How my Homelab and the vExpert community has helped me

Sometime in 2017 when I was doing freelance consulting, I was in the middle of a vSphere upgrade from 6 to 6.5 for a client of mine, and it went a little bit wrong. I opened a GSS case with VMware support and after a few things were checked, it still wasn’t working. To make matters worse, the install was in ELM and one of the PSCs (remember those?) was upgraded, the other was not, and only one of the vCenter servers would start its services. It was a bit of a mess if I’m honest. I can’t remember the specifics. Ultimately, production wasn’t down, so VMware support’s view of the urgency was not the same as mine.

Having had a fair amount of fault finding experience on various *nix systems, including Solaris, I decided to try and figure it out myself. I started diving through log files, going to good old Google to try and fathom some things out, and I ended up on a blog which went into some depth about the various things to check when ELM is involved. Using the blog post (it’s this one if you’re curious, thanks again Dan), and my experience of picking apart log files, I managed to find the error and fix it. I honestly can’t remember what it was, it was something to do with EAM not starting but I can’t remember the specifics. I mentioned it to GSS and ultimately a KB was written about it. I was proud as punch.

Digging further into Dan’s blog I notice he had this thing called a homelab. A what? The concept was unfamiliar to me. I’d purchased a server and installed ESXi on it before to use at home, but never one powerful enough to run nested hosts (I didn’t even know that was a thing back then), and certainly not multiple. One of the reasons is license keys and being able to download the products. I wanted to try, so I started looking through various blogs I worked out I could purchase a VMUG Advantage subscription which not only grants licenses but also product downloads.

That year I spent a bit of time creating a Bill of Materials (BOM) for my lab. After some consideration, I decided to dust off the credit card and I bought some SuperMicro hosts as well as a VMUG subscription, and I started building stuff. There were a few reasons for this:

  • In my head, I fixed something GSS couldn’t. So clearly I was an expert, and had to prove this by getting a VCP*
  • I wanted to build things I was doing at work to figure out how it works, and reproduce errors to try and figure out how to fix them
  • I have an insatiable hunger for learning
  • I’m a bit of a geek, and I like tinkering
  • I learned a lot from the community, and I wanted to give something back.

* I jest – there are some incredibly talented people within GSS!

I started to build things, and I started to blog about things. I remember sometime in 2018 I applied to be a vExpert and I was accepted – to my surprise. I was overjoyed, I never thought I would be accepted. What that did was unlock a private forum to ask and give back to other people with similar mindsets, from beginners to seasoned veterans. It helped me immensely and it also gave me a huge confidence boost at a professional level. By then I’d passed a couple of VCP exams and used the experienced gained to apply for a role for VMware, which I was accepted and I remain part of the company today.

Since then I’ve presented to vExperts, VMUG, I’ve done Podcasts, I’ve also presented internally within VMware at World Wide Kickoff – twice If you’d told me in 2017 that I would be doing all of this, I wouldn’t have believe you.

What homelabs and the the vExpert programme have taught me if anything, is that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I still use my lab every week to learn new things, work out issues customers may be facing, and for demonstrations. Without both (and VMUG too), I don’t think I’d be where I am in my career today. The confidence it can give you is not only limited to your professional development, it has an effect on your life outside of work too.

If you’re pondering whether to make the step, just do it. Buy some kit to suit your budget, build things, and write about your experiences; whether good or bad. You never know where your homelab journey might lead.

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