Virtualization Professional’s Career Guide

A few months ago, I had the distinct honor of sitting down with Kit Colbert to discuss the virtualization career journey.  Kit is a legend in the technology community.  Having helped create vMotion and Storage vMotion, contributed to other core features in vSphere, and been involved in several major shifts at VMware (vRealize, EUC, cloud native), his impact in the virtual data center space is monumental.  I remember first seeing Kit on stage at VMworld ten years ago presenting on virtual machine memory management.  Even then I didn’t think he was from this world!  So, to sit down with this giant to talk about career growth was nothing short of awesome.

During our meeting, I shared with him my experience moving through my career.  I discussed my career progression, several of the roles I had filled, the new technologies I learned along the way, and the mindset I thought was crucial for being successful in this field.  I shared my passion for learning and how I used the attainment of certifications as one key path for learning and growth.  We discussed the growth mindset, including openness to new ideas and the willingness to work well with others.  And we talked about time management and prioritization to maximize focus and energy on keeping current in the ever-changing landscape of technology.

This interview and Kit’s interviews with several other virtualization professionals provided the basis for The Virtualization Professional’s Career Guide.  This is a concise guide written to provide insights and advice to those who are starting the virtualization career journey or looking to leverage the skills gained on this journey to springboard into adjacent technology disciplines.  The guide offers a map to continued growth and opportunity by including stories from other professionals’ paths, a skills checklist, and incredibly valuable tips to maximize the journey.

But there is an underlying premise in this guide that makes it all the more compelling.

The premise here is that virtualization professionals will play a key role in digital transformation and modernization.  Because virtualization touches so much of the infrastructure – compute, network, storage, hardware, apps, etc. – the VI admin has to understand the infrastructure holistically. Being good at virtualization means being good at adjacent infrastructure.  And because VI admins understand this, they are in a unique position to break through silos, be involved in IT strategy, and help the organization take advantage of the flexibility and efficiency that virtualization offers and move toward IT modernization.  As technology advances into new areas, the skills of the virtualization professional will be invaluable in this evolution.

With this premise, the guide shares how these skills coupled with broader understanding of the infrastructure can be leveraged to advance one’s career into other emerging areas.  Beyond the traditional infrastructure, we see the growth of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI).  And beyond the traditional data center, we see the mainstream adoption of cloud services.  VI admins have the core skills necessary to design, build, and manage hyperconverged infrastructure and cloud-based services, helping organizations move from on-premises to hybrid and multi-cloud models. 

Along with the proliferation of cloud, we see cloud-native apps along with Kubernetes gaining ground in organizations.  VMware is capitalizing on this shift and providing a runway for VI admins with the integration of containers into vSphere 7.  They’ve brought the mindshare and tooling of Kubernetes into the interface we already know, making it easier than ever to learn new skills in app modernization.  They’re essentially bringing it to our doorstep!

VMware has already long been enabling VI admins to learn the ropes of automation, Infrastructure as Code, and the overall DevOps approach. With their cloud management products and commitment to building and empowering the coding community, it’s hard not to develop these skills that are quickly becoming the standard even in the most traditional environments.

And finally, with the advances of Edge, AI, IoT, ML, mobile, and other emerging tech, along with VMware’s involvement in each of these areas, virtualization pros are in a unique position to be exposed to these shifts and leverage this position into advancing their own careers.  This will create more opportunities to expand into these new areas that will continue to grow at an increasingly rapid pace.

We virtualization professionals are uniquely poised to take advantage of this inflection point in technology where so many shifts are occurring.  We have an ideal springboard with our skills built on the foundation of data center virtualization.  But it requires that we continue to learn, stay current, and leverage our existing skill sets by building on them.  Thankfully we have access to an abundance of online training resources as well as a robust community to help us along the way.  I’ve never seen a community as enthusiastic and vibrant as the #vCommunity!  Conferences, VMUGs, and Twitter are just a few avenues to help one get quickly exposed and connected into this amazing community.

A career in VMware virtualization is an incredibly rewarding journey.  I encourage anyone who is looking for career advice in this field to check out the Virtualization Professional’s Career Guide or any of the resources below:

Happy journeys!

Personal Growth through Certifications

In my previous posts, I covered the two primary benefits of certification pursuit and attainment:  having a structured learning path, and new opportunities.  Today, I’ll cover the more abstract benefits around personal growth.

Goal setting and focus

Working toward a certification requires the simple act of goal setting.  And working toward any significant goal brings a whole set of benefits.  When engaged in the pursuit of a goal, we exercise our ability to focus.  We set our eyes on the desired result and we engage our mind and actions on achieving that result.  That ability to focus, when exercised regularly, can have far reaching impacts on other areas of our lives.  This one skill can lead to better time management, setting priorities, and most importantly discipline. 

Discipline is required to achieve anything greatWhen we establish disciplined habits on a daily basis, we experience the amazing compounding effect of consistent action.  This compounding effect can easily be seen in when applied to exercise and weight training, where each day’s workout builds on the gains achieved the day before.  Consistency is key, and consistency can only be achieved through disciplined effort.  James Clear’s book, “Atomic Habits”, provides an enlightening view on the power of consistent action. 

When applied to certification goals, we accept that consistent habits of study and practice are required.  The disciplined action of getting up early, for example, and studying daily establishes a routine that builds upon itself day after day.  Each day, we build upon the progress made the day before. One month of consistent studying or action puts us much further ahead than if we attacked it in an unorganized, random fashion.  Regular goal setting, discipline, and consistency, help to hone the skills of mental focus, time management, and priority setting.  The more we exercise these skills, the more natural they’ll become, and the more we’ll be able to accomplish. 

For me, the process of working toward any goal is incredibly satisfying.  I also happen to have a passion for learning, so when I tie the process of learning to a goal, such as achieving a certification, this becomes an incredibly enjoyable pursuit, which fuels the motivation to stay on track and stay disciplined.  The challenge then becomes time management.  But again, with disciplined habits, I can structure my day to ensure I have time to put in that consistent effort.  For example, I’m currently conditioning myself to get to sleep early at night, so I can get up early to study since I know the morning hours are the most effective time for me to accomplish my personal goals.

The act of the pursuit of a goal can be rewarding by itself, but the attainment of a goal brings another powerful benefit beyond increased skill or competence, and that is confidence.

Confidence

Achieving any goal can provide a healthy boost to one’s overall sense of confidence. The self-satisfaction and validation of one’s ability to accomplish a great task can be incredibly uplifting. When applied to the attainment of a certification, the attainment of new knowledge can lead to confidence in one’s grasp of the material. As stated in previous posts, gaining a certification does not equate to experience or similarly any level of mastery.  That can only be gained by years in the field or trenches.  But once a concept is learned, a new level of competence is gained.  What was once a mystery is now something understood, and grasping and understanding the new concept can translate into this renewed confidence.

I had a very eye-opening experience years ago when pursuing my CCNA certification.  Somehow, I made it through many years in IT without knowing the core networking concept of subnetting.  The logic was mysterious simply because I had not taken the time to understand it.  And having access to CIDR tables on the Internet didn’t help since this perpetuated my lack of need to learn it.  But subnetting is a core concept of the CCNA level material.  If you don’t grasp and internalize it, you won’t pass the exam.  Once I understood it, I was amazed how much that alone deepened my understanding of routing and switching.  It’s not surprising then how much of a confidence boost I felt in my approach to infrastructure engineering.

A few years ago, I attended a VCDX workshop led by Paul Mancuso.  He made one comment that stuck with me.  The gist of his comment was this:  Becoming a VCDX does not mean you will automatically make a lot more money, but you will treat your career differently.  What that comment meant to me was that this certification introduces a new level of confidence in one’s mastery over a particularly high-level skill set, and that this level of confidence could translate into one’s posture and the pursuit of higher level and more rewarding roles.  I honestly believe the attainment of any hard to achieve certification brings a confidence boost that can positively influence how we approach our current work and the type of future roles we pursue.  So many of us have dealt with imposter syndrome.  Sometimes the completion of a daunting certification might help provide some validation that we are not an imposter after all.

Enjoyment

The final thought on this has to do with simple enjoyment.  About 15 years ago, I thought about leaving the field of tech and pursing a completely different line of work.  I felt like I was “burnt out”.  I had been doing systems administration for several years, and I was looking for something more fulfilling.  Around this time, I got married and started feeling the pressure of supporting my family.  Instead of pursuing an entirely new career where income might be tight for a while, I made the decision to invest myself in my current career so that I could continue to pay the bills.  What happened was amazing.  By investing more of my time and focus in learning, I started receiving returns on my investment in the form of job satisfaction.  I started loving my work the more I learned.  It was within a year after that when I discovered virtualization, and that opened a whole new passion of mine for technology. 

Simply investing oneself and making the decision to own one’s career can truly open the door to a greater enjoyment and fulfillment that will fuel one’s career.  Certification pursuit and self-initiated learning is a powerful avenue for investing oneself and taking that ownership.

Conclusion

Over the last few posts, I’ve argued how certifications can be incredibly beneficial and highly rewarding for those with a craving for learning and growth in their careers.  They provide a structured path for learning a new technology or product, opened doors to new opportunities within one’s current role or a new role altogether, and personal growth and skills that can have a wide range of impact in one’s career.

The clear component that certification study misses of course is real-world production-level experience.  Working in a lab is not like working in a production environment.  Driving on a closed-course track is not like driving on the open road.  But how do we gain experience if it’s not part of our current role?  One answer is through project-based learning.  I’ll look forward to discussing that in an upcoming post.  Thanks for reading!

Opening Doors through Certifications

In my last post, I started a topic on the value of certifications, highlighting one of the strongest benefits of certification: structured learning path.  In this post, I’ll look at how the pursuit and attainment of certifications can open doors to new opportunities.

It’s widely believed that having a certification on one’s resume can get a foot in the door for an interview.  Recruiters and hiring managers often scan a candidate’s resume and the mere presence of a certification can certainly grab their attention.  Likewise having a certification listed on one’s LinkedIn profile can provide the right keywords when recruiters are scanning the site searching for potential candidates.

Of course, as mentioned in my previous post, having a certification doesn’t guarantee that one can do the work.  The technical interview in fact is designed to determine whether the candidate has enough technical depth to perform successfully in the role.  Experience will far more often provide that depth and is a better indicator of whether one can handle the workload.  That said, getting the interview is the first step, and sometimes simply having that certification can make the difference.

Additionally, some consulting companies and service providers search for candidates who have specific certifications to maintain vendor partnerships.  Having a consultant with these credentials can certainly help when bidding for new customer engagements, so these companies are motivated to find and keep individuals with existing certifications.

But what about your own company?  What opportunities can come up with your current employer?

Learning a new topic will never come back void.  For most managers, seeing one of their direct reports pursue a certification indicates a level of drive, self-initiative, and vision, especially when that pursuit was self-driven.  These are key traits for any manager to see in their employees and thus, managers will often reward those employees with new growth opportunities as they become available.

I’ve experienced this several time in my own career.  Pursuing VMware certifications early at my company showed my boss that I was serious about this new technology we had recently introduced to the organization.  Soon after, I found myself at VMworld for the first time, which by far opened my eyes to a whole new level of knowledge, enthusiasm, and a thriving community around this technology.  Without a doubt that made the largest shift in my own enthusiasm around the product and set me on a new course in my career.  It certainly cemented my position as the go-to VMware guy on my team.  When I think back, this was 2009 when the economy was still in a slump after the recession and most companies’ training budgets were trimmed back.  I believe that my certification was a contributing factor in the approval for me to attend the conference.

Another early example was my earning the ITIL Foundation certification a couple years later.  I had just taken on a management role on an operations team and I was searching for a good methodology for world class IT operations.  ITIL was exactly what I was looking for at the time.  I learned the lingo, read some books (including “The Visible Ops Handbook”, one of Gene Kim’s books before his “Phoenix Project” and DevOps fame), and I attained my certification.  I shared the news with my boss, who until that time had not known I was working on this, and he admired by pursuit and initiative.  Noting my initiative, he sent me to the upcoming Gartner Data Center Conference where I rubbed shoulders with other IT managers and influencers within the Infrastructure/Operations space.  And I had one-on-one meetings with Chris Wolf and George Spafford who both expanded my understanding of key areas in operations management.  All because I went after a certification.

More recently, I’ve displayed my interest in cloud service offerings, and I’ve focused my current learning pursuit on AWS.  My company, Syntax, is a managed cloud provider, offering services on-premises in our data centers as well as managing workloads and applications in the public cloud.  I happen to be on the on-premises team caring and feeding our large VMware environment, but some of my colleagues are working deep in AWS and Azure.  Since we partner with AWS and Microsoft, I knew it would provide value to add another certified AWS employee to our partnership. And by gaining an AWS certification, I also proved that I had the drive to learn and gain a proficiency in this service offering.  My boss has seen this drive and has sought out opportunities to provide me production experience working with our AWS team.

Those are a just a few examples from my own experience.  Sometimes the opportunities have been more subtle and sometimes they’ve led to other experiences that truly opened the door wide open.  I can honestly say, the attainment of a certification has never come back void from an opportunity standpoint.

For anyone serious about their career in technology, keeping a mind for learning is crucial.  One can certainly learn with no certifications attached.  But there is something tangible about a certification that shows a manager the level of focus and drive in your own career, as well as a competency that can most certainly translate into new opportunities that will provide experience and set you on a whole new path to growth.

In my next post, I’ll round out the topic of certifications by looking through the lens of personal growth. Stay tuned!

Value of Tech Certifications

The value of tech certifications has been the topic of debate throughout my years in IT.  Many believe in the value and validation attained by them, while others view them as a cheap display of supposed knowledge, with no real skill or experience to back it up.  Some even go as far as viewing certifications as a money grab by their vendors.  I still remember the days of the early MCSE and the perceived promise of a better paying job, which made this a hugely popular cert and created what many would call “paper MCSEs”.  There was some truth behind this label since many were inexperienced or much worse, used brain dumps to get answers to questions before walking into the testing center.

I wholeheartedly agree that experience will always be worth more than the paper that comes with a passed exam.  I’ve been at the interview table with candidates who had a resume full of certifications but could not answer basic questions.  Likewise, some of the top talent we’ve had on our teams do not have some of the basic certifications.  That said, I am still a huge proponent of certifications as I see some key benefits that come through both the pursuit and attainment:

  • Structured learning path
  • Exposure to new opportunities
  • Personal growth

Over the next several posts, I’ll lay out some of my thoughts around these benefits and ways that I have personally benefited through the attainment of certifications.

Structured learning path

First and foremost, I believe certifications provide a well-structured learning path.  Most vendors provide an exam blueprint for their respective exams, and even more training companies and publishers offer study guides and courses for exam preparation.  By using these study resources and exam blueprints, key topics are identified and a road map for studying is conveniently laid out.  To me this is one of the most efficient ways to quickly get up to speed on a particular technology.  This gives one the guidelines on what to study to gain the widest coverage of topics with just enough depth to gain a solid understanding of the product.

There are certainly many training resources available that are not exam-centric, yet provide a similar structured learning path.  But aiming for a certification provides an additional benefit: a deadline.  Having a deadline by scheduling an exam invariably increases motivation, which helps prioritize study time. And this provides a timeline that feeds nicely into those time-bound SMART goals.  By setting a time and priority to get up to speed on a topic, one can outline a schedule, and estimate the time required to attain a solid understanding of the topic.  For me personally, that helps me see the light at the end of the tunnel when tackling new material.

There have been several turning points in my own career when I identified an area of technology where I had a gap and I leveraged the power of certification study to fill that gap.  Notable examples have been networking, and more recently, AWS cloud.  In each of these areas, I was lacking critical knowledge or experience that I deemed essential to my own career progression.

In a previous job role, I worked as a consultant on customer projects.  I had a strong understanding in many areas in traditional infrastructure, but I was weak in my networking skills. Up to that point, even though I had managed a data center, I had relied heavily on network engineers on my team.  But in this consulting role, it seemed every project demanded some level of networking knowledge, and without my old colleagues to fall back on, I felt terribly handicapped.  Therefore, I set out to achieve my CCNA certification to gain a solid understanding of general Layer 2/3 concepts and router/switch configuration so I could do my job.  And by doing so, my understanding was greatly enhanced, which helped my overall design and engineering skills.  I was able to at last fill out the entire infrastructure stack and become a much better engineer.  To this day, I credit my pursuit of this one certification as being a key turning point in my career. There aren’t many days that go by when I don’t employ some knowledge gained during this pursuit.  In fact, I’m amazed I got so far in my career without this skill set.  (psst… I think I really was an impostor. 😊 )

This year, I’ve focused on public cloud and decided to work on my AWS certifications to get up to speed on this fast growing technology. My company partners with AWS as part of our offerings, but I happen to spend most of my time on our on-prem managed hosting services, managing our large VMware environment. Earlier this year, I attained my AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification and I’m currently working on my Developer Associate cert. The latter has been especially helpful, not just for my understanding of new cloud services, but also in getting my mind wrapped around the developer mindset. I’ve been a solid infrastructure guy throughout my career and it’s just been within the last several years that scripting and coding have taken center stage for me. The leap into dev tools and understanding the way developers approach cloud services is a major step in my evolution as an IT professional.

In areas where I already feel fairly skilled, I’ve still used certifications to help fill gaps in my understanding of a product.  I consider myself strongly proficient in VMware vSphere having spent over 12 years deep in the trenches designing and administering enterprise scale VMware environments.  But there are still many components within vCenter or ESXi that I don’t use on a day-to-day basis.  Pursuing VMware certs has helped fill some of those gaps by motivating me to study these lesser used aspects of the product.  This was particularly true when I pursued and attained the advanced level VCAP certifications.  For anyone who has taken these certifications can attest, “book” knowledge is not enough to pass those exams.  Real world experience is essential.  But by pursuing those certifications, deeper level concepts were uncovered and thus, my own understanding was increased.  Having this deeper level understanding greatly enhanced even my day-to-day tasks as my horizon and visibility into the product was expanded.

There are clearly other structured ways to learn new concepts.  Besides cold, hard experience, project-based learning and deliberate practice are incredibly strong avenues for learning, as they clearly provide an even deeper level of understanding and skill.  If one truly wants to master a technology, those strategies are integral to the process. I plan to write about this in upcoming posts, but the purpose here has been to consider how certifications in particular still provide value in the overall plan for learning and growth.

In upcoming posts, I’ll share two other benefits of the certification game: exposure to new opportunities and personal growth. Stay tuned!

New Start

January 1, 2020.  First day of the new year and the new decade!  Proverbial resolutions are made… with far too many people responding pessimistically to the staying power of these resolutions.  It’s true, gyms are often packed in the first couple weeks of the year, and that by February, the crowds thin out leaving mostly the consistent folks who were there before the start of the year.

I like to be optimistic.  But I’m also realistic.  I’ve had access to goal setting tools for many years, but when I’ve looked at my success rate of follow-through, I have much to be desired.  I’m human with other priorities that often trump my own ambitions.  But I also know that I can be lazy too.  At the end of the day when I have the opportunity to work toward a great personal goal, I too often let the passive and mindless allure of Netflix or YouTube take over.  It’s nice and relaxing and after a hard, busy day, it seems to hit the spot.

So, what will be different about this year?  Well, while fully acknowledging where my weaknesses are, I still have high aspirations.  And I have the ability to follow through.  Knowing where the landmines are as well as the goal and direction I need to take to get there is a big part the battle.  Having a plan in place to avoid the landmines and truly follow through by taking focused action is the other.  That’s my goal and it starts here.  In fact, one of my goals is to post more content on my blog this year.  So, one down!  : )

This year, one of my goals is to transform the direction of my career.  And clearly, this will take a solid disciplined approach to learning and habit management like I’ve never taken on in the past.  I know I have the tools and the learning resources, as well as the ability to manage my habits to take full advantage of my available time.  It’s just a matter of avoiding those pesky landmines that sabotage my follow-through.

I’ve come across several intriguing authors over the last couple years who seem to have a consistent message that really resonates with me.  These authors have not tacked the typical self-development topics of mindset and traditional goal setting per se.  They have tackled areas that truly align with the areas that I personally would like to excel in: habits and mastery over new skills.  And the tools they teach are just the tools that can help avoid the landmines and reach one’s goals.

The authors are Cal Newport,  James Clear, and Scott Young.  I won’t spend time writing about their books here, but I will provide links to each one below.  These are books I will be devouring this year to help me stay on track with my personal learning and development goals:

I aim to post reports or at least evidence of my progress throughout this year.  One of my goals is to get better at writing.  I believe posting more content will provide an avenue for doing just that.

Let’s toast the new year and get started on the right foot!  Cheers!

Pivot Point

Several (more like eight) years ago, I started a blog.  I was encouraged by other members of the vCommunity to jump in and start sharing.  There was much encouragement along the way, and I loved the idea of contributing, even if I thought I was an inexperienced voice with little to add.  But as with most things, I discovered that unless one is truly intentional, our “best intentions” end up never really hitting the mark.  Consistency is not practiced and goals are not achieved.  I’ve learned and relearned this lesson many times in life.  I am a life-long learner, but I prefer to learn something once and then move on – not having to relearn my previous mistakes.  In any case, I’m trying to exert some new intention and kick this off blog off once again – with a pivot in mind.

Years ago, I started a journal.  It was just over 30 years ago to be more specific.  I still have every page from that journal of which I was consistent with for part of those first 10 years.  Incredible growth in my life occurred during this time and I had some amazing experiences.  This period of time included my college years, my big adventurous summer in Alaska, my starting (and ending) a small business, and most importantly, my embrace of a deep faith.  I even started my IT career with a software training company during this time.  My first IT role would most certainly become one of the big pivots in my life.  This set me off on a new trajectory in life that would provide some great professional rewards and on a personal level, lead me to my future wife and family.  But with my journal writing, when I had the most to write about, I had the least amount of time to do so, and my writing often waned.

About 11 years ago, when I was still working in Windows Server administration, I hit another pivot point when I discovered virtualization.  VMware VI 3.5 had just been released, I saw the changes it would provide in our day-to-day operations and I was hooked.  I embraced virtualization since the industry was clearly adopting this technology and would soon become the de facto standard for on premises data centers.  A year later, I attended my first VMworld and I came back with my face glowing ready to go all-in on this new phase of my career.  I saw the community at large for the first time, and thousands who were just as passionate about embracing this technology.  I set out to learn as much as I could and had some intention of contributing to the community.  I had lots to write about…

Over the last several years, I’ve had other growth spurts where so much was going on and I had so much to write about, but little time or energy – or simply lack of intention – to write.  Shortly after my previous blog post, I started working for a managed services provider in RTP, NC.  I took on a role as Sr. Virtualization Engineer in an enterprise-scale, predominantly VMware environment.  I had been managing and consulting in VMware focused roles for many years, but the demands and experience of the enterprise environment brought very different challenges within configuration, performance, and management.  Not only did my skill set have to sharpen very quickly to meet the demands of a large environment, they had to downright transform to break from my old habits.  Automation and scripting, extreme performance tuning, massive scale configuration management, and deep forensic analysis were all part of the my day-to-day existence.  Lots to learn and so much to blog about… but, most of my documentation ended up in company wikis, internal technical docs, and emails to customers and colleagues.

This brings us back to now… I’m once again facing what I believe is a new pivot point in my career.  I love virtualization and the world of technology this has opened to me.  It has even provided a spring board to other technologies that will clearly continue to transform our data centers and the way we process data.  Data center virtualization enabled the rapid growth of cloud with its abstraction of pools of resources and provided the ability to place into the hands of customers the power to spin up workloads in minutes.  Coding became the new skill for system admins to learn to manage vastly larger environments that grew out of the enabling technology of virtualization.  And lastly we have a newer technology that has become very popular over the last few years: containers.  The nature of containers has taken this idea of portability and abstraction from the underlying resources to another new level.  Most technology vendors have invested so much into each of these three areas:  cloud, containers and code, and for good reason:  this is not just the direction, but the road itself that our industry is speeding along.

So my mantra these days is “Cloud, containers, and code”.  It sums up the skill set that I’ve embraced as my focus for this next phase in my career.  So much to learn, so much to write about… so… I’ll see you back here in a few years for my next post.  : )  Stay tuned.

 

Winding down…

OK, so the year has almost come to a close and I think I had a whopping six posts this year, and most of them came out near the beginning of the year.  Definitely didn’t meet my blogging goals for the year, nor many of my goals for that matter.  The tyranny of the urgent has a way of redirecting one down an unintended path.  Very ironic since I had a great post about goal setting back in January.  Maybe this year, I will follow my own advice.

That said, this has still been a great year, though nothing major to brag about. In all honesty, as far as work goals and achievements if feels a bit lackluster.  I had some good moments – vExpert again, speaking moments at VMworld and my local VMUG, a couple certifications knocked out, and a few long running and cool projects for our customers.  Personal goals were good too.  I finally got my weight back to a normal level after a scary 2014 when my weight plummeted due to a mysterious digestive issue.  I also had great periods of downtime with my family, saw my 5 year old start reading voraciously, and my wife continue a dream job at our daughter’s school. We continued our acclimation to the Carolina culture after transplanting here from the DC area in 2013 – best decision we ever made.  House, neighborhood, work, school, church, friendships… we’re still amazed at how everything just fell into place for us.  We celebrated joyously with our neighbors as they welcomed their first child. We thanked God for the successful treatments of both my parents who each faced incredible health issues this year.  I survived getting struck by a car as a pedestrian with nothing more than a sprained hand.  And I met some awesome folks and deepened existing friendships.  I guess not a bad year when I put things in perspective.  Perhaps the way to look at this year: Not everything I had set out to accomplish, but I was blessed and protected and am enriched because of it.

So as I ponder work-life balance and consider all the conversations I’ve had with others this year about this topic since I’ve struggled through this, one thing keeps coming to the surface.  The things that are most important to me – my family, relationships, and health – are all still very much intact and abundant.  In all my work and goal setting and worldly pursuits, I must always remember the best achievements are those completed with and for the people closest to us.

Hopefully, I’ll keep this close to my heart and mind as I reset my goals in the new year.

 

VMware vExpert Class of 2015

I am honored to be named vExpert for a second year!  Congratulations to all who made the list!  How exciting to once again be included in this esteemed group of talented folks, so willing to share of their time, knowledge and experience.  I am quite humbled to be counted among them, most of whom I will forever look up to. The numbers have increased year after year, which I’d like to assume is because the passion in this field is contagious and more people are answering the call to stand up, volunteer, and give back to the community.  Kudos to all the guys and gals who have paved the way for the rest of us.  And a special thanks to Corey Romero and the entire VMware Community Team!

I also give great thanks to John Troyer who started this years ago and who probably had the best tweet of all in the wake of the announcement:

Thanks for the inspiring call to action, Mr. Troyer!

Goal Setting 2015 (Planning to Plan)

Here we are several weeks into January 2015, and this is typically the time when New Years resolutions start to taper off.  As most goal setting experts share, the gyms are crowded the first week of January as resolutions are set, but by the end of the month, the gyms are empty again.  Why?  Because we don’t set our goals properly, commitments are not made to last and quite frankly, life gets in the way and we drift back to our comfort zones.  The changes are not lasting.

I am a goal setting fan – and yes, I do my own little resolution exercise each year.  I write out my reflections of the past year and projections for the upcoming year.  I love the possibilities of what I can attain and the New Year provides the clean slate.  It’s the excitement of the possibilities that fuel this yearly exercise of dreaming big.  Ah, the possibilities – the opportunity!  I list out my big dreams for the year, look over my list with pride and then… well… I go about my business while trying to keep in mind these goals that I must start working on.  Last year, I came up with some major goals and I hit less than 25% of them.  OK, that’s 25% further than where I was at the beginning of the year, but why didn’t I see a bigger hit rate?  This post will delve into the lessons I’ve learned about goal setting and lay out an approach that will hopefully enable my success rate to be much higher this year.

Some goal setting advice seems like common knowledge.  We all know the need to write down our goals.  Experts have said that when we write them down, we have a significantly greater chance of completing them.  We also know we need to be specific and set a time line.  The acronym SMART has been listed by many as sound criteria for our goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  And the goals should be broken down into the major areas of our lives: Health, Career, Financial, Family, Spiritual, Personal Development and Recreation.  There are so many goal setting books, articles and courses that delve into each of these guidelines that I won’t elaborate on them further.  What I will share is the different approach I’m taking this year.

With all the ambition and confidence I start each year with, I fail to do two major things:  Keep my target list in front of me and break down each goal into smaller steps.  So… the strategy listed below outlines a very logical way of resolving both shortcomings.

1. One year goals

First, list out all your wildly ambitious goals for the entire year and review them regularly.  Unlike last year when I typed my goals out, I hardly looked at them throughout the year.  One of my goals was to read 10 books.  It was mid-way through the year when I realized I had forgotten about this goal and I had only then read my first book.  Not the way to stay on track.  The next three steps will help to keep these goals visible.

2. 90 day goals

After you make your list of goals for the year, break them down into 90-day goals.  For each of your major goals, determine how much progress you need to make in the next three months to stay on track to complete the goals in one year.  If my goal is to read 20 books, I determine I need to read 5 books within the first quarter of the year.  If a goal is an achievement, such as a certification, I calculate a measurable amount of the overall achievement I need to complete within that time frame.  If my goal is to achieve a CCNP certification, I will make two of the four required exams my goal for that 90 day period.

3. Weekly goals

With the 90-day goals listed out, then break them down into weekly goals.  Each 90-day period has roughly 13 weeks.  Estimate how much you need to complete each week in order to achieve the 90-day goals.  For example, reading 5 books in 90 days means reading over a third of a book each week.  For a certification goal, I’ll determine how many chapters in a book to read or how many points on the exam blue print I need to knock out.

Then, for each week, schedule time the day before the start of the week to write out the goals for the upcoming week.  I’ve set my target week to begin on Mondays since that easily coincides with the beginning of the work week.  That means I set aside time on Sunday nights to review how I did the previous week and then lay out my plans for the upcoming week.  That way, when Monday morning comes, I hit the ground running.

4. Daily goals

The list making doesn’t stop there!  Once you know your weekly goals, determine what you need to accomplish each day in order to make progress throughout the week toward those goals.  Write up your daily task list.  This of course can be incorporated into any To-Do system you might use.  I personally use Todoist, but there are so many resources out there.  Whatever system works for you will suffice as long as you use it.  Key principle:  If you don’t use it, it doesn’t work.  When you do use it, you typically stay on task because the action items are in front of you AND you receive the thrill of checking items off.  Yes, we all love that feeling, so why not experience that thrill every day and be more productive in the process?!

So there it is… My four point system for manifesting all my dreams this year!

I give credit to Peter Winiarsky for providing this seemingly obvious approach.  I recently read his book, Act Now!, which lays out the above strategy for achieving goals within 90 days.  He provides far more detail in his book along with many other recommendations to keep one on track.  I highly recommend picking up a copy of his book and employing some or all of his approach.  Winiarsky’s book is only one of hundreds of goal setting books on the market.  Any of them will have good advice, but the key principle with any program is to put the ideas into action.

Additional Resources

I will call out one more helpful book that I’ve recently read – The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod. The point of his book is to lay out a morning strategy that empowers one to have the focus, energy, confidence (and time!) to achieve one’s goals throughout each day.  There’s nothing new written here, but Hal packages it in an inspiring and memorable way to motivate one to get up early each morning ready to hit the ground running.  I personally love my mornings, not just because it gives me a jump on my day, but because it’s sacred time – when the rest of my family is still asleep and the time is truly mine.

Other resources I’ve found to help me stay on track are podcasts.  I am a podcast listening nut.  I love my drive to and from work since that’s learning time for me.  I have my iTunes favorites set to a number of productivity and business success podcasts. It’s truly amazing how much material is freely available.  Some of the ones I’ve recently discovered are Achieve your Goals (Hal Elrod), This is Your Life (Michael Hyatt), The Portfolio Life (Jeff Goins), and Beyond the To-Do List (Erik Fisher).  Of course I have all my Tech related podcasts to keep me up to date on the latest in the industry (In Tech We Trust, Speaking in Tech, Geek Whisperers, vBrownBag, VUPaaS, VMware Communities Roundtable,… and so many others).  And that’s another way I leverage my time; I use my drive time to learn and keep my brain active.

Another great tool I’ve used for daily productivity is the “Pomodoro Technique”.  It’s essentially a technique for maintaining focus when working on projects.  It simply uses a timer set for 25 minutes during which time you work on a task with no distractions.  Once the 25 minutes are up, you take a break for 5 minutes to relax the brain.  Get up from your desk, grab a coffee, walk around, stretch, surf the web, or do whatever you want as long as you disengage. Then rinse and repeat. Studies show when you work with regular breaks, you actually work more efficiently and thus get more accomplished.  For me, it helps me stay focused.

So there it is… a strategy and some additional tools and techniques for making this a powerhouse year!  If you have additional thoughts, suggestions or resources, feel free to share!

vExpert Class of 2014

The vExpert 2014 Q3 Announcement of inductees was made today.  Congratulations to all who were added to the number!

I am super excited to share that I made the vExpert list for 2014!  It truly is an honor to join the family of experts, leaders, and evangelists that I’ve looked up to over the years.  What an amazing group of individuals who have each given so much to the community.  So many of us in this industry are where we are today, much in part to the efforts and contributions of these talented folks.  I can’t imagine what the community would be like without their efforts.  I personally have benefited tremendously from the knowledge, the guidance, the troubleshooting tips, the study guides, the product updates and announcements, and certainly the personal experiences and opinions these folks have shared.  They are leaders and giants.

And thankfully, giving begets giving.  Their generosity has encouraged many others to share and offer their own slice of expertise to build what we have today – a vastly mixed community covering all areas of the software defined spectrum.  The enthusiasm for this technology is contagious and continues to spread.  The number of vExperts continues to grow year after year.  And it’s exciting to be part of this!

Again, congratulations to all who joined the family this quarter!  I’m honored and humbled to be counted among you.

A special thanks go out to VMware, Corey Romero and the vExpert team, and of course the man who started it all and passed on the torch, John Troyer.  Bravo to you guys for YOUR efforts!