Learning To Pick The Right Tech Conference at vBrisket- TOMORROW!

Hey all, just a quick post to mention that the fine folks at vBrisket will be having a get together February 24th at 2 PM at Grist House Craft Brewery in Pittsburgh. If you work in the virtualization industry and haven’t heard of vBrisket yet you should get to know them because they have a great thing going.  vBrisket takes the typical User Group back to its vendor independence roots, allowing you to focus more on your general virtualization career and less on the path of any particular vendor. At the same time it gives Clint, Gabe, Jaison, and John a great reason to bring out the smokers and prepare enough meat to feed a brewery full of techies.

I’m honored to have been invited to join the panel discussion this time. The topic is “Tech Conferences – What are the right ones for you?” This will be moderated by the vBrisket team and includes myself, John White, Mike Muto, and Justin Paul. As I see my attendance at various conferences as a big driver in the success of my career and my growth as a technology worker I’m excited to be included.

Of course this meeting wouldn’t be possible without the sponsorship from Zerto. At the meeting they’ll be talking I’m sure about their new conference, ZertoCON in Boston May 22-24th.

So if you are in the Pittsburgh area tomorrow and would like to attend just be there at 2, I look forward to meeting up!

The Most Magical Time of Year: Influencer Program Selection Season!

Each year many of the major companies in the tech industry allow people to be nominated, by themselves or by others, to be recognized for the contributions to the community that surrounds that company’s products. These people are typically active on social media, in both online and in person forums and user groups and often will write blogs about their experiences with the products. In return for what is essentially free, grass-roots type marketing the companies will provide awardees any number of benefits; access to licenses for products for homelabbing as well as sometimes access to engineers, preferred experiences at conferences, NDA level information, etc but in some cases the biggest benefit is the recognition itself.

As of today (November 10, 2016) two of the bigger and in my opinion one of the best programs are all open for nominations.

Program Name Program Leader Nomination Link
Cisco Champions Lauren Friedman Nomination Link
VMware vExpert Corey Romero Nominations Accepted until 12/16
Veeam Vanguards Rick Vanover Nominations Accepted until 12/9

I’m honored to be both a vExpert and a Veeam Vanguard and like to think of myself as an honorary Cisco Champion (they can’t accept government employees) so I have some experience with each of these programs. Let’s take a look at all three.

vexpert-624x111VMware vExpert may not necessarily be the oldest influencers program but it is probably the one socially active technical people know except possibly the Microsoft MVP program. In many ways vExpert is not only an honorary of its own right but a launch pad towards acceptance into other programs. vExperts are as far as I know the largest such group with around 1500 members world-wide, it also boasts some really good benefits not only from VMware but from other companies in the virtualization ecosphere. There are many webinars and meet and greets throughout the calendar year which are either vExpert only or vExpert preferred and the vExpert party at VMworld is well-known as one of the best. The distinction I make most about vExpert is that while it is for and by VMware, some years much of the educational focus is on the ecosphere and community that surrounds it.

The vExpert program offers 4 paths to membership. The one most are in is the Evangelist path. These may be customers, partners or VMware employees themselves, but they are people speaking the good word of VMware. There are also specific paths for Partners and Customers but I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who was awarded in those tracks. Finally if you have achieved the highest level of VMware certification, VCDX, you automatically are awarded vExpert status.

ciscochampion2016-512-nodateCisco Champions contrasts from vExpert most because it is a self-contained program with all the educational opportunities and benefits being from Cisco Systems itself. With the Champions there aren’t so many of the freebies with the notable exception of some nice perks if you attend CiscoLive, but what they do offer is exposure of your personal brand. Between the weekly Cisco Champions Radio podcast and the regularly featured blogs on Cisco’s website if you are working to make a name for yourself in the industry for whatever reason it is a very good program for that. Further Cisco gives you access to developers and program  managers within the company so that you can not only gain greater understanding of the products but in many cases have the opportunity to weigh in on technology decisions during the development process.

Cisco breaks their program down into business segments in regards to your qualification for the program with tracks in Collaboration, Data Center, Enterprise Networks, IoT, and Security. If you have expertise in any of these by all means apply.
veeam_vanguard-700x224In my mind I’m saving the best for last. The Veeam Vanguard program opened its nominations up today for its 3rd year and I’ve been honored to have awarded each year (so far). It is by far the most exclusive; there are currently only 50 members worldwide and I believe the philosophy is to keep it on the small side with only people who truly understand what the company is about. There are a lot of swag type benefits to the Vanguard to be sure, most noticeably something really special that revolves around  their VeeamON conference (NOLA this year baby!), but to be honest what I most get out of the program is the distributed brain of not only the Veeam employees affiliated with the group but the group itself. On a daily basis it seems sometimes somebody’s technology issues, Veeam related or not, are being sorted out through Vanguard communication methods. Long story short, in the Vanguard program they simply take care of you and I’m happy to call all of them not just my peers but friends.

Because Veeam is a much tighter set of products than the other two there aren’t any official tracks within the program. That said they are very good about selecting members who affiliate themselves with each of the hypervisor companies they support, VMware’s vSphere and Microsoft’s Hyper-V. This diversity is part of what makes the discussions between us so good.

Conclusion

Over the course of the past week I’ve heard various people talking about strategies regarding getting awarded to any number of these. I’m not going to do this one so I can focus on that one and so forth, and honestly all I can recommend to you if you are interested in applying to any of them is look at where your focus is or where you focus should be and apply. There is no thing that says “you belong to too many programs” or anything like that; if you feel you are qualified for any of these or any other by all means go apply. The name of the game is to grow your involvement with the technology community, regardless of what type of technology it is.

Getting the Ball Rolling with #vDM30in30

Ahh, that time of year when geeks pull that long forgotten blog site out of the closet, dust it of and make promises of love and content: #vDM30in30. If you aren’t familiar with the idea, vDM30in30 is short for Virtual Design Master 30 blog posts in 30 days, an idea championed by Eric Wright of discoposse fame to get bloggers out there to work their way through regular generation of content. As you can see from this site new content is pretty rare so something like this is a welcome excuse to focus and get some stuff out there. vDM30in30 runs through the month of November and the best way to follow along with the content is to track the hashtag on twitter.

So What’s the Plan?

I’m a planner by nature so if I don’t at least have a general idea this isn’t going to work at all. The good news is I’ve got quite a few posts that I’ve been meaning to work on for some time so I’m going to be cleaning out my closet this week and get those out there. So the full schedule is going to look like this:

  • Week of Nov 1: random posts I’ve never quite finished but need to be released
  • Week of Nov 7: focus on all the new hotness coming from Veeam Software
  • Week of Nov 14: VMware’s upcoming vSphere 6.5 release
  • Week of Nov 21: randomness about community, career and navel gazing in general

I’m really looking forward to participating this year as I do believe that a lot of growth comes from successfully forming out thoughts and putting them down. Hope you find some of this hopeful, if there is anything you’d like to see in the space feel free to comment.

Vegas Baby! Heading to CiscoLive! 2016

As 2016 moves into April we find ourselves ready to go into the conference season once again. For the past couple of years I’ve been to VMworld because that is where my work has had me focused, but for the same reason I will be heading the Cisco Live in Las Vegas, NV this year. The event will be held at the Mandalay Bay Resort July 10-14. Yes it will be hot, but let’s be honest you are going to be inside most of the time. This is the 2nd time I’ve attended Cisco Live US (you may see it referred to as #CLUS quite a bit) and if this is anything like the last time it’s going to be great. I have been particularly impressed with the content they make available and the community that has grown around it.

What to do

The first and foremost thing you should check out at Cisco Live is the always excellent sessions throughout the conference. If you are new to conferences this is actually something to consider sooner than later; the session catalog is currently up and the scheduler will open on May 3. I recommend that if you have any particular sessions or focus you are looking at with this trip go ahead and have a list done early and then be ready on the 5/3, many popular sessions will fill up quickly and nobody wants to wait in the overflow line. 😉

To be honest if you just look at the scope of topics covered in the session list it is a bit overwhelming. While I’m no grizzled veteran of conferences by any means what I’ve found best is to pick a focus or two and then start there. For example this year we have a big focus on upgrading our edge security and our production datacenter to include Cisco UCS solutions. What sessions I pick will almost entirely be from either the Security and Datacenter & Virtualization tracks to support those goals. Keep in mind all of these sessions will be available to you online after the fact so keep in mind the people giving them as well.

cae

If you have never been to one of the major tech conferences (20k attendees and up) there is never really a shortage of things to do, ranging from the educational to the social to just straight fun. Cisco Live is in my opinion a great event with a better than most mix of content and social, the highlight of which is the Customer Appreciation Event. The CAE this year will be held at the T-Mobile Arena and features concerts with Maroon 5 and Elle King. I saw Maroon 5 in a very cold field  a couple of years ago and they are a pretty good show and I’ve really liked what I’ve heard from Elle King on the radio.

Besides the concert event there will be no shortage of things to do if you are socially inclined. Besides the mixers each evening there are a wide array of events from different vendors in the Cisco ecosystem each evening. Many of these are by invite only so now would be an appropriate time to be reaching out to Account Execs you have at the various vendors and see if they are doing anything there.

 

20130627_173819000_iOSGo forth and be social

This will be my 6 tech conference in 4 years and while the content of the sessions is great and extremely helpful like I mentioned above all of that content is available online, 24/7/365 after the conference. What is not is the ability to meet and have conversations with some of the best minds of our chosen field. My very first major conference was CLUS 2013 in Orlando, FL and as I got myself out of my shell and started to meet people I was frankly floored by the combined brain power in such a small area. The way I’ve often put this to people is that the entire state of West Virginia, where I am from, has a total of 3 CCIEs in it. While this is not a normal demographic, there are only 50,000 some worldwide. At one point that first year I found myself  sitting in a discussion where out of 20 people I was the only person NOT a CCIE and really it is amazing what you can absorb in the social settings at Cisco Live. If you are willing to put yourself out there and not be the cave-dwelling geek many of us are naturally drawn to be you will find a community of people who will readily accept you in.

So how do I find such social people and befriend them? Well fear not there are plenty of ways. To start with if you are just starting out in your tech career the very first advice is to get yourself on twitter if you haven’t already. I literally setup my twitter account walking down the main concourse of CLUS 4 years ago and it has presented no end of enjoyment, help and opportunity since. Once you have said account head on over to Tom Hollingsworth’s site and sign yourself up for the annual twitter list.

Now that you are in the social mood right off the bat one of the first places I will be locating is the Social Media Hub. This is pretty much the main congregation area for the socials types. At some point in the early evening Sunday there will be an opening Tweetup there, if you attend be sure to say hi!

If you are interested in going yourself but haven’t registered yet you can do so on the Cisco Live 2016 website.

Community and the Rural IT Professional

I was born and raised in a small area between Charleston and Huntington, WV. While I recognized my hometown, Scott Depot, was a small town growing up I thought of both those cities as just that, proper cities with all the benefits and drawbacks that go with them. As I grew older and my worldly view wider I came to realize that what I considered the big city was to many a minor suburb, but never the less it was and still is my home.

This lack of size and economic opportunity has never stood out more than when I began my career in Information Technology. After graduating from Marshall University with what I still believe to be a very respectable skill set many of my fellow graduates flocked to bigger areas such as Columbus, OH, RTP and Atlanta. I chose for a variety of reasons to stick around here and make a career of it and all in all while not always the most stable it has been fairly successful.

There are very few large datacenters here with most datacenters being composed of a handful of racks. Some go to work for various service providers, others enter the VAR space and I found my niche in what I like to call the Hyper Converged Administrator role. The HCA tends to wear most if not all of the hats; virtualization, storage, networking, server administration, etc. I consider myself somewhat blessed that I’ve managed to avoid the actual desktop admin stuff for most of my career, but still some of that too.

In the past couple of years I’ve got more and more active within the social IT community by way of conference attendance, social media and blogging and while it hasn’t necessarily changed the direction my career is going it has radically changed it in that I have found great opportunities for growing my personal knowledge. This growth in some cases has been very strictly technology related by way of pushing me to explore new facets of IT systems management I didn’t previously consider as well as access to very knowledgeable people who are usually very eager to point you in the right direction when asked. In other ways this knowledge while IT related is more oblique in that I feel like I now have a much better understanding of what life is like on the other side of the various fences (vendors, VARs, datacenter admins, etc) than I ever did before. This latter knowledge base has greatly changed how I approach some of the more political parts of IT such as vendor management and internal project pitches.

While the global Internet community is great I find that the missing piece is still facetime. The richness of communication when I’m at conferences is more personal than anything that is done online and I find myself somewhat jealous of those in areas large enough to support user groups of any kind of size. In the past year I’ve got to know VMware User Group (VMUG) leaders from Louisville, Kansas City, Phoenix and Portland as well as the guys behind the excellent career oriented community vBrisket and enjoying hearing tales of what’s involved in getting their regular meetings together and wish I could do the same here.

Personally my goal for the coming year is to do a bit of travel and attend the meetings of some of the User Groups listed above. If you are local here in the WV IT community reach out and let’s figure out how to do something here. There may not be a lot of us here but that’s an even better reason to get to know each other and share the knowledge.