Technical Presentations: stop waiting, just get started.

As I write this, I am leaving VMworld 2016. It has been an amazing conference, I was able to reconnect with friends, work in the Hands on Labs, and present a session focused on security in healthcare. This is my second year presenting at VMworld, another year of struggling to meet deadlines, building slides, and trying to make sure I was ready. I wanted to share my experience, my struggles, and my opinion on this, mostly to provide the community with some encouragement to get up and share your knowledge with the rest of us.

What topic would you want to listen to?

 

The best sessions I have found started with a conversation. This year, I was talking with my manager, bemoaning the lack of security in technical architectures. Sure we threw in the checkbox items, but we missed the larger picture. We always assumed security was a product, missing the point that it was a design principle. After some heated debate, we realized that almost every part of the VMWare product set related to security. I am not a security specialist, which we decided made the messaging even more powerful.

 

When you are thinking about what to present, think about what interest you. Make your presentations credible, make them interesting to you. If you are presenting something you are passionate about, you are going to be more engaging. The best presentations involve the speaker making wild gestures, modulating their voice, and end with heated friendly discussions. Passion is everything, and if you believe in what you are saying, the passion should be natural.

 

Ask for help!

 

One of my biggest mistakes this year has been not asking for help. I took on too many tasks, spent too much time debating content with internal teams who wanted to help, and didn’t ask for the help I could have used. I work in a company full of amazing smart people. I have met so many people on Twitter and other medium who would have loved to help. I wrote a majority of the presentation myself, and waited far too long to get more eyes on. The best thing I did was to join a local Toastmasters group which did help me with the speaking skills.

 

We have all started somewhere, and nearly all of us want to help. There are more opportunities than every to be involved in community. Having a speaking mentor, using Toastmasters, looking within your team are all great ways to get some help. There is no weakness in admitting you need help, and it is a great way to meet new people who often become life long friends.

 

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse, then Rehearse some more

 

I can’t say it enough. Knowing your content is key. I am very cautious about memorizing my content, but I know the slides inside and out. I write out an outline with key phrases to jog my memory. By the time I got to VMworld I had rehearsed so many times my brain hurt. When I got on stage, I knew my slides, I knew my content, and I still forgot half the things I wanted to say. Imagine if I had failed to rehearse.

 

Rehearsing is not fun. Very few people enjoy standing in front of a mirror, or a camera, practicing their content over and over. Having someone give you feedback is thought to take, especially when you pour yourself into a presentation, but it sure beats getting negative feedback from your audience.

 

One of my favorite parts about being in the technology field is being a part of this community. Every conference, no matter how good the sessions are, the best thing is the reunion with all the people I have worked with and met over the years. While we may give each other a bad time, we are a big community, and we are all here to support each other. Presenting can be a terrifying thing, but all of us have an important story to share that will help someone else. Give back to the community, your community by getting involved. Tell your story, and grow your career, there are so many of us who want to help you, so what are you waiting for?
Technical Presentations: stop waiting, just get started.

Getting hired into IT as a Veteran

With Veterans Day coming, this seemed like a logical time to talk about getting hired into the IT field as a Veteran.  As someone who started out with no degree and no formal training, but a strong desire to work in the tech industry, I thought it would be interesting to share my story, with the hopes that it will help others break into the field.

Don’t let anyone tell you no.  I was medically retired from the Army, and the Vocational Rehabilitation counselor from the VA told me  that he would not authorize payment for school if I chose IT as my major.  My only options were to go for a Bachelors in Business Accounting, or use my G.I. Bill to pay for school.  I opted for my G.I. Bill, I am so glad I did, I would have been a terrible accountant.  I also applied to every IT job, both entry level and not, I stretched my skills, and I clawed my way into a help desk contract job at a school district after being rejected for a lower level position at the same school district.

Read everything you can, if you don’t know something, ask, or look it up, but don’t ever stop learning.  Don’t just look for technical learning either, consider yourself a business person with technical skills.  Some of the best sources for learning are books, podcasts, and blogs.  Here are a few lists that I have used and personally recommend.  Some of these are technical, but all of these will help you develop yourself, and show that you aren’t afraid of getting outside your comfort zone.

  • Books
    • Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us – Seth Godin
    • EntreLeadership – Dave Ramsey
    • Start – Jon Acuff
    • The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win – Gene Kim
    • The juggling act bringing balance to your faith family and work – Pat Gelsinger
    • The New Kingmakers – Stephen O’Grady
    • The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google – Nicholas Carr
  • Podcasts
    • Geek Wisperers
    • In Tech We Trust
    • Speaking in Tech
    • Entreleadership Podcast
    • Chat with Champions
    • DevOps Cafe Podcast
    • The Cloudcast
  • Blogs

Get involved in every community activity, technical meetup, and usergroup you can.  When I wanted to get my name out there, I started showing up at my local VMware Users Group, and started writing this blog.  I watched some of the presenters, and I was hooked.  I started learning the materials and practicing, and pretty soon I was presenting.  I started getting more into it, looking for more opportunities to present.  Next I plan to start with Toastmasters, and taking a few classes on presenting.  I make community events a priority when they focus on IT, and the user.  Finding people who do what you want to do and asking them if they can help, offer to buy them coffee, find out their reading list, ask them how they were successful, ask them if they will mentor you, but make sure you are bringing them some value and some perspective.

There is no magic formula for success.  Veterans tend to be driven, and turn our skills from being soldiers into technical skills.  One day you will wake up and realize you are well on you way, but you never stop learning.  Focus on community and on developing your skills.  Learn everything you can, be a good team player, and you will never find yourself lacking opportunities.

Getting hired into IT as a Veteran

What do you want to do next?

The craziest things seem to make me think and question, to wonder, and dream.  During my first annual review a month ago or so, my manager asked me the question, “What do you want to do next?”.  An innocent enough question, but not what I expected from someone who had convinced me to leave my last job and come work for him.  Not something I am used to hearing from a first line manager.  It got me thinking…

To be clear, I am not going to leave VMware.  I am pretty sure they will have to shut off all my access and take my ID card and force me to leave.  I love my job, I love working with my team, and I am completely sold out on what we are doing.  We are changing the world with software.  Don’t believe me, check us out, but this isn’t a post about how awesome VMware is.

My career has taken a number of interesting turns over the past 20 years.  I have been a soldier, a police officer, an IT support technition, a DBA, a Systems Engineer, a Technical Consultant, and now a Pre-Sales Systems Engineer.  I have always been curious and wanted to learn, to expand more, and to challange myself.  I have yet to take a job for which I am qualified, I always find a position that is out of my comfort zone, something that is far beyond my current skillset, and I figure it out along the way.

In the movie Office Space, one of the characters talks about a question he was asked by his high school guidance councilor, “What would you do if you had a million dollars?”  The purpose of the question is to help you think about what would you do if money is no object, what is your passion.

One of the best pieces of career advice I heard for working here at VMware is to be awesome at your day job, but pursue your passion, and success will follow.  I have wittnessed this a number of times over the past year, people who move to a completly different role to do what they are passionate about, able to do so because they were amazing at what they do.

I don’t have an answer yet, I don’t know where tommorow will take me, I don’t have a plan yet.  I am going to focus on being the best I possibly can at my day job, and keep my eyes open, keep helping people along the way, and when a cool project comes along, I am going to jump on it, and make my little corner of the world an even more amazing place.

Think about it, what do you want to do next?

What do you want to do next?

VMware User Groups: Not for just for VMware employees and Vendors

A couple weeks ago we had our annual Portland VMUG User Conference.  First of all, big Kudos to the local VMUG leaders, and a big thank to the VMUG National Headquarters, and the vendors who sponsored us.  A reoccurring theme with all of these events I participate in is the number of vendors and VMware employees presenting.  I say this not to be critical but to encourage a different mindset.  I am hesitant to say this, because I love getting up in front of the VMware users and talking about what we are doing, and getting their feedback and questions.  That is one of my favorite parts about being here is talking to our customers.

Something which has made the rounds with the usual suspects is the concept of mentoring customers to speak at the VMUGs.  Mike Laverick wrote this article last year, and I think we need to keep pushing this concept forward.  The VMUG has a program called Feed Forward, to make this a reality.  Now I am not the foremost expert on presenting, but the VMUG is something I consider personally important to me, especially in Portland.  I have been a member for 4 years now, and I have been presenting for 2-3 of those years as a partner and VMware employee.  I have met more cool people, and had more amazing conversations through the process.

The VMUG is not about me, it is not about vendors, it is absolutely all about the customer.  It does very little good to have our partners and employees present every session.  Of course there are some customers who do present, but as a VMUG member, and someone who cares deeply for what we do, I would encourage you to get out there and speak up and get involved.  There are literally hundreds of us who are willing to help you and encourage you.  Most of us are not perfect presenters, but we just want you to be successful.  I encourage you to start small, but let us help you start being more involved and grow your personal brand at your local VMUG.

VMware User Groups: Not for just for VMware employees and Vendors

VMware, come for the people, stay for the vision

As I approach the end of my second month here at VMware, having had this conversation with some friends, I thought it would be valuable to talk about the reasons why I chose to join, and what it looks like from this side of the fence. As a disclaimer, what I am disclosing is all public knowledge, nothing untoward here, I am speaking for myself not VMware, and this is intended as a larger statement on careers and where we choose to go.

When I made the choice to join VMware I was very happy at HP. I was looking for a new position within the company to align with my career goals, but I was very happy. HP is a great place to work, my peers, management, and teams were amazing. When VMware approached me I was very adamant that I was not interested, even though I was helping to lead the VMware Champions team within HP, and have a great love for all things virtual and cloud related. What finally convinced me was the people. Everyone I talked to, both during interviews, and friends who worked there, was excited. Everyone had the vision and was on fire to change our industry for the better. There were many conversations around products, around culture, and around where the company was headed.

When I got here, I couldn’t help but be sucked into that culture. I was excited, and every day I get a little more excited. We are doing amazing things here. When I go talk to customers I am sharing the vision with them. Where we see the industry going, how we are improving businesses, simplifying them. This is my dream job…well for now. Next week VMworld 2014 kicks off, and we share a little more of the dream with over 20,000 of our friends, customers, and partners. We have a vision and it is so awesome.

So what is the point of all of this? Choosing a career is tough, but finding the right company is tougher. One of the things I have learned the hard way has been finding a company with a vision that I can really believe in. I don’t just work for VMware, I believe we are changing the industry. I came here because there are some really amazing people and products, but I am here now because I believe in our vision. It doesn’t matter if you are an entrepreneur, or a plumber, if you don’t believe in what you are doing it shows. Life is short, and if you are not sold out for your job, you need to ask yourself why. I am not saying go out and quit your job because you don’t like it, but take a long hard look at yourself and ask why you aren’t passionate about it. No matter what you do, it is up to you to make it awesome. VMware is awesome because I believe in what we are doing. Do you believe in what you are doing?

VMware, come for the people, stay for the vision

It takes a community to create change

A brief break from talking about the software defined datacenter, I thought it might be good to talk about community groups, and a little about giving back.

This morning in Church, the message was about being generous, how we are much happier when we give others what we have, not so much talking about money or possessions, but rather something of ourselves, something that is important. I thought that was an interesting parallel to what our technical communities do.

I was recently recognized for my work in the VMware community with the title of vExpert, the reason I applied to the program is similar to my reason for joining HP. I have for about a decade worked on virtualization and storage platforms. When the opportunity to join HP came up, it was not HP specifically I was excited about. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great company, and an exciting place to be, but it wasn’t on my career plan. What intrigued me was the opportunity to join a company where I could teach others about the technology I am so passionate about, give back to the community, but what sealed the deal was the company philosophy. At the heart of the HP Way are the rules of the garage.

  • Believe you can change the world.
  • Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.
  • Know when to work alone and when to work together.
  • Share – tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.
  • No politics. No bureaucracy. (These are ridiculous in a garage.)
  • The customer defines a job well done.
  • Radical ideas are not bad ideas.
  • Invent different ways of working.
  • Make a contribution every day. If it doesn’t contribute, it doesn’t leave the garage.
  • Believe that together we can do anything.
  • Invent.

When I look at these, I see them on display in the tech communities, in the user groups, in the books, in the blog posts, in the twitter debates, in the sessions at trade shows, and in the conversations we have with customers, competitors, peers, and friends.  It is amazing how we can all work with different products, for different companies, we can debate who has the best product, but we do seem to have a common goal of educating those around us, and making the world better through technology.

As you go throughout your week, I would encourage you to look around and see what you can do to be generous. Teach someone something, help a junior team members career, get involved in an online community, or better yet join a user group. We all have something to contribute, just remember it’s not about me, it’s not about you, but it is time we started living the rules of the garage, and it is time we all made a difference.

It takes a community to create change