I’m really excited to get this interview out of the door. I missed Daniel’s session at KubeCon, “From Kubernetes to PaaS to … Err, What’s Next?”. The room was packed, I wasn’t able to sit in, so instead I watched it from the KubeCon live stream, sat on the beanbags in the hallway.
The session was fantastic, but I couldn’t ask any questions afterwards. So I dropped Daniel a message on twitter, and he agreed to chat, and be recorded for an interview.
Originally, we parked 25 minutes for the interview, but had so much fun we ended up at 47 minutes or so. Rather than cut everything down back to the 25 minutes mark. I decided to split the interview in two halves, so you can listen during your coffee breaks.
We break down Daniel’s KubeCon session in more depth, but importantly for me, give it a platform/infrastructure operations spin, as this is my background in IT as I build my knowledge in the Cloud Native world and learn knew technology and software.
For those of you who know or follow me, I’m delighted to be part of the Veeam Vanguard program, created to bring together some of the top individuals focused on technology and yes, the Veeam ecosystem to help guide Veeam with feedback and perspective.
But to be honest, for me it’s just a fantastic group of individuals who are experts in their various fields. They will bend over backwards to help and support you, and we all love to learn and share with the community. If you are involved with Veeam products in any way in your daily life/job role, I highly recommend you look into the program and apply if you feel like it suits you.
Moving onto this blog post, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Nikola Pejkova (twitter) from Veeam, Technical Analyst and Community Manager. Nikola has been the driving force behind the Veeam Vanguard program and events for the past few years.
So, let’s dive in!
Nikola, tell us a bit about yourself, and what led to you taking the role as the community manager for Veeam.
Thanks for having me, Dean! I live in Prague, beautiful capital of Czech Republic where Veeam have its offices. I’ve been working in IT industry for more than 6 years now and I’ve experienced different roles in corporates as well as in startups. This mix of experiences have been probably the right fit when Veeam was searching for a community manager and I’ve been searching for a role where I can build something valuable and long-term.
So, the Veeam Vanguard community manager role was the perfect match! I’ve been impressed by Veeam’s history, maintenance, and development of their own software products and also the culture that is so far from the experience I gained in other worldwide corporate companies.
Please can you define what community means to you? And what goals you had coming into this role?
Community is something like a secondary family when it’s treated in a good way. There are many kinds of communities out there, but specially in case of IT ones, they’re kind of a special case. As they are uniting literally people from all the world, they are incredibly diverse and let us overcome the physical distance through technologies we got available those days.
Power of the community comes from its members, who can share together their experiences, have conversations about issues they’re solving at the moment or just support each other in hard times. Another crucial role in the community success is having the company that has to offer not just great products, but also continuous and various ways of engagement that keep the community live and up-to-date with all the innovations that are coming so fast nowadays! It’s like a group of friends who are having the same passion, in our case, saving and protecting the data with products that just work.
What makes an excellent community program versus just a good community program?
In my opinion there’s a crucial management of the community that needs to be done in a way that members understand the purpose of being part of the community, what benefits they are getting from interactions with others and what is the added value that they take out of being a part of any community.
I’d say that difference between excellent and just a good community program is a passion of its members – when the community program is managed in a great way, members are happy, passionate, willing to participate and do extra steps for the community. When you got an average one, it can fulfill its purpose as a platform for social interactions and sharing experiences, but members won’t be so proactive to dedicate their own time out for the community.
Are there areas from other community programs you are looking to replicate or even avoid? Which activities to you think have lost their shine?
What I’d like to generally avoid is taking the community members as “anonymous” numbers without any personal touch. What is incredible on Veeam Vanguard community is that we know each other not just by name, in most cases also personally. We do care about Vanguards as a group of unique and very special and talented individuals, which I’d love to keep for the future, as it’s one of the aspects that differentiate our community from others.
What’s been the highlights so far leading the community programs at Veeam?
It’s hard to name just few of them, but for sure the highlight has been Vanguard Summit in Prague last October, where we met all together – Veeam Product Strategy team accompanied also with members of R&D team was spending almost the week in Prague together with Vanguards from all over the world to share latest product updates, which was super fun and we all had incredible time!
Also presenting about the Vanguard program during VMworld in Barcelona last fall was incredible experience. And I cannot forget how proud I was when so many Vanguards were answering during VeeamON Virtual in Expert Lounge to attendees from across the globe or participated on presentations with other Veeamers during VeeamON this year. Generally, the biggest highlight for me is to see the passion that Vanguards have towards Veeam products and willingness to constantly helping improve them.
You are launching a new program, the Veeam Legends program, can you tell me about the process behind getting this ready for release to the public?
Well, there were a lot of thoughts and efforts behind this project! First, we wanted to foster even deeper engagement that rewards our customers and partners for the role they have played in our success. We also wanted to introduce a new tier in our community program enabling some of our most active community participants to be recognized as leaders in the data protection community through content creation and user group and event participation.
Second, we wanted to keep conversation going and to provide users with a single place where they can share best practices, participate in virtual Veeam User Groups, grow as a Veeam pro by completing free, on-demand training through Veeam University and have fun by recognition and rewards.
Diversity and inclusion have become a recent focal topic in the 2020 climate, what is Veeam doing around this?
Veeam is very proactive when it comes to inclusion and equal opportunities. There are various initiatives inside the company that everybody can join, we also have an option to be active inside our local communities as volunteers. As Veeam is a global company with offices across the world, diversity is one of the key values as well as respect to others.
And as a woman in the technology industry, what do you think of the state of D&I in technology today? And what barriers do we need to overcome?
Since time I’ve started to work in IT industry, I can see growing number of women not just in leading managerial roles, but also in development, graphics, and analytics, which is great!
I don’t see any reason why IT should be just for men, but I believe that it’s kind of stigmatised from the past that those technical areas are for men and others for women. I believe that we’ve overcome this as a society and much more girls are applying now to technical fields in universities, so I am expecting continual growth of numbers of girls in the IT. Also, for the reason that technologies are everywhere today, so younger generation is growing surrounded by all this since they were born, and It feels generally much more natural for them to be in contact with all the technology that is new for previous generations.
Obviously with the current global pandemic we find ourselves suffering some disruption in our lives, but looking towards the rest of 2020 and into 2021, what personal goals and plans do you have?
After being locked due to COVID quarantine over 4 months in Canarias, my main goal to get home was fortunately finally met ?.
Regarding the current travel restrictions and turning the world as we knew it before upside down, I’m thinking about some minivan reconstruction to rebuild it into the house on 4 wheels. We are having unlimited number of beautiful spots to visit in Czech Republic and surrounding countries, so having the van and independence to go anywhere I want gives me enough satisfaction. And finally put together my home office, as I think I might be seeing it a little more often!
Dean here again.
I’d like to thank Nikola for agreeing to be interviewed. Working as a community manager in the technology industry is a unique challenge. It’s more than running events and asking customers/partners/advocates to help promote your brand. There are many community programs out there, but not all are successful, and it’s a fine line in getting it right.
It’s taken me a while to finalise this article and writing during a tumultuous year has been interesting. Since Nikola and I first exchanged messages on this blog post, so much has changed worldwide.
Hopefully in the future when we find ourselves to travel, myself and Nikola will be able to sit down and conduct a follow up interview, we can review this time, and how the community has changed during this time.
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!
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.
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).
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.” Continue reading Interview – Ian Sanderson talks community and career growth→
My fourth blog posts is with one of my favourite online personalities, Chris Wahl, a person whom I’ve followed the blog of for a long time. I won’t add too much preface to this, and dive straight in.
1. So Chris, you’ve are known in the community for two main subject area’s, networking and scripting, as well as technical author, but can you give me a quick run down of yourself for those whom are not completely familiar of your work?
Over the past 18 years of being employed in the technology sector, I’d boil it down to spending a lot of time problem solving as either a customer or consultant in various environments. I’m most proud of having published Networking for VMware Administratorswith my friend Steve Pantol, achieving the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) certification, and publishing over 70 episodes of the Datanauts Podcast with my co-host Ethan Banks. I use the words “snazzy” and “groovy” frequently while also borrowing quotes and images from my hero, SpongeBob, while focusing on the wonderful world of Startup Life at Rubrik as the Chief Technical Evangelist.
2. What is the biggest challenge you have in your job day-to-day at the moment.
Imagine a formula one racecar zooming down the motorway. It’s really fast, right? Now, imagine that Ellon Musk strapped a pair of SpaceX rockets to the sides. That’s a bit what it’s like to work at a startup – very fast paced. My biggest challenge is keeping up to date with engineering, product, sales, marketing, and support while traveling the world to spend time and attention on customers, their needs, and how they can be met by the team. Every job I’ve ever held has eventually become boring, but I think I’ve finally met my match for finding something that is as interesting as it is challenging.
3. If you’re hiring, what are you looking for in the candidate?
Finding people with the ability to be self-sufficient and take the initiative is my biggest focus. I prefer to set a goal and let someone figure out the best way to achieve it while being available for assistance of guidance when required. My experience has taught me that most everything else will fall into place if someone has the will and energy to get their work done when they know that I’m not watching their every move.
4. How do you expect the IT landscape to change over the next 5 years, and how do you expect this to affect your role?
I think it’s really all about the various applications that we build and maintain, and the evolution in how we build and maintain them. All of the change we’re going through is really focused on those two things. In five years, I would expect a lot more of the world to operate in a Kubernetes type model – build pools, assign units of work, execute in the pools, and store data where a policy engine dictates.
Those that can help organizations with this process will prosper, which is one of my main focuses at Rubrik – both in term of our software, but also how I approach engaging with other IT professionals. Embracing the concepts required to build and maintain the next generation of applications – such as building automation tasks using an API and planting those into an orchestration engine – are the future. How much of this future applies to any one individual is variable, but the overall model makes a lot of sense and is the only real way to construct applications for the needs of 2020 and beyond.
5. What’s the costliest mistake you’ve made in your career?
I once pushed a script into production that accidentally wiped the system32 directory from any Active Directory attached computer object that pulled down a gpupdate. Even though I caught the mistake quickly, it required my team and me to stream new OS images to over 100 PCs over the course of a day. It may not have been the most expensive from a dollars perspective, but it taught me the lesson of testing and not being too avant-garde with automation. It took me a while to bounce back from this mistake and feel confident in my abilities as a systems administrator.
6. What have been the successes and failures of your blog site so far?
I’ve never really thought of my blog in those terms. Based on the comments, I think people are able to read the content and learn a thing or two, which is the fuel that keeps me going. I certainly have looked things up on my blog on more than one occasion. Beyond that, it continues to be a place where I can explore my own thoughts and keep from forgetting the things that I’ve learned. I’m happy that the virtualization community has been kind enough to vote for the site in a handful of ranking systems – such as Eric Siebert’s Top vBlog survey – but am not particularly motivated on a day-by-day basis for such things.
My worst failure is anytime I get something wrong on the site. It makes me feel nauseous thinking that I misinformed anyone. Fortunately, most readers are quite lovely people who offer constructive feedback and I try to fix any mistakes promptly.
7. What tips can you provide to anyone blogging or thinking about starting?
Some ideas off the top off my head:
Don’t worry about creating content about a topic that others have written about.
Offer your opinions – the why of something is almost always more interesting than the what of something.
Be honest about why you are writing something.
If you can’t think of a topic, visit Reddit / VMTN forum / Slack / Twitter and see what sorts of questions are being asked. I used the VMTN forums for years to answer questions in long-form on the blog. People seemed to like that.
8. Any tips for people getting started in IT, or looking for a focus/direction?
Technology is a vast and multi-faceted environment. Try to find something that resonates with you personally. I started as a developer writing COBOL and hated it (although the COBOL probably had more to do with it than anything else). I switched majors and became a network engineer because it was so much fun to me! Now, I’m enjoying a little bit of both worlds. There’s also a bazillion free learning sites, and some really inexpensive non-free learning sites (Pluralsight), which really kill off any excuses to get started in just about any area of technology.
9. Powershell is definitely a skill that future engineers need to know, what were you’re first steps into coding?
Hah. Well, I’d certainly like to think that PowerShell is a definite skill to learn, but I think it’s one of many great frameworks out there to choose from. But, if you do decide to go down the PowerShell route, I’d say that starting backwards helps. My first bits of code in PowerShell were to solve existing problems, such as building Active Directory accounts or starting a Windows service. It’s hard to learn a language without a focus. Start with those little tasks and use them to build your knowledge of the syntax and commands. From there, the rest of the journey is all about structure, formatting, and efficient ways to create code.
I didn’t have many resources to pull from when I first started to learn PowerShell, but now days there are a plethora of books and online courses to view. My advice to my younger self would be to learn more about the structure of writing good code as early as possible – such as building functions and modules with comments, limiting a function to a single set of inputs and outputs, and keeping the logic statements to a minimum for code re-use.
10. The majority of the traditional infrastructure stack can be configured and managed through the likes of PowerShell these days, but what caveats should people be looking for, or aware of?
The major one is the expectation of stability. Try to write your code as if nothing can be taken for granted. Especially not the inputs given to you from others (people or systems). Sanitize everything, test everything, and make sure that what parameters you are requesting are always the ones you expect. If you limit the hazards available from user error, it makes life easier for everyone.
Also, never hard code anything in your scripts or functions. I tend to abstract those into parameters or some sort of external configuration file. This keeps you from having to edit the code for when your infrastructure changes or the environmental configuration changes. This was a lesson I learned over time, and I still wince when I see some of my old functions from the past 8 years.
11. What’s next for Chris Wahl in 2017, what personal and work goals have you set yourself?
My main goals at work are to grow my team by several more people, scale-out the work that is being done to cover the massive global demand, and branch out to new communities across events covering cloud providers, technology stacks, and developer groups.
I plan to attend Microsoft Ignite; DevOps Enterprise Summit; and AWS re:Invent for the first time ever. while still attending as many of the VMware events (VMUG UserCons and VMworld) as I can. However, I also want to send my team to cover a lot of these events to build their brands and relationships in those communities.
My personal goals remain fairly simple – spend as much time with friends and family as possible, cross off more Bourbons and Scotches from my “try it” list, and continue to keep personal fitness as a top priority. The groovy thing about Austin is that it aligns nicely with all three of these goals, and allows me to attend a lot of snazzy tech events – such as OpenStack Summit and Tech Field Days – while also getting to check out SXSW and ACL for some great music.
Chris is a keen blogger, and is how we connected online and in person. Having followed Chris’ blog for a long time as our areas of interest were very similar, networking and virtualisation. A few years ago I attended the UK VMUG, and managed to meet Chris in person, I found him to be just as likeable and helpful in person as he is online via twitter. This is seen further in his interview responses, who else would admit to accidentally wiping the system32 folder of their companies machines.
Chris has found his place working for the vendor Rubrik. Focusing his efforts on the IT community and automation has his subject matter, I think it speaks volumes that Rubrik took Chris on; who are in the world of backups, and Chris a highly experienced engineer in various areas.
He might not have been the obvious choice to go and work for a company in the backup industry. But when you dig below the surface, when you are an agile company ripping up the rule book, Chris is certainly one of the experts you want on your team.