Lessons Learned from Hybrid Meetings

Lessons I Learned While Attending a Hybrid Meeting

The approach to work has changed several times over the past three or so years. We all keep hoping to find that “new normal,” and I think we are in it already. At least for now, our new normal will be abnormal.

It’s funny now; it wasn’t then: In early March 2020, I had just gotten back from a team meeting in New York. I was going to be home for a week before embarking on some amazing trips: I was going to finish my sales training in Raleigh; I was going to a telecommunications conference in Chicago; I was going to attend a sales meeting in Texas. Three weeks, three trips…except I didn’t go anywhere!

During that week between trips, the organizers canceled all three. In a matter of four hours or so, The world shut down. I didn’t even leave my state until Summit 2022 in Boston! That was an experience to share in a different blog post. The trip that struck me was a couple of weeks after Summit when the Red Hat Enterprise Linux team met at one of our offices for a week-long strategy session.

At that time, I had been at Red Hat for 2 1/2 years and was a marketing team member for a week shy of a year. I hadn’t met any of my coworkers in person during that time! Let’s be honest, we were there for the strategy sessions, but most of us made the trip for the human connection!

Importance of In-Person

Before the pandemic, I’d had work-from-home days and had been part of remote workforces before I came to Red Hat. I was an all-remote employee before the pandemic. It’s one thing if everyone is remote; it is a mess if you have a hybrid audience. 

Before Red Hat, I worked for GitLab, a company that prides itself on being globally distributed. I felt my team of Solutions Architects had a winning pattern: asynchronous communication, regular 1-on-1s, and weekly team meetings. My favorite part then was that we met in person once a quarter. This balance allowed us to maximize working from home while maintaining regular communication with our team. The in-person meetings allowed us to strategize, whiteboard, or grab a drink with the coworkers we spend hours with weekly.

I missed that balance during the pandemic. I think, though, we are moving back in that direction. 

Hybrid Meetings

Anyway, back to Boston and the in-person strategy session. We spent the first morning meeting everyone and discussing our plans for the future of RHEL. The difficulty was we had well over 25 people in the room and almost as many on a Google Meet!

Here’s where this blog gets informative: It took us the better part of a day to get most of the bugs worked out. We realized that there were some crucial factors to take into consideration:

1) Keep the room quiet. Anytime a bag would open or someone would fidget through their notebook, it would be annoying to those in the room. But to those hearing everything through earbuds, it was downright awful! 

2) Ensure remote attendees can participate. It is effortless to be ignored or for your attention to drift when you are one of the few not on site. We were using Meet for our meeting. It had some beneficial features:

The “raise hand” function allowed people to signal their interest in contributing to the discussion. The raise hand tool even included a queue so people could address their comments in the order they were received. 

We found something new: Google Meet had a “companion mode”. For people in the room, we could join the meeting, use the raise hand tool, and be put into a chat room. Side conversations (or, in our case, humorous tangents) are an unavoidable part of meetings, so, at least in the chat room, these conversations were quiet (see point 1 above) and recorded right along with the meeting video!

Something else we ended up doing was ensuring that someone on the remote call got to present or lead group discussions. The giant floating head effect was a little much, but hey, what can you do. 

Though, we also realized that it’s still easy to do group breakouts with hybrid meetings. When we would assign people to functional breakouts or ice breakers, the virtual room became one of the groups. 

3) Utilize virtual whiteboards or flow charts! Yeah, I know, it’s not as good as everyone circled a physical whiteboard. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by several of the tools we used! There was Miro for virtual whiteboarding and collaboration. We also used Jamboard to do more free-form thinking and capture ideas.  

Wrap up

Hybrid isn’t ideal. Nothing beats being in person for strategy sessions, whiteboarding, and building team spirit! Giving a hug (I’m a huge hugger) or a handshake is the best. However, it’s not always possible with family, health concerns, and logistics.

I am very thankful that we live in a society that accepts and acknowledges that fact. We have the right and the support of others to exercise our decisions. While I still have some anxiety around travel, I enjoy it more, knowing it is my choice.

Nowadays, I’m even safer traveling than I was before. I got bronchitis and a sinus infection on a flight right before a cruise! Now, I have a mask with me at all times. If I feel like some folks around me are less than healthy, I can put it on and rest easier.

These are just some thoughts I had after traveling for the first time in several years. These are just a few lessons our team picked up from our first hybrid meeting. I’d love to hear what has worked for you!

What is a technical marketing manager?

From creating technical labs, blogs, and videos to pairing customers’ problems with product features, technical marketers never see a dull moment.

Slide-deck builder, swag folks, booth dwellers, buzzword people… technical marketing gets a bad rap sometimes. Today, I want to set the record straight. Marketing can be a chaotic, challenging, yet rewarding space to work in… and there’s also some swag involved.

I’ve held several different roles before finding my home as a technical marketing manager (TMM), including support engineer, systems administrator, and solutions architect (technical sales), to name a few. None of those roles quite brought me the thrill and fulfillment that my current position does. What does a TMM do day-to-day? What skills and tools do you use? What traits do you need to succeed?

Want to catch the rest of this article? Head on over to the Enable Sysadmin blog!

The Big Interview

Sometimes, a dream just comes together. Sometimes its a dream that you didn’t even know you had!

I have spent 10 years in the IT industry and I have struggled off and on to really find fulfillment in what I have accomplished thus far, at least until the past 4 months. If you know me at all, you know that I hit the ground running when I entered the open source community. When I started listening to podcasts over 2 years ago, I was an Apple die-hard: Macbook, iPad, iPhone, AppleTV, Apple Watch, iTunes…Yeah, it was bad! What I found through listening to Jupiter Broadcasting though was a passionate community of people willing to work hard to create something of their own.

Over the past two years, I have listened intently, idled in Telegram, and even provided a small donation every month as a Patron. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I really started to find my stride on how I fit into this mess. Enter the “IT Guy”. The online identity came about because when joining the Mumble room for Linux Unplugged, there were two Eric’s: myself and Erich, a respected member of the Ubuntu Studio project. That can be confusing during a live show or even just during chat. As the occasional IT consultant, I tended to hear, “Hey, the IT guy is here…” and the name just stuck! Moving forward, I hope the IT Guy will be able to be a platform for open source projects who need a hand getting some attention. I am working with an open-source graphic design company, FreeHive, to create some branding around the identity and start producing more blog entries, a podcast, and to even speak at conferences one day.

Over the past 4 months, that vision has really started to take shape! Along came Peertube, an open-source project working to create a federated video platform powered by torrent technology (think a self-hosted YouTube). I volunteered and started helping Jupiter Broadcasting to setup GetJupiter.com, a peertube instance focused on official Jupiter Broadcasting content and Linux Rocks Online (a community driven instance). I have been hanging out on Linux Unplugged more often and even been a guest on the Ask Noah show a couple of times…

But NONE of that compares to what I experienced today. Today, I was flown out to Dallas, TX to complete the interview process with Red Hat! Yeah…that $2.4 billion company that sells free software. Talk about an inspiration. This company is filled to the brim with talent, passion, and creativity. While I can’t say much about the process itself, it has been unlike any interview process I have ever been apart of. You talk about a group of people focused on their mission!

It’ll be a few days before I hear for sure, but I am very hopeful! My new role would be as a Senior Cloud Infrastructure Consultant. My new best friend would be Open Shift, Red Hat’s offering built around Kubernetes! For me, it would be more than setting up Open Shift for customers, it would be a chance to provide customers, specifically other Systems Engineers like myself, a new way to do work: focus on automation and orchestration instead of fighting through the same fires over and over again. Get to the point where deployments during business hours are common place and reclaim a work-life balance, recover their nights and weekends. That is a role I could make a difference in.

I hope my next entry will be to announce a shift in my employment, but regardless of what happens with Red Hat, I will continue to work to build a platform where open source projects can come be heard and provide great information and insight into the IT world!

Thank you for reading!

LAS2018: Day 4

The conference now seems like SO long ago! It was 4 crazy-packed days (plus 2 on the road) but it would not be overstating anything to say it has forever changed the course of my career.

The morning was meetings surrounding GNOME Engagement and getting thoughts and lessons learned ready for LAS2019! Being someone who has Linux, IT support, LED lighting design, live audio, photography and videography basics all crammed into my head, I could be a huge asset to conferences all over the country! It would seem to be time to get myself onto committees for more conferences.

The other realization I had was this conference is going to cost me a lot more money than just the travel expenses! I fell in love with talks about Purism’s Librem 5 phone and the whole of System76 and their efforts to manufacture the laptops and desktops in house to better support their products. I am sure in the next couple of years, as budget allows, both companies have already earned my business.

After a tour of System 76 and another cook-out, it was time to pack up and get ready for the 9 hour drive home to Kansas City the next day. I am looking forward to the upcoming changes I hope to make to my career: develop more in depth content on this blog, start a podcast/YouTube channel, become involved with projects too small to really promote themselves, attend conferences, and help others discover the passion and community behind open source!

LAS2018: Day 3

Oops! The downside to staying up pretty much all night talking about FOSS, life, and everything else under the sun is that the next morning comes WAY to quickly!

So, after going to one of the local malls to buy a long sleeve shirt and picking up some food, I finally managed to get to the venue. As I alluded to in my previous post, I spent more time thinking about people and community than the technology that drew me to the conference in the first place. Probably the biggest example of this was a talk by Britt Yazel surrounding Scientists and open source.

What could be better than a Linux-powered science computer? Its more secure, more stable, faster than the other platforms…but the problem? Lack of packages and supporting libraries to carry out complex scientific analysis! What’s worse is that universities, research facilities, and science labs and stuck running Windows and a few proprietary applications that charge thousands of dollars per license per year!!! That is literally millions of US Dollars…tax payer money… being paid to a couple of businesses that have a corner on the scientific market! Now that bugs me on a number of levels!

We as an open source community need to branch out. We need to shake this nerd in their parent’s basement stigma we have carried for so many years, get out there, find needs, and build solutions to fix those needs! Instead of idling in IRC rooms waiting for some project we can bash, we should be out there fixing problems in our world!

After a though-provoking afternoon, we all met up for pizza and celebrated the release of GNOME 3.30 and followed that up with some vintage arcade games 🙂

LAS2018: Day 2

I know, I know this is a lot later than I promised.

That is what happens when you go to a conference then come back to the real world…It seems to take a week of preparation before you leave and a week of preparation after you get back from any break to really get back in the swing of everything. Anyway, I digress…

So, its Day 2 of the conference. After an overwhelmingly awesome first day, everything sort of settled into a rhythm. We got the technical bugs worked out and started adding in lightning talks! (I think next conference I will have to sign up for one.)

The talks were amazing. We heard from KDE about their application deployment strategy and their application ecosystem. However, the not-as-technical talks is what really grabbed my attention. I was really surprised to be honest, I expected I would dive deep into technology on this trip… Not so much! Instead, I found myself drawn towards a few talks in particular:

The first was a pair of talks from Ryan Gorley, owner of FreeHive an open source graphics design agency. He talked about the need for innovation beyond Adobe Cloud and the needs of creatives from Desktop Linux and the accompanying application ecosystem. There were a pair of talks from Elementary as well discussing their attempts to monetize open source to allow developers to actually make money off their work!

However, I think the talk that I engaged with more than any of Day 2 was a talk about making open source attractive to students. Heidi Ellis and Gregory Hislop are working to integrate open source into the college curriculum at large but more than that help students fall in love with the FOSS community. Having dealt with the dumpster fire that is /r/Linux (Reddit) and seeing some of the venom of a small minority of the FOSS community, it played back into my thinking about how to introduce students, creatives, and non-technical folks into what the true intent of the open source community really is…

The night continued with Game Night, trivia led by System76’s own Emma Marshal and dinner with different people from the conference. Talks went late into the night…but it was all worth it!

LAS2018: Day 1

IT IS HERE! Libre Application Summit 2018. This is the first IT conference I have attended since a VMware Summit in 2012.

Not only do I get to listen to some really cool talks…okay, let’s be real. A lot of this is at the edge of my understanding. After all, I am in a room filled with some of the brightest developers from all across the globe. I am just a dumb Sysadmin, haha. It is amazing material non-the-less. I even doubled-down on my usage of Flatpaks.

The venue, Parkside Mansion, is beautiful and the staff have been nothing but accommodating. I fully expected to use my skills and an outgoing personality and as a IT Guy at this conference, however, the one set of skills I didn’t give much thought to was my knowledge of live production. I have been helping get lighting levels right, troubleshooting audio feedback, and helping plan for the future of GNOME conference technological offerings.

While the talks have been interesting, the real call of events like this is to be able to meet and interact with people from all over the world. Within the first 30 minutes of the doors opening, I was able to guide a developer to guys from Elementary OS; the developer was looking to put a mechanism into Flatpak that would allow for end users to donate money back to the developer. Who better for him to talk to than the project that is already trying to do that with their app store?!

I have interacted with people from Red Hat, Endless, KDE, and others. We have discussed American history, Steam gaming on Linux, and solved all of the worlds problems…maybe we’ll tell the world, maybe we won’t.
This conference is starting to sway my opinions on the future of my career. Maybe my time in the deep weeds of code and terminals is coming to a close in the near future to give way towards a focus on people – organizing events, making connections between people, providing a spotlight on growing projects making a difference or in need of help… now that…that sounds like a career to be proud of!

The ladies headed off to a nice dinner up on a rooftop, meanwhile, the guys headed over to the Code Think Air BnB for some grilling, card games, and some amazing conversations: The need for funding the foundations, some history of KDE, and bug tracking horror stories!

Day 2 looks like it’ll be EVEN better!

LAS2018: Travel Day

Kansas City, Missouri to Denver Colorado, 1 Interstate, 609 miles, 8 hours of podcasts… Nothing but rain! However, the nice thing about this road trip was it gave me time to consider a few things about my home lab, my career, you know big things.

I have spent the majority of my career deep in the weeds as a Linux Systems Engineer. I have worked with Red Hat, CentOS, and Ubuntu. The operating system has been my domain for a long time. The problem is, in the past couple of years, the area I have been deriving the most energy from has been the community. This summer, I have been working social media for the GNOME Foundation, made appearances on the Linux Unplugged podcast, helped manage Peer Tube and Gitlab instances. Now here I am on the eve of my first FOSS conference.

Another big decision I made while dodging visibility-killing downpours was how to rebuild my home computer lab. I have been using Digital Ocean to manage services like Quassel and Nextcloud. Part of my responsibilities as a Systems Engineer is to stay on top of trends. Well, for projects to survive the velocity of development these days containers and automation need to be at the heart of all their efforts. To be a responsible Sysadmin, I need to be prepared for that shift. So, I plan on setting up a Kubernetes cluster and running all my home services out of a Gitlab instances into containers!

The last big thought I spent time on was the next step in my education. I am a huge fan of Linux Academy. Learning from their courses is great, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into something industry recognized: IE a certification. The only cert I hold at this point is a RHCSA (Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator) in RHEL6. After this road trip, I hope within the next 3 years to hold my RHCA (Red Hat Certified Architect)!

After a drink and some tacos, its time to hit the sack and get ready for LAS2018 tomorrow!

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