Interview – Ian Sanderson talks community and career growth

The last interview I wrote up was back in 2017, although I’ve made efforts to kick off a continuation of this series, I stalled. I recently went over some of the past interviews and its amazing how in 18 month or so, people’s careers and focuses have changed, never mind the IT industry.

So kicking off the first interview of 2019, I reached out to my friend Ian Sanderson. Ian has 15 years of IT experience under his belt, taking the usual route into the IT industry, “I cut my teeth in the virtualisation world with Hyper-V in 2008, but my focus has been VMware since 2010”, he tells me as we kick off discussing “Ian in his own words.”

Ian and myself became friends and comrades with similar interests due to our activity in the IT community, interactions on twitter soon turned into bumping into one another at events, and catching up over coffee, and late night drinks at vendor community programs.

I ask Ian to define what the IT community means to him, “Community to me is like having an extended family of people who you can bounce ideas off, or call upon for help with other things” he says, “It is not a one way street though. I try my best to give back to people in any way I can help out. It’s really about comradery & helping each other achieve their end goals.”

“The wealth of collective knowledge in the vCommunity honestly amazes me. There is always someone, somewhere who has the solution to a problem you may have.”

So where did it all start for Ian? “My first real interactions with the community kicked off when I became a Veeam Vanguard in 2016. Prior to that I had the odd interaction on twitter and an outdated blog but nothing really significant. Being virtually air dropped into a group of like-minded people who love Veeam really sparked my passion for getting more involved in community events.”

I’m not shocked to find this answer pretty much echos similar answers to others in the IT community. Small steps into twitter; invites to slack groups; and a sense of needing to give back to the community we have all taken so much from. (We’ve all googled for an answer, and ended up at someones personal blog post, finding they have fixed the same issue).

Career progression

It’s no secret that a lot of ambitious IT folk have gone on to do very well in their perspective areas boosted by their work/activity in the IT community. There’s no secret group or handshakes, just purely hard work, a love of technology, and mostly a friendly atmosphere, as Ian equates earlier “Its really about comradery and helping each other achieve their end goals.”

Ian’s own career growth has been affected by his community interactions and work, which has seen him take on a more key role at his employer, SITS Group based in the UK, “It has opened my eyes to how other people do things. You appreciate more how the machine works rather than just being a cog in the machine.”

“I guess I try to take more of a business approach to technology now rather than just a how can a piece of technology solve a specific technical problem. It is more about how can a piece of technology enrich and enhance a business and its users. How can technology make peoples lives easier. Without having an appreciation of other business’s and how they work, I don’t think I could have done this.”

Whenever interviewing (from a hiring side, or blog post side), I’m always interested in a person’s success, and how they define that. We all strive for something, it might be quantitative or qualitative, there is no right answer. For Ian, throwing himself into the IT community has massively helped conquer his fear of public speaking. A fantastic goal, and  success in this area can have a positive impact on career progression too. I know personally, when I explain to people what I do, as the conversation turns to the subject of presenting, the responses are always voiced “I could never do that.” Further again, Ian echos my own feelings “The thing I honestly found the most rewarding though was receiving my first “thank you” comment on a blog post. Knowing you have made a small difference is a great feeling.”

Following the various user groups around the UK (VMUG, Tech User Group, Veeam User group, Azure user group), I always find myself mixing with the same attendees, the desire to learn more, and ultimately make our jobs easier burns in us all. Ian’s advice is simple but maybe the hardest hurdle for anyone when you start attending events, “Spark up a conversation with someone new, start talking about the user group topics. One thing leads to another and there you have someone new in your community network.” Conquer this, and you’ll also find it the most rewarding advice you’ve taken.

Tech Events

Each one of us faces a plethora of invites to events, webinars, or if you are lucky, retreats. It’s hard to know which events are the right ones to attend, or getting the OK from the boss to leave the office and daily fire fighting.

Ian is one of the leadership team members of the Veeam User Group for the UK, which hosts it’s events around the UK throughout the year. Getting feet through the door any tech event is getting harder as time passes, Ian offers his insights “It is a sad fact but swag seems to get people through the door. It really depends on the event though.”

He continues “VMUG events for example are a little more generalist than say the UK Veeam User group. If the User group is solely focused on one topic, then people are more likely there for the tech, not the day out of the office.” (it must be noted, Ian does love his vendor socks though!)

“Again, content is king. Having the right content (and people) on the agenda is what draws the crowds”

 

Getting Involved

We wrap up this discussion about community with the old subject, where and how do others get involved. Rather than cover the same ground, Ian has already produced a fantastic piece on this subject;

Meetup.com is also another handy resource Ian points me too, “put in a topic you are interested in, like I say, there is loads of stuff out there”.

He signs off with a last piece about presenting and blogging, “Take a leap of faith. Local meet up events like VMUGs are always looking for speakers, no one will heckle you.”

Something I can echo myself, having stood up at the North West England VMUG many years ago for the first time, presenting on a failed VDI project and what I had learned. That day I received a lot of positive comments even from the vendors presenting that day, which spurred me on to do more.

“If you are starting a blog, just keep creating content. Over time people will start to check out what you are doing.” Ian’s comments do come with a fair reality check “Just don’t expect thousands of visitors on day one. It takes time to build up a blog.” Something we’ve discussed before in the community is unique visitors per day, and I think it’s humbling to find even some of the more popular blogs out there still receive a small number of unique visits per day, this blog included only receives in the region of 150-300 visitors per day as it stands.

And finally a word on creating content that’s already being covered, “If some one has blogged about something before, don’t be afraid to create your own blog on the same topic. A fresh perspective on something is always welcome.”

There is a difference between plagiarism and going over the same subject. Nobody in the community will call out a blog post which is the later, so for any aspiring bloggers out there, get started, take a leap of faith, hit up people like Ian on Twitter for help.

Wrapping up

Ian is a shining example of community involvement, he’s even found his niche working with Ravello Cloud and picking apart systems to get them to run over on that platform, and blogging about it. Something which was picked up by Ravello themselves on Twitter.

It’s been great to work in the same circles as Ian over the past few years, and I’m glad to call on him as a friend as well. I’ll just wrap up with his details so you can all follow him;

Regards

Dean

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