VMworld Europe is next week! This is always the highlight of my year, mostly for 2 reasons: 1) all kinds of awesome new virtualization technology is either announced or released, and reason 2) my favorite; the best minds of the virtualization community gather and share thoughts, learning from each other. In the last 7 years I’ve attended VMworld, there’s a few things I picked up and I wanted to share.

There’s a LOT to do

If you wanted, you could fill up about 6 months full time with all the content that’s available on VMworld. The tricky part is that you only have 3 days (4 of you’re a partner) to be physically present. Let’s have a look at your options:

  • General sessions; All the major vision statements and strategy announcements about all the product lines.
  • Break-out sessions; Deep dives into a certain subject. Most of these are small bootcamps into a specific subject and teach you a lot.
  • Group Discussions; Get together with a group of 20-25 people and talk about a certain subject. There’s a moderator which does the introduction, but you have a chance to contribute here.
  • Hands on Labs; Here you can try out any and all solutions that VMware provides. The HoL team has done an awesome job on create self-paced labs where you can get hands on experience.
  • Training & Exams; There’s a bunch of VMware training going on around VMworld for a good discount (usually 25%), you can also take VMware exams during the conference for the same discount.
  • Solutions Exchange; Talk to all your favorite vendors. They are all on the Solutions Exchange and have a lot to tell you.
  • VM Village; Relax, play some games, take a nap, meet up with your friends.
  • Meet the Experts; Have a quick 1 on 1 with your favorite VMware expert, ask them a couple of questions.
  • Evening Schedule; Everyone’s throwing a party, some are epic, some are less epic, but guaranteed fun.

I’ve probably missed a bunch of activities, but I think I’ve made my point. There’s a LOT to do at VMworld. So how do you decide on what you’re going to spend your time on?

Deciding

VMworld started where all activities where exclusively on the conference itself, you needed to be there or be square. Throughout the years, this has changed. The break-out sessions are recorded and posted online after the conference. The Hands on Labs are also available online and on demand. So unless you don’t have enough bandwidth to stream these activities, or have a valid reason of doing those on the conference (if you have questions that you want to ask the presenters/lab proctors), you can save a lot of time in the conference week itself by postponing them to after the conference.

Preparation

While some people will cringe at preparation for a conference, for me it is key. I’ll tell you why. Over the years, I’ve learned that if you want to make the most of the limited 3 days you have during the conference, you need to plan a few things out (not all, just a few). Here’s a couple of questions I ask myself a few weeks before the conference;

  • What is the learning focus of this year?
  • Who do I want to meet this year?

During answering these questions, I do the following things:

What is the learning focus of this year?

You cannot deep dive on every VMware technology, it will be too much information and the chance of retaining most of it is slim to none. So pick an area on which you want to focus, for example; End User Computing, vSphere, Networking or Storage. When you’ve chosen your focus, you can go on the hunt for a couple of deep dive break-out sessions. Do the background checks on the presenters to make sure they are credible (so that you’re actually are going to learn from them) and come up with a couple of questions for them. Either ask those during the sessions Q&A or go up to them after the session has ended.

If you want to focus on more than 1 technology, only do deep dives on 1 or 2 subjects. More than that, prioritize the technology for yourself and determine on which you want to do a deep dive and which will be about getting an introduction. When doing introductions, go to a single overview breakout session and fire up a lab in the HoL room and ask questions to the proctors.

Who do I want to meet this year?

This is a big one for me. As mentioned, some of the smartest guys and gals ascend onto VMworld and you have an opportunity to connect with them. Bloggers, engineers, technologists, VMware employees, all kinds of interesting folks, of which you can learn a great deal. You’ve seen them around on the interwebs, you’ve read their articles and agreed wholeheartedly or disagreed with some of it and have questions around their content. This is it, you can connect to them right here and now.

Make a list of people that you’d like to meet. You know, the ones that you’ve been on the verge of cyberstalking, you know who. Try not to put people on the list who you can meet locally. Think of a few questions and subjects per person you’d like to talk about.

Reach out to those people via twitter, email, smoke signals, post-dove, etc., to ask them for 10-15 minutes of their time during the conference and tell them you want to talk about the specific subject you’ve thought of. You’ll see that all of them will respond amicably and will try to give you some time. Expect some disappointments though, as some would already have their schedule filled up to the brim with other engagements. When getting positive reactions, suggest a time and a place for the meet-up. Make it easy for them; are they presenting a breakout session? Know that in advance and plan around it.

When meeting up, try to think that they’re regular people (because they are!) and make a connection based on the questions/subjects you wanted to talk about. Be respectful of the 10-15 minutes you originally asked and ask if you can continue the discussion via email if you run out of time. Good way of prolonging the discussion and possibly making a new friend. In any case, try to make and keep the connection to these people, so you can learn down the line as well.

Conclusion

While this is obviously a opinionated post, I’ve found these methods to work very well over the last years. Made some awesome new friends, learned a ton. The social interactions is the only aspect of VMworld that’s really exclusive, as most other content will be made available after the conference.

Whatever you do, have fun while doing it!

More Tips:

p.s. I know it’s a bit late for anyone to use this methodology this year, but I’ve had this post in my head for the past 2 years. ;-)