Written by Dale Carter
I have been involved in the Hands-on labs for 11 years now. I started as a proctor before working on the Help Desk eventually becoming one of the Help Desk leads. My biggest honor came when I was asked to be the staffing manager for the Hands-on Labs back in 2016.
It was once I became staffing manager that I really started to learn how big the Hands-on Labs was at VMware and just how many people from around the world are involved.
Many customers that come to VMware Explore, previously VMworld, to take our labs likely don’t realize the amount of demanding work that goes in to building the labs and making this such a successful program.
Let us look at what goes into building the Labs each year and who does all the challenging work throughout the year. Yes, there is a dedicated staff team at VMware who runs the Hands-on Labs program and maintains the infrastructure throughout the year, but this is a small number of staff that is part of the full program.
The team that builds and maintains/updates the labs throughout the year is the amazing volunteer army that Jon Schultz and I lead. This team works tirelessly through the year, giving up their own time as this is a totally volunteer role. This team is made up of Solution Engineers, Technical Account Managers, Professional Services, GSS, Technical Marketing, Engineering. This is a team that comes from around the world: we have team members in Australia, India, Singapore, Japan, all over Europe, South America, Canada, and the United States. The picture below shows the team that was on site in San Francisco this year and around 90% of the people in this picture are volunteers. These people do not simply volunteer to help at the event, these are the people who build the labs.
This team spends endless nights and weekends (sometimes vacations) working and building the labs we all enjoy. A lot of the testing is taking place as we run up to Explore at the end of August and this means the staff are spending even more time during July and August making sure everything is working as expected and the infrastructure can scale as expected.
This is also the team that is leading with VMware on VMware. As a lot of people know, everything is run as virtual machines in the Hands-on Labs, even having vSphere on vSphere. We are often working with completely new software and the teams build out labs for products that will be announced at the event. The Hands-on Labs is the first place our customers can try new software after it is announced. Examples this year were vSphere 8 and vSAN 8, which have been announced but not yet released. Attendees received a “technology preview” of the unreleased products during Hands-on Labs at VMware Explore in the US.
Over the years, the Hands-on Labs have seen several changes from small individual labs that I attended as a customer, to just self-paced labs, to what we have today: a mixture of Expert-led labs and self-paced labs. The one constant has been the volunteer army that we have built at VMware. The people that have been part of this amazing army throughout the years can be seen all over the industry today: I look at the friends I have made over the years working in the Hands-on Labs and I see them at many software companies all over the world. Members of this team have gone on to be CTOs at VMware and other companies as well as Directors, Senior Directors, Vice Presidents, and technology leads. The Hands-on Labs program has been at the heart of many amazing technological advances throughout the industry.
I would like to personally thank all the fantastic volunteers that have been part of the Hands-on Labs over the years, and I look forward to working with many more as this program continues to grow.
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