Culling The Community

exclusion

By now, you may have seen some bit of drama in the VMUG community around the apparent policy change that disqualified some VMUG leaders based on their employer. Eric Shanks (@Eric_Shanks) did a great job of covering it on his blog as did Matt Crape (@MattThatITGuy)with his post. While the VMUG situation has its own unique aspects, the question for me boils down to something simple: How do you remove people from an external community?

Babies And Bathwater

Removing unauthorized people from a community is nothing new under the sun. I was a Cisco Champion once upon a time. During the program’s second year I participated in briefings and events with the rest of the group, including my good friend Amy Arnold (@AmyEngineer). When the time came to reapply to the program for Year 3, I declined to apply again for my own reasons. Amy, however, was told that she couldn’t reapply. She and several other folks in the program were being disqualified for “reasons”. It actually took us a while to figure out why, and the answer still wasn’t 100% clear. To this day the best we can figure out is that there is some kind of conflict between anyone working with the public sector or government and the terms and conditions of the Champions program.

The lack of communication about the rules was the biggest issue by far with the whole transition. People don’t like being excluded. They especially don’t like being excluded from a group they were previously a member of. It takes time and careful explanation to help them understand why they are no longer able to be a part of a community. Hiding behind vague statements and pointing to rule sections doesn’t really help.

In the case of the VMUG issue above, the answer as to why the dismissed leaders were disqualified still isn’t clear. At least, it isn’t clear according to the official rules. There is still some debate as to the real reasoning behind everything, as the comments on Matt’s blog indicate. However, the community has unofficially settled on the reasoning being that those leaders were employed by someone that VMware, who is more-than-loosely affiliated with VMUG, has deemed a direct competitor.

I’m no stranger to watching companies go from friends to frenemies to competitors in the blink of an eye. VMware and Cisco. VMware and Scale Computing. Cisco and HP. All of these transitions took two aligned companies and put them on opposite sides of the firing line. And in a lot of cases, the shift in messaging was swift. Last week they were both great partners. The next week shifted to “We have always been at war with Eurasia.” Which didn’t bode well for people that were caught in the middle.

Correcting The Position

How do you correctly go about affecting changes in membership? How can you realistically make things work when a rule change suddenly excludes people? It’s not an easy path, but here are some helpful hints:

  • COMMUNICATION! – Above all else, it is absolutely critical to communicate at every step of the process. Don’t leave people guessing as to your reasoning. If you are contemplating a rule change, let everyone know. If you are looking to enforce a rule that was previously not enforced, warn everyone well in advance. Don’t let people come up with their own theories. Don’t make people write blogs asking for clarification on a situation.
  • If a person is being excluded because of a rule change, give the a bit of grace period to exit on their own terms. If that person is a community leader, they will need time to transition a new person into their role. If that person is a well-liked member of the community, give them a chance to say goodbye instead of being forced out. That grace period doesn’t need to be months long. Usually by the next official meeting or briefing time is enough. Giving someone the chance to say goodbye is much better than telling everyone they left. It provides closure and gives everyone a chance to discuss what the next steps will be.
  • If a rule change is in order that excludes members of the community, weigh it carefully. Ask yourself what you are gaining from it. Is it a legal reason? Does it need to be made to comply with some kind of regulation? Those are valid reasons and should be communicated with enough warning. People will understand. But if the reasoning behind your rule change is spite or retaliation for something, carefully consider your next steps. Realize that every rank-and-file member of the community has their own opinions and vision. Just because Evil CEO made your CEO mad doesn’t mean that his Local SE has the same feelings. And it absolutely doesn’t mean that Local SE is going to subvert your community for their own ends. These are the kinds of decisions that divide people at the expense of keeping your community free of “influences”.

It can’t be said enough that you need to talk to the community before you even begin debating action. There are no community organizations that blindly follow orders from on high. These are places where thinking people interact and share. And if they are suddenly told how things are going to be without any discussion or debate, you can better believe they are going to try and get to the bottom of it. Whether you want them to or not.


Tom’s Take

Kicking people out of something is never easy. Tech Field Day has rules about delegates being employed by presenting vendors. More than once I’ve had conversations with people about being disqualified from being a delegate. Most of them understand why that’s the case beforehand because our policy is straightforward. But if it’s ever changed, you can better believe that we’re going to let everyone know well in advance.

Communities run on communication. Discussion, debate, and ultimately acceptance are all driven by knowing what’s happening at all times. If you make rules under the cloak of secrecy for reasons which aren’t readily apparent, you risk alienating more than just the people you’re looking to exclude.

Bringing 2017 To Everyone

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It’s time once again for my traditional New Year’s Day navel gazing. As per tradition with my blog, I’m not going to make prognostications about networking or IT in general. Either I’m going to wind up totally wrong or be totally right and no one will care. I rather enjoy the ride as we go along, so trying to guess what happens is kind of pointless.

Instead, I’m going to look at what I want to accomplish in the coming year. It gives me a chance to analyze what I’m doing and what I want to be working on. And it’s a whole lot easier than predicting that SDN is going to take everyone’s job or OpenFlow being dead again.

Write Like the Wind

My biggest goal for 2016 was to write more. And that I did. I worked in writing any time I could. I wrote about ONUG, SD-WAN, and other fun topics. I even wrote a small book! Finding time to work all the extra typing in to my Bruce Wayne job at Tech Field Day was a bit challenging here and there. And more than once I was publishing a blog post at the deadline. But all that writing did help me talk about new subjects in the industry and develop great ideas at the same time.

I also encouraged more people to write. I wanted to get people putting their thoughts down in a form that didn’t require listening or watching video. Writing is still very important and I think it’s a skill that more people should develop. My list of blogs to read every day grew in 2016 and I was very happy to see it. I hope that it continues well into 2017 as well.

King Of The Hill

2017 is going to be an exciting year for me and Tech Field Day. I ran Networking Field Day 12 as the host of the event for the first time. In the coming year, Stephen and I are going to focus on our topics areas even deeper. For me, that means immersing myself in networking and wireless technologies more than ever before. I’m going to be learning as much as I can about all the new things going on. It’s a part of the role of being the host and organizer for both Networking Field Day and Mobility Field Day coming up this year.

I’m also going to be visiting lots of other conferences. Cisco Live, Interop, and even Open Networking Summit are on my list this year. We’re going to be working closely with those shows to put on even more great Tech Field Day content. I love hearing the excitement from my friends in the industry when they learn that Tech Field Day is going to be present at a show like Cisco Live. It means that we’re reaching a great audience and giving them something that they are looking for.

We’re also going to be looking at new ideas and new things to do with our growing media presence with Gestalt IT. There should be some interesting things there on the horizon as we embrace the new way that media is used to communicate with readers and fans alike. Stay tuned there for all the excitement we’ll be bringing your way in 2017!


Tom’s Take

Analyzing a year’s worth of work helps one see progress and build toward even more goals in the coming year. I’m going to keep moving forward with the projects that excite me and challenge me to be a better representative for the networking community. Along the way I hope to learn more about what makes our technology exciting and useful. And share than knowledge with everyone I know in the best way I can. Thanks for being here with me. I hope 2017 is a great year for you as well!

Doing 2016 Write

 

calendar

It’s the first day of 2016 and it’s time for me to look at what I wanted to do and what I plan to accomplish in the coming 366 days. We’ve got a busy year ahead with a leap day, the Olympics, and a US presidential election. And somewhere in the middle of all that there’s a lot of exciting things related to tech.

2015 In Rewind

Looking back at my 2015 goals, I think I did a fairly good job:

  • Writing in Markdown – Read about it all here
  • Blog themes – I really did look at quite a few themes and tried to find something that worked the way I wanted it to work without major modifications. What I finally settled on was a minor font change to make things more readable. For me, form has never been more important than function, so I spend less time worrying about how my blog looks and much more time focusing on how it reads.
  • Cisco Live Management – Didn’t quite get this one done. I wanted to put up the poll for the big picture at the end and I managed to miss it this year! The crew got a chance to say hello to keynote speaker Mike Rowe, so I think it was a good tradeoff. This year for Cisco Live 2016, I hope we have some more interesting things in store as well as some surprises.

A hit, a miss, and a foul tip. Not terribly bad. 2015 was a busy year. I think I wrote more words than ever. I spoke a few times at industry events. I enjoyed participating in the community and being a part of all the wonderful things going on to move forward.

Looking Ahead to 2016

2016 is going to be another busy year as well. Lots of conferences in Las Vegas this year (Aruba Atmosphere, Interop, Cisco Live, and VMworld) as well as other industry events and a full slate of Tech Field Day events. I don’t think there’s a month in the entire year where something isn’t going on.

I’m sure this is an issue for quite a few people in the community as well. There’s a lot of time that gets taken up by doing things. The leaves very little time for writing about those things. I’ve experienced it and I know a lot of my friends have felt the same way. I can’t tell yo the number of times that I’ve heard “I need to write something about that.” or “I’m way behind on my blogging!”

Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Write

My biggest goal for 2016 is writing. I’ve been doing as much as I can, but I want to help others do it as well. I want to find a way to encourage people to start writing and add their thoughts to the community. I also want to find a way to keep the other great voices of the community going and writing regularly.

There’s been a huge shift recently away from blogging as a primary method of information transfer. Quite a few have moved toward non-writing methods to convey that information. Podcasts, both audio and video, are starting to become a preferred method of disseminating information.

I don’t have a problem with podcasts. Some of my friends have great resources that you should check out. But podcasts are very linear. Aside from using software that speeds up the talking, it’s very hard to condense podcasts into quick hit formats. Blog posts can be as short or long as they need to be to get the information across.

What I want to accomplish is a way to foster writers to write more. To help new writers get started and established writers to keep contributing. But keeping the blogging format alive and growing, we can continue to contribute great thoughts to the community and transfer knowledge to a new group of up-and-coming IT professionals.

I’ve got some ideas along these lines that I’ll be rolling out in the coming months. Be sure to say tuned. If you’re willing to help out in any way please drop me a line and let me know. I’m always looking for great people in the community to help make others great as well.


Tom’s Take

A new year doesn’t always mean a totally fresh start. I’ve been working on 2016 things for a few weeks now and I’m continuing great projects that I’ve been doing for a while now as well. But a new year does mean that it is time to find ways to do things better. My mission for the year is to make people better writers. To encourage more people to put thoughts down on paper. I want a world full of thinkers that aren’t afraid to share. That’s something that could make the new year a great one indeed.

Share And Share Alike

ShareArrows

Every once in a while, I like to see who is clicking through to my blog. It helps me figure out what’s important to write about and who reads things. I found a recent comment that made me think about what I’m doing from a different perspective.

The Con Game

I get occasional inbound traffic from Reddit. The comments on Reddit are a huge reason to follow threads on the site. In one particular thread on /r/networking linked back to my blog as a source of networking news and discussion. But a comment gave me pause:

https://www.reddit.com/r/networking/comments/3mpjpz/networking_websites/cvgyfye

And I quote:

Cons : they almost all know each other and tend to promote each other content.

This was a bit fascinating to me. Of the people in that particular comment, I’ve only ever met one in person. I do know quite a few people in the networking space as part of my career, both related to Tech Field Day and just through writing.

It is true that I share quite a bit of content from other writers. My day job notwithstanding, I feel it is my duty to identify great pieces of writing or thought-provoking ideas and share it with the rest of the community. Ideas don’t live unless they can be shared. Without calling attention to important things and giving them a wider audience, we can’t hope to affect change and increase knowledge and learning.

People that write in a vacuum never become better writers. They never learn to express their ideas and defend them from questions and criticism. It’s not only important to share ideas with those that would agree with them, but also to share them with people that would disagree. Learning how to defend your thoughts and understand different viewpoints is a crucial step to becoming a better writer.

Pro Tips

If you’re a writer or blogger or speaker that follows other people, make sure to share what they write with your audience. Even if the two groups are 95% similar, there’s still that 5% that doesn’t overlap. Make sure you share their ideas with an extra thought of your own. Do you agree? Or, more importantly, do you disagree? Be cautious on that last part. You want to disagree professionally and raise objections, not tear someone down and attack the messenger. And yes, I realize that I started out that way in my career. But I’m feeling much better now.

Don’t hesitate to share something from someone you don’t know, either. I’ve made quite a few new friends by reaching out to someone writing great things and telling the world about it in my own way. People appreciate seeing their thoughts being disseminated to new audiences. Someone that sees you sharing and discussing ideas is more willing to approach you and start a dialog about new ideas as well.

And lastly, don’t let someone else tell you that sharing other people’s ideas is a bad thing. If you’re doing it for all the right reasons then it’s a great thing to want to show the community what people are doing. It’s not blatant promotion if there is substance behind what you’re sharing. If you’re shining a spotlight to enrich the knowledge base of the greater whole, then you should feel obligated to call attention to something good.


Tom’s Take

The world is a better place when we reinforce each other and do our best to make everyone better and smarter. Sometimes that comes in the form of sharing content and giving ideas. Other times it comes from helping friends by challenging what they say and assisting them in the completion of thoughts. In the end, we should feel honored to be able to take part in this great learning experiment that is the community. We can all come out winners by making everyone better than the were at the beginning.

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The Marriage of the Ecosystem

 

marriage

A recent discussion with Greg Ferro (@EtherealMind) of Packet Pushers and Nigel Poulton (@NigelPoulton) of In Tech We Trust got me thinking about product ecosystems. Nigel was talking about his new favorite topic of Docker and containers. He mentioned to us that it had him excited because it felt like the good old days of VMware when they were doing great things with the technology. That’s when I realized that ecosystems aren’t all they are cracked up to be.

Courting Technology

Technology is a huge driver for innovation. New ideas are formed into code that runs to accomplish a task. That code is then disseminated to teams and built upon to create toolsets to accomplish even more tasks. That’s how programs happen. Almost every successful shift in technology starts with the courtship of focused code designed to accomplish a simple task or solve a quick problem.

The courtship evolves over time to include other aspects of technology. Development work extends the codebase to accept things like plugins to provide additional functionality. Not core functions though. The separation comes when people want to add additional pieces without compromising the original program. Bolting additional non-core pieces on to existing code causes all kinds of headaches.

That’s how ecosystems start. People build new functions to augment and support the new problems the crop up around those solved by the original tool. Finding new problems is key to driving the ecosystem forward. Without problems to solve, the environment around a particular program starts to contract and disappear.

The Old Ball And Chain

Ecosystems eventually reach the point of stagnation, however. This usually comes when the ecosystem around a product becomes more important than the actual program itself. Think about the ecosystem around Microsoft Office. Office was originally a word processor. That drove additional programs to solve spreadsheets and presentations. Now, people buy the Office productivity suite for more than the word processor. More than a few buy it for the email program. But very little innovation is going into the word processor any longer. Aside from some UI design changes and few minor function additions the majority of the work is being driven around other programs.

This is also the problem with VMware today. The development around the original hypervisor is mostly moot. That problem has been solved completely. Today, all of the marketing hype around the VMware is on other things. Public cloud architectures. Storage virtualization. Networking virtualization. None of these things have anything to do with they hypervisor beyond tying into the ecosystem created around it.

Ecosystems can’t exist without recognizing the original problems being solved and why they are so important. If you build an environment around a product and then leave that product to wither on the vine, your ecosystem will eventually collapse. When your company pivots away from what makes it successful in the first place you run the risk of disaster.

Note that this doesn’t include what happens when the technology landscape forces you to shift your focus. Token ring networking doesn’t solve a big problem today. Companies focusing on it needed to pivot away from it to solve new problems. As such, there really isn’t a token ring ecosystem today.

Now, look at tape backup units as a counterpoint. They still solve a problem – backing up large amounts of data at low cost. Quite a few of the old tape backup vendors have moved away from the market and are concentrating on new solutions. A few of the old vendors, such as SpectraLogic, still support tape solutions and are continuing to drive the tape ecosystem with new ideas. But those ideas still manage to come back to tape. That’s how they can keep the ecosystem grounded and relevant.


Tom’s Take

New technology is like dating. You get excited and giddy about where things are going and all the potential you see. You enjoy spending time together just talking or existing. As you start to get more serious you start to see issues crop up the need to be solved. Eventually you take the plunge and make things super serious. What you don’t want to have happen at this point is the trap that some people fall into. When you concentrate on the issues that crop up around things you start to lose focus. It’s far to easy to think about bills and schools and other ancillary issues and lose sight of the reason why you’re together in the first place.

Ecosystems are like that. People start focusing on the ecosystem at the expense of the technology that brought everyone together in the first place. When you do that you forget about all the great things that happened in the beginning and you concentrate on the problems that have appeared and not the technology. In order to keep your ecosystem vibrant and relevant, you have to step back and remember the core technology from time to time.

 

 

TECH.unplugged And Being Present

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I wanted to let everyone know that I’m going to be taking part in an excellent event being put on by my friend Enrico Signoretti (@ESignoretti) this September. TECH.unplugged is a jam-packed day of presentations from people that cover storage, computing, and in my case networking. We’re getting together to share knowledge and discuss topics of great interest to the IT community. As excited as I am to be taking part, I also wanted to take a few moments to discuss why events like this are important to the technology community.

WORM Food

There’s no doubt that online events are becoming the standard for events in recent years. It’s much more likely to find an event that offers streaming video, virtual meeting rooms, and moderated discussions taking place in a web browser. The costs of travel and lodging are far higher than they were during the recession days of yore. Finding a meeting room that works with your schedule is even harder. It’s much easier to spin up a conference room in the cloud and have people dial in to hear what’s going on.

For factual information, such as teaching courses, this approach works rather well. That’s where the magic of pre-recording comes into play. Write once, read many. Delivering information like this cuts down on time spent with the logistics of organization and allows the viewer to watch on-demand. And quesitons that come up can be handled with FAQs or community discussion on a small scale. Again, this works best for the kinds of content that are not easily debated.

Present And Accounted For

What about content that isn’t as cut-and-dried? Hot topics that are going to have lots of questions or opinions? How do you handle an event where the bulk of the time is spent having a discussion with peers instead of delivering material?

Virtual solutions are great for multicasting. When everyone is watching one topic being presented and doing very little interacting everything works just fine. The system starts to break down when those people try to talk to one another. Do you use the general channel? Private messages? Have you been silenced by the organizer before you try to ask a question? What if you want to discuss a topic covered five minutes ago?

Nothing beats a face-to-face conversation for actual discussion. There’s an dynamic that can’t be matched when you get ten people in a room and give them a prompt to start talking about something. There is usually lively debate and sharing of viewpoints. Someone is going to share a personal experience or be the voice of reason. Still others will play the devil’s advocate or be a contrarian. Those are concepts that are hard to replicate when screen names take the place of a nametag.

Another important part of being present for events like this is meeting like-minded people and engaging them in real conversation. In the world of social media, we often form relationships with people in the industry without having actually met them. While that does make it easy to build a network of people in the community to talk to, it also doesn’t allow you to hear someone talk or engage them in a meaningful talk of more than 100 characters at a time or nested comments.

There’s something magical about having in-person discussions. It is a very different thing to defend your opinion when looking someone in the eyes versus behind a keyboard. Without instant access to search engines you need to know the evidence to support your opinion rather than relying on someone else to do it for you. When you prove your point in a real life meetup people remember being there.


Tom’s Take

Virtual meetings are great for some specific things. But you can’t beat the importance of being around people and talking about something. Being present for an event makes it have much more of an impact. I’ve heard from countless people telling me how Cisco Live feels so much different when you’re there because of the people you are around. There’s a reason why Tech Field Day is an in-person event. Because you can’t beat the magic of being around other like-minded people to discuss things.

Be sure to check out TECH.unplugged and see the list of speakers for the September event. And if you just happen to be in Amsterdam be sure to sign up (it’s free)! We want you there!

Objectivity Never Rests

objectivity

Being an independent part of the IT community isn’t an easy thing. There is a lot of writing involved and an even greater amount of research. For every word you commit to paper there is at least an hour of taking phone calls and interviewing leaders in the industry about topics. The rewards can be legion. So can the pitfalls. Objectivity is key, yet that is something where entire communities appear to be dividing.

Us Or Them

Communities are complex organisms with their own flow and feel. What works well in one community doesn’t work well in another. Familiarity with one concept doesn’t immediately translate to another. However, one thing that is universal across all communities is the polarization between extremes.

For instance, in the networking community this polarization is best characterized by the concept of “ABC – Anything But Cisco”. Companies make millions selling Cisco equipment every year. Writers and speakers can make a very healthy career from covering Cisco technologies. And yet there are a large number of companies and people that choose to use other options. They write about Juniper or install Brocade. They spend time researching Cumulus Linux or Big Switch Networks.

Knowing a little about many things is a great thing. There is no way I could have done my old VAR job had I only known Cisco gear. But when that specialization is taken to an extreme, you get the mentality that anything or anyone involved in the opposite camp must be wrong on principal. It does happne that some choose to ignore all other things at their own peril. Still others are branded as “haters” not because they truly hate a position but because others have taken comments and pushed them beyond their meaning to an extreme to serve as a comparison point.

Think a bit about the following situations that have been mentioned to me in recent months and look at what the perception is in certain communities:

  • Cisco vs. Not Cisco
  • Cisco vs. VMware
  • Cisco vs. Whitebox
  • VMware vs. OpenStack
  • VMware vs. Docker
  • EMC vs. Not EMC

The list could go on for many more entries. The point is that people have drawn “battle lines” in the industry around companies and concepts to provide contrast for positions.

Objectivity In Motion

How does the independent influencer cope with all these challenges to objectivity? It’s not unlike navigating a carpet full of Lego bricks with no shoes on.

The first important step is to avoid the trap of being pigeonholed as a “hater”. That’s easier than it sounds. Simply covering one technology or vendor isn’t going to cause you to fall into that trap. If someone writes a lot about Juniper, I simply assume they spend the majority of their time with Juniper gear. The only time they cross the line into the territory of anti-Someone is through calculated commentary to that effect.

The other important step in reference to the above is to keep your commentary on point. Petty comments like “that’s a stupid idea” or “no one in their right mind would do it like that” aren’t constructive and lead to labels of “hater”. The key to criticism is to keep it constructive. Why is it a stupid idea? Why would someone choose to do it differently? These are ways to provide contrast without relying on generalizing to get your point across.

The third and most important way to avoid losing objectivty is to keep the discussion focused on things and ideas and not people. As soon as you start attacking people and crticizing them your objectivity will always be called into question. For example, a few years ago I wrote a review of a short book that Greg Ferro (@EtherealMind) wrote about blogging. I disagreed with many of his points based on my own experiences. In my post, I never attacked Greg or called his blogging ability into question. Instead, I addressed his points and provided my own perspective. Greg and I have had many beers since then without wanting to choke each other, so I think we’re still friends. But more importantly, we’re still objective about blogging even though we have different opinions.


Tom’s Take

Objectivity is hard to gain and easy to lose. It’s also easy to have it taken from you by people that feel you’ve lost it. It wouldn’t be a stretch to look at my last blog post about Meraki and assume that I “hate” them based on my comments. But if you read through what I wrote, I never say that I hate the company or the people. Instead, I disagree with a choice they have made with their software. I still feel my objectivity is intact. If Meraki decides tomorrow to implement some of my ideas or something similar, I will be more than happy to tell everyone about it.

You can never stop looking at your own objectivity. When you get complacent you have lost. You need to constantly ask yourself why you are writing or speaking about something and how objective you are. If you are the first person to question your own objectivity it will be much easier to answer those that question it later.