vExpert Spotlight: Simon Gallagher

SimonGallagherBlog URL:  http://www.vinf.net
Twitter handle: @vinf_net
Current employer: Freelance Infrastructure Architect working in the EMEA consulting team of a major global service provider

How did you get into IT?

Being a Lego nerd as a child architecture and engineering was my main interest as I grew up and I wanted to be a civil engineer designing bridges. I had a passing interest in computers and took a computer science A-level at 16 along with physics and chemistry (oh, and art..!), I quickly picked up Pascal, C and C++ and Assembler and I loved it and spent many hours coding and disassembling other people's code. That, combined with the last economic downturn in the UK laying waste to the engineering and building sector sealed my fate in IT rather than civil engineering.

I achieved both ends of the spectrum in my A-level results (top marks for Computer Science, less said about Art the better ;)), and in 1995 I went to the University of Brighton to be near the beach, oh.. And study Computer Science 

University was my first exposure to the Internet, having only had limited access to bulletin board systems at home and I immediately got it, I recall being frustrated that I couldn't find reviews or details for my 1st car on-line.. Oh how things have changed! I lived in a shared house with some course mates and we immediately set about building the most ridiculous student home network ever, we had Netware, NT 10Base-2 cabling all over the place and shared dial-up Internet to a local ISP (Mistral), they only realised in later years how much money they lost out on through our local cable co's free local call policy as it was set to auto-redial 24/7 🙂

Whilst at university a friend and I went into business providing network services to a local SMB reseller, we did everything from cabling to servers, proxies and email systems for small shops to golf courses and schools, it was long hours but it worked well part-time around my studies, I learnt way more doing this than I ever learnt at university and my experiences in infrastructure and networking was far more fulfilling than coding :) although my formal education did give me a good appreciation of documentation and research.

I did a sandwich degree so spent a year working for a reseller/VAR in Brighton, just before I started they were purchased by GE and merged into it's IT services division so I spent a year working on Novell and OS/2 to NT4 migrations for large insurance and retail companies and providing internal 1st/2nd line support for their enterprise network, as part of the prerequisites for the placement they paid for a CBT course and for us to pass at least 3 MCP exams, which I did and continued on to get my MCSE.

When I graduated from university, I went to work for a swiss watch maker in London, providing IT support and doing some IT refresh projects, after a year I was approached about a job with a small managed services company working with EMI music, I was interviewed in the basement of EMI's offices by the founder of Infocom (latterly becoming ioko, and then part of Kit-Digital), the guys were great and offered me the job on the spot, which I accepted and I spent the next 10 years working for what became ioko, initially working on Active Directory and Exchange migration projects for EMI and Diageo.  As the business grew so did my role and I was an early member of our professional services team, doing pre-sales and project delivery mainly in the Microsoft space and latterly virtualization, the company grew into the media/broadcast space and I worked on some great large scale video-on-demand projects as well as traditional IT infrastructure.

Ioko was a great company and I made some excellent friends but after 10 years I was looking for a new challenge, I originally planned to set out on my own as a freelancer but I was offered a job within the cloud practice at VMware,  it sounded like a great role, doing working with early-access customers using vCloud Director and building delivery materials for the field, I met some fantastic people at VMware but eventually came to realise that working for a software vendor in what was evolving back into a project delivery role wasn't for me, I had a number of personal and business projects that I could not carry out whilst working for VMware so I reverted to my original freelance plan, which is what I am still doing today, I enjoy the freedom to work on my own projects and being able to manage my career and personal development more closely.

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

I first read about VMware Workstation in a magazine article in 2000, I was instantly hooked and used it to build various complex network and server labs for my studies, I built my own home-brew version of GSX server using Workstation on a Windows 2000 machine using a whole bunch of batch files to copy about VMDK files and start/stop VM, because I was doing so much AD/Exchange migration work it made the most sense as I could build out complex multi-domain environments and test and roll-back infinitely without waiting weeks for people to build out labs, I could turn up with a couple of laptops and have it done by lunchtime.

I got to build my first ESX server around version 2.5 as it was very hard for a non-large reseller to get evaluation versions in the early days. I built a lot of complex test and development environments for customers, ioko had grown into a sizeable managed services provider and I saw an opportunity to build a multi-tenant environment using ESX 3 to deliver customer solutions faster, cheaper and more flexibly; so we ended up building a very early implementation of a cloud.

Since my university days I have always maintained a large and ever-evolving home lab environment, when I found you could virtualise ESX itself I was blown-away, and I spent a lot of my own time and money on the various incarnations of my vTARDIS project (http://vinf.net/vTARDIS).

Whilst at BriForum in Amsterdam in 2007 I decided to start a blog to try and organise my notes a bit better, and it just grew from there. My blog is http://vinf.net which is supposed to stand for V(ritual) Infrastructure (.net) and I am sure someone told me 4-letter domain names were the most memorable so rather than deliberate over names I tried the JFDI approach and here I am, as unpronounceable as it is 😉

About this time I started attending the London VMware User Group On the advice of a colleague and I was impressed at the technical content and approachability of all the attendees, I had expected it all to be a bit stand-offish and awkward, but it was the polar opposite, I think I hold the (dubious) record for presenting at every London VMUG meeting for 2 years straight, if nothing else it encouraged a whole raft of other people to present so they didn't have to listen to me again 🙂

In 2011 I joined the steering committee for the London VMUG to assist with finding content and helped organise (and presented at) our 1st ever national UK event, which attracted over 300 attendees. I was awarded the vExpert title in 2009 and 2010 and 2011 and I continue to blog and contribute to LonVMUG and the wider community.

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

The most useful people in any industry are those that just get it done, it's very easy to find a reason to complain and say "it can't be done" it's a lot harder, but infinitely more valuable to say "it's tricky, but here is how I would do it, and these are the implications"; the most appropriate solution isn't always the "best" solution.

Nobody can ever know everything about everything, but don't be afraid to say so; you can blag all you want, but it's going to burn you when you fail. The key to being successful if you want a varied and long career is to know a wide breadth of technology, but have the ability (and technical grounding) to learn specific areas quickly, learn from your mistakes and apply that knowledge. VMware have produced some of the most useful technologies to support this sort of activity, it's so easy to spin up some test VMs and just give something a go.

Initiative is the most important attribute, if you are sitting in your chair complaining "my boss won't pay for training on X, thus I can't do it" then you're in trouble. Formalised professional development is all well and good, but people (employers) don't just give you things unless they have to (or there is a compelling tangible/commercial benefit to them doing so) and they're unlikely to do it on your timescales and say-so. The reality of the world is that if you want to be successful you're going to have to spend some of your own time and money if you want to better your career and knowledge beyond your day-job – you should view it as investment in  yourself, I've used this attitude throughout my career by investing in my own lab gear and study time for industry certifications and it's stood me well.

Interest – if you're not interested in what you do, then this isn't for you – I'd hate to just have a day-job, I need something I'm interested and passionate about or I can't do it well.


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