Certification and Mentoring with Manny Sidhu

Welcome to episode 80 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss education, certification, and mentoring with Manny Sidhu.

Original Recording Date: 05-25-2020

Topics – Education, Certification, and Mentoring

1:58 Career Overview

  • Manny has been a consultant in the hybrid cloud (or multiple datacenters) and security space for the past 6-8 years.
  • He started a career in IT around 15 years ago.
  • Manny has been studying a great deal in the Microsoft Azure space because his customer base seem to be extending into this space more so than AWS and GCP lately.
  • 4:41 – The path to hybrid datacenters / hybrid cloud
    • Manny started in IT in 2005 after completing a double masters in engineering and science.
    • Someone advised him that IT was a field he could pursue for accelerated career growth, so he decided to give it a shot. Another person suggested tech support at an ISP or other. The ISP is where Manny landed a help desk job working the graveyard shift.
    • Manny then moved into desktop support for a couple of years, server support, and later into virtualization support.
    • In late 2008, he began pursuing certifications and was "hooked." He now has 40+ certifications.
    • When he started the job in desktop support, no one was handling backups. The team lead asked for volunteers to do this job, and Manny volunteered after only 3 days on the job as a learning experience.
      • There was no documentation in place and no processes in place. Manny had to create the standard operating procedures and write the documents on his own, readying other members of the team to take over in his absence.
    • This experience with backups led to getting into storage which led into getting into virtualization, which Manny feels was a great move for his career.

7:31 – A Love for Certifications and Giving Back

  • A colleague mentioned to Manny that he had done a Microsoft certification and really enjoyed studying for it.
  • Manny said he would look into it but still had not done it by a month later when the colleague mentioned it again. That was enough to encourage Manny to go for it, and he really enjoyed it.
  • Receiving a score after taking an exam gave him an adrenaline rush. Even when he failed, the rush was there to drive forward and keep trying.
  • John has heard people say if your pass rate for exams is too high, you might be studying too hard.
    • Manny shares an interview story in which he admitted over 40 certifications achieved doesn’t mean it only required 40 attempts. "Failure is part of the game."
    • Nick and Manny compare passing and failing exams to the difference in winning and losing sporting events (i.e. sometimes only the successes are really remembered).
  • In 2017, Manny got a job at VMware because he caught the NSX wave early. Almost no one in his area had the NSX certification at the time, and it made him stand out.
    • It’s important to "catch a wave" of a technology trend if at all possible, but it should be something that excites you.
    • You have to try something to gauge interest.
  • How do you decide to keep going in a certain area or move to an adjacent area when pursuing multiple certifications?
    • Manny likes to pick something and take it to its furthest point.
    • It depends on where your interests lie. Take what interests you the most, the thing you would most want to talk about if given the chance to present on it for 5 minutes.
    • Manny cites local VMware User Groups as a great start to learning to present.
    • Nick cites a session Manny did to help others study for the VCP-DCV 6 that he found extremely helpful. This was done through vBrownBag
      • Manny mentioned he was encouraged by Jonathan Frappier to present for vBrownBag, and it was very successful.
      • Manny’s attitude is that if his presentation could help one person, it has served its purpose.
    • Manny has been a mentor for a number of years and really enjoys helping others.
  • Since Manny has been a consultant, he has had to pay for his own certifications. His previous employers would pay for a passed certification (not the failed attempts).
    • The raises and jumps in salary since getting the certifications have paid back the cost many times over.
    • Rarely has anyone asked Manny to get a certification. He has done them to stand out, to learn faster, and for his own benefit.
    • In 2009, Manny did his first VCP exam. Someone at work agreed to grant him access to the VMware environment if he passed, but his employer would not pay for the required classroom training.
      • Manny found a course through UCSC that was a much cheaper option (completely online and at Manny’s pace).
      • There are a number of educational institutions in the US who offer these required courses to sit for an exam.
  • Is experience more important than certifications?
    • Do both at the same time! Certifications on their own do not carry enough weight. It does not add up without the experience.
    • Get a job that lets you do the work to get a certification or just get a job for the experience and work on the certification you really want to be able to do the work that really interests you.
    • This is more about self-learning and not about a piece of paper (more about the journey). Beginners often do not see this. They see only a barrier to interview.

24:50 – The VCDX Process and Discussing It in Interviews

  • Manny attempted this 3 times while with VMware but did not pass. He came very close the last time, spending about 18 months preparing.
    • Manny’s wife got fed up with him studying for the certification.
    • The learning experience Manny went through during this time has helped him talk with customers and certainly helped him progress professionally.
  • How did VCDX come up in interviews?
    • Manny has had mixed reactions from sharing the story in an interview.
    • The thing that mattered most to Manny was the learning process.
    • The money spent on a failed certification is nothing

28:58 – vExpert, Mentoring, and Public Speaking

  • Manny is a member of the vExpert Pro program.
    • To be considered for this program you must be an active member of and contributor to the community and provide support and mentoring others in their journey to become vExperts.
    • Manny has been a vExpert for a number of years and part of the NSX subprogram. His blog was what helped him obtain vExpert status in the first place and later helped him break into the Pro subprogram.
    • One of the best ways to find people in the vExpert Pro program is to look in the online directory. Contact information is listed for each person in the directory.
      • Another way to find people who are part of the program is through participation in conferences and other community groups.
      • Following #vExpert on Twitter is a great way to find people and get help.
    • These types of advocacy programs are very inclusive and want the program to grow.
    • Manny mentioned he even encouraged a neighbor to participate in a local VMware User Group.
    • Manny shares the story of a co-worker who encouraged him to do his first presentation in front of a large group. That eventually led to Manny speaking at VMworld multiple times.
      • He mentioned people who came to the session truly wanted to learn from his experience. This led to engaging conversations and even some whiteboard sessions afterward.
      • Even if no one asks you a question during a session, you have this feeling that someone is going to ask a question, which drives you to prepare well.
        • The "engineer brain" does not like not knowing the answer to questions.
      • The experience of being asked a question just outside of what you prepared for requires an on the fly adjustment to your thinking, which is very analogous to what people have to do in a job interview.
  • Contact Manny on Twitter, or find him in the vExpert directory

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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