Late last year, I wrote up some goals and intentions for 2018. I’ve often felt that actually writing things like that down holds you accountable, and at least for me, it tends to make the likelihood of it coming true much higher. One of those points revolved around career and making a change, whether it be a shift where I am currently or moving on to somewhere else. And that is where this post comes in: a change is in the winds.
LIFE AS A CUSTOMER
Since I started as a professional in IT (back in 2002), I’ve always been on the customer side. I’ve been dabbling in technology even longer – that picture above is from my first foray into virtualization. With it, I was able to run Prince of Persia on my Macintosh IIsi. Professionally though, I started off as a Tech Support Rep, moved up to a Sys Admin, changed companies for a new Sys Admin gig, and moved up to an IT Manager. OK growth, I suppose, but it gets old. I often point to VMworld 2015 as being a catalyst for me – it was my first VMworld and it really opened my eyes. Previously, when I would go to a conference, I would always feel like I wanted to get more involved. The trouble was, I could never imagine speaking, I just wanted to feel more like I belonged. At that first VMworld, I felt like I belonged. I met folks there who I still consider dear friends to this day. That feeling stayed with me well after the event was over.
Coming back from a conference like that was always a downer for me. I felt like there was so much more to see and do, but I never thought I could change much. I was raised with the mindset of not rocking the boat. If you have a reliable job, you stay with it. Some folks would consider it lucky to only work for one company their whole life. I realized that was not the case for me.
— Ariel Sanchez (@arielsanchezmor) September 2, 2015
DOWNSIDES TO LONG TERM STABILITY
Being on the customer side, particularly for an SMB, means that one can be pigeonholed. The only infrastructure or environment you’ll know is yours. Although I’m a firm believer that certifications have value, a lot of them would be a ‘waste’ for me (and others in similar situations) because we just don’t use that new technology. In short, I felt like my career was stagnating there.
One other side effect of being at the same place for so long: you become known for certain things. For example, when I started 10 years, I helped everyone out with any issues. Fast-forward to today, and I still have some of those same folks asking me for things like password resets, how to do something in Word, etc.. Don’t get me wrong, I love to help people, but stuff like this seems mundane. I have a staff who specifically are there to help, but the usual response is along the lines of “oh, but you do it quicker”, or “I just figured you knew how to do it”. Staying in the same role for extended lengths of time isn’t always a good thing for individuals or companies. Individuals may get too comfortable and/or develop tunnel-vision, which isn’t good for the organization.
CHALENGES WITH JUMPING SHIP
One option is to obviously change jobs. The job market in Canada is definitely different from the US. We’re 1/10th the size from a population standpoint, and close to the same size from a land mass standpoint. We also don’t have big vendors with large offices here, nor do we have much in the way of large IT-focused consulting firms. Most of the firms are regional-based, and only a handful of industry vendors actually have offices up here. What I’m getting at is that it isn’t always easy to find a vendor job in Canada. You get SE’s based in Toronto who have to go as far West as Winnipeg, or as far North as Nunavut. A lot of US-based companies have 1 or 2 reps for Canada – I know this from many phone calls with vendors over the years.
Another option is going to a VAR. As mentioned, there isn’t much in the way of VARs with headcounts over about 50 or so. Coming from the SMB side, the challenge is the lack of exposure to multiple technologies. As mentioned, most SMBs, if they even have a SAN, probably only have the one. That is one vendor, and one model that you can have hands on experience with. Now think about that with the rest of the infrastructure: probably one type of network switch, firewall, backup software, etc. Where am I going with this? It’s hard to get hands on experience to make the jump to VAR … I shouldn’t say that. What I should say is it’s hard to make it past the resume screening to make the jump to VAR. If the VAR is partners with 10 different vendors, and you have experience with maybe 1? Well chances aren’t great.
The last option is going to another enterprise / customer type role.
SAME PROBLEMS DIFFERENT SPOT
The idea of moving to a different enterprise job has its own pros and cons. At the very top of the pros list is my ability to maintain my independence, and continue doing events such as Tech Field Day. I could easily write a whole post about what Tech Field Day has done for me. It has changed the way I see everything … when I have a vendor in my conference room pitching a product, the conversations these days are dramatically different compared to five years ago. So, suffice to say, the independence holds a lot of value to me.
What are the downsides? First and foremost, I am tired of being responsible for infrastructure. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had minimal disasters to deal with over my career. Rarely have we had any sort of real impact from a financial standpoint. However, problems still arise. As mentioned above, those day to day requests just wear on you after a while. It’s also take a toll on my mental health. I realized a few months back that I could get super agitated really quickly if I was getting requests for mundane stuff on the weekend. I would get snappy with my family, which is not OK. I also found myself going into very deep and dark places (metaphorically). From a mental standpoint, the last 6 months or so have been very challenging for me, and some days have been a real struggle.
STRENGTH IN THE VCOMMUNITY
I have very often said that I feel I get exponentially more out of the vCommunity than I put into it. Earlier this year I presented at VeeamON. I had a very difficult time getting ready for the presentation. Not because of the lack of technical content, but because I was at what was probably mentally the lowest point in my life. I was setting myself up for failure, and it was a constant battle between sitting back and letting happen, or pushing through it. I ended up pushing through it, and it would have never happened without the help of friends. I arrived in Chicago and was fortunate enough to meetup with Tim Smith at the airport. The limo ride has its own stories, but honestly, just being around a friend like Tim immediately lifted my spirits.
The next few days I fed off of that vibe – once again largely with help from the vCommunity (I’m looking at you Ken, Tony, and Joe). When it came time for my presentation I was ready. I was honestly expecting about 20 or so folks – it was scheduled over lunch, and it was a topic I didn’t think would be a big draw. Imagine my surprise when over 220 people showed up and there was standing room only. The crazy part, which I didn’t realize until afterwards? I was not the least bit hesitant or scared. I was so relaxed up there, despite it being the biggest crowd I ever presented to. And I enjoyed it – thoroughly. Folks were asking questions or making comments … it turned into a conversation between me and the audience, which is something I strive to do. What amazed me even more was the feedback. I had multiple people stick around to thank me after the session and tell me I did a good job. I had one gentleman even tell me it was the best session he had seen all week. I said thank you, but I don’t think that man will ever know how much that means to me – I’m still thinking about it all this time later.
— Scott Driver (@VTsnowboarder42) May 16, 2018
WHERE AM I GOING WITH THIS?
Something interesting happened just before and during VeeamON. During a period of about two weeks I had three ‘points of interest’ on the job front come through. None of them were enterprise roles, which is nice. I’m not saying that I would never do enterprise again, but I think I need a break. Both for my mental well-being, as well as to satisfy my curiosity of what life at a VAR or Vendor would look like.
One role was for an account manager. I found the posting by chance whilst looking through the company’s webpage one night. I know someone who I consider a dear friend (you know who you are! Heck, I’m sure %90 of people who read this know who you are 😉 ) who works for the company, and they went well above and beyond on their referral. They told their manager such wonderful things about me, things I could never dream of asking someone to say about me. That manager in turn contacted the hiring manager for my area, passed along my friend’s praise in addition to their own “I stand by what X says about this referral”. All in all, this was about a 6 week process, which consisted of 5 interviews. I later found out that the hiring manager requested that I be interviewed immediately upon receiving these referral’s.
At the same time that was going on, I was approached by a VAR to go deeper with some conversations we had last year. They were looking for particular skills which I possessed. They are a heavy Veeam partner, and they attended numerous of my user groups and had seen me present many times, including at VeeamON. I had to leave Chicago early to head out to Camp Rubrik, which incidentally the VAR was very interested in. They had been considering adding Rubrik to their lineup. The downside was that they didn’t have anything firm in place and no timeline, but they were very clear that they want me.
In parallel to this, I also had a Vendor reach out to me. I knew someone there from one of their previous roles, and he was building out a new team. We’ve had many, many chats over the years, and he’s been a fan of things like Tech Field Day. He knows me decently well and knows my strengths and wanted me to join them. As a bit of an aside, I pointed another member of the vCommunity their way as I saw a role that they would be a good fit for. That person ended up nailing the interviews and is now working there. It was awesome to have someone to chat with throughout the interview process too.
TO WRAP THINGS UP …
None of this would have been possible with the vCommunity. In all three opportunities, my blogging and presenting was brought up by the other side as differentiators. The effort that I have put into these things builds up an equity, and it just so happens that I might be able to cash that equity in at multiple places. It isn’t instant, but this is an opportunity for me to cash in some of that equity and make my life, and my family’s life better.
Folks often see only the good side of folk’s lives involved in the vCommunity. I’ve had opportunities that I could never have dreamed of presented to me. I’ve had trips to London, I’ve attended multiple Tech Field Days, I’ve had a blast in a super open and intimate event at Rubrik HQ. But there is a lot of effort that goes into that. Red-eye flights, stranded in foreign countries when flights are cancelled, missing kid’s T-ball games, etc.. That stuff takes its toll – I tend to hide a lot of that stuff from folks around. I am a very private person by nature, even with my family. Time is finite and ultimately a happy life is about finding that balance between doing things you want to do, and being with the people you want to be with. Don’t forget that when you find yourself considering a job or career change.
So why am I sharing this? I want folks to know that rarely is finding your next career pivot easy. If you are on Twitter you might see some “rock stars” (and I use that term loosely). Guess what? They are all everyday people. We all have issues that we are dealing with. Burnout is huge; family problems … we’re all there. But so are you, the reader. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut, or you need a change, know that it is possible. Hang in there. By all means, feel free to reach out to me directly – I am always more than willing to help however I can. If you see me at conference, say “hi”. I love meeting new folks and just chatting. But more than anything, know that there is an entire vCommunity out there that is willing to help you.