VMworld 2010 : It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad VMworld

What a week. I’ll remember VMworld 2010 as something that went by like a blur. I still think back and think to myself: “Did that really happen?”

This post is a good two weeks after the end but I wanted to write about my experiences. This was definitely a strange mixture of hard work, fear, and fun. I think my experiences at VMworld are a testament to how IT is still a pretty fun gig even in this day and age.

So of all the big things that went down at VMworld 2010, the vSpecialist’s Delight rap video was probably the most visible I was involved in. Fred Nix and I had been working for months on getting this little video done. It started as a different kind of video and because of legal, PR, and logistical hurdles; it morphed into the final product. This literally started as me pitching what I thought was both a crazy and impossible idea to Fred. Fred, being the crazy guy that he is, called me back a week later and told me: “Dude, it is on…” I still can’t believe all the things that fell into place. From the great talent at PatchWerk Studios to the special roles each of the team members involved in the video shoot performed.

Chris making Travers look pretty

My VMworld started off the Friday before. I had to fly in and make a mad dash for the video rental office before they closed. I told the taxi driver I would give him a $20 tip (my own money) to get me there before they closed. I think 12 minutes from SFO to downtown SanFran is a decent record… I was wondering most of the time what rolling a cab would feel like. Once there I rented a consumer grade (no money for prosumer) camera using my credit card along with chargers, flash cards, and a tripod. Then I trekked what seemed like 4 miles dragging my backpack, suitcase, camera case, and tripod through San Francisco. I was sore as heck by the time I got to the hotel room.

That night we had a meeting of the people picked to help in the video; about 8 of us total. We talked about the song and several of them heard it for the first time. Fred and I had been very secretive of the song and the details until this night. We were worried that a leak would reach Chad too soon and we hated to spoil the surprise. Plus, what if we didn’t pull it off? So after some good/bad seafood (more about that in a sec) we headed back to the hotel and crashed. Plan was to get up early in the AM, load up into a rental van (Fred’s swagger wagon) and start driving around San Francisco to start shooting.

Van full of geek

Problem for me was at about 1:45am-2:00am I awoke completely sick. Apparently the clams I had (and only me) came with some extra special friends. I ended spending my night leaning over the porcelain altar. Finally about 7:00am I was at a point where I would have to call Fred and let him know I was out or get up, shower off and hope I didn’t pass out in front of everyone. Lucky for me as I was getting ready I started to feel slightly better. Or at least well enough that I made it all the way down to the hotel lobby.

The crew was all there and ready to go. We loaded up into the van and shot out into the streets of SanFran. About 5 minutes later we pulled over and moved me to the front passenger seat as sitting in the back of the van wasn’t a great idea in my condition. Our first stop was underneath the end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fred had picked this spot out early and it was perfect. Chris set up our camera, I set up the blocking, and we hooked up the portable speakers to an iPhone.

Chad & Vaughn Rocking it

There is no other way to describe lip syncing to a slightly audible rap song while bouncing to the music as 30+ San Francisco joggers and tourists line up to watch you, other than awkward. These are the moments you think “Why the heck am I doing this???” But, we ignored the audience and just kept bouncing. It was tough. Trying to remember all the words and lip sync accordingly while having to move to the music somewhat respectably. The first few shots were rough. But, as we kept re-shooting, something cool happened. We all started to get into it. I am not saying it wasn’t work or that we didn’t have to throw away 95% of the footage. But everyone really got into the flow and we had so many great ideas from all involved.

We shot scenes under the bridge, in an alleyway surrounded by people still sleeping off last night’s booze, on top of abandoned shipping containers, and anywhere else we could find. We shot scenes from 7:30am till after 6:00pm. Despite the fact that I was completely dehydrated and sick I ended up sticking it out. I really think it was the energy of the team that kept me going. I couldn’t let them down after I saw the amazing work they were doing.

That evening the video editing started. It had some rough moments where equipment wasn’t cooperating with what we needed. But, again the team pulled together and got the job done. Nothing about what came out of the video wasn’t a team effort requiring a combined effort to accomplish.

When we played the video for the first time at the vGeek party it was a complete surprise to 99% of the room, including Chad. The reaction was awesome. We ended up replaying it several times by demand and got great feedback from everyone including EMC executives that attended. I was so proud of the team involved and in complete shock that we actually pulled it off. In fact when it was done my last thought of the night was, “What the heck do we do next?”

The most important thing to note is the message of this video was simple from the start. This was an original idea I pitched to Fred that inspired him make it all happen. We are a group of individuals that believe in what we do. This video could have been a parody or a comedy. But it wouldn’t have communicated the passion and drive that the whole vSpecialist team possesses. We ended up in this job because we love it.

My name in LCD monitor lights

That night the video was released I already felt like I had done a full week at VMworld. I was both physically and emotionally drained from the video effort. And I had pulled an all-nighter on the video editing work with the team the night before. Yet, my VMworld wasn’t over. I still had sessions to see, customers to meet with, and most importantly my first VMworld session to give.

people filing in

I was absolutely terrified of giving my first VMworld session. To me this was the biggest speaking opportunity I had been given in my life outside of maybe my wedding vows. And it was even worse when I saw the waiting lines for the sessions. I thought, “Ok, either no one will show up, or people will actually wait in line to hear me speak.” Both of these scared the crud out of me.

I had decided early on that if I was going to do a session I was going to make sure people remembered it. No risk, no reward. So I did several things different. I used almost no bullet points in any of my slides. If I did it was only when absolutely necessary. I also decided there is no better way to get an audience involved than by using them as props in illustrations. My thought was, either they would love me or they would hate me. But they wouldn’t forget me.

The day came for the session and I waited out in the break area next to the room to go over the presentation one last time. A few minutes later and I look up to see the line for my session is now wrapping around the wall next to me. Oh well, guess the empty room isn’t going to happen… I walk in the room, put on my microphone, and stand around watching all these people filing in. A very strange feeling thinking about suddenly you are supposed to be the expert in the room. So just like always the nervousness builds and builds until right when I hear the music die down and the guy in the back gives me the thumbs up. And I did what I do best, jumped head first.

the line

It was an absolute blast. I made fun of myself, poked at the audience with questions, made people stand up and act as props, and cracked jokes only the people in that room would get. I even had great real experts in the back like Brad Hedlund. And most importantly I tried to make everyone in that room see networking in a different light. I spoke on a subject I firmly believe in and shared directly from those beliefs. And you know what the coolest thing that happened was? Only a couple people out of 300 left the room. As I looked around, everyone’s eyes were on me and they were actually listening. And I even had a few smiles, smirks, and looks of curiosity. The feedback I got afterward was awesome. To be able to get the opportunity to take a complex subject and make it fun is by far the best part of what I do.

vExpert Party

The next time I did the same session I was actually more nervous this time for some weird reason. But it was the same thing as before; a packed room, people laughing, smiling, and great feedback afterwards. I feel like I was able to do my tiny part to make VMworld 2010 a great conference and help others see things in a different way. I am doing the same session in VMworld Europe in a few weeks and can’t wait.

The rest of the events were awesome. The vExpert party was such a blast. I got to meet so many people I look up to. I even got my butt handed to me by Jason Nash at foosball. That is something that doesn’t happen every day. John Troyer is such an awesome guy and I am extremely grateful for the honor of being a vExpert.

Angry Chad & the Happy Squirrel

I also got to meet the core of the VMware community. Funny guys like Sean Clark (who still looks like a cross between a young John Ritter and Rivers Como in person), Justin Guidroz, Kenny Coleman, Jason McCarty, and too many to list or read through. That anybody knows who I am is still a weird thing to grasp and having people walk up and recognize me still feels strange. Guess starring in a rap video is a great way to start a convention.

The vGeek party was awesome. It was basically a who’s who of the virtual world in one room. With people like Chad, Wade, Vaughn, Bryan, Trey, Frank, etc, etc. So many great minds in one room with alcoholic drinks in their hand. What could go wrong?? 🙂

The content rocked also. The announcement of vCloud Director, awesome sessions, unbelievably awesome labs and the show floor full of great vendors.

Even the ending of the VMworld week was memorable. It was the inaugural kickoff of the vOdgeball (Dodgeball) Championship. A EMC vSpecialist team vs. a mostly Cisco team with a little Netapp sprinkled in (they couldn’t play for EMC right?).  We ended up playing at a beautiful Jewish Community Center because of a scheduling conflict with the VMware gym. We played mostly 10 on 10 and it was a blast. We ended up losing 4 games to 5 but it was such a close match the whole time. If you had told me a year ago I would be playing a dodgeball match with EMC, Cisco, and Netapp folks I would have thought you were crazy.

And now that I think about it- what isn’t crazy about being in a rap video, speaking at VMworld, and playing dodgeball. I think the lesson for me is two-fold. First, never doubt yourself but never rely on just yourself. Nothing I did this week was something I didn’t either play a small part or get major assistance from others on.

And secondly, I think a lesson learned is always do everything with passion. People sense when other people actually care about something. It perks up their ears, it makes great videos, and it makes really good friends.

I want to thank everyone at EMC, VMware, and anyone else that made VMworld 2010 such a blast this year. If it weren’t for such a great team and great time to be in IT I could have never experienced this crazy week.

.nick

Life/Work

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