A reflection on the VMworld Hackathon

Many others have written posts summarizing VMworld, I won’t do that here. If you’d like a live-Tweet archive of the keynotes, you can look on my Twitter timeline starting on August 28, 2017. For a full blogpost, please check out Paul Woodward Jr.’s recap, as well as Sheng Sheen’s detailed VMware announcements post.

I had a great opportunity to participate in the VMworld Hackathon and I believe it was a career-changing experience. Back to that in a minute. First, let’s explore why was I part of the Hackathon at all.  I’m not a developer. I’m a presales engineer. Although I wrote code for a living a while back, I haven’t developed anything professionally in almost 10 years. Most of what I did was classic ASP and VBA, and a few monster T-SQL stored procs. It wasn’t what I considered “real” programming at the time – folks who wrote object-oriented code, used big fancy source control systems, worked on large team projects, etc.

Paul did a vBrownBag tech talk at VMworld, see the replay of From CNC to VCP: A Journey of Professional Growth. One of the things Paul talked about is building your personal brand and the power of social media.  To help build his brand, Paul decided to start the ExploreVM Podcast. Without Twitter, I wouldn’t have known that he was starting a podcast. Without Twitter, I wouldn’t have seen him offering guest slots on the podcast, and I wouldn’t have made Episode 7 – Making the Move to a Pre-Sales Role with him.

Without Twitter, Nick Korte wouldn’t have found the podcast, listened to it, and reached out to me via Twitter DM to ask questions.

Without Twitter, I wouldn’t have known Nick’s name as I scrolled through the list of Hackathon leaders when I was considering a team. And I probably wouldn’t have joined a team because I was intimidated – I’m not a programmer.  But I knew Nick, and he’s not a programmer either, he’s a sysadmin. It’s not scary to join a team with a sysadmin, right? So I joined. Nick did a great post-Hackathon writeup, check that out here.

Without Twitter, I wouldn’t have met Chris Dye, one of the professional developers on our team. He kindly spent his time filling in some of my knowledge gaps as I struggled to understand how software development works today.

A number of people spent considerable time running pre-Hackathon training sessions. I went to Jeeyun Lim‘s excellent “Getting started with Clarity” session.  I learned that I still have a lot to learn – but I understood what Jeeyun was doing. I understood how things like Node.js and Angular make my life much simpler. I understood how the frameworks take what I used to do in hundreds of lines of classic ASP and turned them into a few configuration options.  And thankfully, VMware has invested in a Pluralsight account, allowing me to learn what I’ve missed in the last decade.

I’ll never become a world-class developer. I won’t write any earth-shattering algorithms or contribute to the Linux kernel. There’s a reason I moved out of development and into the infrastructure side. But in this world of automation and devops, being able to write and understand code is a necessity. Hackathon rekindled my interest in programming. It made me realize that I don’t have to be somebody who builds APIs, or builds PowerShell libraries, or writes kernel code. Being able to programmatically consume what others have already made for me is enough. I took my first step towards understanding last week, and I will continue this week and future weeks. I hope I get to go to VMworld next year, and if there’s a Hackathon, you can bet that I’ll participate. I might even contribute some code this time.

I will close by saying that you do NOT need to be a developer to participate in Hackathon. In fact, the best teams have a mix of infrastructure folks and developers, as there is always plenty for the infra folks to do. If you get the opportunity next year, sign up. It’s worth it!