- VMware is charging for community events at VMworld.
- No one should have to pay for community.
- We talk about it on Twitch.
- Come help us build something amazing in Discord!
Like many people in the VMware ecosystem, the day we get to register for VMworld is circled on my calendar. I’ve been to more VMworld events than I can count, in both the US and EMEA, and it’s definitely one of the conferences the community looks forward to most.
Of course 2020 isn’t just another year. Conferences are one of a never-ending litany of things that have had to adapt to survive in the pandemic era, and every company is finding its way through the process. Companies like Google have cancelled some of their conferences altogether, while others like Amazon are hoping for things to get better in time for theirs. Mobile World Congress was cancelled. Everything involving Facebook needs to be cancelled, just like their F8 conference was.
A significant number of companies have moved to a completely virtual model. Pure Storage held their Accelerate conference virtually, with around 5,000 attendees joining the event. Google, who cancelled IO, have chosen to deliver Next ‘20 as a nine week all-digital event, including digital networking, demos, 1:1 expert sessions and more. Not every event has gone off without a hitch, but all of the large tech conferences have tried to bring their communities together in a time when isolation is the norm.
In maybe the first and biggest move to all digital events, Microsoft pivoted Build 2020 to an online platform in just 8 weeks, putting together a multiple day, around the sun event for over 100,000 people, with generally rave reviews.
For the events that have gone virtual, regardless of how well things have gone, there have been some similarities. Keynotes have translated pretty well. More and more of the presentations have been done from remote locations. Conferences have struggled universally to bring the “expo floor” to a virtual platform with any significant impact. Most importantly, the events have been free to all attendees. When you think about it, it makes sense. 14% of people in the United States are unemployed, budgets for things like conferences and training have been slashed to nothing, and even smaller tech companies have read the room and realized that putting a financial burden on attendees at this point will only hurt attendance.
With that context, many of us were immediately surprised that VMware appears to be bucking that trend with VMworld.
As I went through registering for the conference, I noticed there was a “Premier Pass” option that costs $299US. There, in black and white, is a list of all the things the Premier Pass includes:
- Roundtables, led by experts
- Birds of a Feather, led by the community
- VMware Hands-on Labs guided workshops, led by VMware employees
- 1:1 Expert Consultations, with VMware employees
- The ability to save a little money by spending a lot of money on certification vouchers and future conferences
Next, I started trying to reach out to people via e-mail and Twitter. I contacted Corey Romero to ask why this decision was made and offer some suggestions that might help. I got multiple DMs from VMware employees telling me they were incensed at the decision to charge attendees. I got one offer to have a phone call with someone from the Office of the CTO, but after rescheduling and rescheduling over multiple days, no call happened. I really did try to find anyone at VMware who could help me understand, but no one was willing to try and explain.
At this point I think it’s pretty clear: VMware recognized that the community aspects of VMworld are, and have always been, a key draw to the conference, and has decided to monetize that. Did you used to work on a VMware-based infrastructure team until you were laid off, and you’d like to network and maybe find a job? That’ll be $299US out of your pocket. Are you a junior admin who is taking the place of three more senior admins who were laid off, and you’d love to sit down with an expert to fill in the gaps left by those layoffs? That’ll be $299US you either need to convince your boss you need, or it’ll come out of your pocket. Unstructured Birds of a Feather meetups hosted by the community are going to cost $299? What is going on here?
Rather than just complain, I propose the community can build its own Premier Pass, and we can do it better than ever. We have the tools, and in the new reality that 2020 has brought us, we have the power to use them.
I have proposed a full replacement track for the community and social side of VMworld. There’s a growing tech community over on Discord, that can be the perfect place to use as a base of operations for this event. Structured roundtables to ask questions of VMware experts? I bet there are plenty of vExperts who would be happy to take a shift in a dedicated Discord channel to help. Unstructured BOAF channels where people can drop in and chat about whatever topic is top of mind? No sweat. Maybe we can even reach out to the vBrownbag and VMunderground/Opening Acts communities and offer them a place to bring the VMworld content we’ve come to know and love. I don’t know about you, but a full day of scheduled vBrownbag talks, including people who put in the work to submit sessions to the conference who didn’t get accepted, that all end up on YouTube afterwards, sounds amazing.
For the keynotes and sessions, what if we set up group watch parties, hosted by people who can engage in real-time discussion with the community? If the keynotes are live, and the sessions are on-demand, there’s nothing keeping us from surrounding those with community in the same Discord. We’ve done this for multiple conferences this year, including MS Build, Cisco Live, SAP Sapphire and VeeamON, and the response has been terrific. I bet we could get vendors and experts to offer post-keynote and announcement commentary, or maybe even give vendors a dedicated space to share announcements with and talk to their customers and prospective customers.
What if we set aside space for job seekers? Or for companies that are hiring? Or for people working on certifications? Or a space to share digital swag? Or damn near anything else that usually comes up in the hallways, and social spaces of VMworld! Let’s be creative and inventive and INCLUSIVE and make the community side of the event the powerhouse it always has been, despite the obstacles and challenges.
Nick Howell and I discussed some ideas for the event live over on Twitch if you are interested in some of the background on how this all came to be, but what we REALLY need now is your participation. The planning for this has begun, over in Discord. If you are interested in helping, or even if you just want to provide feedback, we’d love to have you join us. We have an opportunity, as a community, to redefine how we come together for a remote conference, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.