What do we do with VMworld and VMUG?
I recently got pulled into two interesting discussions on Twitter. I say “pulled”, but I suppose I instigated both. I even got accused of trolling – but I’m no troll! It was a serious question.
VMware’s unique destiny is to have interesting problems that other companies would love to have. One problem is that way too many people submit talks for VMworld, and at this point, over 10 years in, most people are used to their talks not being accepted. A partner asked me if they should even submit, so in turn I asked what folks thought on Twitter. (The deadline to submit a talk to VMworld was April 15, so if you were procrastinating you might as well start procrastinating about next year, because you’re done for 2016.)
If you click on that and take a look at the replies to that tweet, you’ll see that: 1. A lot of people have given up submitting talks to VMworld. 2. Technical people seem to think that the talks are too marketing-oriented, but all the marketing people have given up. 3. VMware employees both in private and public admit it’s even harder for them to get a talk.
The best response came from long-time VMworld track leader Matthew Lodge. He points out people come to VMworld to see technical deep dives by VMware product experts. That’s what gets the most butts in seats and that’s what gets the best ratings. You’d think customers would be telling the best stories, but they can only give the one viewpoint of what happened to them. I’ve been told that VMworld has an exceptional number of breakout sessions compared to other conferences its size, but even then there are a limited number of slots and they have to cover both business and technical.
If you’re a regular person, there is almost no way, unless you have some received wisdom from the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu, that the story you want to tell is going to have the same universal appeal as a technical deep dive from a VMware person. VMworld is like prime-time TV; they need to go with The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family for broad appeal. (Not that there are no problems with session selection – I’ve heard stories even from the inside.) But, absent any epiphanies, I told the partner who asked me about VMworld that I wouldn’t bother at this point, or if I did submit I wouldn’t take rejection personally.
Make VMUG Gooderer Again
The next topic I got dragged into, or maybe instigated just a bit, is the flipside of the VMworld problem — there are loads of VMware User Groups, and it’s easy to buy a sponsor slot, so why are some VMUG presentations teeth-grindingly horrible, and why do some sponsors not have a good experience?
Alastair Cooke wrote a great post, Make VMUG Great Again, and he published it right before the VMware User Group I was at this week. The title was provocative, but the post was spot on and thought provoking. I loved the audacity of wondering what would happen if VMUG sponsors had resources and training to actually give good and interesting talks at a VMUG? Sure, most vendor presentations would still be terrible, but a few people would actually avoid giving the standard vendor boring commercial, right?
The underlying problem is that marketing departments don’t know how to talk to techies in 2016. This is a complicated problem which I’d be happy to discuss with you either over beers or a monthly retainer. But the outcome is that most techies have very low expectations about a standard vendor pitch, and they act accordingly.
I talked with my old friend Eric Siebert of HPE at the Silicon Valley VMUG last week. He’s clearly been thinking about this for a while — he has some definite suggestions for all the stakeholders in Here’s how we can make VMUG events even better. Eric echoed Alastair’s call for better sponsor participation, while also saying that getting more user involvement was critical for VMUG success. The feedback on Twitter was that it was very, very hard to convince VMUG members who are end users to present. There’s a big, big barrier to speaking in public for most.
We got a chance to talk about this with VMUG CEO Brad Tomkins at the event. I hope he wanted an interesting week! Brad, we complain because we care!
I’ll just leave you with two thoughts:
1. Why don’t vendors and others who can’t get their content into VMworld instead submit your talks to VMUG? This was a suggestion from Duncan Epping. Yes, you can sponsor it too, and if you do, use your talk as an experiment to see what works for this crowd. But many of the most successful VMUG sponsors I’ve talked with don’t actually give product pitches at VMUG and instead try to be educational. (And if it’s not a product pitch and your local person is an active member of the community, you might not even have to sponsor the VMUG to present it!)
2. I think public speaking is great for you and for your career. You have to be a good communicator, even if it is just in a team meeting. But not everybody needs to get up on stage. While initiatives to get more speakers like #FeedForward are wonderful, what if we had a broader view of a VMUG?
What if instead of presentations we focused on helping each other? Skills-building tutorials, hackathons, career advice, swap meets, unconferences, bring-your-boss-to-VMUG-night? What if VMUG wasn’t just about events — what about mailing lists or Slack chats or volunteering together to fix up some school computers? Surely as a community of practitioners, we could come up with some ways of interacting that aren’t just showing slides to each other.
Just putting the thought out there.
Mesosphere goes Open Source
Mesosphere has always been a good open source citizen and major contributor to the Mesos project. Now it has opened many of its other components in DC/OS, its Data Center Operating System. (Disclaimer: they are a new client.) Here’s an interesting Mesosphere backgrounder from Cade Metz at Wired.
1. Mesos always had the rap of being hard to install. On the other hand, one of Docker’s advantages was that getting up and running was a snap. DC/OS solves a lot of the install and setup problems – it’s crazy easy to get started on a cloud or even on Vagrant – and that better “unboxing” or “first-day” experience may be critical to all enterprise and open source software going forward.
2. Similarly, the DC/OS UI is super easy on the eyes and is part of the new open source project. Good UI and analytics are becoming increasingly important for software success.
3. I’ve heard people say that managing clouds and containers is much more important than designing and installing them, and notwithstanding we what we just said in point #1 about Day One, this third point is also true; perhaps even more true. What happens on Day Two? The need is not container orchestration. The need is container and cloud management. Mesos alone is a scheduler. DC/OS is a whole platform. With Mesosphere, Docker, Pivotal, Red Hat, CoreOS, Apprenda, Apcera, and all the rest climbing the same mountain, maybe in the end we’ll finally agree on what a PaaS is for.
TechReckoning at ZertoCON
I’m very pleased to announce that TechReckoning is coming to ZertoCON, May 23-25 in Boston. I’ll be curating a mini-track of TR-related content alongside the business continuity and disaster recovery goodness from Zerto. Check out the DevOps panel as I talk with IT practitioners who use DevOps principles in their actual real-life jobs at actual normal companies. I’ll also be giving a talk on leveraging community for career success and skills-building.
Please join me in Boston at ZertoCON for a great event. If you couldn’t come to The Reckoning event last fall, this is a great way to get a little taste. I think I’ll get a discount code, but if you’re on the fence or just thinking about attending, just drop me a line.
(Although TechReckoning Live at ZertoCON is super exciting, still on my bucket list is TechReckoning Live at Budokon!)