with that programming class.

Like I got to see what it looks like when you get dumped into something you truly don't understand and there, and you feel like you should understand it.

Like obviously it, you know, it causes a lot of feelings of imposter syndrome and makes it feel like you are the one that doesn't get it because other people in the class do.

And I think that's definitely something that is a factor when you're teaching in those group settings.

So like a group of bootcamp students, for example, like they're all seeing other students understand these concepts or be able to answer questions and get through the challenges that are set for the day or whatever.

And that can be really hard if you feel like you are struggling with that.

And so, yeah, I always tried to remain really conscious of like how difficult it can be to learn this stuff from scratch.

Obviously, when you're teaching a subject, you're pretty far from learning it initially.

So sometimes it is hard to put yourself in the shoes and understand every way that someone is going to struggle with it, but trying to see when people are struggling with a concept and yeah, just peel it back.

Like I said before, like, you know, trying to learn to code or whatever is just the largest, most overwhelming problem if you don't kind of just start with one small slice.

And so trying to peel back the bits that are just overwhelming distractions and just looking at the piece that actually matters to kind of understand the concept I think is important.

How do you know then? Okay. Let's frame it.

Imagine I'm going, okay, I want to be in web development. I don't even really know what that looks like or what that feels like.

How do I even know where to start and which bit to peel back to the most basic point?

Where do you start if you're not good at all?

So that's, yeah, that's something that I've had lots of conversations with people about who didn't go that traditional university route.

Because that, I think that's the thing that university gave me. Like I definitely could have, I could have got into the industry in other ways.

I could have learned on my own.

I could have gone to a bootcamp. There were many different ways that I could have got into tech.

But I personally really needed that like clear pathway to say like, learn this and then learn this and then learn this.

And so I think that's the real value that the university gave me was just a pathway that linked a collection of topics together.

And, you know, like most of the stuff that I learned was probably like not super relevant to the day-to-day stuff that I do at work at the moment.

But giving me kind of like a foundational knowledge and also just, I guess, like practicing learning again because it had been so long since I had like kind of learned something in an academic sense.

So giving me the ability to kind of like, I guess, seek out the bits that I wanted to know after that.

So that it kind of gave me a little bit of a pathway showing me the foundation of tech.

But there was like no web development at Swinburne when I went there other than I think one course that I did that actually focused on web development specifically.

But everything was, you know, pretty outdated like university courses.

And so. By the time you finished. Yeah, that's right. And so, but it definitely gave me an understanding of like how to find the bits that I wanted to learn.

Because yeah, if you're just like, you know, you have no familiarity with what coding actually is and you're like, I know that I enjoy a little bit of this, but I want to learn to code, like it's just an unending list of things.


And so I think it's really important to to have a way to have a defined path. And so that can be through university.

It can be through boot camps. It can be through talking to friends, like finding, you know, mentors, not just official mentors where you've asked someone to be your mentor and there's some amazing senior, but just talking to like friends that you have in the industry or people in different communities that you know online.

And yeah, just trying to get an idea as to how to get from A to B.

So you don't get overwhelmed by C, D, E, F, G, H, I do everything.

Learn all the languages. How do you find people? Like if I didn't have friends in tech, you said community.

What is, where do I find community? Yeah. So I guess community exists in lots of places.

But yeah, it can be a challenging thing to find the one that fits for you.

I think online communities have been really good for me.

And so if there's a particular, like a particular language that you like writing code in, if there are particular frameworks or tools that you really like, then there are usually Discord groups or people you can follow on Twitter and start conversations that way.

When we could all get together.

Sorry? Old school meetups. Yeah, that's what I was going to say. When we can get together, there are meetups and there are conferences and ways that you can meet people.

Yeah. I mean, if there's so many ways, you get a lot of friends that you can rely on throughout that process that are going through the same thing.

That's true. Support crew. Hey, do you think people should get into a tech career?

Very good question. Take that one. Do they hate them? So no, I'm joking. I think that tech has been a super rewarding thing for me.

I think it has been an awesome career.

And I'm like, so grateful that like with such little academic direction early on, that I ended up in something that is so fulfilling.

Like, you know, tech isn't for everybody.

There isn't like, people may not, you know, enjoy coding or may not enjoy problem solving or whatever.

But for my personality, I really enjoyed solving problems.

And I managed to find a career that is so in demand that I guess the, I don't want to go back to money because I went back to money before.

I don't care. Money isn't the most important thing. But the thing that helps with the money side of things of a career in tech is not that it gives you the opportunity to earn an amazing amount of money, but it gives you the opportunity to peel back the amount of work you actually want to do.

So that's something that's really important to me is, you know, being able to just work shorter days or being able to work four days a week and spend more time with my family and more time with my daughter.

That stuff is way more important to me than a larger paycheck.

But that being said, if I peeled it back to that point, we might not be able to kind of afford the lavish lifestyle that we like to live.

All these toys, I wouldn't be able to afford all the toys I can't play with.

And so, yeah, I think that's something that a career in tech has given me is the flexibility to be able to kind of choose the career that I want and be able to kind of be a really difficult demanding person about what I actually want to be, a functioning human being outside of my workplace because those skills are so in demand.

You're talking about work-life balance here. I am. I am talking about work-life balance.

It turns out it's a really important thing when you want to, you know, do things outside of just work and have a family and even be able to just function at work and be able to solve complex problems.

Turns out it's very important to take breaks.

More creative. Too right. Like it does all the good stuff.

I love those research papers into four day weeks and the like and productivity metrics.

But that would be a whole another hour-long chat. I've got one last quick question for you.

What do you think the biggest myth in technology is? Biggest myth?

Beanbags are good to write code in. They're terrible. No, no, I'm joking.

Maybe tabs are better than spaces or maybe types and tests make code better to work.

No, I don't want to start a war in the comments. I'm going to peel this back and say I think the biggest myth is that like working in tech is somehow harder than other jobs or that people are smarter that work in tech as opposed to other things.

Like everything in the world is hard if you don't know how to do it. I have a friend, I have a couple of friends, one who's a nurse, one who is a paramedic, and one who is a police officer.

And when I talk to them about what a difficult day at work is for them, it's very different to what a difficult day is for me.

Like all of a sudden production going down.

We're out of time, John. Sorry. Thank you everyone for watching.

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This is What a Technologist Looks Like
What does a technologist actually look like? And, what is it they actually do?
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