In December 2006, I was offered the incredible opportunity to join VMware. At the time, VMware was just starting to spread its wings in the industry and hadn’t yet become the virtualization juggernaut that it is today. As an ex-professional skater turned techie, I always had an intuitive sense knowing when to jump in; I knew when to hit the ramps and rails on the right spot and when the conditions would allow me to soar to my highest. I got that sense with VMware.
I knew that not even the sky was the limit with this company. So, I jumped in. I left my own business behind without any qualms because I knew, in my heart, that I was about to be part of an epic leap in the world of IT.
It’s been ten years, and I still haven’t touched down.
Over these past ten years, I jumped at the incredible opportunities that came my way. I started in the education division of the professional services organization. There, I served as a senior technical instructor. As all teachers know, one learns the most by teaching. As a teacher, I gained a grassroots understanding of the technology, business, and operational challenges of enterprise IT and I witnessed the positive impact VMware’s technology was having in the world. As all teachers also know, teaching is largely a performance art.
And, anyone who knows me knows I love to perform! I fondly remember the burst of adrenaline I would feel each time I stood in front of hundreds of customers all over the globe. I remember the satisfaction that came from teaching some of the sharpest customers a thing or two! This was my new stage. I jumped in but always with a sincere and light heart. The best teachers and the best performers, after all, don’t wear masks!
A few years later, I was asked to join the consulting division after one of my students recommended me to his management team. That little intuitive voice told me to jump again. I’m glad I took that leap. That new opportunity exposed me to the world of enterprise customer and architecture in a way not many people get a chance to experience. I was working with VMware’s top fortune 50 customers.
As one of the first enterprise cloud architects in the company, I helped lead the first wave of Cloud strategy and designs in an industry driven by VMware. Of course, I didn’t do it alone. I received support and encouragement from my management. They trusted me in so many delicate and crucial situations. Together, we broke through the clouds, making a historic leap in the industry.
As we made this historic leap, I honed my technical skills and expertise and was challenged to learn more about the business side of the industry. After some serious hard work and dedication in 2011, I was awarded Consultant of the Year by the Professional Services Organization at VMware, a moment that was especially rewarding to me because VMware has so many talented individuals. As I learned in skating, it’s one thing to win a single competition.
It’s another thing to rise above a sea of talented folks. In the latter case, that field of talent must not be seen as competition but as your greatest ally. Those talented folks always pushed me to my edges. And what I discovered as I rose higher is that the edges pushed back, honing my talents so I could give the best of myself to VMware.
Over the years, so many of those talented folks helped me ascend to heights I couldn’t have reached by myself. Charu Chaubal gave me an amazing opportunity in product influence and development. I have a deep passion for the work that I’ve done in this role. I must thank Charu for recognizing my talent and entrusting me with VSAN. I cherish that work. It allowed me to interact with the crown jewel of VMware: our engineering organization. I am so proud that I could be their standard bearer. I am so honored that I was entrusted with carrying the seeds of such a revolutionary product to so many people across the globe.
In May 2014, I stepped on stage as a representative of that VSAN team. I had been on stage hundreds of times before in my eight years at VMware. I was used to facing crowds of eager faces, but this time was different. This time I held five pounds of sharply carved glass, the shape of an inverted diamond, whose shine probably matched the huge smile plastered across my face. This trophy that I proudly punched up in the air said it all: Despite the many obstacles, WE had done it! VMware Virtual SAN had won the most innovative product in the virtualization category at Microsoft’s TechEd Awards in North America. It was a product that many people worked diligently on to bring to life. It is a moment etched into my heart…
When I was a professional skater, I always worked hard, but I never forgot the power of levity. Even the hardest jump became easier with my signature pursed-lip smile and a big old belly laugh once I’d landed. I’m glad I could inject some of my levity into the hard work with VSAN. One of my favorite examples of that is my progeny, who became the unofficial contraband face and personality for our product. You might be familiar with that social media sensation, the one, and only CaptainVSAN!
To paraphrase the philosopher Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie): If you don’t know, now you know!
To get a little serious now: I will always associate the time with VSAN as one of the new beginnings and great milestones. After four long years of dedication, our amazing team was able to bring our baby into the world. Around that same time, my equally amazing wife was preparing to give birth to my first-born son, Lohgan. Both of those deliveries brought me to Cloud Nine.
In addition to VSAN, many other opportunities came my way on this flight-path through the virtual clouds. Though I can only mention them in brief, I think those I encountered will know how much our time has meant to me:
I had the opportunity to work on many projects and publications ranging from books to white papers to reference architectures. With the help of some great internal folks, I’ve collaborated with some of the largest technical companies in the world. I also got to work with other areas of the business, namely R&D, which gave me the freedom to think strategically and develop ideas to see how we could improve our product features and technologies, and at times, even come up with new ones! I’ve spent the last four years in the Storage and Availability business unit. I can attest to the tireless work of everyone on my team, who labored to bring VSAN, Virtual Volumes, and our entire portfolio products to greatness. As I write about some of the highlights of my career above, I know with 100% certainty, that I couldn’t have accomplished any of these things, without the help, support, and guidance of so many amazing people at VMware.
With every high, there’s inevitably a low. Putting out a product might seem like an easy and streamlined thing from the outside, but it requires the team to stay “plugged in” during the late hours of the night when your wife is calling you to bed. Yes, one gets to travel the world, as I did. Yes, I had the incredible opportunity to present ideas on behalf of VMware globally. At the same time, traveling away from home isn’t always easy. It became bearable by those I interacted with on my travels. It was so comforting to be greeted warmly by strangers who knew me through my team’s work or who recognized me when they saw my infamous hoodie adorned with Captain VSAN.
But most importantly, those lows became bearable because of my team members who became my home away from home, a family when I was far from family.
As I reflect on all this, I realize that I am just as much a product of the company as the technical products they have developed. VMware pushed me past my boundaries toward a horizon I could not have foreseen ten years ago. They allowed me to soar to new heights. I would not be who I am today without the company, the culture, and the people who are its backbone. For that I need to publicly recognize and thank and express my gratitude and appreciation to some folks who lifted me to those heights:
The VSAN, VVol, Core Storage engineering teams (the best and most talented people in the world): You gave me your incredible brains and your valuable time and patience. You helped me reach a great depth of understanding about these products.
My Office of the CTO team – Cormac, Duncan, Paudie, Murali, Justin: We did wonderful work together and had a great time doing it. You’re brothers to me!
Yanbing (a.k.a the big boss): Thank you for supporting my ambitions and letting me be part of the product launch events. Thank you for letting me demonstrate some of my innovative ideas on VMware’s biggest stage at VMworld. No one else can fill the role that you fill on that stage!
Christos Karamanolis – my boss, the person responsible for giving one of the most incredible opportunities in my career and time at VMware. You were instrumental in my professional development within the past few years. You believed in me, trusted me, and gave me the freedom to be creative and do the things I did and together with our engineering team I got the opportunity invent a few things and file four patents. You are someone who I admire and respect, and see as a mentor and a friend. Thank you for bringing into the R&D organization and into your Office of the CTO team, for always sticking your neck out for me. Thank you for your help guidance, advice, and friendship.
All successful products have a release date. Ten years later, I’ve arrived at mine. Today will be my last day at VMware, but I’ll love this company and its people for the rest of my life. I’ve never felt like I was “working.” One thing that I have learned is that a great company is one that pushes you past your limits and that gives you opportunities to push it toward new horizons. In that sense, VMware is one of the great ones. To quote Robert Downey Jr, “ I think that the power is the principle. The principle of moving forward gives you confidence when you look back and see what you’ve done.”
So, here we are, with the same bitter-sweetness that comes with any release date. But let’s treat this milestone as Captain VSAN would treat it: Let’s pop some champagne and celebrate the heights we have reached together! I’ll see you in the clouds!