I sat down with industry veteran Matt Leib at NetApp Insight to discuss his career in IT and advice for people building their career in the industry. Scroll down to see the transcript.
Here’s the transcript:
Matt Leib: Right now I work for Connection Enterprise where I am what’s known as a TSE. Basically, an architect but I solve business problems with technology, whereas many of our solutions architects solve technological problems with technology. And it’s good to have those separate approaches.
I started my career in 1986, managing the computer department at a Radio Shack, and then for many years, I ran the VMware Environment at Zurich Insurance. I’ve worked for a couple of consultancies, including my own. And then I’ve also worked at the larger vendors in the industry, including VMware, and EMC in the past.
Right now though, Connection is a value-added reseller, which is a term I don’t much care for, a systems integrator, and we are really concentrating on making sure that our customers get the best solution for their needs, which could have a million different touch-points. Their needs could be, how much it costs. It could be, a solution that supports Object Storage, or off-loads to the Cloud. It could be any number of particular solutions, and it’s my job to suss out what those needs are, and come up with a technological solution that helps them get where they wanna go.
Neil Anderson: So let’s talk a bit about your career history. So you must have seen a lot of changes occurring over the years. Yeah, what’s the main changes you’ve seen?
Matt Leib: Well, I guess that the biggest change in this industry over the course of the last 10 or 15 years is the advent of the Cloud, and how virtualization specifically has impacted all of those changes. And certainly it’s a big talking point for me, and for my customers. How do I get myself from where I am in my traditional, on-premises Data Centre, into a hybrid solution, or even in certain cases, an all Cloud-based, Cloud-native scenario?
Lately I’ve been having a lot more conversations about how do I bring some of those Cloud-based apps back into the data centre, for whatever objection they may have. And a lot of the time those objections are cost-based because certainly we know that those services don’t come free.
Neil Anderson: Previously in a data centre environment or a large corporate environment there were fixed job roles. You would have the networking team, storage team and server team, and people generally just worked in their particular role.
So when making a career, you knew what you had to learn. I think it could seem quite overwhelming if you were coming into the industry now, because there’s so many things that you need to learn about.
Matt Leib: I think technology is making a big change though in how we do approach those things, right? It’s easier to provision storage. Before, provisioning a LUN was a multi, multi-step process, and learning how to do it took days.
And you only got used to it if you did it on a regular basis. Today, to hook up an all flash array within your VMware environment you can do it in less than an hour. And that’s not as a solutions architect, that’s the guy who racks and stacks in your data centre.
So yeah, you’re right, it was very siloed and certainly the virtualization side was the one that I specialised in initially; in fact, I was actually one of the first five thousand VCPs.
Neil Anderson: How many are there now?
Matt Leib: Oh, hundreds of thousands.
I’ve tried to do my best to maintain those validations and certifications, but I don’t know necessarily that from a knowledge perspective the certification means as much as the understanding of the underlying architecture.
I’m not a network expert, but I understand how to implement the solution. Do I need my VCAP for that? But let’s be fair, we both work in the Channel and our employers get better response from the vendor if we have more people with those certifications. So it is important in some ways.
I started working with VMware when all it was GSX, and we had a great solution. I was running basically Tech Support at a Panasonic Factory Automations company at that point. We were manufacturing chip-inserting machines and logic-board stuff, as well as the devices that you see in automobile factories.
Each one of these devices was run on Windows NT4.0. We’d deploy a fresh image from a template so it was a really quick solution. Obviously, VMware has gone quite a bit beyond that at this point, but really it was lifesaving for us.
I’ve done more projects than I can even imagine, including virtualizing all of AMD many years ago, that was probably the first big VDI project. I’ve architected some of the largest VDI environments in the world back when I worked for EMC. I really love the challenge. It becomes the ammunition and fuel that drives me, which is one of the reasons I like working in the Channel side of the operation. I get to choose what I believe are the best solutions for the needs the customer has, without having to isolate myself to a particular product line to do it.
Sometimes the customer says “all I want is an AWS Cloud Solution.” So my hands are tied in certain directions about how I can help them approach that. But that’s their decision, not mine.
Neil Anderson: Both of us have been working in the IT field for a long time. So if we’re talking to a potential employer or to a customer, they’re not going to care so much about our certification because we’ve got a lot of experience. But how about people that are just looking to break into the IT field? What would you advise people that are looking to break in right now?
Matt Leib: I think it’s a really tough avenue to break into, and I do think that actually getting a key cert can help and gives you some credibility. I’ve recommended that in the past.
When I started out, the people that were doing networking were people that were setting IPX networks up in their home so they could do gaming with their friends.
Some people get into the systems architecture through generating code. And you can teach yourself to code, even the newer, interesting, high-level languages.
But I think that the best advice that I could possibly give to somebody looking to break in, although certifications are important, is to pursue your passion. To take whatever avenue makes the most sense for you.
I was telling you earlier today about a very key conversation I once had…. my career was floundering a bit, and I just didn’t know how to pursue this upcoming job search. I sat down with Kat Troyer, who’s unbelievably well-thought through career advisor, among many other positive attributes. And she said to me, essentially, “What do you like doing?” Not what are you good at, but what do you like doing?
And that got me thinking in that direction, and by knowing what I liked doing, I was able to actually take a mild turn in what I actually was doing, away from the engineering, which had gotten mundane for me, and into the advocacy side, the assistance in architecture to my customers. It really made a big difference for me.
I also write a lot, and she asked me “Do you like writing?” I said, “Actually, the truth is I would love to write full-time. I don’t know how I could monetize that, and pay for putting food on my table.” She said, “Well, maybe you can incorporate it into what you already do.” And that has helped to customise my approach towards my blog and develop a more unique voice.
I think that the people that read my stuff understand that, what they’re going to be getting from me is not the knob-turning nuts and bolts stuff, but more of the over-arching goals of a particular piece of technology, and then solutions that might come into play.
That’s not to say that the other side of the equation isn’t every bit as valid, it’s just that what I want to communicate is that side of the features, advantages, and benefits of why you might choose this technology over another, as opposed to how do you get this particular piece of technology to tweak to the highest extent or something along those lines.
So I pursued my blog and the direction I wanted to as well. And it’s about following … I know it’s so cliché, but following your bliss. Because the happier you are doing something, whether you’re doing it for yourself or for someone else, the better you’re going to do it. The more value you’re going to bring to the table. And hopefully other people will see that value, as well.
Neil Anderson: Yeah, something I’ve seen sometimes over the years is people chasing the money. I don’t think that makes you happy. It helps, but if you’re in a really high-paying job that you hate, you’re not going to be as happy as if you’re doing something that you love, getting whatever that pays.
Matt Leib: So I don’t disrespect anybody who chooses to pursue the money. Especially if the money is what makes them happy, right? And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, where it gets wrong is, are you taking advantage of people in order to earn your money? And I know it sounds Pollyanna, but I just don’t like to take advantage of people. That is how I approach these things.
I want to help, I want people to see me as a part of their team, right? I want them to feel that when they open up a dialogue with me about a particular piece of technology, or a particular whatever, that they’re going to get a well-reasoned and insightful answer. And that, ultimately if they choose what I have recommended to them, that they’re going to come back again and they’re going to continue to use the company I represent, and lean on me for my technological perspective.
All I do is try to learn about new stuff, and ‘scriptotherapy’, that is writing about it. As I write about a particular piece of technology, or whatever it is, to me it helps me to think about who might benefit, and how they might benefit. And then it’s written so I can just say to my customer, “Well, let’s talk about X, Y, Z brand of storage, and in fact if you’re really interested in it, here’s a blog post that I wrote, and here’s another one that my friend wrote that talks about this stuff. And we have different perspectives but we’re giving you a well-rounded view.”
Or, “Here’s a video from a field day, or a tech day that I attended, where the speaker speaks most eloquently about this particular piece of technology.” And that knowledge, not only of what we do as Connection Enterprise is, but what the vendors do, and what my peers are doing, and what the field day events do, and the people presenting, is invaluable as not only a resource for me, but for my customers.
Neil Anderson: I get emails on a daily basis from people that are looking to break in to the industry, asking for advice. Another one I get is people that have just done their first certification who ask “What should I do next?”
Matt Leib: Well, there’s value to having those certs, but a cert without practising that technology is not going to get you anywhere, and you’re going to be asked about it in your interview process … Say you’ve got your NCDA, and you know your interviewer is a NetApp shop, if you answer pat questions taken specifically off that NCDA certification, you’re not really giving any value.
One of my favourite words is parsimony, and it’s like an Occam’s razor philosophy. If you hear hoof beats, you don’t think zebras, you think horses, right?
So the idea is, if say, an end-point has lost connectivity, right? And I was asked this question once in an interview. What’s the first thing you do? Well, I guess I’d probably sit down at that end-point, open up a DOS prompt and see if I could ping something. If I couldn’t ping, the next thing I’d do is probably reboot that workstation. Of course I would ensure that all the work was saved on it, at least locally, because it’s not seeing the network, right?
But it’s parsimony, use your logic to answer these questions and think, what is the easiest and most efficient course of action in solving these problems. And a lot of people that just have certs, they don’t think through a problem in that manner, in order to solve it expeditiously, right? Our job is to solve these problems as rapidly as possible. Close those help desk tickets and move on.
And if a device can’t print, it may be a driver, but if nothing changed on that … There’s a good question: what’s changed between when it worked and when it doesn’t? Some people don’t think like that, right? I installed this plug-in to my email. Was it an authorised installation? No, it came in through a piece of email. Well, that’s a good piece of knowledge for the technician to have. Shut that thing off. Re-image it as soon as you can, or pull all the data off when it’s isolated from the network.
Listen more than you talk. But try to get a handle on really all that relevant information before you try to solve an issue. But certainly, if you think this workstation is passing out malware of some sort, get it off the network immediately.
Neil Anderson: Okay, well Matt, I wanna be respectful of your time. I guess we’ve been talking for a while now. Whoa, it’s 20 minutes already! That flew by.
Matt Leib: Oh believe me, I’m a talker.
Neil Anderson: I’ll wrap up here, thanks very much for your time.
Matt Leib: Oh, of course.