VMware Hands-on Labs

VMworld HOL Memories: #HOLbeBack

I have been around VMware for a while. Beyond that, I have been fortunate enough to attend every VMworld conference in the US except the first one. As such, I have many VMworld memories. I have been a member of the VMworld Lab Staff for 10 years: 8 as a member of the core team and 2 prior years as a content developer and instructor when all we did was instructor-led sessions.

Working the conference is different from attending the conference. It is still an amazing experience, but there is a feeling of responsibility and ownership that changes your perspective. In recent years, I have spent a lot of time parked at our Command Center wall, answering questions, and presenting to tour groups. That and meeting up in person with our fantastic volunteer lab developers to make the whole thing happen has been a highlight of my years.

Since we have had an all-online VMworld (2020) and are coming up on another (2021), things are different than they were pre-pandemic. Normally, at this time, in addition to promoting the labs at VMworld, we would be compiling and posting our recommendations for places to visit, eat, or find a beverage in San Francisco, Las Vegas, or Barcelona. Recommending what to order on GrubHub or Drizzly is just not the same.

We thought it would be fun to ask people to share some of their favorite in-person HOL memories to augment our own and help us all look forward to being able to meet up in person again.

Most VMworld attendees remember the huge room full of 500+ stations in our self-paced labs area and many remember our Expert-led Workshops and our Connect area where they were able to interact with the product experts who designed and built our lab content. In my mind, the Hands-on Labs at VMworld is as least as much about the people as the technology. That level of interaction is challenging to replicate at a virtual event since the shared experience is such a large part of the event.

One of our lab staff sprained his ankle during one VMworld. While he could have holed up in his hotel room or caught a flight back home to recover, that injury did not keep him away from his responsibilities to our customers. He rented a scooter and showed up every day for his shifts along with everyone else. He was in line to seat our customers at their stations and guide them to taking a lab that interested them, just like the rest of the staff. These are the kinds of people that we have on our teams and I am honored to work alongside them, even if they do bite the heads off of cookies with me on them!

We had another lab staff member whose wife made cookies for the whole team (we’re 200-300 people every year!) and about half of them had a rendition of ME on them.

While not everything is “awesome” all the time, that adversity brings us together. Things don’t always come together as planned and sometimes the staff needed to work VERY late the night(s) before the event began. Our veterans know and our newbies, while sometimes disappointed that they were unable to escape, came to understand that is part of the experience and helps bring us all together.

Sometimes, despite all of our planning, things go wrong that are outside our control and impact nearly everyone: the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas had plumbing issues one year on opening day of the show. That was the hotel where most of our staff were staying, earning its dubious title of “The Suxor.” Then, in 2019, there was a power outage that took down all of VMworld that was running in Moscone West. Things happen and we roll with them as best we can.

One of our now-veteran lab development volunteers, shared his story:

I remember sitting in the HOL in Moscone right after the Nicira acquisition as a partner.  Took an NSX lab and thought that it might be fun to be part of the team that builds out this stuff.  Years later and a few labs built, I still think it is the best way to learn.

More than just building labs, people believe in our mission and come together, providing their skills and time to make it happen. The amount of after-hours volunteer work that is required from a lab developer is 200+ hours each year and then at least half time each day at VMworld for some roles – and full days for others. When you spend that much concentrated time with people, you get to know them pretty well.

We have a long history. Our lab team members frequently express how working together in our program has helped them develop not just professional connections but long-lasting friendships. I am not sure which brings people closer: sitting together for hours in a conference hall testing and re-testing into the wee hours of the morning to ensure that our customers have a solid experience or finding your way around a foreign city and making sure everyone on your crew makes it back to their hotels safely after a night of blowing off steam.

Even things as simple as the shirt colors that we use to identify the various teams become part if the fun: nobody really wanted “Barney Purple” or “It’s not Brown, it’s Mocha!” but people took it in stride and had fun with it. One team member’s girlfriend tossed his “absolutely hideous” shirt between the VMworld US and EMEA event because she never wanted to see it in the laundry again.

Though we are unable to meet up as a large group this year, some of our team members from years past still meet up, citing the bonds they formed during their work as part of our program as a reason that they even know each other at all. When I started with this team, I had no idea of the full impact of this program on people’s lives. I believe it is truly unique in the industry.

A huge Thank You to all our current and past Hands-on Labs staff and volunteers for your contributions to the program and the friendships we have forged in the fires of VMworld. 😀

Here’s to thinking positively about getting together once again in person for VMworld 2022.