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.

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Getting hired into IT as a Veteran

Bow Ties are cool!

Now that I am past my first 90 days here at VMware, I consider myself something of an authority on absolutely nothing. Thus I feel it incumbent on me to post a semi serious post about life, liberty, and the pursuit of virtualizaiton.

Since coming here I get the question at least once a month about how to get hired at VMware. The truth is there is no secret formula, no one trick that will get you an interview, or past the interview. The truth is that you just have to stand out and bring something unique to our growing team. I have seen many of my friends go through interviews, some get hired, and some not make it. It is not that they aren’t good enough, but there has to be something which sets those who make it apart from those who don’t. What follows may or may not make sense, be true, or be helpful, but it is my attempt to shed some light into what it takes to be a part of our team and a part of changing the technology world.

Flexible

Working at a company growing as quickly and disrupting the technology world the way VMware has requires flexibility. Being amenable to change on a moments notice is a requirement here. Every day we wake up and have a new requirement, a new idea, a new challenge. No day is ever dull or the same as the last, and just when you think you have it figured out, there is a new strategy, or a new solution for our customers.

Humble

This one caught me by surprise too. The best people at VMware are the most humble. They are the types who are willing to sweep the floors, talk to the new hire class about how great VMware is, or talk to our largest customers about how we are taking responsibility for something that may not have gone as well as we thought it would. Being here means remembering that it has nothing to do with me, it is all about the cool technology and the team. Imagine walking around the Palo Alto campus and bumping into the guy that literally wrote the book on VMware storage or networking, and talking to them as a team member.

Curious

Everyone I meet here, well almost everyone, has a love for learning. Since joining the team, I have spent most of my time asking questions, reading, studying our roadmaps, and debating strategy, technology, and ideas with some incredibly smart people. I have found that most of the people here want to know what others think, they are well read, and generally trying to absorb as much information as they can. It is hard to be around and not get motivated to read the latest white papers, learn a new programming language, or grab someone who has been here a while and ask them questions.

Being Awesome

We are a team of winners. That isn’t me being prideful or putting anyone down, we just love to win. We love bringing amazing ideas to life, everyone on the team, at least everyone I have met so far, is all about teamwork. That being said, we all work for a greater good, we are executing on a vision, not for ourselves, but to make our little section of the world a better place. Nowhere is this more evident than in the commitment to giving back. We are encouraged to volunteer, not because it makes the company look good, but because it is part of the culture. We are encouraged to be involved in things we believe in and to make a positive difference wherever we are.

Where do I sign up?

So really the best way to join us is to be involved in the community. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my current manager began to screen me at the VMUG User Conference. Since moving to Portland, I have done my best to get involved in the local tech community and help out where I can. I have volunteered to speak at the conferences, work the booth for my employer, evangelize the various user groups, and just show up to support friends. Get your name out there as someone who is willing to do what ever is needed. Be active, be sincere, and be present. VMware is a great place to work, but only because we have an awesome community, awesome partners, and awesome users. Whether you want to work at VMware, or just be involved, this is an amazing place. Get out there and be involved in the community. The Portland VMUG Conference is November 4th this year at the Oregon Convention Center. Come by and check it out, learn more, and find a way to pitch in. We are all about community, and that is the best way to find out about working here.

Bow Ties are cool!

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

Humans, you’re so linear.

We always assume that things will continue to be on a linear trajectory. In statistics we can project future points on a graph based on previous points. In technology, we have always assumed that because things have always been, they will continue to grow as they always have.

When the iPhone was released I was happy with my Blackberry Curve 8300. I was at Comcast managing a datacenter in California, and I was just fine with what I had. The iPhone was a toy for yuppie kids with too much of daddies money. Today I have an iPhone, and iPad, a Mac Book Pro, 2 apple TV’s, my wife has an iPhone and an iPad, 2 of my 3 kids have iPod Touch, and one of them has an iPhone. I do more work on my iOS devices than I do on my Mac Book. When Steve Jobs and Apple created the iPhone, they didn’t assume that a small screen and a qwerty keyboard were going to be what we all wanted, they went out and built something most of us said we would never buy and changed an industry.

Seth Godin, in his book tribes said, “The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there.
People will follow. ” The real message here, well the one I take for the purposes of this post, is that we need to stop thinking that things are how they are and won’t change. Things change because we make them.

In his post Do You Drink The Kool-Aid Or Do You Make It? Gabriel Chapman points out that we need to be deeply involved in the technology process to be effective at our jobs in technical sales. We can’t just drink the Kool-Aid, we can’t just take what marketing gives us and accept it as a fact. Being hands on, being able to communicate, and being able to stand up and be honest when something is not the right fit is critical.

So in closing, don’t be so linear, don’t just drink the Kool-Aid, get out there, get your hands dirty, understand what you are doing, whether you are in technical sales, or any other field, and do what excites you. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, it shows and you will not be nearly as effective.  Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and go in the opposite direction from everyone else, you might just create something amazing.

Humans, you’re so linear.

Changing Direction…Again

The funny thing about life and careers is you never know where you will end up. Alistair Cooke wrote a fascinating article, about how random his career has been, http://www.demitasse.co.nz/wordpress2/?p=1174. Recently a number of my friends from around the globe have been asking me about career moves, or for advice, assuming I actually know something or know what I am doing. I have come to realize, similarly to Alistair, planning my career does not work.  I am no where near where I thought I would be at any point in my career, I have surpassed my own expectations, not because I am smarter than anyone else, but because I love to learn and I have been very blessed to meet some very intelligent people who have taught me more than I ever thought possible.

Over the past 20+ years I have had the privilege of working as a soldier, tech support, a systems admin, a systems engineer, and a technology architect.  Recently I had a conversation with the team at VMware.  I was pretty convinced that I didn’t want to change jobs, but I do love VMware, and I have spent a great deal of time and effort to understand the strategy, as well as to work with VMware as a partner on many levels.

The interesting thing I learned during my interview process was that I have actually been interviewing for this job for nearly 9 months now without realizing it.  Interactions with various VMware employees showed them I was interested in VMware as a company, and in helping customers understand more about the solutions.  Through the conversation, the team at VMware laid out a strategy, and a future which is compelling.  The thing though that finally sold me though was the people.  I have a number of friends at VMware, and I follow many on the Tech Marketing team, so I feel like I know what things are like there, but meeting with the local team, and getting their perspective, and understanding the vision from their level.

I do want to say, HP is an exceptional company with some amazing products, and with some of the smartest people I have ever met.  I am humbled to say I was a part of the team at HP, and I am equally humbled and excited to be joining the VMware team.   I will continue to write my own opinions, and things that interest me.  If I have anything to recommend to anyone considering how to improve their current position, or find another it is the following.

  • Never stop learning
  • Ask questions
  • Find smart people and hang out with them
  • Learn from everyone
  • Give something back to the community.
  • Thank you’s go a long way
  • Humility saves you from looking silly
  • Always be polite and helpful, you never know when someone might help you, or when you might be able to help them.

So all this to say, this month I will be joining the VMware Health Care team as a Senior Systems Engineer.  I have much to learn, but I have confidence in the team, the product, and the strategy.  I look forward to continuing my journey, and to giving back to the community wherever possible.

Changing Direction…Again

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

What Motivates You?

This is a break from my VMware Storage Series based on some recent conversations I have been having. I was recently given a reason to consider my professional career, what direction do I want to go, what is important, and what motivates me.

The conversation started a few weeks ago, and a friend, someone I had worked with in a previous life was discussing why he had joined a startup company with a bright future. He told me he was motivated by having fun. Money and the people he worked with were secondary, but having fun was really what he was all about.

I started discussing the option of joining him at the startup, with my friends, my wife, and a number of people in the industry I have a great deal of respect for. As I began to explore, a reoccurring theme kept coming up. I didn’t have a clear picture of what motivated me.

After much debating and discussing, I have come to realize that what motivates me is learning, teaching, and succeeding. I love winning, moving the ball forward as it were. I enjoy speaking in front of customers and perspective customers, and I love to get people excited about technology, and helping them see how it can help them.

I firmly believe this is a critical turning point in my career. I have chosen to stay where I am, I like my job, and my manager has assembled a team that is second to no one. I am doing my best to be a good contributing member, and I feel like there is plenty of room for growth as long as I put in the effort. It is the right decision for me at this point in my life.

So now that I have gone on this little journey of discovery, I would challange you, pause for a moment, take a look at your life, and ask yourself. “What motivates me?”

What Motivates You?