The Hidden Gems of a Virtual VMworld

I see an empty conference center where VMworld once sat.

If you’ve never attended VMworld in person, it’s a completely overwhelming experience for the first time attendee.  Now that it’s virtual and free to attend, it’s more accessible to us all.  But it can still be overwhelming.  I wanted to take a few minutes to educate the community on some hidden gems that will allow you to make the most of your experience.

Start with the Basics – Master Your Agenda

The master conference agenda can be found here, and the official content catalog is here.  Bookmark these sites.  There will be a mixture of live and on-demand sessions this year, so look out for that as you browse the content catalog.

The general sessions are usually quite good and help you understand the overall direction and vision for the conference.  Add the live general sessions to your schedule in the content catalog using this link (requires logging in to your My VMworld account), and click Add to Schedule.  Here’s a screenshot of what the filtered view of the content catalog looks like.  On-demand sessions won’t have a time listed or an add to schedule option.  You can, however, click the heart icon in the upper right corner of a session’s description to add to your favorites.

Note also that any search of the content catalog defaults to showing live sessions, so be sure to click the On-Demand tab for more results.

Do you see that Guide option in the screenshot above?  Click it for a tour of how to use the content catalog.  Tips like the one shown below can help you make the most of finding the content you want (like a session by John Nicholson, for example).

I’d recommend checking out the solution keynotes as well (also delivered live).  These tend to contain a lot of product announcements and are more area specific.  Leverage the filtering capabilities in the content catalog to get the details.  I’m sure all of them will be good, but I recommend checking out the one delivered by our CTO Greg Lavender which will cover what’s on the horizon from VMware’s innovation engine (session id OCTO2966).

Remember there is a free pass (called general in the content catalog) and a premier pass this year.  Anything marked Premier Pass Only is delivered live and can be scheduled.  If you’re on the fence, the guided workshops and labs are extremely helpful and delivered by seasoned technical folks from VMware.  The round table sessions are also quite good.  I’ve attended both at previous in-person VMworlds.

On a personal note, I would also add Ryan Clair‘s Demo of All Things Tanzu session to your list for a great show and tell overview of the Tanzu portfolio.


Special Conference Activities and News

The VMworld Activities page mentions a concert by John Legend and some other interesting live activities happening in the Entertainment Zone (magic, smoothie making, comedy, and even workout classes).  All activities present a link to a session in the content catalog that can be added to your agenda as shown below.  Alternatively, filter the content catalog and select Entertainment Zone as the session type.

The VMworld Social page shows all hashtags to follow on Twitter and Instagram for the latest updates from the conference.  Add #vExpert to your list as well.  I would bookmark and keep an eye on the VMworld Blog as well for announcements and an overview of conference events.  You can expect a number of technical bloggers to cover the major announcements and post them on Twitter both during and after the show.


Listen to Recommendations



  • Even if you’re not a regular listener, the Virtually Speaking Podcast does a VMworld Preview each year.  Check out this year’s episode for their recommendations.
  • The VMware Roundtable Communities Podcast does some episodes on VMworld.  Check out the recent episodes to find out more on vSAN as well as hands-on-labs.  There may be more VMworld-specific episodes as we get closer to the official start of the conference.
  • Listen to a recent episode of the Tech Village podcast entitled VMworld 2020 Preview.



Go Underground

Deep inside VMworld, there is an underground run by community members.  I’m speaking of VMunderground, of course.  Each year just before VMworld there is a community event called Opening Acts (completely free to attend) which usually consists of a series of panel discussions with technical community members.  I’ve attended Opening Acts a couple of times, and the content was very good.  Read this post for the latest details on this year’s virtual Opening Acts. I would recommend following the VMunderground blog, the VMundergound Twitter, and the Opening Acts Twitter for the latest details and updates. If you’re still not convinced, see this post detailing last year’s Opening Acts, or watch the 2019 panel discussions on the Opening Acts YouTube Channel.


Bring Your Brown Bag

If you’ve never heard of vBrownBag, they produce a TON of quality technical content.  In fact, I used their sessions to help me study for my VCP-DCV 6 a few years ago.  vBrownBag has consistently produced Tech Talks at VMworld and done the same for other technology conferences.  A Tech Talk is usually a 12 – 30 minute talk anyone can sign up to do (content just has to be technical and not a sales pitch). This year they will be broadcasting Tech Talks starting 9/28 at 9 AM.  Bookmark the live feed and session schedule here, and mark your calendar!


Visit the Virtual Conference Center

There is so much networking that happens at VMworld among members of the tech community, and it will be difficult to duplicate in a virtual environment.  But it seems the community has answered the call to ensure this year’s conference won’t be missing that element.  Read Jeremiah Dooley’s blog post about the launch of a parallel event run by the community, for the community.  Make sure you join the Oribital Jigsaw community on Discord, and watch this welcome video detailing what you will find there.

Challenge Yourself

Are you up for a challenge?  Don’t forget to read up on the VMworld Challenge for chances to win free stuff.


Attend a Design Session – October 1 – 2

Did you know VMware has an official Design team that is looking to engage with customers at the conference?  This is your chance to (virtually) talk with the people who build the user interfaces for VMworld products, try prototypes, and give your feedback.  Check out the full details in this blog post.


Embrace the Code – October 1 – 2

Maybe you haven’t heard, but there’s another free event on the heels of VMworld called CodeConnect.  It’s easy to schedule sessions (all of which will be 100% LIVE) and add a calendar invite.  The agenda at a glance can be found here.  Attending does not mean you need to be fluent in writing code.  People of any skill level are encouraged to join.

There’s also a Hackathon (full details on the format and how to sign up are here).  I mean it when I say skill level does not matter here.  Anyone can join and contribute.  If you don’t believe me, read the article I wrote about being captain of a team at the 2017 VMworld Hackathon.  So if you’re looking to get into something new and really fun, give it a try.  You won’t be sorry.  And if you’ve thought about organizing your own hackathon, check out this lessons learned presentation from Wences Michel.


Embark on an Odyssey

Odyssey is a series of short Hands-On-Labs that require you to complete specific tasks, but unlike a normal lab, you don’t get step-by-step instructions and cannot advance until you successfully complete the task.  At Odyssey events, multiple people can compete to see who can finish the labs the fastest, but it’s also great fun and a chance to tinker with VMware technologies in a lab environment.

There will be an Odyssey competition this year starting on 9/14 for attendees with a premier conference pass.  The VMworld Odyssey tournament format, recommended prerequisites, and participation instructions are detailed here.  You will need to register for the conference and add the Odyssey sessions to your agenda.  If I had to guess, I would imagine VMworld would be a good time to launch some brand new Odyssey games, especially for this competition.

If you can’t shell out the cash for a premier pass or missed the deadline, you can check out existing Odyssey Hands-On-Labs on your own for free.  The catalog of Odyssey games can be found here and is also reachable from the main Odyssey site.  If an Odyssey competition sounds like fun, talk to your local VMware User Group (VMUG) leader or a VMware SE.  Read Wences Michel’s write up on the fun we had at the DFW VMUG in December 2019.


Consider Yourself Special

No matter what the master schedule says, there is always more to do.  Ask your VMware account team about special sessions and briefings that aren’t advertised to the general public.  If you don’t know your VMware account team, it’s time to get to know them.


Get Yourself a Map

Wait…why do you need a map?  You need the vTrailMap, of course.  If you don’t know Yadin Porter de Leon, aside from having an amazing radio voice, he is the founder of the Level Up Project and creator of the vTrailMap, a guide book for how to get involved in what we call the vCommunity.  Follow this Tweet and the Level Up Project for more detail on how to get a copy of the vTrailMap as we get closer to the conference.

Another great map was constructed by Nate Hudson.  He created an interactive mindmap for how to approach VMworld 2020, providing a visual representation of all there is on the conference agenda.


Sign up for VMUG (VMware User Group)

One of the best ways to level up your VMware knowledge and further your career is joining VMUG.  Use this link to join if you’re not a member today (free).  The original idea of VMUG was to connect with other VMware users in your area.  Click here to find your local VMUG chapters after joining, and look into being a part of / following multiple VMUG chapters to get alerts about upcoming meetings and access to chapter message boards.  Local VMUG chapters have regular meetups as well as a yearly UserCon (1-day free, mini conference).  With COVID in play, VMUG events are virtual for the rest of the year.  And if you’ve never attended a UserCon, start with the Boston UserCon on 9/15 (all details here).  Check out the master UserCon schedule and master local VMUG meeting schedule.  Remember for now anything of interest is fair game to attend!

Each year there is a VMUG party as part of VMworld.  Full details on saving your spot for the party can be found here.


Watch the On-Demand Video Library for Updates

At some point the VMworld 2020 sessions will all show up in the VMworld on-demand video library.  Remember that slide deck full of resource links you wish you had a copy of from an awesome VMworld session?  In many cases you can find a PDF of the presenter’s slide deck stored along with the video.  The on-demand library does require that you sign in with your VMworld account, however.  Even if you couldn’t attend the conference and don’t have a VMworld account, you can create one for free and get access to all the content.


This Could Be Your Stage

If you’re reading this and have never thought about doing a presentation at a tech event, think about it.  There is something you know that could benefit the greater community if you’re willing to share.  I can tell you we’re all willing to listen and to help you along the way.  If you still aren’t convinced that giving a technical presentation is worthwhile for your career, listen to Al Rasheed‘s journey (part 1 and part 2).

So how can you get started? If your presentation journey is just beginning, all you need is an idea.  You don’t have to write the entire presentation to submit a topic for consideration.  The VMworld call for papers is usually open starting in the spring, and other events like it have a call for submissions several months in advance of the conference dates.  If these stages are too big, try a VMUG meeting, a vBrownBag Tech Talk, or present at some other technology networking group meeting like SpiceCorps.  Maybe even start by doing a lunch and learn for some coworkers.

As for me, it took years of trying to get a session accepted for VMworld, and this year it finally happened.  If you were looking for one more session recommendation, you can view the session details here.

Enjoy VMworld whether it’s your first time or you’re a veteran.  In any case, make a commitment to getting involved in the technical community and advance your career.

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