While 2015 was a year of many great accomplishments, I ended the year on a personal downer. While most people that get invited as a delegate to the Tech Field Day events consider it a great accomplishment, I went away from my first experience not exactly feeling a great deal of that said accomplishment. Anyone close to me with recognize that when I do this, I’m suffering greatly from imposter syndrome. We all suffer from it from time to time, but in my case, I felt weighed down by it. 2015 was the year in which I decided to put myself out there and try to establish myself into the big, big world of technical communities, yet, I felt even more weighed down by the prospect of what I’d had done. I realized that while I wanted to be known, I was struggling to know what I would be known for. Essentially, I had decided to stand in front of everyone, but I forgot to write a speech.
So, 2016 became all about establishing my voice. When I returned from my first Tech Field Day event, I felt very overwhelmed about what I had seen and heard while out there. Those who attended that event (Virtualization Field Day 6) will probably remember me as the guy who didn’t say a single thing on camera. This was completely out of fear…not of the camera, mind you, but of just using my voice. It also didn’t help that I was extremely intimidated by who I was around at that event. There are many things that can knock you out of your best mindset and feeling intimidated by the brain trust in the room is one of them. I basically spent most of the event in the shadows, not saying much, but not doing much either. I could author an excuse about how I was just feeling things out and that I have the type of personality that takes a while to come out in a more intimate setting, however, it would be just that…an excuse. I’ve given multiple presentations in rooms full of strangers and could drive authority into my message and hopefully provide information to those seeking it. Not in this case…
This leads me into 2016 (again). Personally, I thought I gave such a bad impression at Virtualization Field Day 6 that there was no way Stephen and his crew would ever invite me back. I was greatly surprised to be invited to Tech Field Day 11 in mid-June. Not only did I break my streak of not asking things on camera, but I had a lot of great personal conversations with individuals at this event. I continued with this momentum and to be invited to two more Field Day events (Tech Field Day Extra @ VMworld 2016 and Tech Field Day 12 in California). Each time, I felt myself growing more and gaining more confidence, especially in my area of expertise.
Why was this? Why did I clam up so badly in 2015 and seem to finally figure it out in 2016? Through 2016, I was presented some new and interesting opportunities that I feel contributed. I found myself some new angles to become a student on and started using the topics as my way to contribute back to the technical communities in which I’ve enjoyed for so long.
I’ve made quite a few great friends and contacts through VMUGs, especially those close to my area. I make it an effort to always ask the nearby VMUG leaders whether they need someone who can fill a time slot for their UserCons. This year, I had the pleasure of speaking at the St. Louis VMUG UserCon (mid-March 2016) and the Minneapolis VMUG UserCon (early June 2016). In each case, I chose to talk about DevOps and what that might mean to many of the technical individuals at the UserCons. While the St. Louis presentation was short in nature, I did end up talking with a good number of people after the fact who wanted more information about DevOps. I parlayed this into a much longer presentation for the Minneapolis VMUG UserCon. It was a fantastic opportunity and from what I gathered, it was a highly rated session for the UserCon. There is nothing that gives you more confidence about your material than excellent feedback (positive or negative)!
By the time, at least for me, major conference season hit, I was ready to start tackling some of my insecurity with conversations with many good, yet random people at VMworld US 2016. Very similar to my Cisco Live 2015 attendance, I was not really expecting to attend this conference. Personally, VMware-based technology was no longer my bread and butter, as all I used them for these days was simple virtualization. My employer was in the process of making some major decisions based on the technology we were going to have in our datacenters moving forward and VMware was just no longer going to be a crown jewel in our infrastructure. However, I had won a pass to attend through the vExpert program as an official blogger, so I made sure to attend.
I made sure to interface with just about everyone I could, especially under the premise (see, this is how you use this word, for the record) that this would likely be the last VMworld I would be attending, barring any sort of major employment change. I reached out to a good many people that I knew were attending and made sure to give them some time and offer some thoughts to them on a bevy of topics. However, one interaction stood out amongst the rest. It was a series of interactions. However, it was how this came to be that’s of interest. I’ve known Mr. Atwell for a while now. In most cases, it was just a Twitter thing or a VMware communities site thing in the PowerCLI forum. We had known of each other and just by happenstance we ended up on the same panel about automation at the Opening Acts sessions in 2015 (which I’ll mention that I repeated in 2016, FWIW). I took from friendly shots at the man over the last 12-18 months, but he was always one that was willing to answer a question, regardless of when and where I’d asked it. I remember that he was lamenting about multiple papers that were rejected during VMworld 2016’s call for papers. Initially, as a joke, I sent a tweeted at him about bringing a bottle of bourbon to VMworld to drown his sorrows over the rejection. What transpired over the next month or two leading up to the conference was more seriousness about doing this and I finding a bottle of something he could not obtain, but felt that would be good to drink at the event.
Now, with the bourbon selected and the timeframe set, all we needed to do was find the time at the conference to make it happen. I found some of the guys from my local area and were invited up to a suite to enjoy some bourbon. I’m going to be honest with you here. A bunch of nerds getting around a bottle of bourbon doesn’t seem like a very good story to the masses, but what transpired in that suite over a couple of hour period was a ton of laughs, a whole lot of ribbing, and deepening of bonds within my own personal community. To be frank, it was one of the best times I’ve had at a major technical conference in a very long time. I can’t thank Josh enough for letting myself and a few of my local pals for invading some space and enjoying some drink.
Now, why was this important? It wasn’t this that made my conference, it was what happened later in the event. I wanted to have a less-boozy discussion about issues I was having with my day job and trying to be a mentor and a technical leader with those in my day-to-day circle. Josh was a trooper (it was an early breakfast, in Vegas, mind you) and I went away from that conversation better prepared for the challenges that faced me back in the office. It also laid the groundwork for investment into DevOps (as the cultural movement, not as the technical one).
Since that conversation, I’ve become a student of some of the less tangible things of IT. Business interaction. Culture. Team interactions. I even went so far as to agreeing to upgrade my vBrownBag sticker on my laptop from just a fan of the group to a presenter. As it’s one of the freshest things in my mind from this last year, I can tell you that I had no idea what I was originally getting myself into, but I thank the vBrownBag crew for letting me do it. Somehow, I put on a (nearly) hour long presentation on something that contained little to no technical information. Not only that, I got a ton of positive feedback from this session.
Why this entire story? Well, when I started this year, I felt unsure of myself. I struggled for a very long time to figure out that it was just that I needed to reign in how to use my voice. I ended the year putting all the puzzle pieces together and feeling the most confident I’ve felt in this industry in a very long time. As we close 2016, I just wanted to thank everyone that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with over this last calendar year. Each one of you has had a part to play in my successes and maturity during 2016. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store and I hope that I’m able to return the favor that so many of you have provided for me.