A VMworld US 2017 To Do List

If you work in the virtualization or datacenter field (are they really different anymore?) you probably know that VMworld US 2017 is next week, August 27-31. While VMware may not be the only option out there when it comes to virtualization anymore VMworld is still the defacto event for people in the field. This conference’s definition of community is unrivaled in scope with just as much if not more going on outside of the conference agenda as  in it.

As with all things worth doing conference attendance probably needs a checklist. Have you done yours? If not here are the high points of mine. I’m not going to bore you with “Jim will be attending session so and so”; well except for VMTN6699U and VMTN6700U you should totally join me at those sessions, but these are pretty general things I try to do each time.

  • Take Your Vitamins– I hate to say it but the Vegas Flu is a real thing. Between being in the recirculated air of a jumbo jet for any number of hours to bookend event and being in the recirculated air of a Vegas hotel/casino/conference center I always seem to get at least a mild head cold at some point during the week. Start about now taking whatever version of Vitamin C supplement you like and do so throughout the event to help head this issue off.
  • Bring Sharable Power- The average conference attendee has 3 devices on them at all times, phone, tablet and laptop. These things will start to get low on battery about midday and that just won’t do. In theory lots of places will have power outlets but with 25,000+ attendees they are still in short supply. I typically bring a big battery pack, a travel surge protector and USB power cables for everything under the sun so that I can plug in and share at sessions and keynotes.
  • Get There Early and Be Ready To Learn– While the conference doesn’t start in earnest until Monday the 27th I always try to arrive midday Saturday because there is so much going on before the conference starts. One of the highlights of the entire conference to me each year is Opening Acts, a series of panel sessions put on by VMunderground and vBrownBag on Sunday afternoon. These sessions always prove to be insightful and are traditionally more career-centric or more wide-ranging than your typical VMworld session. The fact that this is followed by the always awesome VMunderground party that night is not lost on me either. Also, if you are a VMware TAM customer there is exclusive content for you on Sunday afternoon.
  • Be Comfortable Being Yourself– So what do you wear? My friend Matt Crape covered this well in his recent post but I would like to add that go with what makes you most comfortable networking with your peers. If you are good with shorts and a t-shirt, go for it. Me personally I’m a golf shirt and jeans kind of guy so that’s most of what you’ll see from me. Your days at VMworld are most likely going to be between 15-20 hours so go with what feels good unless that’s naked. Nobody needs to see that. 😉
  • Get Out and Be Social– This is not a “Woo Hoo, It’s Vegas So Let’s Party” topic. Yes, you can do that if that’s your prerogative, but keep in mind some of the smartest minds in your chosen career are going to be here and out at both events in the evening as well as in the hang space during the day. Go meet people as they are typically pretty nice and cool. While the VMworld sessions are what’s being sold as the content of the conference I will book very few of those, choosing instead to spend my time learning from others how they are dealing with many of the same issues that I have and make connections that can prove helpful down the road.
    Where to go be social? During the day the HangSpace/ VM Village is the place to go. In the evenings there is a never-ending list of gatherings to find your way to. I personally will be making sure I attend the Veeam party and VMunderground as they are my 2 evening must do’s each year and are typically among the biggest. Past that I’ll just go with the flow.
  • Be Social Online Too– If you are a tweeter be sure to use not only the #VMworld hashtag but also that of whatever session or event you are currently in. If you look around it will typically be on a wall somewhere. This will help you extend the conversation during the session. If you aren’t on twitter yet you may want to consider that, often this is a great way to see what your colleagues are saying about announcements and such in real time. It also serves a great way to meet up with others at the conference.
  • Get Some Sleep When Possible– I know this sounds counter-intuitive to the previous topic but if you are a 40-year-old like me this week will catch up to you. It is definitely possible to do events and conference from 7:30 AM to after midnight each day and while that’s a lot of fun, by Wednesday there are so many zombies walking around Mandalay Bay it looks like an episode of the Walking Dead. If you’ve been working on the session builder already take a look at your schedule and make room for you to sleep in a morning sometime midweek. You can catch up on the sessions once you get back.

While there’s more than that for me those are the basics. If you are going please hit me up @k00laidIT on twitter, I’d love to have a coffee, a beer or just a conversation with you. Have a great time!

P.S. Wear comfortable shoes!

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.

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.

Let’s See How This Goes: Getting Started with vDM30in30

For those of you that don’t know the idea of #vDM30in30 (virtual Design Master: 30 articles in 30 days) started last year by the same fine folks that bring you vDM with the stated goal of getting people to write more and become better writers. You can learn more about the basic rules in Eric Wright’s (aka discoposse) post announcing this year’s event. I caught up to the idea a little late in the game to make any kind of effort at it, but this year due to my writer’s funk of late I’ve decided to give it a go.

So what do I expect to write about? Since I’m freshly back from Veeam Software‘s annual VeeamON conference expect quite a bit of content related to that. Also I’ve had a few ideas regarding career and community here lately so there will be quite a bit of that as well. Past that? I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.

If you are interested in participating yourself really the only two things you need to remember is to write/create content anywhere (go setup a blogger.com account if you don’t have a site yet) and then post to social media with the #vDM30in30 hashtag, that’s it! If you don’t feel like you are ready for that kind of commitment, trust me, I get you, then you can still follow along and learn from everybody else using the same hashtag. For those of you who are participating good job and I look forward to learning from you!

vExpert 2015

The 2015 vExpert List was released today and I am honored to be on the list for the second year in a row. The vExpert program was developed to recognize those who active discuss and help others with VMware’s virtualization products in a number of ways, but notably through blogging and social media. To other vExperts that may be reading this please accept my hearty congratulations on your inclusion, whether it’s your first or your fifth time around.

While it isn’t really the point, there are a number of benefits to being a vExpert with most of them compiled and listed by Romain Decker on his website. This can include anything from swag to free or heavily discounted training to NFR licenses for your home lab from many companies in the virtualization industry.  In truth what I’ve found to be the biggest benefit is getting to know, at least virtually, some exceptionally bright people in our field.

If for some reason you either didn’t apply and or didn’t make the cut this time around and would like to be considered for inclusion there will be another round of applications this year but it hasn’t been announce yet. A best bet to be notified of when this opens would be to either follow the VMTN blog feed or the @vExpert twitter account.