January 6

Ep. 20 JP Sherman – US Army PsyOps turned SEO Expert

Artificial Intelligence, Designer, Machine Learning, Marketing, Search, SEO Expert, Software Engineering, Speaker

1  comments

Biography

JP Sherman is the manager for Search & Findability (SEO) for Red Hat. This means he makes content and information more readily findable to users in whatever channel they use to look for it. JP’s been in the search industry for more than 15 years and has helped massive companies like Paramount Studios to quirky startups like a search engine for video games improve how customers find them and the content they have.

Growing up in Sacramento, California, JP has had nearly every job there is… barista, massage therapist, autopsy assistant, US Army Special Operations (Airborne), visual artist & illustrator, archaeological dig team leader, video game dialogue writer & SEO. He is probably the last person in the world to take career development advice from. 

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Episode Summary

JP Sherman says that he’s ‘the last person in the world to take career advice from’, but we disagree! We think he epitomizes exactly what we’re after on this show:

interesting people who have taken a different path to find their home in tech!

Each of our guests has taken a unique path to get to where they are, but few to date, “had nearly every job there is”, including stints as both a massage therapist AND an autopsy assistant. Yes, you heard that right, autopsy assistant. Oh, and did we mention that he also served in the US Army Special Ops?  Yep, you heard that right too. JP worked in PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) in the military. He also worked as an archaeological tech, as an illustrator, and there’s more!

If you find yourself getting bored quickly and constantly looking for extraordinary experiences, this episode is DEFINITELY for you. “I was definitely called a shiftless misanthrope”, JP recalls about his career path. But JP doesn’t regret it one bit.

“I feel like I kind of went all around the world but ended up here because of all those little pieces and all of those jobs I had”

JP Sherman

These days he’s an SEO expert, more specifically a Search and Findability Expert, for Red Hat.

In this episode we’ll also cover: 

  1. What makes SEO good or bad
  2. The day to day of an SEO expert working on search at Red Hat
  3. How JP got introduced to search engines while serving in the army in psychological operations
  4. Why nurturing curiosity, creativity, and empathy will result in a fulfilling career

Key Milestones

1:30 – What it’s like working in Search and Findability (SEO) at Red Hat
3:05 – JP’s previous jobs before getting into tech – this includes working as a barista, mortician assistant, in PSYOPS, at a carnival, and more!
10:29 – How JP got introduced to search engines while serving in the army in psychological operations
11:59 – Why JP enrolled at University after serving in the military
16:13 – The day to day of an SEO expert working on search at Red Hat
17:55 – How JP thinks about optimizing google rankings within Red Hat
22:35 – Why JP decided to learn coding on his own
26:13 – What makes SEO good or bad
33:32 – Grant and JP discuss the future of SEO and artificial intelligence
38:43 – Why nurturing curiosity, creativity, and empathy will result in a fulfilling career

Transcript

Grant Ingersoll: 00:13 Hello Develomentor listeners, welcome back to the show. I’m your host, Grant Ingersoll. Each episode we highlight someone working in technology. So far we’ve had on CIO, CTOs, data scientists and software engineers. Each of our guests has taken a unique path to get to where they are, but I’m pretty sure a few to date have used as much as our next guest, who, in his own words had nearly every job there is including stints as both a massage therapist and an autopsy assistant. Yeah, you heard that right? Autopsy assistant. Oh, and did I also mentioned he was US army special ops. Yup. You heard that right, too. These days he’s an SEO expert and he epitomizes exactly what I’m after on this show. Interesting people who have taken a different path to find their home in tech. Please welcome to the show JP Sherman. Welcome JP.

JP Sherman: 01:15 Thank you so much for having me on. I really, I really appreciate being here.

Grant Ingersoll: 01:19 Yeah, great to have you on, you know. Okay JP, I mean, I’ve read your bio, which is what you sent over and we’ll link up in the show notes and you know, frankly you’ve got some explaining to do here. I think I counted nine different roles, three of which are quote unquote in tech. How about you just start off by, you know, kind of walking us through your, your timeline, your career history.

JP Sherman: 01:42 Sure thing. Yeah. so currently I manage search and findability for red hat and that primarily means that I try to connect people to the information that they’re looking for through whatever channel they’re searching for. This could be through site search, this could be through navigation and architecture, it could be through chatbots, social Google search, and also all these things. So I have to be aware of one, how people find our information. Two, where they find their information. And three, what are the best practices to put the content that they’re looking for out in front of them. And then lastly, how do I make that content presentable to people so that they realize that this is the content that they’re looking for? So it’s, it’s a little bit of SEO, it’s a little bit of site search, it’s a little bit of tech and dev.

JP Sherman: 02:39 It’s a little bit of UI, UX and design. But the way that I look at it is not so much of a singular tactic as it having people find what they’re looking for. But overall, how do people find information? How do they recognize it? And then how can I use the content that we have to best present it to them? So that’s, that’s really what I do now and I, I love it, but backing up a little bit, how do I, how I actually got here, it really was a, a really kind of long path. So out of high school, my first job was making tortillas at fast food. And I hated it. I was really bad at it. I was fired in five days. Wow. Yeah, it was, it was horrible experience.

JP Sherman: 03:33 And then I, after high school I, I started working at a cafe and I, I firmly believe that people, every person should have some sort of service job where they have to deal with actual people in real space and dealing with the idiosyncrasies and things like that. And I learned a lot about them, about how people act by serving them coffee. And then I got super obsessed with coffee then. So after the, so then after the barista position, I actually took a, a small job as a coffee roaster. So I learned how to roast coffee. And this is a hobby. It’s hobby till today, I actually roasted my last batch about two weeks ago and sent it to some friends. After that I, I tried, I tried out community college. I tried out school but it wasn’t really clicking at that point for me.

JP Sherman: 04:31 And I went to work for, I talked my way into a position at a mortuary and I was dealing with not so much the actual, just the, the movement of people. So I didn’t actually like [inaudible] do the makeup, but I was just, I was just helping. And after about three or four months of that, I was, I was like, you know, I’ve kind of done all that I can do here. So I went and joined a carnival where I, I, I traveled around, up and down California and I did carnival things. And again, after about three months, I was like, you know, I’ve pretty much done all I can do here. Fast forward, because this could become a really a long conversation. I ended up getting a job. I ended up talking my way into a job because I could draw as an illustrator for an archeological consulting company.

JP Sherman: 05:33 And what I would do is I would do illustrations of landscapes and artifacts for California’s, I think it’s the American law, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act. Basically anytime that they, a new, a quickie Mart or strip mall would go in if they found artifacts, there’s a legal obligation to study and study it and see if there’s any kind of social or cultural implications. So I was an illustrator and I presented to the state of California. After doing that a while I became their lead one of their leave archeological techs where I would actually go out in the field and I would dig up things for the company. Concurrently at night I was getting my certification in massage therapy and after I got that, I was still, so Monday through Friday I was in jeans in the dirt digging, digging up dead things and artifacts.

JP Sherman: 06:28 I moved to San Francisco and had my own massage, massage therapy company. For this I was really bad at business, but this really taught me how to hustle, how to work, how to make plans and how to organize and pay taxes. All of these kinds of grownup things. And this is around 97 so I graduated in 91 and around 96 97 I was realizing that if I didn’t do something really kind of drastic, I would never get out of California. So I joined the army and see the world,

Grant Ingersoll: 07:02 See the world?

JP Sherman: 07:03 Yes, exactly. And I decided to go for psychological operations, which call it propaganda or call it marketing. It’s a little bit of both. And one of the requirements of a PsyOp is that one, you had to be special operations, so you had to do all the running, jumping, climbing cheese and cheese and trees and being able to do all the fun military stuff.
JP Sherman: 07:28 Well also jump out of airplanes. So I was a special operations airborne soldier and my focus was Southeast Asia. So the army taught me Korean, which I was then spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia.

I knew that the military was not going to be a permanent career for me. And so I was also taking college classes on the side and, but primarily in PsyOps prior to 9-11, my job was in Southeast Asia and I would assist in humanitarian demining where we worked with Marvel comics and DC comics to print comic books like coloring comic books, coloring books to hand out to kids in their host language, in their native language. Like, this is what you do if you see a landmine specifically in Thailand where the Thai Cambodian border is the second most land mine area in the world and there are still people getting injured and killed because of 40 year old landmines.

JP Sherman: 08:32 So we, so we would work with the host government and we’d build soccer fields that served as one, winning hearts and minds, two, It was a really safe place for these kids to play. So the other project was like malaria prevention. So we’d go in and we teach people how to modify structures to prevent standing water. And I loved it. Like I was out there doing work that actually improve the lives of other people.

Grant Ingersoll: 09:02 Yeah. Very cool.

JP Sherman: 09:03 Um so while I was out there in Southeast Asia, I got a crazy idea. I called the University of Montana and talked my way into a paleontology dig that was happening up in the Gobi desert. So I took 40 days off from, from the army. I found the information and I met them up at the airport in Mongolia and they’re like, you’re not on our list.

JP Sherman: 09:30 I’m like, well, I’m here. I know what I’m doing and you don’t have to pay me. I’ll sign a waiver. So we ended up, I ended up digging up dinosaurs up out in the Gobi desert. And then I came back to work and they’re like, where did you go? I’m like, you’ll never believe what I just did. And they all called me a nerd. So this is getting, this is getting pretty close to where I am now. When I was in the army, one of the things that they really want to do is information dissemination. And a lot of the ways that people in Southeast Asia and Asia had got their information was through internet cafes. So just imagine this giant, like eight foot special operations Colonel. It’s like, Sherman, you’re a nerd, right? I’m like, yes sir. I’m a nerd. This was in 1997 he goes, I need you to figure out search engines.

Grant Ingersoll: 10:25 Interesting.

JP Sherman: 10:33 Yeah. And basically we were wanting to be able to put out information that our target audience could consume about, you know, landmines, safety malaria, all these other programs that we’re doing. And he goes, and I’m going to need you in a presentation in one week. So I went to my barracks room and I got on the right and I researched everything that I possibly could about search engines. And that’s when it was like this merging of technology and semantics. I didn’t mention that my dad was an English teacher, so I was, I was a four-year-old kid who knew the difference between good and well. So clearly I was a very popular child.

Grant Ingersoll: 11:11 Yes, you’re a nerd, right?

JP Sherman: 11:14 Right! So emerging technology and semantics and language and all these things just felt so natural to me. I did the presentation and from that point on I was like search engines for cool. Like it was a brand new concept for me. And obviously in 98, Google started when I got out of the army, I ended up working for, I went to UNC-Chapel Hill and my focus was biology and anthropology. So I interned at the medical examiner’s office where I assisted with autopsies and did all that kind of thing because what I wanted to do, what I thought that I wanted to do at time was to get into archeological forensics and paleontological forensics. And the work that I did in that field was interpreting behavior from objects. For example, if we found bones, how did the bones interact with the environment, how the bones interact with the body as a whole. So, so this really started me on the path of kind of determining intent through non-direct means.

JP Sherman: 12:27 And so the idea that if the bones are like this and the creature was found here, what was this likely food? When you look at food, you gotta look at habitat. When you go look at habitat, you gotta look at all of these other factors. And unbeknownst to me, these kind of animal behavior classes really prepared me to understand search behavior. And then my love of words and technology, those two came together and I’m like, Oh my God, this is what I want to do. So I ended up getting a job at a, a search agency in Morrisville, North Carolina. And from then from there I went to, I was recruited by a company that was building a search engine for video games out in California. So I went back to California. I worked in LA and building the relevancy engine, the relevancy, tuning and indexing the abilities for a search engine for video games.

JP Sherman: 13:25 So at this point already knew SEO. Here I was learning how the guts of a search engine work, things like natural language processing, things like relevancy, tuning, and all of the other factors. Coming back later, I came back to North Carolina primarily because LA is a really expensive city to live. And my wife and I already had one child. We had twins, we had the identical twin boys. And once you have a family of five and you’re living in LA, things get a little tight.

Grant Ingersoll: 13:59 That’ll crystallize a career choices really quickly.

JP Sherman: 14:03 Yeah. It’s, it’s a, it’s a fine motivator. We ended up going back to North Carolina and after taking a bunch of consulting and search related jobs, I ended up at Red Hat because I had the experience of working inside of a search engine, also working as a SEO and having a lot of experience with design, UI, UX and analytics. So it was this really, really cool trifecta of knowing how to understand people, measuring what they do, and then configuring the technology and the content to match the intent through the technology.

So I feel like I kind of went all around the world. But I ended up here because of all of those little pieces in all the little jobs that I had and I was definitely called a shiftless misanthrope. My parents were desperately worried that I had no focus. Right. But, but at the same time, you know, it was, for me, it was more about like I wanted these experiences, I wanted to experience as much as I possibly could because in the end I knew that I’d find something. I just didn’t know why.

Grant Ingersoll: 15:24 Yeah. Interesting. Well, and I imagine, you know, I mean this, this kind of role you’re in, I think you, you hit on this and it’s equal parts writing and, and analytics and, and you know, obviously your psychology background and, and even from a very early on, I think you hit at this point of, of being super interested in how people behave, right? So all of those kind of roll into this role, right?

And then, you know, this kind of stuff always has a certain amount of magic to it, right? And that, you know, trying to figure out what the almighty Google is really doing. There’s some like puzzle pieces, you know. So what is the, what is it like the day to day look like for you in this role of trying to try to do all of these things? Like, what are maybe some of the tools you use and people in departments in other parts of Red Hat or whatever company that you have to work with, you know, kind of like what’s all the, what’s all the pieces, if you will, of filling this role successfully.

JP Sherman: 16:27 So what are the things I really like about this particular position is that I really can’t answer what my day to day looks like because I, I’m almost like an agency inside of Red Hat. And I primarily work on the customer portal, which is where our knowledge base is. Our documentation, our solution and troubleshooting content is, so already at my core, I’m looking at people who are looking to troubleshoot an issue and then people who are looking to administer, migrate, optimize the products that they have. So it’s a really interesting factor because we have the presales, our documentation is used quite often in presales and wants to become clients. They like to use our troubleshooting knowledge base to, to fix anything, any issues that may occur. But then I also work with organizations or parts of Red Hat, like developers.redhat.com.

JP Sherman: 17:34 I work with the [inaudible] documentation groups. And so I get a lot of, I used to get a lot of questions like JP, how do I get this thing to rank? And what I’ve done recently is I’ve created a once a month meeting called the content autopsy, which.

Grant Ingersoll: 17:50 Going back to your roots, right?

JP Sherman: 17:53 And the idea is to take an exam, a piece of content that exists in the wild and then that doesn’t rank as well as we want it to rank or ranks, but for the wrong things and then rip it apart and then put it back together in a way that is more closely aligned to either user intent Google magic or any of the, any other way that our, our, our content can be, can be found. And so my associates come in, they recommend documents and we go through and I just, I just ripped them apart and then give them action items.

JP Sherman: 18:33 But the other thing that I do is.

Grant Ingersoll: 18:34 Documents, not the people. Right?

JP Sherman: 18:36 Right, right. Although it’s really funny when I get emails like, Hey JP, I really enjoyed your autopsy. There’s a little bit, it’s, it’s, it’s a, it just takes me back just a little bit, but some of the tools that I use, obviously I use so we use Solar as our primary search engine. For the SEO part, I use a program called Deep Crawl. Deep Crawl is a site scraper. What it does is it looks at the cons. It looks our context. It kinda mimics the way Google finds content through links, through site maps, and it tries to emulate how Google looks at the site. One of the, one of the funny things is that Google can use, it can execute JavaScript in some instances to find new pages.

JP Sherman: 19:34 So the deep crawl emulates Google and a little bit by also being able to execute Java script in this way, I’m able to find, let’s say a 200 broken links that are linked from 11,000 locations.

Grant Ingersoll: 19:50 Right.

JP Sherman: 19:52 Um I’m able to find pages that have no metadata. I’m able to find pages that load really, really slowly. I’m able to find all these technical things. So a lot of my more technical assignments is looking at our, our like our legacy bloat code that can slow down a page, a page load time. Just a simple aside because Google has moved to the, what’s called the mobile index because mobile has overtaken desktop traffic as, as dominance. Google has a mobile-first index that has a lot more mobile-related quality and relevancy signals. So having a slow data loading page is horrible for a mobile experience.

Grant Ingersoll: 20:36 Yeah.

JP Sherman: 20:36 The faster it is, the better experience. And Google wants to give their users the best possible experience. So slow loading pages are not good for Google users, therefore it is not good for therefore it pays. Load speed can be a direct ranking signal. Right. Yeah.

Grant Ingersoll: 20:55 And so I imagine then, you know, a lot of your, your, you’re often bridging between very technical people who are like, you know, Hey, we’ve got to figure out why this page is loading. And then also up through marketing and of course red hat being a technical organization. I think, you know, it’s kind of built into the culture there. But you know, it sounds like done a lot of your role is going to cut across a lot of concerns, right? Because you ultimately serve marketing and sales and things like that. But you have to go very deep into the weeds sometimes to figure out the why’s of, you know, what the bits are doing. Right,

JP Sherman: 21:33 Exactly. And I think, I think that’s where my love of technology and semantics really kind of plays into it because I’m able to translate what the marketing people say and they’ll say something like this doesn’t rank. And then I diagnose it and I tell our developers and our architects these are, these are the JavaScript these, these the lines JavaScript that aren’t, that are, that are causing the hangups this long CSS fought font, CSS file that’s in the, it’s in the source code. Maybe we can externalize that CSS to shave off the shave off some time. Right. And so real practical recommendations to our technology and development teams of how to accomplish the goals of marketing. So when marketing says, you know, this, this doesn’t work, I do the diagnosis and then translate that into actual work.

Grant Ingersoll: 22:25 Are you writing code too or you’ve kind of learned enough code over the years to kind of know the tricks of the trade here or is that a self-taught area?

JP Sherman: 22:35 It was definitely self-taught. Self-taught. I taught myself HTML, I taught myself CSS, I taught myself Javascript. And I’m currently learning Python and through Khan Academy and just because I want to, and I don’t have a practical application for that just yet, but I’m sure that once I know it I’ll find lots of practical applications.

Grant Ingersoll: 22:58 Yeah. Well, I imagine a lot of your role here too is, is analytics and you know, of course, Python is such a good tool, for word analytics data. So I would imagine you’ll, you’ll be right at home, you know, maybe spend a little bit talking about the analytics side of this, you know, like how much math are you doing versus just how much are you consuming and configuring reports and ideas and things like that.

JP Sherman: 23:23 Yeah. So what gets really interesting is on the site search side, and the things that I look for are things like how many people are searching our site of those people, how many people are clicking on a link and [inaudible] well then I look at our basic click-through rate to see as an overall general health, I look at how long people are standing, are looking at our search results. I look at the pages that, that they’re clicking to. And this helps me to determine. Mmm. Because overall the question that I want to answer is, are people finding what they’re looking for? And that’s a really deceptively hard question to answer. Yeah. And so I, I, I can get an approximation. So I can tell you most people are clicking on something that they see that they deem to be valuable. That’s when we talk about the perception of value.

JP Sherman: 24:18 How, how quickly, because people generally look at a search snippet in less than a second. And so a human has to make a decision, is this what I want or is it not what I want in less than a second. Mmm. So I look at, I look at these kinds of dwell times and then I look at post-click activity to see did they bounce back, did they refine? And so, what are the active behaviors such as a click, our refinements, visit. And then I look at more passive behaviors such as how long they stay on the site, how long do they spend reading the content.

So I tried to kind of squish those things together and figure out was this a likely consumption? And when you don’t deal with things like I used to deal with e-commerce when I, I worked for a company, a performance bike, and that was really easy cause they either put in the cart or they bought something that was super easy. Yeah. And now you have 10 different types of content, different content types. So it gets very, it’s really challenging. Yeah. That’s something that I, that’s something that I really enjoy because they’re complicated problems to solve.

Grant Ingersoll: 25:31 Well, and I was gonna say your users being familiar with, with red hat a fair bit here. I mean, your users are also a really highly technical, which often means really demanding too, right? So, you know, and you know, every, especially on the support side, right? I mean, every, every missed opportunity actually costs real money for in terms of support cases and tickets that are open that a human has to deal with things like that. Right?

JP Sherman: 25:59 Yeah, Uand it’s, it’s kinda been a joke for me. It’s like, it’s okay, it’s not my child. You can tell me that my search sucks. And we’re trying to figure out, like, is there’s like this magical number where people say, Oh, your search is amazing and you must be magic. And then to click to click through rate points below that is your search is horrible and needs to die in a fire. So there’s, there’s really no gray area when it comes to how people perceive the search to go. Its going

Grant Ingersoll: 26:34 Well that that is my child? So, you know, no, but that’s, that’s so true. And it’s so subjective. What, you know, the, the proverbial, you know, what’s, what’s treasure to one is garbage to another. And you know, there’s so many little nuances and pet peeves and things like that that go into this, this domain,

JP Sherman: 27:01 Like the 15, like the 15 different ways somebody can type in a version of a single piece of software, you know, and you got to account for these things.

Grant Ingersoll: 27:11 Uh well, so, you know, it’s interesting JP, I mean like, I actually, I did not know the, you found search while stationed in Thailand, Thailand doing a PSYOPs mission for the U S army. That, that’s a great piece of nugget. And maybe you’ve already answered this in some ways, but you know, like if you, if you’re a reflect back on, you know, what, what is something in your career that the 22-year-old version of you would be most surprised to find out, you know, all these years later that that’s happened in terms of your career path?

JP Sherman: 27:49 Mmm. I think, I think the 20, the 22 year old version of me, Mmm. I would say wearing mostly black, probably listening to the cure and sisters of mercy. They, he would be very surprised that I actually function fairly well in a professional environment. And cause I think, I think me at 22 was much more about like the artistic, the ephemeral, you know, creating art and music and all these kinds of different things.

I think my love for technology stems from playing video games and being able to figure out the patterns to beat them. And I totally left out the part where I worked for a video game company, but you know, I don’t have that much time.

Grant Ingersoll: 28:46 We’ll do another episode on JPS life and video games

JP Sherman: 28:51 Yeah. And so that’s, so my love for technology stemmed from the fact that I wanted to understand how video games worked and, but in my head at the time, as much more of a creative endeavor as opposed to a technical endeavor, until I got to the point where I needed to start like, Mmm, looking at game code, I’m like, Oh, this is complicated.

JP Sherman: 29:11 So that’s, that’s, that’s what, 22 year old me. I like, I think he’d be a little impressed and a little bit like really, really? You work in an office?

Grant Ingersoll: 29:22 You’re not wearing a tie to the office though, right?

JP Sherman: 29:25 No, no, no. Not say that. I’m actually wearing my tech mobile t-shirt today.

Grant Ingersoll: 29:31 That was one of my favorite games back then, too.

JP Sherman: 29:34 Nice.

Grant Ingersoll: 29:35 Still even play it every now and then.

JP Sherman: 29:38 It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a classic. It’s a classic game.

Grant Ingersoll: 29:41 That’s fantastic. Well let’s, let’s shift gears here a little bit. Just in the interest of time and getting back to figuring out what all of us want on the red hat side and, and let’s, let’s look forward to, you know, kind of the here and now and forward and, you know, my understanding of kind of the work you do, I mean, there’s kind of this seemingly turtle debate around black hat and white hat and, and all the different pieces out there. I don’t really want to get into that debate so much as what do you see as kind of the big challenges going forward in your space? I mean, what keeps you up at night, you know, other than, Oh, Hey, I’ve got to go do an autopsy on this piece of content, but like, what, what’s the big concerns in the space for someone like you?

JP Sherman: 30:27 Platform fracturing search is available in so many different places now. If you’re on, if you’re watching Netflix, there’s search and it can be on your phone, your Xbox, your laptop. And is the search experience, should the search experience be the same depending upon the platform? How do, how does the device or how does the device influence the behavior?

Another thing is different types of search. There’s a new time type of schema that’s still in beta called speakable. It’s a structured markup called speakable and it is directly about asking smart devices questions. And so I’m doing experimentation with the speakable structured markup and interests and not just so not just platform fragmentation or search fragmentation, but like the different, the different emerging behaviors of users where they speak into things and little things like do, if somebody is looking for information on speaking to a, an echo or an Alexa or an echo about a common Linux component called system D, how does it recognize that as a real component as opposed to a kind of a verbal typo?

Yeah. So these are the kinds of things that really interest me. And so from in my head, kind of future thinking I don’t know if SEO or search engine optimization is going to live forever. I think eventually it’s going to kind of coalesce into a, a unified kind of findability strategy or a findability discipline, which combines the academic search, the academic of how humans find things, the technologies that are available and then the platforms that we use.

Grant Ingersoll: 32:37 Hm. Yeah, that makes sense. And you know, and I imagine, you know, incorporate in here, not only platform fracturing, but you know, let’s face it, the machines are getting smarter, right? Or you know, this, this, this ever hype term of AI, you know, which to me really means, you know, to break it down into what it practically means and, and how it affects someone like you is that, you know, Google and the like are able to use a whole lot more features to try to figure out what’s important. You know, you talked a little bit about the mobile-first view of the world and it has different features than perhaps the desktop. And so I imagine also there’s this side of you that’s just like, how can, how can we even keep up anymore with the things that matter in terms of what Google cares about? I mean, so how do you think about how AI is going to affect the future of this role?

JP Sherman: 33:32 I think, I think AI is, I honestly think that AI is really nothing to worry about. And you know, 10 years later I might be ma made to eat my words. It’s kinda like Will Gates saying that you don’t need more than 168 megabytes. But I think, I think that AI is really going to be a considered a force multiplier. It’s going to be able to, it’s going to be more predictive as opposed to Changing the actual behaviors. I think AI is going to be able to do things like take into context such as my location, previous search history and all these factors that we don’t even know that are being transmitted in our phones to be able to say, we know that you bought these light bulbs two years ago. The average lifespan of light bulb is this many years. And in a couple of years, like maybe starting to show me ads for light bulbs.

Grant Ingersoll: 34:35 Yeah. Um yeah. I mean, I definitely agree it’s a, it’s a force multiplier I guess. You know, at the end of the day for someone like you, like it’s, I think what you’re hinting at already is there’s just so many variables at the end of the day. And, and in my mind, you know, there’s these machine learning techniques are ever expanding the number of variables that one may need to consider in order to get your content to, to rank like you would, is that, is that fair?

JP Sherman: 35:05 Yeah. And I would love to get to a point where the, the, it’s a small, for example, in the technology industry where small unnoticeable changes in software behavior could be symptomatic of a larger issue. And so before a person says, I have a problem, a solution is already delivered to that user.

Grant Ingersoll: 35:29 Yeah. Interesting. Right? Yeah. I can imagine in your case, like if the Colonel or the, you know, the Linux distribution you guys have is, is, has some smarts built into it. It could detect when things are going wrong before, before they truly are wrong or like, you know, like your light bulb case. Same goes for hard drives, all that kind of stuff, right?

JP Sherman: 35:52 Yup. Being able to recognize the system, the symptoms automatically, and then having the knowledge base behind it. I’m supported by things like structured markup and schema. So that creates a layer of a relationship between content and concepts to be able to deliver a solution directly to you before you, even knew you need it.

Grant Ingersoll: 36:11 Yeah. Very cool. Hey JP, in the interest of time, I mean this has been really fascinating, a discussion. I mean, I think at the end they kind of, my takeaways here, you know, immediately when you were young, you know, you were trying to figure out what really worked for you. So you tried a bunch of things, right. All through it. Woven throughout was a fascination with what people care about and then trying to figure out how to match up what they care about with the things that you’re, you’re serving up and, and, and so it sounds like, you know, ultimately this, where you landed kind of fits with the journey you were on anyways, right. It, despite it sounding very fractured, all experiences kind of led to, you know, combining this love of language, love of analytics and love for figuring out the puzzle that is people, right?

JP Sherman: 37:04 Yeah. And for me, I think, I think it boils down to being aware of the problems that exist and rather, rather than just accepting things as they are, like there are incredible opportunities to be made in problems that are not yet recognized.

Grant Ingersoll: 37:24 Yeah. Interesting. You know, so a little bit of predicting the future there or I was just listening to another podcast, they call it off in the white space, right. Like maybe there’s already some, you know, like you said, there’s, there’s all this speakable content for consumers yet, but you know, enterprises haven’t necessarily brought that kinda stuff forward yet. So the fact that you’re experimenting with trying out how to make your content consumable by, you know, virtual assistants and the like is, is an example of, of that finding that white space. Right.

JP Sherman: 38:00 Yeah, nailed it. Yeah.

Grant Ingersoll: 38:03 Yeah. You know, I, I got to Chuck a lot of a one last link to your bio here. You know, you clearly stated you’re the last person in the world to take career development advice from, but, but I think you got there anyways. Any last thoughts that you want to you want to leave us with?

JP Sherman: 38:23 I don’t know. I think just a more than anything I would recommend somebody to just nurture curiosity. And nurture creativity and nurture like three things, curiosity, creativity and empathy. I think when you squish those things together that’s, that is where, that’s, I think that’s, that’s where he starts to get professional and personal fulfillment.

Grant Ingersoll: 38:55 Wow. That, that’s a fantastic note to end the show on. JP, I want to thank you so much for joining me today on the Develomentor podcast, and for those folks who want to learn more about JP, just go check out Redhat he’s, he’s all over talking about what they’re doing all the time and has given many talks I think on SEO over the career, over his career there. I will be sure to link those up in the show notes as well. Thanks again, JP. My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Outro: 39:43 [Inaudible].

Key Quotes

Working in search at Red Hat

“I try to connect people to the information they are looking for through whatever channel they’re searching for. This can be through site search, through navigation and architecture. It can be through chatbots, social, google search and all these things.”

“It’s a little bit of SEO, a little bit of site search, it’s a little bit of tech and dev, a little bit of UI/UX, and design.”

“I’m almost like an agency inside of Red Hat and I primarily work on the customer portal.”

On odd jobs along the way

“I learned a lot about how people act by serving them coffee. And then I got super obsessed with coffee.”

“I tried out community college. I tried out school. Wasn’t clicking at that point for me.”

“I traveled up and down California and I did carnival things”

“I firmly believe that every person should have some sort of service job where they have to deal with actual people in real space and dealing with idiosyncrasies.”

“If I didn’t do something drastic, I would never leave the state of California.”

“I was a special operations airborne soldier, and my focus was southeast Asia. So the army taught me Korean.”

“So I ended up digging up dinosaurs up in the Gobi desert and then I came back to work.”

“When I got out of the army I went to UNC-Chapel Hill and my focus was biology/anthropology and I interned at the medical examiner’s office

“Unbeknownst to me, these kinds of animal behavior classes really prepared me to understand search behavior and then my love of words and technology, those two came together and I’m like ‘Oh my god, this is what I want to do’.”

“I feel like I kind of went all around the world but ended up here because of all those little pieces and all of those jobs I had.”

“I was definitely called a shiftless misanthrope.”

“My parents were desperately worried that I had no focus, but for me it was more of like ‘I wanted these experiences’. I wanted to experience as much as I possibly could.”

“I taught myself HTML, I taught myself CSS, I taught myself Javascript, and I’m currently learning Python through Khan Academy just because I want to.”

“My love for technology stems from playing video games and being able to figure out the patterns to beat them.”

Search Engines and Modern SEO

“The idea is taking a piece of content that doesn’t rank as well as we want it to rank, or ranks for the wrong things. Then rip it apart. And then put it back together in a way that is more closely aligned to either user intent, google magic or any other way.”

“I’m able to find pages that have no metadata. I’m able to find pages that load really, really slowly. So a lot of my more technical assignments are looking at our legacy bloat code that can slow down a page, a page load time.”

“Google has moved to the mobile index because mobile has overtaken desktop traffic as dominance.”

“Google wants to give their users the best possible experience. So slow loading pages are not good for Google users. Load speed can be a direct ranking signal.”

“So when marketing says, you know, this doesn’t work, I do the diagnosis and then translate that into actual work.”

“There’s like this magical number where people say, oh your search is amazing and you must be magic. And when the click-through rate points below that your search is horrible and needs to die in a fire. So there’s really no gray area when it comes to how people perceive the search.”

“I don’t know if search engine optimization is going to live forever.”

The Future of Search and AI

“I think AI is really nothing to worry about. And you know, 10 years later I might be made to eat my words. It’s kinda like Will Gates saying that you don’t need more than 168 megabytes.”

“I think AI is going to be able to do things like take into context my location, previous search history and all these factors that we don’t even know that are being transmitted in our phones to be able to say ‘we know that you bought these light bulbs two years ago. The average lifespan of the light bulb is this many years.’ And in a couple of years, like maybe starting to show me ads for light bulbs.”

“There are incredible opportunities to be made in problems that are not yet recognized.”

“Nurture creativity, curiosity, and empathy. I think when you squish those things together, that’s where you start to get professional and personal fulfillment.”

Additional Resources

Learn more about Structured Markup and Google tool Speakable
Watch JP talk for the Search Engine Journal on YouTube

CONNECT WITH JP SHERMAN
LinkedIn
Twitter

CONNECT WITH GRANT INGERSOLL
LinkedIn
Twitter


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