Learn and Build Community: For Love of the Technology with Brandon Seymour (2/3)

In episode 261, we’re joined by guest Brandon Seymour. This week we’ll share part 2 of an interview with Brandon detailing how he perceives failure and how it has changed over time, the decision to become a VMware User Group (VMUG) Leader, the importance of presentation experience, why Brandon started blogging, and how working in IT may not be so different from working in a consultative role at a VAR (value added reseller).

Original Recording Date: 12-18-2023

Brandon Seymour is a director of solution architects at Calian, a technology solutions company headquartered in Canada. If you missed part 1 of our discussion with Brandon, check out Episode 260.

Topics – A Growth Mindset, Technical Brand Owner, A Culmination of Experience and Working for a VAR, Leading a User Group, Writing Blogs

3:00 – A Growth Mindset

  • How did Brandon know he could trust his manager and have the conversation about doing something different?
    • If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your manager, you might want to rethink your current position. It may be a bad manager.
    • Brandon also stresses the importance of stepping out of our comfort zones.
    • “I think the place that we tend to grow as humans is when we try things that we aren’t necessarily comfortable with.” – Brandon Seymour
    • Sometimes we stay within the things we know because it’s comfortable, and this can keep us from growing in our professional and personal lives to the point of stagnation.
    • Trying new things allows us the opportunity to grow.
    • In the last year Brandon has been reading about different ways to look at failures in his life. One book in particular was about having a growth mindset and not looking at failure as a bad thing.
      • Brandon gives the example of answering a question from a teacher in a classroom incorrectly and how we might beat ourselves up for not knowing. But when we don’t know and find the correct answer, we have grown in our intelligence. We just don’t think of the experience as a growth experience by default and have to change our mindset.
      • “It’s stepping out of the norms that we build around ourselves that become these comfort zones, but they don’t allow us to grow as humans because we’re afraid of stepping out and being made a fool of…when really it’s just another opportunity for us to grow into another aspect of our lives.” – Brandon Seymour
      • Nick says the word failure has a very negative connotation when it may just mean we made a mistake or got one thing wrong. We often judge ourselves harshly and place some kind of value judgment on the perceived failure.
      • Brandon recommends talking to people we perceive as successful about their failures. It is likely those individuals have a long list of what their failures are.
      • “The fact is…everybody fails in life. It’s what we do with that. Do we let it stop us in our track? Do we let it define who we are in that moment? Or do we press through it and we learn from it and we continue on our journey?” – Brandon Seymour
      • We don’t see the failures of other people. We often only see the things they did right or accomplishments they have that we do not or those we wish we had.
      • Brandon mentions this can be even more difficult if we’re really focused on social platforms. We often only share / show the best versions of ourselves on these platforms.

8:13 – Technical Brand Owner

  • At one point in his career Brandon became a technical lead. What would he tell others about stepping into this role?
    • After Brandon got into systems administration he ended up working for a teaching hospital. Getting exposed to this technology changed the trajectory of his career.
    • At the time the storage team owned responsibilities for the virtualization stack. Knowing nothing about storage Brandon got certified in NetApp storage technology and worked with his boss to transition over to the storage and virtualization team.
    • Brandon was able to work with DevOps teams in this role to determine the applications that could be candidates for virtualization. This was part of a larger project which involved datacenter building and workload migration.
    • Brandon tells us he became a fan boy of VMware technologies and has remained one ever since, writing blogs about the technology and started leading user groups focused on the technology.
    • All of this experience culminated into the technical brand owner role Brandon was in at Sirius Computer Solutions (which later became part of CDW). He had known a number of people in the VMware community who worked for Sirius, and these connections resulted in someone asking Brandon if he would be willing to take on the technical brand owner role (focused on VMware).
      • “It was like taking on a second job, but I was willing to do it. I had never done it before. I didn’t really know what all it entailed, but the first thing out of my mouth was ‘yes, I’m going to do this.’” – Brandon Seymour, on being offered the role of technical brand owner
      • Brandon cites his willingness to step out of his comfort zone and stepping up to lead when others do not as contributing factors to his taking the role. He also wanted to try something new.
    • In the role with Sirius as technical brand owner for VMware technologies, people were looking to Brandon for technical guidance, how the company should / could go to market with product sets as it related to VMware (including how Sirius could differentiate from their competitors and take advantage of / expand their partner relationship with VMware).
      • They also needed to figure out how sellers at Sirius would make money and how to train pre-sales engineers to discuss solutions that related back to the VMware portfolio.
      • Post-sales teams needed to be trained and certified to deploy the complex solutions from VMware’s growing portfolio effectively (which had become far more than just a hypervisor that enabled virtualization). Brandon was constantly thinking about ways to help customers be successful with the latest VMware solution offerings.

12:48 – A Culmination of Experience and Working for a VAR

  • Sirius Computer Solutions is now part of CDW, which would be considered a VAR or value added reseller. A VAR like a CDW can sell hardware and software solutions to their customers and can provide services to help design, install, and configure a technology solution for a customer.
    • Brandon tells us Calian would also be a VAR in the same way as a company like CDW. A VAR can help customers understand business challenges they are trying to solve with technology, help customers navigate / evaluate different solutions, and help select those which meet the business objectives and needs. A VAR can help a customer procure these solutions, deploy them, and potentially even help customers manage and maintain them over time.
    • Brandon’s collective work experience to this point had allowed him to work with many companies which we would call customers (companies which do not provide technology solutions to other companies but merely consume technology solutions). But the role if you work on the customer side isn’t so different from working for a VAR or consulting firm.
    • “When you are in IT, who’s your customer? Your business….You’re there to be an expert for your customer, which is your internal business, and you should be looking at ways to be disruptive with that technology within your own organization. Don’t just kind of sit back and do your day-to-day systems admin job. Look for avenues where you can learn about new technology yourself, and pursue new certifications yourself, and join community groups so you can…build your brand of who you are….” – Brandon Seymour
    • Brandon is a VMware User Group (or VMUG) Leader and tells people they should be making presentations at their company about new technologies and how those technologies can solve business problems for the company.
      • “Regardless of me, as an architect, coming in and helping you with that solution, you should be doing that for your customer.” – Brandon Seymour
      • If we’re making the case for new technologies inside our own companies, we should be able to extend that to presenting to user groups in our area. Brandon highlights the career advancement we can gain by joining a user group focused on any technology.
    • Nick suggests the jump from being someone working as a systems administrator / solution architect for one company in a specific industry to working at a company like CDW, SHI, or some other consulting firm that allows you to work with many companies in multiple industries isn’t so far.
    • Brandon says people may feel like this jump is bigger than it really is.
      • Are you looking to architect new solutions for you company?
      • Are you presenting those ideas (even if they do not get adopted)?
      • Are you collaborating with other groups inside the organization?
      • Are you seeking to understand how the business works and how different teams within the organization can collaborate?
      • “So if you’re involved in any aspect of that altogether, you’re already kind of doing what I do. I just get to do it for more than one company and more than one industry, which is one of the things I find so appealing about the job that I’m in. The conversations I’m having change from customer to customer…. It changes all the time, so there’s never any boredom in my job.” – Brandon Seymour, on similarities to consulting
    • With the similarities mentioned above, Nick suggests people miss documenting their work both on their resume and LinkedIn.
      • For example, do we document that we developed technical architectures and presented them internally to stakeholders (even if an idea was not approved)? What level were the stakeholders in the organization?
      • Doing the work and not having your idea approve still gains you experience. You are developing a solution to a problem.
      • We likely do not document this as well as we should to show as proof of work for getting a different job.
      • Brandon tells us if you’re not on LinkedIn today you should definitely sign up (which is free)! It’s easy to organize both your certification and work history on your profile, which can be updated as you gain new experience.
      • Nick suggests putting as much relevant experience on LinkedIn as relates to skills and experience. It’s free and discoverable by recruiters, which can lead to unexpected new opportunities.
      • Brandon also mentions the #OpentoWork setting on LinkedIn to let recruiters know you are available for roles they need to fill.

22:00 – Leading a User Group

  • There’s a difference between attending a user group and gaining value from it compared to leading it. Brandon mentioned preciously gaining value from staying connected to his classmates from the computer school. What made Brandon want to shift to be a user group leader?
    • Excitement about VMware technologies fueled Brandon to move in new directions. He wanted to learn more about the technology and meet others getting involved with the technology. It was also about learning from industry peers.
    • “One thing…I don’t necessarily think we realize is that there is a community of people doing the same thing that you are, and they might be going through the same challenges and things that you are. If you don’t have to reinvent the wheel then why reinvent the wheel?” – Brandon Seymour
    • Brandon found there was something called VMware User Group (or VMUG), but there was not one in his area. He knew creating a community would help both him and others, so Brandon reached out to VMUG leadership about becoming a leader. They were able to connect him with other VMUG leaders seeking to build community.
      • At the first meeting Brandon organized, only 3 people showed up.
      • Another important element of community is networking and making professional connections.
      • “Technology is really huge, but the tech community is kind of small. We constantly run into each other over the years in different jobs as we move along and we change.” – Brandon Seymour
      • One of the jobs of a user group leader is to attract more people to meetings and grow the community. Brandon sought to do this by working with VMware to educational opportunities to attendees.
      • Over a 3 year period in the Rochester, New York area they grew to around 300 users. People from other parts of western New York started attending meetings, and it extended beyond learning together into attendees developing relationships with each other.
      • When Brandon started the user group in Rochester, he had no other leaders to help him run it. It was like taking on a whole other job and not sustainable to do alone. Brandon began recruiting others to help him lead the group so they could support one another.
    • Nick mentioned being a user group leader means you’re in charge of coordinating topics for meetings, scheduling presenters, securing a venue, and marketing the event to attendees.
      • “It’s just all for the love of the technology, wanting to get others excited about it as well and…just build that community of individuals that are like minded and want to see their careers grow.” – Brandon Seymour, on being a user group leader
      • Brandon would often open up meetings by addressing attendees and saying “just think about the culmination of knowledge that we all hold in this room on technology.” He stressed the idea of attendees being there to support one another and would encourage people to share what they have learned to ensure the success of other group members.
      • “That’s one thing I loved. We were here to not only have all this knowledge but to help each other grow and not make the same mistakes.” – Brandon Seymour
      • Brandon had learned to ask for help back in the Marine Corps and applied that lesson when seeking to recruit others to help lead the user group.

29:03 – Writing Blogs

  • Even if Brandon wasn’t presenting at a meeting, he was doing public speaking by running the meetings and introducing speakers. What made him want to start writing blogs?
    • Brandon is going on his 11th year as a VMware User Group leader as of the time of this recording.
    • Around the same time Brandon became a user group leader, he decided to write blogs about what he was learning about VMware technologies.
    • “It helped me sort of get my thoughts out there on the technology that I was learning about…. When you start blogging about it and you start talking about the different aspects of it, I think that you just take on a different perspective of the technology altogether.” – Brandon Seymour, on blogging
    • Writing helped Brandon learn more about the technology than just implementing it. It was about sharing what he had learned by embedding himself with the technology so others could learn from his experiences.
  • What advice would Brandon give someone who has thought about blogging but hasn’t started or is fearful of duplicating topics others have already written about?
    • Listen to Brandon’s analogy of driving to a McDonald’s and looking around you to observe what else is there.
    • “Don’t worry that other people have been writing about this for a long time. They are writing it from their perspective…. Write about what is relevant to you right now. Start with your day-to-day job…. People will want to hear that story.” – Brandon Seymour, on blogging
    • Brandon recently encouraged someone to write about a day in the life of a VMware administrator from their perspective (which will be different than the perspectives of others).
    • If you’re working to present a new solution to your company through a presentation, you can take that and turn it into a blog article that is relevant to others. If you worked overnight troubleshooting a problem, write about your experience doing it.
      • Remember to sanitize / scrub anything you share to prevent leaking any information outside your company that is proprietary.
    • “There’s all kinds of different avenues to get started.” – Brandon Seymour, on blogging and writing
  • What if no one reads your blog?
    • Brandon says let the motivation be doing it for you and that there is a benefit regardless of who reads your work.
      • You’re going to learn while writing about your experience and may get additional ideas and insights during the writing process.
      • “Do it for yourself. Look for the benefits that you’re going to get in doing it for you.” – Brandon Seymour
      • Nick highlights discoverability of your work, proof of communication skills, and showing how you think through problems. Someone could find your work and think you are a good fit for a job opening they have.

Mentioned in the Outro

  • Presentations, wherever they are given, start with an idea (just like a conference talk).
  • Nick thinks being a user group leader is a lot like being a technical brand owner because you’re in charge of the go-to-market strategy for the user group as a whole including growing the attendee base and providing value to them in content of meetings.
    • Brandon needed to be part of a community of other user group leaders to have the proper support to keep going and keep building the community group.
  • If you’re a really active member of a user group (in person or online), giving others advice on solutions that helps them solve problems is experience you can claim on a resume / LinkedIn. Are we thinking of our contributions to the greater technology community when writing our resume?
  • Nick provides an example of documenting a disaster recovery project on your resume to show evidence of experience.
  • Blogging is a form of showing your work and documenting your accomplishments.

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