Saturday, May 9, 2015

The challenges of leaving IT…

It’s been a year since I wrote part one and I wanted to follow it up.  Stepping out of the mainstream of IT has been a risk.  One of my biggest concerns is no longer being relevant in technology.  IT architecture grows at such a staggering rate it is almost impossible to keep up.  One of the initial challenges I faced moving into education is getting attention from vendors.  When your no longer on the purchasing end of things, not everyone is excited to talk with you since you no longer have purchasing power.  This initially was a challenge, as I wanted to bring more technology into the classroom.  My contacts and friends supported my decision but how do you support the side of classroom education where it no longer generates a profit?

MATC teaches VMware, Cisco, EMC and Microsoft.  While these are big players they are not the only ones in the IT world.  As I started to reach out to vendors I did receive the comment “oh your just an instructor” more than once when I tried to bring them in.  Unless the sales occurred immediately they had no desire to talk with “students”.  While it is not a sale today one never knows what the future is.  Many of the students that take the technical college education today become the engineers of tomorrow.  At a recent VMUG in Wisconsin I reconnected with about 30 former students that after only a year or two in the field are recommending and deploying solutions such as clouds and VDI. 

The exposure they get at the college level is what they are bringing to their employers.  Recently the Wisconsin Nutanix team came to MATC, sat done and simply asked how can we help educate your students.  It was not a sales call; they wanted to share an incredible technology with the next generation of professionals.  Two years ago Veeam flew Rick Vanover to MATC to help MATC create a backup lab for one of our classes and even provides one-year NFR licenses to students.  These are two great examples of the vendors investing in the next generation of professionals.  Does exposure at the college level guarantee a sale later on, some might debate that but Apple and Cisco don’t and have invested heavy in it.  As more data center technology continues to come into the classroom the question should not be “oh your just an instructor”, rather it should be “I would like to talk to the instructor”.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Over the past year and half I have had an amazing opportunity to write for several technical sites and publications.  I never considered myself to be an author and my english / spelling skills reflect that (my editors are amazing).  Over the past week two people reached out to me and said that different pieces that I have done were insightful or helpful to them.

Having success in today's world is not about the title or degree you have but the impact you leave on people and the success you enable others to have.  Sometimes with the speed of IT those things can be easy to be forgotten...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why I left IT...

Why I left IT…

I have thought about writing this piece for several months now and its finally time.  Today I am a college IT instructor teaching VMware, EMC and Microsoft to the next generation of IT professionals.  Before that I was an IT architect / admin for several companies in the Wisconsin area.  I enjoyed working with new technology and seeing everything new and exciting.  Designing systems, figuring out new technology made my heart race and I loved every minute, or so I thought.

As I continued in IT I found myself looking more and more for career advancement and that next big step.  Over the course of many years it drove me, my only focus was to get better in technology, obtain that next certification and of course that next promotion.  I often times passed on family events and vacations because I was always about work.  There was no time for anything else, just the next project or certification.  At the time it seemed like the ideal life, I was making more money than I could of needed and it appeared that my career had no limits.

It is a known fact that behavior and personality traits are almost impossible to change unless you have a life-altering event, well three years ago my events occurred.  In January of that year I lost my Mom suddenly to heart disease.  Anyone who has lost a parent knows the impact of that.  Later that year when it was time to get the promotion I was promised I found out that my manager had been leading me on about it for almost a year.  On it’s own losing the promotion does not come close to losing my mother but here is where it gets twisted together.  My mother had asked on several times for me to go with them on vacation and I always turned it down because of work and striving for that promotion.  So when the promotion didn’t occur and the fact that I should of went on one of those trips with my parents I realized the consequences of my decisions.

That was the moment when my life changed, and for the better.  Thanks to a good friend I worked with he suggested I help out a local college, as they needed someone to help teach VMware.  Well I knew the technology but nothing about teaching but how bad could it go?  Okay the first rule in teaching; never have a three-hour lecture without a bathroom break.  Besides that folly I found I enjoyed it and was pretty good at it.  After a year of doing it part time the college wanted me full-time.  This was a big step because it was stepping out of the technology stream and a 40k pay-cut.  I figured I could still consult to help keep my in technology but salary loss is where I had a lot of concerns until my wife put it to me very bluntly “we can afford the salary loss, it’s just your ego - get over it”.  Well she was right and I made the jump. 

So I have been in education full time for two years now.  My salary recovered to a degree in about a year due to teaching additional classes but something very funny happened with my consulting.  While I have a few clients that I work with I end up consulting for many of my students now.  Unlike many other colleges the average age of my students is closer to mid-thirties and already in IT.  They are working on additional certifications or degrees and I often find myself helping them design solutions for their companies before and after class.  I have helped design or redesign about two-dozen virtual / VDI and storage environments that I can think of off the top of my head.  My reward for it, often times in the next semester I will have another student or two from the same place that was referred to by a previous student, you can’t ask for a much better thanks than that. 

I continue to be involved with VMware and the amazing VMware User Group on both a Wisconsin and Global level.  Also my connections with great vendors such as A&E, Ahead, VMware, EMC, Veeam and many others has continued to grow as I continue to recommend their solutions to my students.  Milwaukee Area Technical College is unique, unlike other colleges that teach theory we teach real products and technologies and the vendors know this.  I remember Rick Vanover from Veeam flying up for the day to help us create a Veeam backup lab for one of our classes that included a great student portal.   What does this mean for our students well at a recent event in Chicago held by Ahead they not only encouraged students to attend and learn they also had them meet the engineering recruiting folks to see if they were interested in new careers. 

I thought leaving the general flow of IT would reduce my skill set however just the opposite occurred.  I have found myself keeping up with more and more new technology so I can bring it to my students.  In fact recently I began writing for several great technology sites and that has been an amazing experience.   I use to think to be successful in IT it was all about the position and salary but I had to “leave” IT to realize one of the keys in being successful in IT is to have a balance and ensure that IT does not own you. 

So today I have the best of both worlds, the ability to work with amazing technology and people and not have a pager after hours.  As far as promotions and advancement, each time one of my students / friends gets a new job or certification it means more to me than any reward I had ever gotten for myself, my only regret is that it took me this long to gain clarity…

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I only use...

We all have favorite vendors that we like to use.  The vendors that we have embraced are now part of us and we are unlikely to give them up soon.  Recently I was at a Microsoft event and saw the fierce dedication to Hyper-V and intense dislike of VMware.  This was a bit of a shock as VMware does have a overwhelming market share of the virtualization but these folks would only look at Hyper-V.

This behavior is not limited to just Microsoft and VMware, one only needs to look at the interaction between the Google Android and Apple iOS platforms users or a dozen other examples.  This dedication to one vendor over another while admirable can lead to viewing technology with blinders on. 

As IT professionals it is our duty to ensure the companies we work for have the best and most cost effective technology for the business even if it comes from a vendor that is not on our favorites list.  Now that doesn’t mean we should go out and replace what we have with the lowest cost option but we have to find a balance between performance, reliability, support and cost.  The vendor’s reputation can come into consideration but the name itself should not. 

Ignoring our comfort zone is a hard thing to do but it’s something we must do for the benefit of the customers we serve.  As professionals knowing more than just a single vendor such as VMware or Hyper-V / iOS or Android gives us more value in the marketplace.  We can support more technologies and bring more even value to our companies by knowing both choices instead of just the ones that we want. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I don’t have time for…

In today’s IT world we are under extreme deadlines.  The companies we work for never slow down or stop growing.  In IT we are under constant pressure to learn the next thing or be left behind never being able to catch up.  We often put off things we want to do with family / friends because we need that next certification or we have to finish up work / on-call. 

There are many books / articles that can help you with this but to be blunt we are in IT and often times that “soft” stuff does not apply to us.  Well, it’s often said that we don’t see the brick wall until it’s right in front of us…well I think we (IT) have already hit the wall and we just don’t know it yet.

Some folks will argue as professionals of course we know when we hit the wall so let me get back and just finish this last thing.  Well at that point they have already hit the wall and are starting to push against it.  I am sure everyone has heard someone say “I don’t have time for…”  Yes we blame time for us not having enough time for everything. 

This may come as a shock but we all have the same 24 hours in a day.  Just because we are in IT doesn’t mean we get any more or less than others.  Now how we choose to use those hours is up to us, we can use them for work, education, family or friends.  That is where balance comes in…we already spend 8 hours a day at work and 8 hours sleeping, where do we put the other 8 hours? 

For me three years ago I lost my mother to heart disease, it was at that time I realized I was not in balance with work, education, family and friends.  They say it normally takes a life changing event such as a death or divorce to change people…as we are pretty smart in IT I hope that is not the case and we can find that balance before it’s too late…

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Often many people refer to themselves as leaders.  They are leaders in technology pioneering new advancements or project deployments but are they truly leaders?  Often the term leader is confused with manager or supervisor.  Being granted the right to manage people is not the same as people allowing you to lead them.  Yes as a manager you can force people to follow you but only people can allow you to lead them.

Leadership is not about you or how many certificates / degrees you might have, the number of people underneath you.  It is about what you enable others to do.  To lead is to enable others to succeed…that is true leadership.

Monday, September 2, 2013

VMware VCA and why you should care about it…

At VMworld 2013 VMware introduced a new level of certification, the VMware Certified Associate (VCA).  This is an entry level certification based on free online training from VMware.   In talking with some of the folks at VMworld this level of certification is targeted at students and people beginning their careers in IT.  VMware released four tracks based on general virtualization, cloud, networking and desktop.   Now will you see people with existing VCP / VCAP / vExperts taking these exams, maybe to show some knowledge in another silo or maybe not.  I went through two of them this weekend and found both to be a good framework of information for each of the respective topics.  Is this enough knowledge to get a job, well no but it’s not meant to be.  It’s designed to show that you know the fundamentals of each topic. 

While many folks deep in the virtualization trenches wouldn’t give this a second thought I would suggest taking a look at it not for yourselves but your co-workers.  While we believe that the world revolves around virtualization (and it does) there are many other technology disciplines that exist.  Exchange Admins, DBA’s, Server Admins, Storage, networking & programmers - just to name a few.  Sure we can explain virtualization to them but let’s face facts, how many of us are professional teachers?

With the VCA courses / certification VMware is giving the virtual administrator a chance to bring more of the IT folks into the virtual fold.  One of the theme’s at VMworld was “VMware Loves Apps”.  Let’s take this opportunity to extend the virtual handshake to these other groups by encouraging them to take the free training and maybe even get a few additional letters on their business cards.  The more they feel they have a part of ownership in the virtual world the easier it will be on us to continue the virtual journey.