Transitions & Changes

I received an e-mail this week from the Montreal IT Professionals Community (MITPro) inviting me to the 2014 Annual General Meeting.

I remembered a day nine years ago in January, 2005.  Later in the day I would be heading to the first meeting of the group who had been brought together to build a user group for Montreal IT Professionals.  As I sat in a client’s office applying patches I quickly jotted down a list of topics I felt that we should discuss, which turned into the agenda for that first meeting.

Around the table were Daniel Nerenberg, Maxime Viel, Thomas Kroll, Randy Knobloch, and a couple of other people I am sure I am forgetting. 

Two months later we held our first official meeting, attended by some thirty people from all walks of the IT Pro spectrum.  It was amazing that we had brought it together… but how long would it last?

The first real test of that was not when I stepped down as president, but when the leadership team clashed with my successor.  The heated battle took its toll, some people left, others joined, and in the end the organization continued.

It had been written into the organization’s charter that I would always have a vote as the Founding President, and for the first few years I used it.  However as I became more distanced from the organization (both in time and geography, having established myself in Southwest Ontario) I used it less and less, having decided that might no longer always know what is best for the organization that I was once the public face of.  In September of 2012 when I joined the DPE team at Microsoft Canada I officially resigned my position with MITPro (along with ITPro Toronto, the group I went on to start and lead after leaving Montreal).

It is funny, looking at the Board of Directors from MITPro as it stands today I know… some of them.  None of them were at that first meeting, and only two of them (out of eight) sat on the Board when I led it.  Far from complaining, I am thrilled that the group is not only surviving but thriving… Dan and Majida and I are all gone, and yet the group is going strong.  That tells me that it is one of the true Canadian IT Pro community success stories… because a few of us raised our hands and wanted to get involved a little under a decade ago.

So my question to you is this… are you a member of your local IT Pro user group?  If so, do you participate?  Do you attend events?  Would you be willing to speak at one?  It takes people like you raising your hands and volunteering to make these groups work.  If you are not a member, why not?  Look up your local group and get involved… attend, learn, and when you feel comfortable enough see what else you can do.  Believe me, there are a lot of people out there who will benefit from your participation… starting with you!

Why We Support Communities

I wrote this article a few days ago, and decided that before I posted it here I would offer it to the CanITPro Team – IT Pro Connection.  They published it on January 31st as a guest blog post. 

I am now republishing it here, so that it can get the most exposure.  I have spoken to so many people across Canada and around the world who ask me why I spend so much time helping the IT Pro Community, and what value I see the MVP Program as having to me personally.  Sometimes it is not supposed to be about what it can do for me, but what I can do for others.  I can think of no better example of that than this article, an interview with a man who saw me speak at a user group that I founded five years ago, and whose life changed because of it.

If you are an IT Pro then you should be involved in your community.  Most of us start by attending meetings, absorbing information, and learning.  Later on you might join a committee, help run a study group or events, or join the board.  At a certain point you may realize you know something as well as or better than others, and you can put together a presentation – whether that be for an entire session or for a fifteen minute session, such as Sean Kearney’s IT Pro Toronto ‘PowerShell Snacks’.  But remember… like any other community you are responsible for giving back what you put in so that those who follow you will be able to benefit from your knowledge and experience, just as you benefited from the knowledge and experiences of others.

Last week I met a man at the Microsoft Virtualization Boot Camp who nearly made me cry.  His name is Andrew Thomas, and he is the reason I have spent the last eight years building, running, and supporting IT Pro user groups.  I asked him if he would be willing to answer a few questions for me by e-mail and he did.  For those of us who have worked for years to build the user group community in Canada, there is no more gratifying and inspiring story, because this is why we do what we do.  User groups do not build and run themselves… they require a lot of hard work and dedication from all sorts of people who seldom get any recognition for it.  That is why when I ran user groups I made a point of thanking the people who helped me, and when I speak to user groups today I try to always thanks and recognize not only the UG Leader, but those who help him along the way.

This is Andrew’s story:

Five years ago I was working as a Bench Technician with one of the large retail chains.  I had managed to work my way up to Tech Manager but was not very happy in my job.

I don’t know when I went to my first ITProToronto meeting or even how I heard of it, but I was on a number of mailing lists and would go to events when I was invited.  The first meeting I attended was held in Mississauga (which puts the timeline around early 2008).  I live in Scarborough but was working in Mississauga at the time.  I was hooked after my first user group meeting and was happy when the events were moved to Toronto because of the commute.

I went to the first few meetings thinking that I would meet people whom I could network with to try and find another job but I lost my nerve when I realized the depth of knowledge of the members.  I felt a bit out of my depth, but I kept going to the meetings because I kept learning from the presentations as well as from the other members.

The turning point for me came when we had a meeting about the then NEW HP Media Smart Home Server.  I had purchased one a month earlier and had been playing with it.  Suddenly I was having conversations with members about how the Server worked, what it did and how, and since nobody else had played with one yet I quickly realized that now *I* was one of the experts in the room!

It dawned on me that I was smarter than I thought… I had already earned a couple of certifications (including MCP and A+), and had implemented so much of the advanced technology in my basement (including Windows Server, DNS, DHCP, Exchange Server, Linux, and IIS) but it never occurred to me that I was good enough to work for a company as a systems administrator or domain admin.  I was really good as a bench technician, but did not have the confidence to turn my hobby into a career.

After that Home Server meeting I dusted off my résumé and hit the pavement looking for work.  My certifications were a little weak, but I had experience in all sorts of different technologies.  I took a job with a small financial company in Scarborough that was looking for an assistant for their system administrator.  I took the job only to find out that the sysadmin was mostly a trainer with no experience in networking, hardware or domain administration; they were having everything done by contractors and he was doing his day-to-day stuff by using search engines and the literally administering by the seat of his pants.  However he was a smart guy and did manage to keep their systems running for 2 years.

As luck would have it he got another job so I inherited the Network.  It was an opportunity for me to show what I could do on my own.  Unfortunately the company went bankrupt three months later, and I was looking again.

I decided to take a year off to travel, and was surprised when I returned to the workforce to find out that I no longer had the qualifications I needed to get the jobs that I wanted.  My Windows 2000 certifications were just not good enough, as Windows Server 2003 was the standard and Windows Server 2008 was about to be released.  I decided to invest the time to spend a year at school, where I studied all of the newest technologies, and became certified in Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2007, as well as Linux.

Now that I have all of the right credentials I have set a lower limit for any job I would ever accept, and that lower limit is more than twice what I was earning as a bench technician.  I am working on projects that include all of those technologies and more, including Server Virtualization (which I am now comfortable with thanks to the Microsoft Canada IT Pro Virtualization Boot Camp!), and more.  I support users and environments, and the list goes on and on.

It may look like you just go to a meeting but the user group (for me anyway) is a lot more than that.  I learned things – both about technology and about myself.  I never would have had the courage to make such drastic career changes if it was not for the user group meetings.  Now I can go out and put all my skills that I have learned over the years to work for me and I thank the group for that.

The Dawn of a New Community

I had no idea when I was scheduled to come to Buenos Aires that I would be here to watch such a momentous event.  A month ago Elias Mereb, a fellow MVP from Venezuela, found out I was coming down and introduced me to Daniel Levi, a DPE at Microsoft Argentina.  Daniel told me that on the evening of November 8th Microsoft was hosting a ‘Virtualization Launch Event’, and if I wanted to come I was welcome.  He actually looked into getting a simultaneous translation service so that I could speak, but that did not work… which is good, because as I sit here at the back of the room I am a bit jetlagged and have slept 30 minutes since yesterday morning!

I should mention that my Spanish is horrible… but I understand a lot more than I can speak.  That is why as I sit at the back of the room listening to Daniel present, it is like déjà vu all over again.  It could easily be November, 2004 in Montreal, and Rick Claus speaking instead of Daniel.  Not only are we discussing virtualization – that first meeting 7 years ago Rick presented on Virtual Server – but he and Harp Girn also covered the importance of community, and asked us who was willing to participate.

On that fateful day Daniel Nerenberg and I raised our hands and stepped forward.  I would be hard pressed to come up with a more crucial junction in the formative years of my career as that moment.  Today it is Rodrigo de los Santos and Leandro Amore who are running the show as the inaugural presenter-volunteers, along with four others whom I had the opportunity to meet earlier.  I am so psyched to see this community – la Comunidad de Usarios de Tecnologias de Nube Privada (Public Cloud Technologies User Group) – coming to life.  I remember Steve and Fred from GUMSNET who were our spark, and I remember Thomas Kroll, Max Viel, Randy Knobloch, and a couple of others who were our initial leadership group.  MITPro started the same way as la Comunidad de Usarios de Tecnologias de Nube Privada is, just a few years earlier.

I tip my hat to these guys… and I will be honest, although I know that they are discussing heterogeneous virtualization host management in System Center Virtual Machine Manager, and can see the SCVMM screen on the overhead, I cannot understand a word that they are saying.  However the audience is enthralled… as a professional speaker I know what indifferent audiences look like and I know what captive audiences look like… these guys are captive, and the house is packed – two MPR rooms and hardly an empty seat, plus 10 people at the back of the room.  It is amazing to see.  This is a user group that has the potential to succeed, and as long as they have the right people at the helm (and they seem to!) then they will do great.

Interestingly enough, I met my first Microsoft MVP that night in 2004… tonight I had the opportunity to meet a fellow MVP who is a fellow member of the STEP Program – Roberto Di Lello.  We had spoken before, but we had never met.  It is great to see that just as they do in Toronto and Montreal and all of the other cities where I have visited, the local MVPs come out to support the user group community.  Thanks Roberto!

As Leandro and Rodrigo go on about the Cloud in Spanish I am ever tempted to raise my hand and ask the only question that I could easily ask in Spanish… ‘Que?’  Of course I would get a laugh, but I won’t do it.  I wouldn’t want them to do it to me!  However in complete seriousness, if you are in or around Argentina, you should reach out to Daniel and ask him about the IT Camp that he is planning for March, which will be the real Launch for this amazing group.  There will be a lot to learn, and I am just hoping that I will be able to come back to speak then.

While they will be serving pizza at the end of the meeting, what really impressed me is what they had set up at the beginning… six laptops encouraging attendees to sign up for the Microsoft Virtual Academy (See Free Online Training and Resources from Microsoft).  There were two lovely ladies helping explain what it was, and giving away swag for every registrant.  Yet another idea that I may just have to borrow!

Good luck Argentina… you are launching nicely!

To join the conversation join the la Comunidad de Usarios de Tecnologias de Nube Privada (Public Cloud Technologies User Group) or look for them on LinkedIn.com!

The Wonder that is TechEd

The quiet of the Exhibitor Hall is disturbed by the sounds of preparation.  To my left there is a crew frantically working to fix something with a carpet.  There is some hammering, more yammering, and the sounds of carpet tape being unfurled. To my right there are two security agents talking, but they are too far off for me to know what about.  Somewhere in the distance the beeping of a crane reminds us that conference centres are a weird mix of indoors and out. Slowly… VERY slowly, the vendors and the booth bunnies are filtering in, mostly sitting around, many checking e-mail, others chatting quietly.

Day Two of TechEd North America is underway upstairs, with sessions and breakouts and hands-on-labs.  I rather suspect that many of the people attending those sessions are moderately hung-over, which would be par for the course for any major IT convention.

Thirteen hours ago, midway through my last shift in the Microsoft Springboard Booth, there were thousands of people milling about.  A great mixture of people wanting to learn, wanting to teach. A lot of people were out to collect swag for sure – at our booth they would range from asking for a box, reaching in and taking a box, to reaching in and trying to take a handful of boxes.  A few actually asked what was in the boxes, but to many that mattered less than getting something for free.  Some people, when they asked, would get a spun yarn about the contents… it breaks up the monotony. 

In truth, the best thing that we are giving away at the Springboard booth does not come in a box.  It doesn’t even come on the lanyards in the form of passes to the hottest party at TechEd (the Springboard Community Event!) but rather a link… www.microsoft.com/springboard, which is the link to the Springboard site, the best place for the IT Pro to learn about all things related to Windows 7, Office 2010, Internet Explorer 9, Desktop Deployment, Application Compatibility, and the Optimized Desktop.  It has articles, KBs, forums, and blogs.  Whether you are just now thinking about transitioning to Windows 7 and you need help planning your deployment, or if your entire org is on Windows 7 and you have questions about support, it’s there.

Of course TechEd is much bigger than our booth… the Microsoft pavilion is the center point, but if you look to the left and right (as well as the front and back!) you will see vendor booths, community booths, and more.  HP is here in full force, as is EMC… I count at least three CPLSes represented as well as several on-line and video learning companies – companies that sell practice exams and other exam-prep material.  There are vendors demoing their hardware, others selling software.  Of course the new trend is people selling cloud-based solutions, which until recently was geek-speak for vapourware, but now is a very real and viable solution, and critical in this day and age.

There is an entire section of the Exhibitor’s Floor dedicated to community… the MCT Lounge, the MVP Lounge… Blogger’s Row, Microsoft Learning, GITCA and other User Group services.  There is a stage where I saw Richard Campbell interviewing Mark Minasi yesterday, and of course the Microsoft Company Store, your one-stop shop for Microsoft-branded crap, but also a 20% discount off all books which ROCKS!

Upstairs there is a section devoted to exam-crams, as well as an entire exam center where I know of several people who have taken my advice to GET CERTIFIED!  One friend, I hope, will be taking his FIRST EVER certification exam exam today or tomorrow… and I will be there to be the first to congratulate him and welcome him to the MCP fold.

What are you looking for? If it has to do with IT then it is here in Atlanta, at Microsoft TechEd 2011 North America!

Get on the Bus!

For the third year in a row the Springboard Bus Tour will hit the road leading up to TechEd.  If you have never met the bus you are missing out, because it delivers expert advice, great learning, and huge career benefits to IT Pros.  It delivers answers to questions you may have been having about desktop deployment, virtualization, managing consumer-devices in the office, cloud solutions such as Intune and Office 365, Application Compatibility, and much more! MSW-Tour-CityBanners

This year I am very excited, because my city (my adopted city, really…) has been chosen as the launching point!  That’s right, on May 2nd we will be taking over the MaRS Centre, South Tower at 101 College Street in downtown Toronto, CANADA!  (Yes, I know there’s a typo on the registration page… we’re fixing it!

So if you live in the Golden Horseshoe – or really anywhere from London to Kingston, Buffalo to Orillia, come join us for a great day of Windows 7, Office, MDOP, and more!

REGISTER NOW and save your seat for this free day of technical demos, Q&A sessions, and real-world guidance from Microsoft experts. We’ll see you on the road… and make sure to come say hi to me, Sean, and the rest of the STEP MVPs!

Oh, and remember… if you are not in or around Toronto, the Springboard Series Tour Bus is making stops in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Dallas, and Columbus… so you still have a chance to catch up and learn!

MSW_Tour_AllupBanner

The Student Has Become The Master!

Monday evening I attended the monthly user group meeting of the Wellington Waterloo IT Pro User Group (http://www.wwitpro.com/) in Kitchener, Ontario.  The topic for the evening was called Windows 7 Deployment as presented by Sean Kearney (yes, THE Sean Kearney, a.k.a. The Energized Tech, a.k.a. (the former) Friday Funny Guy!) from SWMI Consulting Group and www.powershell.ca.  The title of his presentation was ‘Busting the Myths: There is no simple way to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7.’  It was a great presentation… for a couple of reasons. 

In truth I know this presentation cold because I have presented it dozens of times… I brought it to Canada (it was originally a TechEd session done by Jay Ferron, Jeremy Chapman, and friends) for TechDays Canada, and have since presented it to dozens of audiences.  However to sit through it as presented by my colleague, who ‘learned deployment at my knee’ was great, to see not only that he really did get it, but also took my presentation, and truly made it his own.  It was great.

I have been working with Sean for a few years, and watching him evolve from the Friday Funny Guy into the Energized Tech has been great.  He truly has come a long way, to the point that I am willing to (and proud to!) have him represent my company, knowing that my reputation is at stake!

I met Sean about the same time that I met another good friend, Jacqueline Hutchinson.  At the time – early 2007 – I was visiting Toronto, and Jacqueline had recently taken over the president of WWITPro.  The group had been dropped in her lap, and she was doing her best to keep it going. Rick Claus asked me to spend a few hours with her and her team.  We sat down over Mongolian cuisine, and I gave them whatever wisdom and guidance I could.

Whatever challenges that user group leaders encounter (and there are plenty!) the greatest challenge to most groups traditionally has been what happens when the leader leaves.  Most groups are founded by people with strong personalities, and when they leave the void created has more often than not been the downfall of most groups that have tried.  To visit WWITPro, five years and three leaders later, and find it alive and well and thriving is really a testament to the power of community.

To be clear, I did not come to Waterloo to support Sean… he doesn’t need it; he knows his stuff, and does not need to be propped up.  I came to watch and enjoy (and deliver goodies and prizes from Microsoft and HP!), and to show my ongoing support for the IT Pro community in Canada.

I want to thank Sean for being such a huge community resource; he is a credit to his company, to the Microsoft MVP program, and to the Springboard Technical Experts Panel (STEP).  I also want to thank Terry Edwards, who stepped up and took over the group when it would have been just as easy to hope someone else would.  Being a user group leader may have its rewards, but it is also extremely taxing and demanding – and takes a huge chunk of time from their personal life.  Thanks Terry, and the rest of your team whose names I wish I knew to list here.

Oh… and thanks for the pizza!