While there are many folks who know and value their CTO Ambassadors, there are even more people who aren’t even aware of what the program is. If you are not familiar, do visit the official site here. Joe Baguley, VMware CTO for EMEA, shared at this VMworld 2015 video. Amanda, a fellow Ambassador, provides her thought here. In this blog, I want to give you my personal take on what being a VMware CTO Ambassador means to me.
Here is the definition from the official site, with added highlight from me: “The CTO Ambassador program is run by the VMware Office of the CTO. The CTO Ambassadors are members of a small group of our most experienced and talented customer facing, individual contributor technologists. They are pre-sales systems engineers (SEs), technical account managers (TAMs), professional services consultants, architects and global support services engineers. The ambassadors help to ensure a tight collaboration between R&D and our customers so that we can address current customer issues and future needs as effectively as possible.”
We are a virtual member of Office of the CTO, because our day job is on the field. This global group is led by Paul Strong (Global Field CTO), Matthew Stepanski (GTS), Joe Baguley, Chris Wolf (America CTO) and Shannon Klebart (Program Manager). They are joined at the Advisory Board by 5 CTO Ambassadors. Instead of calling them VMware CTO Ambassador Advisory Board, I just call them Jedi Council 🙂
The group is diverse, yet there is a strong commonality among the members. It’s easy to establish friendship as we are in the same “frequency”. Our thought is driven by customer requirements. We are all passionate about VMware, and yet we see things from customers view point.
What do we do?
The ~100 CTO Ambassadors do a wide variety of things. Here, I’m listing the things that I do.
We collaborate with the product team. We provide feedback on upcoming features. The feedback varies from strategic direction to actual screenshots. For example, I spent an hour on just 1 widget with the Architect and Product Manager of vRealize Operations. We can engage R&D at implementation level. Collectively, the Ambassadors bring both the breadth and depth to R&D. A lot of us work with customers at operations stage, not just architecture stage, hence we know what works and what doesn’t. Some of us actually get seconded to R&D on a short term basis.
We explain the VMware story. I am privileged to witness a once in a life time change in IT Industry. There are mega trends, and it’s interesting to see them unfolds as these trends overlap. VMware started, and became hugely successful, when it led the industry with X86 virtualization. As virtualization spreads into the rest of data center, and interfaces with changes at application stack, it becomes critical to explain the VMware story. It is far from a vSphere company that a lot of customers still perceive it to be. VMware is now a much larger company than what it was 5 years ago. Naturally, the business scope becomes wider as the circle of influence increases. What was server virtualization becomes Mobile Cloud. This is a more complex story to tell, hence the need for CTO Ambassadors. Customers ask me about industry trends and it is good hear first-hand that VMware story resonates. The complete story makes sense. It is just not what you think it is.
We specialize and take technical leadership. Many of us blog and it is great to hear feedback that it is useful to colleagues, partners and customers. Take Sunny Dua, for example. His blogs on vRealize Operations is probably #1 on the topic and he is one of the authority on the product. I wrote a book on SDDC Performance and Capacity Management, explaining the topic from customer view point as opposed to product view point. Contact me if you want to contribute in the second edition (due mid 2016). A lot of us are capable of delivering a Level-300 training on our areas of specialization.
We participate in beta. For customers who are keen, we get them into the beta program. There is a certain level of maturity required in beta program, and glad to say my customers appreciate the closer feedback loop you experience during beta.
We evangelize to and socialize with the virtualization community, both in physical world and digital world. One beautiful thing about virtualization is there is a strong community in this space, and friendship is born. We guide one another in our career, regardless of where we work. In digital world, you will find some of us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, VMTN, etc. On Facebook, I founded this group to facilitate networking and discussion among VMware users. Glad to see it has grown to become one of the largest VMware groups on Facebook. Feel free to copy the guiding principle that I created, as it will help you in minimizing public conflict.
Internally, the Ambassadors champion the use of Socialcast. We are strong advocate of collaboration. I see this is as critical, because VMware is a multi-product organization. I used to be a big fan of mailing list. With Socialcast, we have granular control. I am a member of >100 Socialcast groups and it does not require me to create 100 folders in my mailbox. I’ve disabled all push notifications, as SocialCast online notification does a better job. Yes, no email at all. For search, I find the Socialcast search to be more powerful.
We bridge, both internally and externally. There are thousands of people in VMware, partner ecosystems and customers. It can be difficult to know who actually does what when you need help. Sure, there is an org chart. You know how accurate they are right 🙂 The bi-directional connection that the CTO Ambassadors have mean we can link you. A typical request from Product Manager or R&D to me is “I need a customer that meets this profile. Can you schedule a meeting with a person at the right level?” On the other hand, account team or partners normally ask for a specific engineer or person in Palo Alto that can help with a given issue or opportunity.
How does being an Ambassador change me in what I do?
By and large, nothing. And that’s fundamental. To be an Ambassador of any company, one should be doing it already. The formal appointment significantly amplifies and enhances your capability, but it does not alter the core. In this way, you won’t be wondering what you should do, as you’re already doing it! People should be able to see the Ambassador quality in you because of what you’ve done. This will also make it easier for the Advisory Board to decide on your application. The bar to become VMware CTO Ambassador is high.
I’m more aware of my role and duty. What I say, be it off-line or on-line, can be quoted. It can also be taken out of context. So before I reply to an on-line post, I ask myself “Will VMware say what I’m about to say?” I care about the image of VMware. Yes, I may be protected legally with all the disclaimer that this is my personal post. Practically, however, the damage is done, so I need to be careful. Some of my posts are taking 1 week because I am soaking it and also ask close friends to review. My little girl likes to say “Just in case!”.
I also see myself as an extension of the Product Team. When a product needs improvement, my feedback to them is followed by solution. There is no value in a conversation if I merely criticize. It’s easy to criticize. It’s hard to provide a solution. I contribute IP back to the product team, and it is a privilege to see my work makes it back to the product.
I hope that gives you a good summary of VMware CTO Ambassadors. If you are a technology vendor, I think you should establish one too. If you a large, global IT organization, you should also establish one too. I’m happy to share our experience on it. For those of you based in Asia Pacific, do reach out to your local Ambassadors here.