Culture
An Interview with the Top 5 vBloggers

Each year, Eric Siebert over at vSphere-Land provides a really groovy service to the community in the form of a Top vBlog voting contest. It’s a way for bloggers and podcasters within the virtualization community to gain recognition from peers and readers for sharing their knowledge. This year, I thought it would be interesting to send out a few questions to the Top 5 vBloggers to tickle their brain a bit over what keeps their creative juices flowing. Perhaps their answers to the following three questions will offer some insights to you as you look towards starting or furthering your own writing habits!

Q1. The Top vBlog voting is driven by both quality and quantity of your writing content. How do you balance work, life, family, and everything else while still creating posts that meet these criteria?

Q2. Where do you derive inspiration to craft content, and how do you then frame it into a coherent post that makes sense to your audience? Essentially – what is your process?

Q3. Looking back on all of the posts you’ve written, what is your favorite (or least favorite) article and why?

Cormac Hogan

 

A1: I see this as part of my role, Chris. My blog posts are simply write-ups of what I do on a daily basis. For the past couple of years, I have been an interface between customers/field and our engineering/PMs for VSAN. I get requests such as “how does VSAN ..” and “why does VSAN …” and I investigate the reasons. If I can figure it out, great – I let the requester know. Then, I write it up for the next person who might have the same question. If I can’t figure it out, I reach out to engineering, and they usually have some good nuggets of info that I feel is worth sharing with everyone. Its also a little selfish on my behalf as the next person who asks me this question can simply be directed to the post 😀

I would also admit that I’ve got a little more relaxed about publishing content from where I was four years ago. Back then, I’d sweat over pushing the publish button on any post. Now, I don’t worry quite so much – I’ll just edit it afterwards if there is something not quite right. But, it is true what they say – “the best way to spot a typo in a blog post is to publish it”.

A2: If someone needs to ask a question about how something works or how to use something, then we haven’t done a good job in our docs. I see the blog as a way of filling in the gaps between our product documentation, and what you need to know to be successful with a product. For some reason, I do seem be able to write coherently, which is always a plus for a blogger.

A3: Well, there is that joint Rubrik/VSAN white paper post! Only kidding – to be honest, I don’t have a least favourite. You never know what is going to be useful and what isn’t. Sometimes the quick article that you knock out in 5 minutes becomes something that is used over and over again. Other articles where you spend time interviewing folks, making a nice diagram, and you sweat over for hours and days, hardly gets any readership.

Duncan Epping (Yellow Bricks)

 

A1. In the past, there was no real balance to be honest. When I started blogging and worked as a consultant, I did most of my writing in the evening, on trains, airplanes, hotel rooms, and weekends. Whenever and wherever. As my role started shifting more towards technical marketing and evangelism, I find myself writing more and more during the day and fortunately less during the evening. Although, most book content is still developed outside of work hours.To be honest, never really thought about finding a balance – it is just part of who I am as I have been blogging (on different topics though) for over 15 years now. As I said my role has shifted, my primary responsibility is evangelism for Storage & Availability within VMware, I basically turned my hobby in to a role.

To be honest, never really thought about finding a balance – it is just part of who I am as I have been blogging (on different topics though) for over 15 years now. As I said my role has shifted, my primary responsibility is evangelism for Storage & Availability within VMware, I basically turned my hobby in to a role.

A2. It used to be all based on issues and experiences at customer sites and at my day-to-day job. Now it is mainly based on questions and conversations I have with customers and colleagues. Mainly because I don’t deliver “anything” to customers in terms of projects / implementations any longer. I occasionally spend time in the lab, but most time is spent talking to people and based on that I come up with articles. In many cases, it is a simple tweet that sparks an idea or a VMTN community post.

A3. Definitely my favorite has to be the vSphere HA Deepdive series. I think this is where it all started for me really as I started writing about something that interested many people (vSphere HA is the most used feature in vSphere with vMotion as a very close second). I also had a lot of material to share based on my experience in the field and conversations with developers through email etc. I really saw a big bump in traffic and interest.

Not sure I have a least favorite. I think one thing that has struck me is that you never know how things will go down. Sometimes you write a post which you feel is awesome, and you get 3 retweets and 1 comment. Other times, you write a post which you feel is not adding much, and you get 67 retweets and a dozen comments, and it is the most read for years. You don’t know.

William Lam (virtuallyGhetto)

 

A1. When I had started out, there wasn’t much of a balance. When I was a customer, only a tiny portion of my content was related to my day-to-day job. I had also spent a significant amount of my time helping others in the VMTN Community forums (answering questions/writing scripts), which was all done in my own personal time, usually in the weekends and late evenings. Even when I had joined VMware, blogging was not part of my official MBO and although the content benefited both internal VMware as well as our external customers, much of the research/work was done outside of work.

I guess for me personally, I never really thought about this being a balance since I enjoy learning and sharing what I have learned with others. One thing I will say, is that with the recent addition to our family, the option of weekends for blogging or tinkering in the lab is mostly gone. At least there’s still nights (assuming my daughter sleeps through them), else who needs sleep right? 😉

A2. From the very beginning, my inspiration has always been a mix of personal curiosity and helping others solve challenges through creative solutions or leveraging Automation. This is still true today, whether it helping our internal field folks with customer questions or directly with a customer through the various channels (Twitter, Blog, Email, etc). The approach I take is to first understand the problem and then determine if it has already been solved. If it has, than the next question I ask is whether that was the best solution. Often times, I find that what worked a few years ago may not be applicable anymore or there may be better alternatives.

From here, I then start prototyping my ideas in the lab which some times is a lot of trial and error. This is really where the fun is for me and how I learn, which is by doing. If I am lucky, I will come to a solution and then from here, I spend the remainder amount of time, which can some times be more than the research itself as I want to make sure that I can easily articulate the problem, how I solved it and most importantly making the actual solution super easy to consume whether it is a simple script or series of instructions. I also want to mention that this happens over a period of time and rarely do I get through all of this in one setting. In fact, at any given moment, I may have 5-6 of these going at once in various stages.

I have found that walking away and coming back later will always give me a perspective on something that I did not see before or solving a different problem might help with the current solution.

A3. I have so many favorites but If I had to really pick one, it definitely would be articles related to Nested ESXi/Virtualization. I just find it really fascinating that VMware continues to push the boundaries of their software enabling new use cases that it was never originally intended for which is running our ESXi Hypervisor in a VM. This has allowed our customers to easily evaluate, learn and develop against our portfolio of products from Compute, Network & Storage Virtualization to End User Computing without needing a ton of physical resources. I am constantly amazed at the different use cases that our customers have come up with leveraging this awesome technology that VMware has helped pioneered.

Frank Denneman

 

A1. I think this is the toughest thing to deal with. I don’t have a steady stream of ideas floating around. Typically, it’s blank stares most of the time and then an avalanche of ideas that start to pour in. Remember the boulder scene of Indiana Jones Raiders of the lost Ark. Yeah, twice the size of that boulder. And with this thing coming at you, you have to deal with life as well. Kids, friends, work and the state of your lab. It’s cosmic balance, the complexity of the idea determines the severity of the state of the lab is in. Therefore, I don’t see it as a balance, or not a thing I strive for, it just happens and you make the most of it.

Being organized helps a lot, having a tool that allows you to store and access your ideas wherever you are, keeps me sane. At home, I have a big whiteboard where I draw and mind map my ideas and questions. Once I have formulated the question I want to answer, I move it into OneNote which I can access everywhere. Sometimes an idea takes a few weeks to becomes an article, sometimes the thoughts keep flowing, and it’s done in a day.

A2. Typically, I get the inspiration after talking to customers, people from the community, or friends who work in IT. I always look for not evident correlations or hidden dependencies. That means a lot of testing is involved and a crazy amount of reading. Typically most content on the web is a copy of a copy of a copy, so either most information is diluted or not entirely correct. Therefore, I tend to hit up patent documents, vendor white papers, academic papers, and if possible engineering presentations, such as the Intel developer forums presentations. To get one golden nugget of information, you have to go through pages and pages of dry content. This can be tough and tests your perseverance, or if the content is riddled with amazing content you have to manage the “look! Squirrel” moments. So when I find something, a one-liner or a whole paragraph I copy this in a dump file with OneNote. Later on, I go through this collection to figure out what to test that helps to structure the article. When dealing with diagrams, I sketch on paper, whiteboard and then eventually digitally using OmniGraffle.

A3. Wow! So many articles that I’m proud of. Not all are consumed equally, but hey that’s life. I think the most favorite is work done for clustering deep dive book. I’m also proud of the memory deep dive I published last year and the NUMA articles I’ve been writing since 2009. It’s incredibly cool to discover your diagrams in official documentation of Intel and AMD.

Chris Wahl (Wahl Network)

 

A1. I tend to focus on a very structured schedule for content creation and use times of the day where I know that I’m better at writing down thoughts (such as the morning). And with anything, practice makes perfect! As I’ve come to learn my flow, style, and have a mental template for how I want to make content look and feel, there’s much less friction to create content as opposed to when I first started. I also don’t sweat it when I can’t get content posted within the timetable that I might like because it’s important to spend time offline doing activities like hiking or being with friends.

A2. Typically, I’m answering my own questions about technology, documenting how I’ve learned something, or publicly answering someone else’s question that has been submitted to me via Twitter or email. Since I’m constantly stumbling on things I don’t know (such as my recent adventures into the world of PowerShell and CI/CD), it’s not too difficult to write about what I’m focused on learning. Plus, I never care if I’m the 1st or 1000th person to write about a topic; I think every voice offers something unique.

A3. I’m really proud of all the work I did to document how NFS works for VMware environments. This is because I was an administrator of a large farm of NFS-fueled VMs and felt like the world was against me in many ways. I didn’t realize that there were so many others doing the same thing until after I posted my discoveries, and now I think NFS is a much more accepted protocol for vSphere environments.

While I don’t have a least favorite post, I do look back on some of my earlier work and wonder … what I was thinking! It’s fun to see my thought processes change from year to year as I changed careers, focuses, and learned a wider variety of technologies. 🙂



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