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vExpert Spotlight: Alastair Cooke

Blog URL: http://www.demitasse.co.nz
Twitter handle: @DemitasseNZ
Current employer: Self-employed, contract Trainer and Consultant

How did you get into IT?

I started my IT career supporting a CAD lab, quickly moving from a University to an in-house role and then on to solution provider roles. 

My first big step up was seeing Citrix early and getting certified before leaving New Zealand for a few years in the UK.  Having certification in an emerging technology allowed me to get a better contract position than I would have otherwise found in a new country.

My next big step up was resigning from a salaried job to become self-employed.  This was a huge risk that I took as the main earner in the household, despite having children and a large mortgage.  There are always reasons why now is not the right time to go self-employed. In the end, I chose to take the leap and have faith in my ability to identify coming trends to stay valuable.

How did you get into working with VMware and becoming a 2011 vExpert?

I was first shown VMware in 2000 and loved the product that is now VMware Workstation.  I remember being told that VMware wanted to run servers in Virtual Machines and saying that nobody would want to do that.  Now my job is to teach people how to use vSphere to run their servers in VMs.

As a VMware Trainer, I meet new students most weeks and I have found that I like talking with people who use VMware products, I have more in common with them that with the other parents at my kid's schools.  I wanted to stay in touch and feel part of a community. One of the ways was to get involved with the local Virtualization Podcast, which for my region is the APAC Virtualisation Podcast.  When Andre, the founding host, was feeling overwhelmed I stepped up to host some episodes. Now that Andre has left the region I run the podcast. 

Of course I also blog when I see or do something that might be useful to others.

In addition this year I have started running vBeers events in New Zealand, this is a great way to meet up with other people who work with VMware products.  Take a look at http://vbeers.org for events in your area and if nobody else has set one up then host your own. I also organised a party before the local vForum event, styled after the VMUnderground parties.  It was another chance to get together and talk and I need to say a big thanks to the major sponsors, Veeam and NetApp who made the whole thing possible.  I'll be doing this again for the Sydney vForum 2012, maybe even a get together of the regional vExperts too.

The vExpert program rewards people that put their own time into helping others, it should be a side effect of your actions, not the reason for them.

What would you tell someone who wanted to get a job like yours to do?

Right now I am a self-employed VMware trainer. I am contracted to deliver courses for VMware or VATCs, often different courses in different cities each week.  I spend over half my nights away from home and a lot of days travelling.  The travel is hard and the uncertainty of the short 2-5 day contracts (since each course is a separate piece of work) is tough, however I've never been happier in my work.  I get to share my passion for virtualisation with new people every week.

My career has been led by the technologies I find exciting, the things I wanted to play with when I had quiet times at work or when I got home at night.  If you don't want to play with computers when you get home then you probably shouldn't be a self-employed computer guy.

Expect to have to build up skills over time, it won't happen overnight. 

Keep an eye open for the next big technology change; the big opportunities are revolutions not evolutions.  Right now mobile is changing everything, if you saw it coming five years ago then you have the right mind.  I have been using a smartphone for nine years, if I'd spent the first five learning to write mobile applications I would be well placed to be an iPhone appstore millionaire.

Certifications are a good way to establish credibility, but they are a supplement to experience, not a replacement.  Be good at what you do, then certification is much easier to get.


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