Getting More From: VMworld San Francisco

So, another year passes and another VMworld has been and gone.

This year, to review the show, I’ve decided not to blog on each day, but to summarise the show in a single post. With that in mind, I have split this post into four separate sections – Engagement, Conference and Tips & Tricks for San Francisco. My aim is to provide the reader with information about the fabric of the show itself, not just the technical announcements and session highlights that have been covered at length and in depth in other blog posts across the internet. I have attended several trade events and conferences in the past, but I am relatively new to attending VMworld conferences – this being my second. This in itself is telling, in that I’m personally just scratching the surface of getting the most of such an event.

Engagement – Getting The Most From VMworld

To me (and to several others in the community according to Twitter), VMworld is a kind of madness. Hysteria takes over the conference center and the community at the same time, and everyone involves in the event decends into a social and technical melange that starts on Saturday before the conference opens and extends well into the Friday following. Why is this – it’s because attending the conference is so much more than attending the conference. It’s non-stop from the time you land in the host city till the time your flight leaves the ground to convey you home. In the wise words of Scott Lowe (@scott_lowe) “you don’t go to VMworld to sleep, you can do that when you get home.” But why is this? Well, it’s about forming relationships as well as the technical information. Networking. No, not the kind that involves converged adapters, cat-6 wiring and flow control, but getting out there and meeting other like minded individuals who share your passions for technology in general and VMware in particular. If you are anything like me, my wife (a lawyer) has no interest in technology, she reasons (rightly) that she doesn’t need to know about it because that’s what I do! So, how do I engage? Certainly not at home on technology matters. This is where blogs, Twitter, the community at large and your local VM User Group are invaluable.

If you aren’t active or at least in touch with your local VMUG group – you should be! Mine is the London VMUG: http://www.vmug.com/index.php?mo=cm&op=ld&fid=217&gid=213

Why does all this matter? Well, where do all the VMUG members from across the world meet up? Yup – VMworld! Chances are, if you know someone from almost any VMUG in the world, they will be at VMworld. And that, dear reader, is called a foot in the door. For me, the London VMUG is my local group, and meeting up with one of the steering group (Jane, @Rimmergram) was my first introduction to VMworld in Las Vegas.This year, most of the LonVMUG steering group were in San Francisco for VMworld, as were several other faces who are regularly engaged in VMUG activity. From here, relationships grow as more and more people cross paths, and your network of contacts in the industry and the community grow, and with it your engagement, and so on etc etc. It all comes down to networking.

There are other ways of networking too. Twitter is excellent for engaging in the community – to get out there and engage some of the community rockstars in conversation. Many VMware employees are active tweeters, sharing information and links before and during VMworld and throughout the year.

But why does all this matter? Well, I mentioned the hysteria of VMworld earlier. It’s the combination of the people networking and technical aspects of the conference (and possibly jet lag for those of us with 11 hour flights) that really is the reason for needing to sleep “for 800 hours” (@Duncan_YB) when we get home. Conference runs solid from 7am to 5 or 6pm daily, then it’s out with your network of people for more discussion on the day over an adult lemonade or 2. To aid this, there are a multitude of social events, tweet-ups, special interest meetings etc that are organised by the community and as part of the conference to get people together. Not to mention the VMworld Party!

I’ve met some fantastic people at VMworld conferences – people who work in areas I have no reason to touch on in my everyday job, but to have the engagement is invaluable as when I do need to step into their arena’s or need to engage with their companies, help and assistance is but a tweet, email or text message away. As many people have said before, good business isn’t only about what you know, but who you know too!

Conference

Getting the most from the conference is in itself an art-form and a time management exercise all in one. Balancing going to sessions, talking to vendors, visiting the Solutions Exchange and extracting benefits from the fringe takes time and planning. Here are some pointers I might suggest.

  • Plan your session attendance early. As soon after the sessions catalog is released, read through carefully and decide which sessions you want to do. The most popular sessions will be by the aforementioned rockstars, and will book-up very quickly. If you want to get in, make sure you schedule early enough.
  • Labs. Plan your labs as well. You will probably get to do about 5 or 6 to get a balance with everything else, so as before, plan ahead, and spread your labs across the week. Earlier in the week is usually busier than later on, but there are often quiet times if you are willing to get in at the start at 7am or there abouts.
  • Twitter. Use twitter. The end. No really, using tweets and hashtags is a really good way of engaging with sessions and your fellow delegates. Sessions are often tagged and you can vote on topics as part of some sessions. It’s also great to participate in tweet-ups (see Social section). During a session this year, I was having a twitter discussion with someone I didn’t know, who was actually sitting behind me! We only realised after about 30 mins, and because we were tagging our conversation with the session number, the presenter called for us at the end of the session from the podium and we ended-up going for a beer afterwards to discuss the session topic and other stuff. Net result – two more good friends in my social network!
  • Solutions Exchange (SE). Getting around the SE can be a little overwhelming, but not if you have a plan. Target the vendors you need to speak to first, then the ones you are interested in. Factor in time to do a general tour around and prepare to be totally sidetracked into some obscure but fascinating technology or vendor more often than not. I usually put aside a whole afternoon for the SE, usually to coincide with the ‘Hall Crawl’ where beer and food is provided amongst the vendors.
  • Competitions. If you are so minded, giveaways are common and often worthwhile for the persistent. (iPads, Apple TVs, t-shirts and the like are common-place, but this year there was also an Audi R8 and a Ducati motorcycle on offer). Don’t forget though that the objective of the vendors is to scan your badge and so obtain your contact details for the coming marketing onslaught. Which brings me on to…..
  • Emails. I’ve heard some people at conference using disposable email addresses to avoid vendor spam. Whilst I haven’t done this myself I can understand the advantage – use business cards to engage with those you really do want to be in contact with after the show.
  • Business Cards (1). Take plenty of business cards, and distribute them as needed to vendors and new community contacts. If you are on Twitter, write your handle on (if not already included).
  • Business Cards (2). If you are given a business card, write on the back a word or two about the conversation resulting in the contact. Many times I’ve got back to the hotel with a bunch of cards from the same company without a clue about who was going to be in touch with me about what.
  • Breakfast / Refreshments. As part of your conference fee, you are supplied with copious food and drink – including lunch and refreshments. These include coffee, soft drinks, pastries, fruit and multiple snacks. I use these as breakfast, so no need to purchase additional on the way to the venue.
  • Conference venues. Make sure you visit and fully explore all the areas of the conference.

Tips & Tricks – San Francisco (SF) The Easy Way

Here are some little bits of information that might be of value to you if you are considering a trip to VMworld US in 2013.

  • Weather. It can be both windy and overcast in SF. It can also be really hot! Plan your packing / layers accordingly.
  • There are always loads of t-shirts available as giveaways by the vendors. If you don’t mind wearing an advert for the day (and possibly winning a prize into the bargain), again pack accordingly.
  • Getting into the city from SFO is simple. Use the BART. Simple. One thing though – the ticket machines are complicated for first time users. Best is to check your hotels nearest BART station and make sure you get the correct price ticket issued. The default is $20, but my ticket was only $8.25 to downtown. (A whole group of germans in front of me got issued with $20 tickets before someone twigged they only needed to spend less than half!) Beware, or speak to a ticket agent in the booth.
  • Whilst at the airport after security, but a MUNI passport for the week. 7 days is $27 for unlimited use of cable cars and busses – any MUNI vehicle. Without one, each trip on the cable cars is $6, so the passport quickly pays for itself in the first day or two – it also saves on having to have the right change etc to pay the conductor.
  • Cable cars. If you want to catch a cable car, it’s probably best not to go to the end point terminus to get on. There are always massive queues, and you’ll have to wait ages. Instead, go a couple of blocks up the road towards where you are going and wait there. Mostly there will be no queue, the cable cars stop at every intersection, and there is often space on the outside footboards for singles or couples top hop on.
  • Alcatraz. If you plan for a visit to ‘The Rock’ whilst in the city, book well before you leave home to avoid dissapointment. It also takes much longer to visit than you might think.
  • If you have only a short time to sight-see, I would recommend Union Square, Fishermans Wharf and Pier 39, the marina and Presidio for views of the Golden Gate and the Coit Tower as must see trips. If you have more time, catch the Giants at AT&T Park, shopping at Westgate, or see the wider bay area.
  • Get direct flights. It doesn’t cost a whole lot more and not having to change is a breeze compared to transit lounges you can find your self in at all times of the night.

Hopefully this has been informative to people. If you have anything to add, please drop us a comment. Mostly though, my best piece of advice is get yourself along to VMworld if you possibly can!

Jeremy loves all things technology! Has been in IT for years, loves Macs (but doesn't preach to others about their virtues), loves virtualization (and does shout about it's virtues), and sometimes skis, bikes and directs amateur plays!

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