I was fortunate enough to attend the 2020 VMUG Leader Summit at the VMware HQ in Palo Alto last week. It’s not the first one that I’ve been to and as a member of the VMUG Board of Directors (BoD), my attendance is positively encouraged, which is great. The Leader Summit is an opportunity for leaders from many different local VMUG chapters to get together for a couple of days of as much networking, event planning, tip swapping and absorbing VMware information as we can collectively handle. This year we also got the opportunity to directly give back to kids who’d suffered losses - more on that later, but that was amazing! There’s a whole blog post following on what happened around the summit, but for those of you who are impatient and just want to know now, the TL;DR is just “Wow!”
Why Get All These Leaders Together?
The general idea of a VMUG Leader Summit is to make everyone who attends a better VMUG Leader, providing additional knowledge, skills, connections and to coin a phrase from one of the previous summits, to PowerUp! It’s early in the year, so there is plenty of time for the assembled leaders to take what they learned home, to share it with the other leaders in their local chapter and to facilitate some great local meetings for the benefit of the VMUG Membership at large. It’s a fact that more events are planned, more information is shared and more members are served because leaders attend the Summit and leave feeling energised and ready to go.
There’s no better place to hold an event like this than at VMware HQ, because this gives us Leaders access to a whole range of VMware staff, from Pat Gelsinger down. A succession of C-level executives and some of the most well known presenters at VMUG UserCons and local meetings can address over 140 VMUG leaders at once, which certainly combines to pack a lot of content into those couple of days! Speaking of Pat, during the 2019 Leader Summit, he presented his 5 L’s of Leadership to us. This year, VMUG themed the Leader Summit around that vision, so each session gave the assembled Leaders an opportunity to Listen, Learn, Lift, Link or Love.
As an aside, I delivered a Toastmasters presentation on those 5 L’s of Leadership late last year, as one of the items on my Persuasive Influence pathway was to cover Leadership Styles. Toastmasters is as much about leadership as it is about public speaking, believe it or not. The two do go hand in hand, after all. If you want to know more about Toastmasters, read my recent post on my experience at Worthing Speakers Club. I was not the only attendee of the Leader Summit to talk about the benefits of Toastmasters, so I’d recommend that you take a look…
So What Happened at the Summit?
Like most Leaders, I flew in on the Wednesday, in time for the get-together that evening. Cunningly, the leaders were put into groups during that early contact, which gave them the opportunity to make friends with a small group of people, with the promise of more to come in that regard as the week continued. Many of us took the opportunity to continue this networking opportunity for a while, as time together is preciously short. That was all well and good, until the jetlag hit me like a ton of bricks and all of a sudden, I had to go to bed!
The following day was just a rush of content for the assembled masses. It’s an early start - us Board of Directors types were on the way to the famous Hilltop E building on the VMware Campus at around 7AM, so that we could properly greet all the Leaders as they arrived. Well, either that or to eat all their bacon, whilst they were still on the bus. You decide…
I’m clearly not going to attempt to document even a fraction of what was covered during our time at the Leader Summit, that would be some blog post - and probably in contravention of an NDA or two, but I can certainly provide some outline of what I got up to.
The proceedings were opened by Steve Athanas, VMUG President, who invited us to “Expand our Sphere”. vSphere, Sphere of Influence, circle of friends, all of the above? You decide. This was reinforced by the next presentation from Rebecca Ruhlman from VMUG, where one of the purposes of that group forming from the previous evening became clear. The leaders now had an Accountability Sphere, a group of like minded individuals to help them stay on track, to hold them accountable and so on, as they each set a goal for both the leader summit and for the rest of 2020. As a member of the BoD, I didn’t have a group to hold me accountable, as I already have one, but I’ll share my goals here anyway. - During the Summit: Meet as many new (to me) VMUG Leaders as possible and learn something from each one of them. - After the Summit: Help other leaders to achieve their goals through the course of the year, thus benefiting our VMUG Members.
This was followed by our first VMware presentation, from Duffie Cooley, on the Noble API. No. that’s not a new product with an interface, it was a discussion of a number of things, including some great Kubernetes resources and how the product with an API will always beat a ‘similar’ product without an API. A good proportion of us leaders are getting to grips with k8s, but this presentation gave us a headache! In a good way, we know we have work to do, we know we have to grow together, we now know that we have help! The flurry of scribbling and camera aiming when this slide came up tells you all you need to know…
Next up we had Chris McCain, double VCDX and enthusiastic public speaker! As much as I was listening to “Designing Intrinsic Security for the Multi-Cloud Enterprise” I was also watching how Chris works the crowd, with my Toastmasters hat firmly on. Both angles were fruitful. “In the beginning, there was light”, Chris began, “Then came the Hypervisor” Yep, you’re almost up to date, that covered most of the important stuff up to about year 2000 AD!
This presentation was followed by a session from Kyle Ruddy, “Honing your Most Important Skill - Effective Communication” during which I leant that Kyle Ruddy’s beard and Chris McCains hoodie don’t get along, but despite that, Kyle and Chris do just fine ;-) More great content here, and again, Toastmasters was top of my mind throughout. Lots of good stuff here on non-verbal communication, active listening, body language and the like - and what happens when you appear to stop listening to Kyle Ruddy, eh, Joe?
Somewhere in here we had lunch and an opportunity to either take the famous (infamous?!) VMware Campus Tour, with the one and only Jeff Goodall, or to put faces to names and meet all of the VMUG Staff who do a fantastic job in supporting our VMUG Leaders across the world.
There’s also a group discussion mention here, each group of leaders who’d met the day before got to share tips and tricks from their groups, share their own goals and set up their Accountability Sphere.
Next - Building your Personal Brand, from Amanda Blevins. The crux of that content is right here which certainly saves me some typing. What I will say, is that during a day in which every session had the audience enthralled, this one seemed to resonate really deeply with our Leaders - I’ve been told that that was a life changing presentation. I’m not joking here, the “life changing” assessment was totally heartfelt and honest - I’m not sure how you get better feedback than that!
Not over yet, our own Brad Tompkins presented a Community Workshop, in which there were a number of public speaking tips, plus other related items which would again, be useful for presentations from a VMUG Leader and again, reminded me of the type of thing that you’d get from a Toastmasters Pathway. Active Listening, feedback is good, rehearse (in front of a mirror, family members or video camera), always remember that you can fall back on what you know best when you speak and one of those failsafes should be VMUG and what impact it has had upon you!
Done yet? Nope!
Next up, a social event with VMware folks, where we had experts talking and presentating on HCX, Skyline, whatever. Here you find the likes of William Lam, Amy Lewis, Emad Younis. Then we got to hear from Jean-Pierre Brulard and could also talk to Robin Matlock and Thomas Tan.
Was that enough? No! We may have shipped out back to the hotel after the best part of 12 hours on site, but the conversation continued into the small hours.
If you’ve made it this far through this post, then the partnership between VMUG and VMware should be very evident by now. I’ve mentioned C level folks and ‘rockstar’ engineers. Every one of them a fervent VMUG supporter. How do you beat that on day two?
Well, you start with Pat Gelsinger of course. After what can only be described as a rapturous welcome, Pat went on to talk about the vision for VMware going forward and then also had time to answer some questions from the audience, which was really appreciated! Product focus, EPIC2 values, Antarctica, leg ligaments and how you can damage as many as possible in one go, you name it, we got it.
Then we got handed back to Scott Athanas for the introduction to our next activity. This is the part where we got to give back. There’s been a lot of wildfires in the news of late, as you’ll no doubt be aware. Certainly if you are a resident of Australia or California. Families have literally lost everything, so we got a chance to make our own small contribution do something about that. Turning Wheels for Kids brought in a load of bikes and we had to get organised and put them all together, effectively and correctly, in a short period of time. Again, this was a task done in the “Accountability Sphere” groups from the previous days, which got those Leaders collaborating - and whilst they were building, they also had to come up with a short advertisement which would tie in their group, the leaders summit and why we built the bikes.
Then last but certainly not least, Sanjay Poonen and a session on “10 Ways to Cultivate Customer Centricity” which was not only a run-through of some of his own values which are instilled in the the customer facing side of VMware, but also touched on design thinking, expanding your professional contacts and again ended with an “ask me anything” Q&A. Fantastic!
Sadly, it was soon time to start saying goodbye, but no rest for the wicked, I had a board meeting to get to. A small part of that meeting (well, in honesty the best part of a half hour after the “official” board meeting was finished) was dedicated to talking about the Leader Summit. What I discovered from that was that the overall survey results from the leaders on their opinion of the Summit itself are going to make it incredibly, incredibly challenging for the VMUG team to improve on this year! The proportion of people who gave the summit the top overall rating possible was around 99.7%, which is just ridiculous. Everything I said at the start of this article about sending leaders home with more tools, renewed passion and enthusiasm, more contacts, more ideas, well, that is done! I’m predicting a raft of new VMUG meetings being planned and announced at a VMUG near you, very soon.
But it still wasn’t really done, as we once again headed into the small hours, we had leaders from Latin America, Europe, Dubai, India, Japan and Australia still talking. The conversations are still going on now, on Twitter.
There is nothing, nothing, like this community anywhere else, in the technology field or in any other field that I’ve heard of either. The VMware User Group is an amazing organisation and I am very proud to be a part of it.