Archive | Career

Coming Full Circle

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Legacy

I want to start by saying that, I feel lucky to have been merely a participant in what we call the “Information Technology” field for going on 18 years now. I keep going back to this realization that it’s been that long when I explain to my son & daughter how many more years they need to go to school before they graduate and enter the “real world”. At this point, I’ve been finished with school (including college) for more years that I was in school… think about that for a moment. Beside making me old, it’s hard evidence of how finite our time is on this earth and how fast time flies. In fact, 2 years back, I had my 20th high school reunion… and while people do, indeed change, I can’t think of a bigger, more “tidal” shift than that which I have experienced during my time in the IT industry. The past couple of months (as I was looking for the next big thing in my career) have given me tons of time to reflect on both life and more specifically, my career.

 

Phase One

My first IT job (like many before me) was in Technical Support for the helpdesk of a technology company. I remember it well… 1998: I had just finished a barrage of Geology courses at my university and learned that I’d have to postpone graduation in order to complete 2 courses, as the professor for said courses was going on a year-long sabbatical. I had worked at RadioShack the summer before, but I wanted to step up to the big leagues and work for a real computer store, so I applied to CompUSA. I didn’t even know what an A+ certification was, but I was convinced I could be like one of the cool kids and fix computers in the repair shop. Hell, I’d had 2 computers of my own and had home-built a couple more by that point… how hard can it be?

As luck would have it, on the exact same day that I got a job offer from the manager at CompUSA, I received a call from one of the hiring managers at Inacom, a contractor for the local telecom, Frontier Communications (and one of the oldest phone companies in the US). I had twin cousins that were working there in the IT department managing the Netware and Windows NT server environments (among other things) that were able to convince the manager at Inacom to give me a shot, with virtually no network or enterprise computing experience. They vowed to help me, should I have any difficulties in my new job. The crazy part was that I was making more money that I could have dreamed possible, given my degree in Geology wasn’t even complete. But these were the days of the rise of the Internet and so I think anyone with a pulse could get a job, if only they had a bit of technical chops. I feel very lucky to have been given that opportunity. When I returned to the Geology department the following year, I think some of the other undergrads were both shocked and deflated to learn the kind of money I was making doing tech support.

Once I finished out my Geology degree, I stuck around a bit longer at Frontier and then headed West to AZ. Frontier was also one of the first times that I had seen technologies in the enterprise software sphere, such as OS/2, AS400, mainframes and Linux! My tech support expertise lead me to another tech support job at a leader in the CRM space, SalesLogix, which was later supplanted by SalesForce.com as a dominating force in the SaaS industry. At SalesLogix, I was fortunate enough to experiment with databases such as Oracle and MSSQL as well as Linux. The big game-changer for me though, was the software that one of my colleagues found that would allow us to run multiple copies of Windows, different CRM software and database versions all encapsulated into a set of files, running on top of the native operating system… yes, indeed, I’m talking about VMware Workstation 2.0! It was absolutely amazing to me what this software could do from a technology perspective, but also how much time and effort it could save me each and every day.

 

Phase Two 

Fast forward a couple of years and 2 promotions later and I was really using VMware quite heavily. Not only did I use Workstation, but also had a chance to do some work running test plans with our QA team, that was leveraging a new product called VMware GSX and then later ESX. This lead me to learning everything I could about VMware and how I could harness it to further my IT career. In 2003, I ended up meeting my wife and in 2004 we were married. Life was changing pretty fast for me. As my wife is from Japan, and I had an interest in Japanese culture, I ended up moving there for what I thought would be a year or so, but what instead became what I call the 2nd phase of my IT career.

I tried doing some phone interviews with folks in Tokyo, but given the lack of face-to-face interaction, let alone the time difference, I found it daunting to find a job. I ended up taking a 6 week leave from work, and headed to Japan on a tourist visa. Within 3 weeks of doing interviews with various companies, I landed a job in the IT department of a major English-as-a-2nd-language school in Tokyo. It was a new role for me, to be sure (no more phone support)… but I found myself doing desktop support, server administration, backup administration, network administration and the like all at once and all the time! I ended up using my Linux skills learned before to set-up lots of server environments for both production IT services but, more interestingly environments for our developers, from JBoss, to PHP, to MySQL, MSSQL and everything in between. I feel like this was the manual or legacy way of doing DevOps, before it was called that. No one had ever even heard that or used a separate terminology for this kind of work back then.

As part of my desire to make MySQL more reliable as well as to minimize the amount of servers we had to maintain, I went back to my roots with VMware and investigated where it might fit within a Japanese company’s IT infrastructure… good luck, right? (they just weren’t ready for virtualization yet) At this time, I could get GSX and we were using Workstation in much the same way I was at SalesLogix. Then, an offering came along that would allow me to really see how far I could take VMware within the company. That service was called VMTN (I’m not talking about VMTN in its current form, but rather the $299 subscription that would allow you to try all of the products in the VMware catalog for one low price). I ended up converting a couple of the web servers over to ESX 2.5 and P2V’ed some of the servers off and onto the new ESX servers as virtual machines at didn’t look back… who cared if I didn’t have a proper licence 😉 *It was around this time, that I was also introduced to NAS storage (in the form of NetApp), but that’s a story for another day.

This lead me to another job in Japan, primarily maintaining and architecting the NetApp and VMware environment at an international testing and certification company. I had the privilege of having a young, very forward-thinking IT manager and we made a plan to go “all-in” on the VMware ecosystem technologies that made sense for the organization, namely VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM). In 2009, we met with several individuals from VMware about implementing the 1.x version of SRM. Not a single one of them had seen SRM, much less deployed it in production (with the exception of an internal demo environment), so I took it upon myself to get fluent in the technology. We made several successful test runs of the SRM software without issue, then had a rare opportunity to utilize it in production during the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. This lead to a blog article, VMworld session and considerable media attention on what exactly had taken place and how to leverage what we had learned at other enterprises throughout Japan and the rest of the world. I even presented a seminar at the VMware Tokyo offices to several high profile customers that were (needless to say) quite interested in implementing SRM, especially in light of recent events.

 

Phase Three

About a year before the earthquake, I started blogging to help get my thoughts on paper as well as to participate in the larger IT (mainly VMware) community, which at the time was under the tutelage of John Mark Troyer. In light of my presentation at VMworld, interest in my story and interest in returning back to the USA post-earthquake… I ended up taking a job that would turn out to be the biggest shift in my career to-date, the world of Technical Marketing! I ended up taking a job at NetApp working on solutions in the End-user Computing and Cloud Computing space with reference to VMware technologies deployed on NetApp storage systems, and an ever deeper delving into the world of VMware. After a couple of years doing that, I decided to try my hand at doing that job, but in a start-up atmosphere, in the heart of Silicon Valley. It was a whirlwind performing technical marketing duties for a new company, just shy of 60 employees at the time, with a product that had only GA’ed the month I joined the company. *The specifics of my time at this start-up is another topic, for another time, so I’ll summarize it here. 

As we continued to develop a storage appliance for use with VMware, I decided again to change responsibilities as we kick-started our channel partner program, and that team needed technical guidance. I also got a chance to work with enterprise customers and hear their requirements and use cases for our product in their VMware environments. This shift brings me to the 4th phase of my IT career…

 

Phase Four

After working on the sales side of the house for the better part of the last year, I decided to continue down this road and get re-acquainted with my roots dealing directly with customers. This would seem to serve as a sort-of “Phase Four” of my career. To that end, I’ve managed to land a role as a Sr. Systems Engineer on the Global Accounts team, and at VMware no less! I am very excited about this new stage in my life and my career, having done lots of different things over the years. Things really do “come full circle”, or so it would seem. Most will say that it’s merely a coincidence that I’m ending up back at VMware, but I leave this as evidence… both VMware and my IT career both started back in 1998 😉 Ok… that may well be a coincidence, but the fact that the company that I owe so much to my IT career has just hired me for the role I was always dreaming of, was no accident. I am overjoyed with enthusiasm (and outpouring of support and congratulations) about the prospects for the future of IT, no matter where it might lead. I’m only humbled by the fact that I get to continue to be a part of the ride!

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Why I Joined a Start-up

storage

Image courtesy: http://www.mekuriageti.net/

One finds themselves at a point in their career when they have a desire to do more. I don’t necessarily mean something different (although that plays into it). I know this sounds somewhat simple or cliché, so it of course warrants further elaboration.

Background

First of all, a little bit of backstory… I was approached by/reached out to a certain All Flash Array vendor about an open Technical Marketing Engineer (TME) position almost a year ago. They were starting to ramp-up their TME organization and were looking to add someone to work on solutions in the VMware and virtualization space. These types of openings seem  to come out of the woodwork in the months and weeks leading up to VMworld. I did a few preliminary interviews with them but at the time I didn’t have any desire to move to California, but I continued on with the stipulation that I didn’t want to relocate. It turns out that they decided not to hire outside of California for this role, so I became instantly out of the running.

This ignited in me the idea that, “Hey, you’re in IT, you have been for 15+ years now, maybe it’s time to step up to the big leagues and relocate to Silicon Valley”… I had lived in the Southwest (in Phoenix) for about 4yrs from 2000-2004 and worked at an enterprise software company. Those were some of the best growth years of my IT career. It was also the time that I was introduced to VMware. Being in the Western US and in the software industry, I had always had a desire to live in Silicon Valley. I had been there enough times to visit friends and remember seeing the HQs of Netscape, Oracle, and so on in my time there, not to mention the times I have been out for conferences and the like.

So I pitched the idea to my wife (who is from Japan) about the potential of moving to Cali. At the very least she’d be closer to her family and surrounded by an even-richer Asian community in “The Valley”. At the worst it would be a new adventure for both of us and our kids. A change of pace, if you will.

Renewed Opportunity

Fast forward to a few months ago, just after the beginning of 2014, when I get a message on LinkedIn from a VP at a stealth start-up in the Valley looking for TME talent. Well, I was immediately intrigued to say the least. It’s not that often that a company at this stage of the game reaches out to you to help them as they build their business. This contact re-ignited my desire to more aggressively pursue a potential move. With all the buzz around flash, software-defined this and that and with the multitude of colleagues leaving NetApp for new opportunities, I thought this would be the ideal time to give it another go.

I ended up doing interviews for various TME roles, one at a storage company designed specifically for virtualization, one at a player in the “hyper-convergence” arena, and one at the big ‘V’ itself. These companies varied in size from 30, to 250, to one with over 10,000. I really didn’t want to work at another company similar in size to NetApp, but I thought there might the possibility to focus in on a particular area in that role, which sounded interesting. For the medium sized company I’d be one of a handful of TMEs that joined recently and would have some say in what I worked on but didn’t have quite as much control of my own destiny as I would have liked. Finally, the smallest company (the stealth startup) was still in alpha and I felt as though I could have more confidence joining a company that was selling or had recently GA’ed their product.

So at this point from what I had seen, I was definitely leaning toward the smaller companies, i.e. 250 or fewer employees. Some would consider both of these to be startups as neither of them are public companies. One hasn’t even launched yet and hence I won’t call out the name here.

Time to Reflect

While I waited to hear back from them about offers, I couldn’t help but start to evaluate the various strengths and weaknesses of each, look at their prospects for the current market as well as prospects for the future. Would the product of the stealth company be differentiated enough to succeed? Could I reasonably expect myself to be able to help sell this product? These are the types of questions I started asking. I could elaborate, but that really isn’t at the core of this post.

Completing the Puzzle

As I tend to do when I have these sorts of philosophical questions, especially when making the decision of a new company to work at (which really is what we do; it’s us evaluating the company as much as it is them evaluating us), I took my search for answers to my questions to the web. I started to check around and see what some competitors of the aforementioned companies are doing and equally important… are any of them hiring?

I visited all of the usual haunts when searching for this sort of thing. In this case I reviewed some of the recent Tech Field Day events to see what companies were participating, and what was new, different and innovative about what they were selling. One vendor stood out from this list, Coho Data.

Coho Data was founded by the XenSource team and leverages their experience supporting web-scale virtualized compute and storage for Amazon to create a new model for scale-out storage that brings web-scale operations and economics to any enterprise datacenter.  The company was launched publicly last October, with several hosting providers participating as part of last year’s POCs and now running their v1 GA code.  They are building a VMware storage building block geared toward private cloud deployments.

The Coho Data base offering delivers 180K IOPS in 2U with linear performance scaling using patented OpenFlow SDN technology, which is more performance for the dollar than any other solution on the market today, with the ability to mix and match heterogenous hardware in your cluster to match your specific application performance needs dynamically.

To me this sounded like a very unique combination of SDS and SDN, so I had to learn more. I looked at their Tech Field Day videos, whitepaper and other collateral as well as their website and low and behold, they were looking for a TME. Nice!

Coming Full Circle

By the time I headed out to The Valley (for the 3rd time in about a month) I had offers from the other 2 start-ups I spoke with, so I wasn’t expecting a 3rd offer, to be honest. I figured let’s finish the face-to-face interviews, meet the team and see how it goes. The 3-4 people I met with were very personable and I felt the best culture fit of the companies I had talked with. Combine that with the fact that they had just released a GA product and had a plan going forward, made me feel a bit more at-ease. Finally, the pedigree of the management team and their vision for future paths of revenue left me blown away!

At the end of the day, I had an offer letter on-site and accepted at 9:00AM the very next morning. I hadn’t even slept after my redeye the night before. It was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made and I very much look forward to what’s in store for the future. From my perspective, there looks to be unlimited potential!

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