Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Work From Home Road Warrior

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter recently with Matthew Norwood(@matthewnorwood), David Gee (@VTEP42) and @cciejourney about commuting, work environments and pros and cons. I thought I’d blog a bit more about my perspective.  As I thought about it more, I think I fall into an unusual category of a Work from Home Road Warrior. The two seem to be diametrically opposed, but it's my life.

It's a lot less this

and probably a lot more of this:

First, let’s start with my background.  If you want all of the gory details, I did a fun author series post with Jeff Fry here:  The TL;DR version, I worked in a factory environment for a few months and *hated* it. So mind numbing doing the same repetitive thing day after day. Not for me at all….:) I worked for a PC retailer then some VARs before going to a large global financial then to Cisco and finally VMware. 

My early career was driving all over Ohio and Indiana doing network implementations and server installs. I loved it because the projects were short term and it wasn’t long before I had a change of pace and scenery. My time at the bank was super valuable to me, but the sameness of every day (commute, meetings, commute, repeat ad nauseam) didn’t work for me. I learned a ton on that job though and met some great people. That environment just wasn’t for me. 

Working for Cisco and now VMware I am back on the road with every day being a new adventure. It could be a few conference calls, followed by emails, WebEx on product updates, design sessions with customers, playing in the lab or all of the above! There is always something going on and at some point you have to draw the line as to when work starts and stops. Some weeks are easier than others but overall it's very well rounded if you do it right. 

Let’s be honest, is every day unicorns and awesomeness?  Nope. I’m writing this as I rot in Port Columbus, my home airport, with a delayed flight that is forcing me to get to my destination 4 hours later than I planned.  It is what it is, though. I’m trading being stuck in traffic for being stuck in an airport with the key difference being that I am able to write this while stuck vs. sitting in a car and getting my blood boiling!  

One of the neat benefits of working from home would be that I am around my family. Since I’ve had a flexible schedule for years my kids are used to me working from home and know to not come into the office when the door is closed. Otherwise I enjoy being able to pop in on them during school (they do online school) between calls or when I need a break. We are able to eat lunch together, share a coffee with my wife and be around more than I would if I had an office job.  The flip side is that when I am on the road, I’m not there.  Sounds obvious, but rarely is it not that binary. When I'm home, I'm home, when I'm not, I'm not. I think it’s a good mix for our family as long as it is kept in bounds and not on the road all week, every week.

One drawback is the lack of "general socialization" that you have in an office environment. When I worked for Cisco we had a local office and I would visit once a week or so and work in the lab, go to lunch with some of the SEs and stay in touch with the local teams. It was nice to stay in touch and also bounce ideas and conversations around with peers. At VMware my closest official office is in Reston, VA.  A quick 1 hour flight or 8 hours drive. Not exactly easy to pop in for lunch and chit chat.  So how do I deal with this? Good question, I am still sorting it out. I can be a loner pretty easily, it's been my nature for a long time but after talking with some friends in San Francisco while we recorded a video (separate upcoming blog post) I really realized how much I miss that peer group. I'll figure something out.   On a side note, I'm going to lunch this Friday with some of the old Cisco friends and am really excited about it. Good to know friendships can survive job changes.I also stay in contact with a few other close friends with phone calls, texts and funny emails.

Is working from home for everyone?  Not at all.  Some people need or want the separation between work and family. Others have told me there is no way they’d be able to work from home with their kids. It just varies depending on your job, focus and desires. As for me, I wouldn’t trade it for a “desk job” but who knows what the future holds.  Will I retire from a vendor role? Possibly.  Will I go work for a local company someday? Maybe. For now, I’ll enjoy the perks, take the lumps when them come and as the poster in my office says “Keep calm and carry on!”

Monday, December 14, 2015

Traveling with kids – Tips and Tricks to Success

This blog post has been something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time and apparently, now is the *right* time to do it. Let me start by stating that my wife and I love to travel. No really, I mean we love to travel. It’s something we’ve enjoyed doing together and our honeymoon was our first really big trip where we spent one month in Europe. We started in London and Rome was our departure point and we tried to see as much as we could in between. We were hooked after realizing International travel wasn’t a huge, scary impossible deal. Keep in mind this was pre-Euro and smartphone. Old school travel – books, talking with people and in general we were making it up as we went along and we still loved it! The next few years saw us have the opportunity to visit Peru, a long weekend trip to Monaco and a cruise. We were always saving money for the next trip and planning ahead.

After we decided to start a family, we assumed our days of international travel were through. How could you take kids on a trip like that?! We decided we’d stay a bit more local in our travels and with our first child, we traveled to San Antonio and then a cruise to the Mexican Rivera. We realized that with some planning and a reduced sightseeing itinerary we could actually make this work. As we had more kids we continued to refine our travel processes and planning and didn’t let the fact we had kids slow down our ambitions. Quite the opposite, the kids love to travel as much as we do. Is it always unicorns and puppies? No, but with planning and patience we make it work. Here are some tips that work for us.

First the most common question is what about the long flights on the plane? How can you survive and not go crazy? Quite simply – the art of distraction is key. The same things you like to do to make the flight faster work for kids too. Well, maybe if your idea of dealing with an international flight is hammer back 8 drinks and pass out – that won’t work well when traveling with kids. ;)

When the kids were younger a backpack of *quiet* toys, books, coloring books crayons, snacks and blankies, teddy bears, etc are key. As they get older, electronics with games, favorite shows and a set of headphones coupled with the in-flight entertainment go a long way. Let’s be honest, will this work for all kids all of the time? No – they have bad days just like adults do. Long haul trans-oceanic flights can be particularly challenging as not everyone can agree on the idea that adjusting to the time zone in your destination starts on the plane. Hopefully exhaustion kicks in and they sack out eventually. Common sense ideas like avoid caffeine and sugar are important too. At the end of the day, you know your child better than anyone and adjust accordingly. Also if your kid is a hellion in public chances are they will be one on a plane too. Maybe a road trip would be good for your family. :)

On the plane:
• Backpack full of quiet toys, books, coloring books, etc. for the kids
• Comfort items if the flight is during the night or a nap time
• Snacks – kids love to boredom eat. Avoid things that will get them wired with sugar and junk
• Older kids – electronics and headsets

Once you get to your destination, keep in mind things that interest your kids, too. Not every 5 year old is excited to spend all day at the Llouve or British Museum. Take things in small chunks and remember, it’s always good to have things to come back and see again! Right or wrong we don’t dominate our vacations with every kid friendly tourist trap or the swimming pool. Our idea of vacation is a good mix of sightseeing, fun, Geocaching and relaxing. We don’t slug at the beach for a week. We don’t go to the same place year after year. That’s just not us. If it works for you, rock on.

At your destination
• Don’t tackle the world with a 10 mile 24 hour sightseeing death march
• Mix fun things for kids with the educational, boring stuff
• Try Geocaching – see earlier blog posts for some of our adventures

Finally, patience is a virtue. Those who know me are probably laughing as my patience is in short demand, but I have learned that losing your cool with your kids when stressing about traveling rarely helps things. Hopefully, your spouse is as awesome as mine and can tell when things aren’t going according to plan and helps keep the kids in order while the situation gets sorted.

Given the news recently I am sure some are worried about safety. We are too but I am a firm believer in *not* letting the terrorists win by staying home. That’s exactly what they want. Get out there, be smart about your surroundings and enjoy the world. Carpe diem, life is too short to put travel with your family off forever.

Share your tips below!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

IP Multicast LiveLessons Published!

I am excited to say that a project that was long in the making has finally seen the light of day. I’m referring to the new CiscoPress LiveLessons title – “IP Multicast Fundamentals” that I recorded in July of 2015. The background for this project is one that has many starts and stops, delays, and format changes. For the TL;DR crowd click here.

This project started as a hallway conversation during the recording of the CiscoPress NX-OS LiveLesson videos we did in San Francisco. Our editor, Denise, asked us how we liked the recording experience and if we would do it again. Truly I had a good time recording and so was eager to do it again. We discussed ideas for other titles and multicast seemed like a great area to focus as it causes a lot of confusion. I went home and eventually assembled a proposal and we were in contact with a plan to deliver in early 2015. On a parallel track I changed jobs from Cisco to VMware and needed to focus on my new role. Denise and the CiscoPress team were amazingly understanding and were flexible with the delivery schedule. We also changed the format from an official studio recording to a new “workshop” format where the session is recorded in a classroom/seminar environment with an audience. This was a great option for me as it allowed me to compress the time to record from 3 days to 1 long day and since I usually present and speak to a room of people it was more comfortable.

I balanced content creation, where I used VIRL heavily as I no longer had access to racks and racks of gear like I did in the past, with a new role and new technology. VMware and my direct manager was great in understanding what I was doing and giving me some flexibility to get it done. I had a lot of fun working with VIRL to show IOS, IOS-XE and NX-OS multicast configurations. Always a geek at heart I like building networks and moving beyond the PowerPoint.  With the lab topologies and decks all finished I was headed to New York City to record!
Those who follow me on Twitter or know me personally know that my family like to travel and I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity for us to have a fun weekend in the Big Apple. We flew in Friday and enjoyed a weekend of sightseeing and walking around New York in beautiful weather. On Monday it was time to record so I went to the Pearson office where the CiscoPress team had filled the room with local technical people who were interested in learning more.

It was a lot of fun and we had some great Q&A during the day. The one issue that arose was the amount of time it took for me to execute the labs so we decided we’d record them later and not make the audience and filming crew suffer through my prep and setup for each lesson. It may look easy in the video, but each CLI clip was probably close to 30 minutes of prep and validation before recording! Here's a view from my perspective and then one from when I was speaking.

Once we were done my family and I enjoyed a great dinner with Gideon Tam (@mfmahler) at Mario Batali’s Eataly – such great food and such great company. Gideon is a super nice guy and I hope to return the favor of his hospitality if given the chance.

The only thing left was to record the CLI segments that I couldn’t do in the classroom setting. This ended up being a good learning experience for me in audio quality. I tried using multiple DSP enabled headsets which didn’t work as well at filtering out background noise as I had hoped. I ended up investing in a Blue Yeti, a microphone stand and a pop filter. This combination sounded fantastic (after some trial and error). I was impressed how much background noise the Yeti would pickup. We have 4 kids and 3 cats ion the house so getting *true* quiet is difficult. My wife and family being the fantastic support that they are, gave me multiple hours of quiet when they’d go to the zoo, go swimming, or something else. I recorded some clips at night as well when everyone was asleep. As it was summer and I live in the Midwest it gets hot. Turning off the air conditioning in the house when recording made for some warmer than expected sessions as well.
Now with the sessions done, the CLI segments recorded and everything backed up two or three times I was in a wait and see mode for a few weeks while the stellar A/V crew did their magic with the video. Each lesson has gone through multiple levels of review by pros for audio and video as well as reviewed by me. It’s quite a process and leads to a quality product.

It has been a long, fun journey and not without some competitive drama but in the end, we prevailed. Hopefully people will enjoy and learn a lot from these videos. I put together an agenda of the most common Multicast topics and tried to steer clear of some of the more esoteric multicast capabilities. I am sure some will wish we had gotten deeper but remember, this is a fundamentals course. Multicast EVPN and interdomain multicast are not fundamental in my book. ;)

I hope the videos are helpful and for those who are wondering what it next – stay tuned. I am already hip-deep in the next projects which should be equally fun! Please check it out here: CiscoPress

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Joys of a Mileage Run

I’m writing this post while 37,000 feet above Manitoba and Ontario provinces of Canada and thought I might try to help people understand what and why I’ve done what I’ve done. First, let’s define a mileage run. Simply put a mileage run is a trip booked with the main purpose to accumulate frequent flyer miles with an airline in pursuit of a higher tier status. The goal would be to do it at a very low cost since you are not using OPM (Other People’s Money – like your employer for example) and maximize your miles. Some go for a high pain threshold and have multiple segments and bounce all over. My preference was for as few connections as possible with as many miles as I could get.

The search began months ago when I realized my domestic travel was getting me miles, but not nearly as many as I needed to maintain 1K status with United Airlines. I needed 100,000 miles or 120 segments and $12,000 in spend in calendar year 2015 to keep 1K for 2016. I was over on spend and was around 80,000 miles and 85 segments. No way did I want to try for 120 segments – that’s the hard, painful way to get there in my opinion. I had a good start to the year with a trip to Italy in January for vacation and then west coast trips for work training and new employee stuff. As I settled into my new role, the number of flights were there, but the miles were much, much lower. The solution was a mileage run.

I started looking at one of my favorite forums on the Internet, Flyertalk, and reviewing the Mileage Run forum but none of the dates worked for me, or were to destinations I didn’t want to visit or needed a visa. I used Google flights and found a good price on a round trip to Hong Kong that met my requirements in cost, timing and most importantly, miles. I was able to get a round trip CMH-ORD-HKG-EWR-CMH that would net ~17,000 miles for ~$400. The cost was lowered to $400 as I was able to apply a voucher for a problem earlier in the year and it was part of their “apology” to me. I had to clear it with the CEO (my wife) and sell her one the value.

Why is 1K important to me? Having one of the higher status with the airline gives me a few benefits including 6 Global upgrades which on the right tickets will allow me to upgrade from Economy to Business Class. I also get earlier boarding (Group 1), a higher multiplier on miles I earn when I fly, free checked bag and priority access at the airport at the airport counter and in TSA lines. I also have access to a special phone number to call when things go sideways and I need help as well as access to an email service called 1K Voice that can help with some items. I also get Marriott Gold and Hertz Presidential Circle status as part of 1K. My family has flown with me on many trips for free due to the miles and we’ve experienced the benefits of free checked bags, priority handling and more over the years. The benefits are real and tangible to us so yeah, 1K is a good thing for our family.

Once booked, it was a matter of waiting for the weekend to come and it did. I left home Friday at 6AM to go to the airport. I had already checked in the day before so went through security and flew to Chicago. I had a long layover in ORD so went to the United Club and took one of my favorite seats where I can watch the planes taxi around and right next to a gate that usually has a 747 or 777 parked at it. I took some conference calls, sent many emails, talked on Twitter and worked on some documents before it was time to board. Remember those global upgrades I mentioned, mine had cleared so I knew I’d be flying for 15 hours in business class. This is a HUGE upgrade from Economy+. I’ve flown plenty of BIS (butt in seat) miles in E+ all over the world and know what a blessing it is to have business.
I settled into my seat 6D which was a rear facing seat but it’s one that will allow me to lay down. I had planned to get all kinds of work done on the way over. Since I was not staying long I didn’t want to adjust to the time there (12 hours ahead of home) so connected to the Internet, emailed with Julie, watch movies and got caught up on some neglected email aliases at work. The dinner service was fantastic and I enjoyed the salad, salmon and rice followed by a cheese course and some port before an ice cream sundae to finish it off. I could get used to this! After the feast I settled in for some sleep and got a few hours in before I woke up. Apparently I missed the mid-flight meal though no worry as I was still full from the earlier service. More work, more shows (Game of Thrones) and it wasn’t too long before it was breakfast service. 15 hours sounds like an eternity until you fly it in moderate comfort and it goes by quickly.

Once we landed in Hong Kong I cleared customs and went exchange some money into Hong Kong Dollars. My plan was to go to the hotel and check in, then take the MTR to Kowloon station and walk around, enjoy the harbor for a few hours, maybe take a Star Ferry over to Central before going back to the hotel to clean up and take off. I went to the desk for Marriott and they called a transfer for me and then walked me to car and drove me to the hotel. This was all free and for being a Marriott Gold (mid- tier status) they were treating me like I was a big deal. I love the Asian service mindset – makes US and Europe look bad. I was met at the hotel door by the Executive Lounge staff who walked me to the room and made sure everything was in order. They had upgraded me to a suite and it was nice!

I turned on the TV and noticed that there was a message that Typhoon Flag 3 had been hoisted. Crap. The rain outside wasn’t just normal rain, it was part of a typhoon. After looking at the weather map, it seemed like staying at the hotel was the plan. I got cleaned up and went to the Executive Lounge where I enjoyed some breakfast (for me!) coffee and chatted with Julie. She encouraged me to stay at the hotel and not wander around Kowloon in a typhoon. Bummer. I was looking forward to some sightseeing. Not to be this time of year it seems. Last time I was in Hong Kong was in mid-September in 2014 and they had a typhoon then. The one in 2014 was much stronger as the city shut down for a few days. This was just a Flag 3 (Read more about their system here:

So I hung out in the hotel room, took a nap, did some work, played Clash of Clans and in general killed time. I got cleaned up and headed to breakfast at the Executive Lounge which opened at 6AM and enjoyed some more coffee, dragonfruit and pineapple. I packed up and headed to the airport early since there wasn’t much else to do. I killed more time in the United Club and talked with Julie some more. I knew I would be sitting for 15 more hours so walked around the terminal quite a bit. Hong Kong airport is neat to watch planes as you have a huge mix from all over the world. Jumbos from far-away places to smaller planes from nearby destinations.

We were delayed due to weather initially for 95 minutes, but they revised the delay to 60 minutes as we got closer. I boarded and similar to the trip over, had used a Global to upgrade to Business class. I watched some Silicon Valley episodes and Office Space during lunch/dinner. It was another salad, steak, mashed potatoes and veggies followed by a cheese course. I skipped the port this time and went with a new offering, Buffalo Trace bourbon, as a nightcap. Very good bourbon and I had just been near their distillery earlier in the week. I got about 5 hours of sleep so that was nice. I wasn’t in the mood for work so watched The Wild with Reese Witherspoon. I’d like to hike the PCT but not for the same reasons. I think anyone who through hikes a big trail like that is awesome. Appalachian, PCT, John Muir, or any of the others would be a ton of fun. I would love to do a family hike of the Camindo Santiago de Compostela so we’ll see. Some day…..

So with just a few more hours to go and less than 1,000 miles to Newark what do I think of my first mileage run? In short, I enjoyed it but I like flying for flying’s sake. I still think it is fun to board a plane, take off and see different places, even if for only a short while. The renewed status will help for my day job when things get hairy I need help from the airline. I had originally wanted to bring either Julie or one of our kids. We couldn’t afford to have everyone go and for a long flight for a short stay it wouldn’t make sense to the younger two at all. I talked about it with Julie and she wanted to go but we knew the kids would want one of us around. Based on earlier conversations with the kids, I figured the two youngest wouldn’t want to go if Julie didn’t go and our oldest daughter didn’t want to go to Singapore earlier this year for a weekend getaway as she said it was too far. So the thought was to offer it up to all four but only one, our oldest son, might really want to go. Imagine my surprise when I offered it and they *all* wanted to go even if Julie wasn’t going! LOL. You never can tell with kids, they keep you guessing and on your toes. In the end I was the only one who went but it was a lonely trip. I didn’t have any work colleagues to meet up with and nobody to share the small experiences with. Maybe next time. ;)

I’ll leave it at this unless anything exciting happens in Newark or on the final segment.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Thoughts on VMworld 2015

It’s in the books and everyone is home and back to normal from VMworld 2015 and I thought I’d share some thoughts on it from a networking guy’s perspective. This was my 2nd VMworld, with the first one I went to being in Vegas when Cisco launched Nexus 1000v.  This was a very different experience and here’s why.

First, I hate to admit this, but I was worried about going. Would I know anyone there? Would there be sessions I could get into? Would I have fun and be busy or bored and waiting for sessions to be over and parties to start? Truly, this isn’t my 1st large conference I’ve attended as an employee.  Having been a veteran of Networkers/Cisco Live and speaking at them all over the world for the last 4 years, the conference “gig” isn’t new to me. This was different though because it was VMware, not a company and base technology that I had been around for 20+ years. I still feel like a newb in the virtualization space as there are so many partners, products and tech out there.  I knew I had a lot to learn, see and do.

After getting settled in to my hotel I went to Moscone to register and walk around.  It didn’t take long before I was back in familiar territory looking at the VMware store (sadly no copies of my NX-OS Book on hand) and walking through the Hands on Labs. I checked Twitter and saw a VMUnderground sessions was starting so made my there and knew immediately I had found “my people”.  Familiar faces on the panel and topics I knew were around and it was great to connect with some friends I had not seen for a while.  From here on, my concerns were assuaged and I was in my groove. Game on!

Many great lunches with partners, dinners with customers all focused on talking about NSX were just what I was looking for.  I was able to attend sessions and learn some great tidbits all over the place. It was a cool to be recognized from people I ran into, some of whom I knew and others were new friends. I also passed out a lot of I "heart" NSX stickers!

The general sessions were engaging and it was helpful for a newer employee like me to get to see our exces and other leads outside of their normal jobs – bad sports coats and all.  I was really floored by Yanbing Li as were most and of course, Martin Casado was impressive. I really liked the customer testimonials across the platforms as well. Really speaks to the relevance of the technology and solution more than someone just talking about it. This was also experienced in many of the breakout sessions, too.  

On the Solutions Exchange floor it was amazing to see all of the partners that are part of the ecosystem. Many were familiar products but I also learned a lot about others. As you’d expect the storage wars are in full effect and so there were a mind numbing array (see what I did there?  ;)   ) of options.  Monitoring and visibility tools were abundant as well. It was nice to meet up with former co-workers, new colleagues and customers.  The positive vibe was palpable and excitement pervasive. I see why people come year after year.
I didn’t attend the party, which isn’t new for me.  I never went to the CiscoLive conference parties either – just not my scene. Instead I met up with a friend and learned more about the SD-WAN world while enjoying some good Vietnamese fusion food.  It was the perfect end to a great show.

I couldn’t attend every session I wanted too as I don’t own a Time Turner (can you guess who is watching Harry Potter with his oldest daughter?) but thankfully they are recorded so will be learning from them all Fall as I fly around.  I also know I didn’t get to meet up with some people I wanted to, even if it was just to say Hi – the week went from busy to warp speed in no time at all.

Resolution for next year, and this was posed to me too many times to count, I WILL be presenting. I want in on the action and fun and kicking myself for being conservative earlier in the year when the call for papers came out. 
Look forward to seeing you in Vegas next year!