Interview – Matthew Steiner – Cloud Technologist and Author

Matthew is currently working at VMware as a cloud management technologist, spending the majority of his time visiting customers and discussing their cloud journey. 2020 will mark a milestone, with it being his tenth year at VMware.

Since personally joining VMware in 2018, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Matthew on a common customer, which has led us to sharing a number of trips together. During this time, I’ve learnt a lot from Matt and his insights about the industry, also from Matt as a person. This interview post is brought to you from a number of those chats.

You can find Matt online at the below locations, and no doubt presenting at a VMware or VMUG event near you!

Was technology your first calling?

I’ve always been around tech from the very beginning whilst in school, joining the computer club so I could use the Sinclair ZX81 Spectrum. Like most computer clubs, spending time writing code, and was lucky enough to have it published in a computer magazine at the time.

After leaving school, a move to a Chemical manufacturer lead to learning Cobol programming for their CRM system, client software, and configuring a lot of modems. Unfortunately, I was made redundant from one role, and this is where I moved into the contracting world, working for a large European bank. From here I stayed on and moved my way up through the various roles from entry level technician keeping the lights on, to leading the teams keeping the lights on.

Can you recall the moment where you found yourself thinking “I can move beyond day-to-day operations, work with customers in a more strategic capacity?”

There was not an immediate moment of this happening, it was all part of the journey of during my career. In the latter days working for the European bank, as I’d moved up the ladder, I spent time thinking and articulating the effects of the technology and its effects on the business, especially the positive effects.

In 2000, I moved away from the technical administration roles and joined Compaq as a pre-sales consultant. This solidified the move away from break-fix and I got to see the other side of “the fence” so to speak. Certainly, joining a sales organisation and being part of that sales focus was a shock to the system.

But this was also the start of working with a range of customers from a more strategic position and taking my experiences of the positive impacts of technology on a business out to a wider audience.

Sales Kick off in New York with Compaq, they still meet up each year, the IT space in Scotland is a small world!
Featuring (L-R); Matthew Steiner, Brett Wells, Brian Duffy and Andy Hughes

How would you summarise/guide a person, start focusing on the business before tech?

Be curious and ask questions.

I think it’s as simple as that, get involved with the business, and ask broader questions beyond a technical one.  A training course taught me “the tapping thing on shoulder”, it’s your own personal curiosity.

I’ve found that in many cases, customers seem to do the stupidest things. But when you find yourself being curious about those stupid things, under the surface, they are not stupid in the slightest – there’s typically just a very good reason behind it.  The stupid part comes from MY inability to understand the underlying reason.  Great example was a client of mine that had a virtualisation ratio of 0.9:1 in the first meeting I had with them.  Yep, 0.9 VMs for every 1 host.   Stupid – but there were VERY good reasons…maybe a future blog post to talk through those reasons, and how we subsequently worked with them to migrate over 6,000 VMs to VCF in 3 months!!!

If I think about specific pieces of advice, for presentations and meetings, always start with “Why are we here, what do we want from it?”, aim to not be just a broadcaster of information, and question yourself, “Why would someone want to hear this?”

Was there a watershed moment, in which you realised, “I actually understand this stuff pretty well and can make a living out of it advising others?”

There was a point where this curiosity lead to people wanting me in meetings. Providing value. See above, don’t be a broadcaster.

Sharing is caring, don’t hide about what makes you good from others. Focus on helping others as well, and self-evaluate, don’t be an arsehole.

Do you feel your career progress was natural, or to avoid the failure to adapt scenarios?

My career progression has been luck and taking chances. Whatever role you are fulfilling, you need to ask good questions, and make sure you’ve covered all the sides.

In my interview for VMware I asked “Have you gotten everything from me that you need?” It turned out, that I hadn’t explained what I would bring to the role I was actually being interviewed for. Something I managed to correct by asking that question, and well,here I am looking at year number 10!

This shows that for any Interview, it’s the most important sales engagement you’ve been in, do your research, find out more about the roles and those that surround it, and those who are hiring you.

Remember to sell yourself, don’t expect what you’ve done before is good enough, sell what you can and will do in the future. If you are headhunted by a company, interview them, and make sure it’s right for you. Just because they found you, it doesn’t mean the job is for you, in most cases it very rarely is. To me, it seems everyone makes the mistake of being headhunted once.

You wrote a book a few years ago, how did you find the process?

Never write a book, that’s the first takeaway that comes to my mind. It’s hard work, don’t underestimate the challenge and I have a lot of admiration for anyone who has been published in one form or another.

Seek as much assistance where possible. I did not, I had this great idea to take everything on myself. Had I realised this was too much to take on, the book could have turned out better, so there it is, there’s nothing wrong asking for help!

That said, I rescind my first comment, there’s nothing wrong with writing a book, just don’t underestimate the challenge!

Any standout moments during your career?

In 2019, I was invited to present on a panel ,by a global bank at their internal symposium, sharing the stage with their CIO and COO. I was most thrilled to be asked to be part of their panel to talk about technology, what the future of the industry looks like and ultimately how the vendor I work for can help them achieve that.

VMware User Groups have been part of my career for as long as I can remember. I’ve been a massive advocate for them since the early days, and they truly feel like a family! It wouldn’t feel right to talk about myself and my career without mentioning the VMUG community. It’s an honour each time I am asked to present, more so when I am asked to come back for a second or third time.

You spend a lot of time with customers, talking strategy, do you feel each company is striving towards the same goal/resolve the same challenges in regard to technology, or are each a unique individual that requires dedication and thought process?

Ultimately yes – each of the customers I’ve been working with, they are all going in the same direction albeit some are quick, some are slow, the maturity differs a lot.  Some are where they want to be, others are miles away.

But as an oxymoron, they are also all unique when you dig under the covers – so with my position, I share what works with others and hope they can use that to help mould their own journey.

What do you think is the next frontier of tech challenge the industry needs to address?

Is cloud *really* going to replace datacentres?  I’m convinced it will, but the timelines are very long, and again as every company’s journey is at a different maturity stage, that only emphasises it further.

Finding skills to continue supporting legacy systems will get harder and harder. Look at the Cobol programming language today, it’s a skill that’s still needed by some of the largest enterprises. Do I want to go back to the days when I was using Cobol? No, I couldn’t remember any of it if I tried. But the point remains, Cobol remains, and in the future so will the private datacentre.

So lets move away from the tech discussions to something a little more lighter…. what are your top 3 travel tips?

  • Never check luggage, you’ll thank me after a few times of challenging yourself to do a week long trip with hand luggage only.
  • Always have a plan B – anticipate disruption
  • When visiting a new country – ask the hotel to pick you up (they often do in Middle East, India, Africa).   Sometimes the service also helps you get through immigration/visa quickly

 

And to wrap things up, what are your hobbies outside of work?

  • Travel – given the amount I do for work, I sometimes find it ironic I like to travel in my spare time as well, but I love to explore and see new parts of the world.
  • Football – You’ll find me supporting Sunderland! However, for those of you who next see me at a VMUG, grab me a beer and ask me about Kevin Keegan, arguably the most important person in my career, even though he was manager at Newcastle United, Sunderland’s arch enemies.
  • NASCAR – I always enjoyed motor racing but this, for me, is the most accessible, fan-friendly genre.   Some American readers may have some preconceptions of the sport, but until you experience the sound, and smell, of 42 cars with 30,000hp starting their engines, then hurtling around Talladega in a pack at 200+mph, you haven’t seen racing.  Then you get hooked and get under the hood of a series way more interesting than F1 will ever be.

Regards

Dean

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