Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/26/microsoft_community_vbeers_blog/

Hey, Microsoft, why don't you grab a beer with us?

It's time for Redmond to get a round in, says Phoummala Schmitt

By Phoummala Schmitt

Posted in Virtualization, 26th November 2013 13:19 GMT

Opinion The IT community can be a wealth of information and support. There is always someone out there that has an opinion - good or bad - or a problem that is similar to yours.

When you don’t know someone, you can bet that at least one of your contacts does. It’s like reaching out to the fifth cousin of your third uncle.

I wouldn’t be here writing this article if not for the IT community. The people of the community have opened opportunities that otherwise I probably wouldn’t have seen elsewhere. Through social networking, people are exposed to all manner of other people, and connections of their connections, and so on: it is powerful stuff.

Taking the bad with the good

It’s not all puppy dogs and smiley faces, however.

The IT community is vast and diverse, with subsets for just about every major IT trend or topic you can think of. Like real families, the IT community is not perfect and some parts are more broken than others; some suffer from lack of communication and even have scandal. (*cough cough* donglegate.)

As a sysadmin my exposure to the IT community has been primarily through the VMware & Microsoft communities. Each has the same overall goal of bringing people together to discuss the product and ecosystem, but they work in very different ways.

My experience of the VMware community has been quite positive, but that’s not to say others have had the same experience. It is, however, slightly different than my experiences of other IT communities. It’s not immune from the cliques, but overall the wealth of information and knowledge sharing is quite impressive.

When I first joined the VMware community back in 2010, I was low key and stayed within my comfort zone of reading the many blogs and attending my local VMUG events. I really didn’t utilize all the benefits the community had to offer. To be fair my local VMUG chapter is pretty small and not very active so access to in-person community events is limited.

Ride outside your comfort zone

It was just over a year ago that I decided to take another plunge into the IT community using the infamous social media outlet Twitter. This time I was amazed by how many total strangers were out there sharing knowledge of VMware, virtualization, storage, or sometimes just plain water cooler gossip about the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

Within the VMware community, finding someone to assist on an issue is easy. Recently a co-worker and I were working on a problem and we turned to the community. After a single tweet asking for some PowerCLI gurus' help, we had several DMs within minutes, and by the end of the day had a working script that solved our problem. (Shout out to @discoposse and @sixfootdad for their assistance.)

The thing that still strikes me is how the VMware community, being quite diverse, can pull together. Take for instance vBrownbag: a purely community-driven study group started by Cody Bunch in 2011. The idea of an online community study group became so successful that now there are EMEA, APAC, and LATAM versions.

This community has even pulled together to help out charity causes such as Podcasting for Cancer, run by - among others - El Reg contributors Trevor Pott and Josh Folland.

Social amongst equals

Not all communities are created equal. Take for instance the Microsoft IT community. Similar to VMware’s community, this is large and has many subsets, but lacks the sense of wanting to go and talk geek over a beer. Again based on my personal experience, this community is somewhat harder to break into.

When I decided to get active in the IT community, my initial intention was to start with my background, Microsoft. But the "community" was difficult to find. Sure there are blogs and the typical Microsoft-sponsored events but very few totally community-driven arenas that were unbiased and free. I have often described the Microsoft community as the club that nobody wants to admit they belong to.

The majority of us use a Microsoft product in some way shape or form so why is it so difficult to get people together and share knowledge that has not been driven by a vendor or sponsored by Microsoft?

The truly community-driven arenas and events like the Microsoft Management Summit have all either been swallowed up by Microsoft or died away.

IT/Dev Connections is an example of an unbiased arena that allows sysadmins to discuss and learn about Microsoft products. I had the opportunity to present a session at IT/Dev Connections this year and was impressed with the content that the conference provided. Unfortunately, for professionals that don’t have an endless budget for paid tech conferences, attending an event like IT/Dev Connections may not be possible.

Where are the Microsoft vBeers equivalents?

Where would you like to discuss with Microsoft today?

One would think as large as Microsoft’s product offering is, there would be people in the masses that would want to engage with one another and discuss all things Microsoft. But while there are surely pockets of user groups in the major cities, there is certainly nothing like the VMUG or vBeers that you should be able to find in almost every state and which doesn’t require a training budget to attend.

vBeers is nothing fancy: just an informal gathering of professionals discussing virtualisation over a few beers that can be found in various parts of the country. It’s pretty much happy hour with fellow uber-geeks. I have yet to find something on the Microsoft front that is of this scale.

User groups provide a place to openly discuss issues and concerns without the hype of marketing being shoved down your throat - and without having to shell out money to attend. On a recent flight home I sat next to a gentleman that also was a sysadmin focusing on Exchange servers like myself. We discussed the lack of a user group in our area and both expressed looking interest to join one if there was such a thing. The interest is there, but options to attend are few and far between.

All is not lost because there are folks out there that want to share knowledge; they are few, but they are still out there. Take for instance the UC architects, a group of IT professionals from various countries that podcast primarily about all things Exchange & Lync. The UC architects saw the need for this sharing of information and have taken upon themselves to bring it to us.

I am not saying that Microsoft admins don’t help each other, because they do. It’s that the outlets to do so are mostly limited to online forums and blogs. Twitter has also been a great opportunity to reach out to other Microsoft folks but that is still limited to Twitter users. The “grass roots” information-sharing – like vBeers, UC Architects, and vBrownbag – is what Microsoft needs more of.

The business case for vBeers

The advantage of being involved in both VMware and Microsoft communities is you get to see how both companies market their products and how they use their customers to drive the success of their products. The community use and acceptance of its product is what drives the success of VMware.

You see very few marketing campaigns coming from VMware: instead it’s like a grassroots spreading of love. People use it, they like it and want to share it with others. It’s the saying: “Build it and they will come”.

Now flip to the other side, with Microsoft. There are fewer community-driven arenas but more Microsoft-sponsored arenas. Microsoft’s marketing campaign is huge. It markets its products and it does it a lot: on TV, magazines, online, everywhere. Maybe it’s too much?

Could it be that the lack of community is because we are so surrounded all day by Microsoft telling us we need to use its products to complete our lives that subconsciously we just don’t want to talk all Microsoft over a beer?

When a child is being a forcefed his meal, this usually ends badly, with most of the food splattered on the floor. However if the child is given a taste of the food and likes it, the child will eat the food and then come back asking for more.

Microsoft’s approach is similar to the force-feed. It’s being shoved in our faces and the reaction is to throw it on the ground. VMware offers you a taste but the difference is that it lets you decide if you want more. The result? A lot less mess on the floor. ®