Life as an Lead Solution Engineer


This is the second in the series (first here) of Life as an, and this time we have Nicolas Vibert, Lead Solution Engineer for VMware Cloud. I got the chance to spend 15 mins with Nico to understand more about him, his career and what is exciting in the world of tech. Working in one of the largest tech companies in the world must be tough, but I know personally Nico makes light work of it!

Round 1: About you

Name: Nicolas Vibert

Role: Lead Solution Engineer.

Business: VMware Cloud solutions at VMware

Hidden Talent: I have no DIY ability, but at one point I was tri-lingual and could speak Spanish, French and English fluently, but my Spanish is a bit rusty nowadays.

Favourite thing to do outside work: Beyond spending time with my family, I love playing football, going for a run or a bike ride.

Guilty pleasure: A sweet tooth. For my 18th birthday, my friends gave me 18kg of Haribo sweets. They are not my friends anymore.

A quick Google later…

Disclaimer: This is not Nico, but he wishes it was. Thanks for the image Haribo

Round 2: Your job

I know Nico spends a huge amount of time travelling around the globe speaking to customers about VMware Cloud on AWS and the benefits it brings to businesses large and small. But Nico’s background is in Cisco and NSX networking, so I was hoping you were able to give us a bit of a background of your career please?

I decided to follow in my brother’s footsteps by studying telecommunications in Brittany in Western France, learning things such as IP networking, wireless, GPRS & 3G at the time! Then I went to start my career with a Cisco partner doing Network support. I did that for a few years before progressing to implementation, network design and architecture, but whilst still working for Cisco partners. I eventually joined Cisco in 2011 and was there for about 5 years as an architect looking after a large UK account. I eventually got the chance to join VMware in late 2015 in a presales role doing NSX before moving to the VMware Cloud team. It’s been quite a journey through support, design, architecture and then over to the vendor side with professional services and now presales. I have no idea what I’ll do next!

Which of your jobs to date have you enjoyed the most, and is there any that you would dread to still be in?

The job I have now is the best because of the flexibility it brings and it allows me to be creative and to spend time with customers which is one of the things I enjoy the most. Until the pandemic started, it also gave me the opportunity to travel across the world, which was amazing (Singapore’s Chili Crab was a personal highlight).

I’m also part of a fantastic team in the UK and EMEA. When I interview people about working for VMware, they always ask me what I like about it, and I always say 3 things: the customers, the tech and the team.

As for the job I’d hate doing now, network support! It was a good introduction to my career, but uhm, yeah.

Can you describe a typical day in your job? Is it all annoying customer, hard sales or writing amusing quips on Twitter?

A typical day would be either a customer meeting, either remote or face-to-face, presenting my product and answering some questions, do a demo maybe and then organise a follow-up. That’s essentially to get new customers on-board, but I always spend time with existing customers to help them get more out of their products or to fix a problem. Beyond that, I spent time working with the wider global team and answering questions on areas where I have more of an expertise, like cloud networking.

I always try and volunteer my help when colleagues need help, especially when you’re in a global team. I’ve spoken to customers across maybe 30 countries in the past 24 months and they all have different problems, some common but some are industry specific or geography specific, so I’m also learning from them in the process. The good thing is that when one person volunteers, another person will volunteer and it’s quite contagious.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

It’s difficult to answer really. If I get a customer emailing me saying something is working great, then that makes such a difference because they’re a happy customer, or if someone decides to buy the product, then you know you’ve done your job right. Then there is working with a great team of people. Just last week someone in my team asked for some written feedback, and I told her it was great to see her having grown into someone who wasn’t always confident when she came into the team to someone who is now a very strong contributor to the team. I’m not taking any credit for that, but it’s nice to be part of it. And then lastly there is the tech side – there is always something new to learn.

I know you are a huge advocate of learning, you only need to read your blog to see that. Which VMware product (whether you’ve used it or not) are you most excited about using?

I think the next thing for me is vSphere 7 and Kubernetes. I like all our networking products – NSX-T or VeloCloud or vSphere Network Insight – and these products are all great in their own way but K8S is the main on my list for this year. The other thing I’m looking into is the work we’re doing with public cloud hyperscalers; that’s something that is definitely an interesting area.

Part of your job is that you get to find out about lots of enterprise tech stacks. Do you have any horror stories of customer disasters that you can share?

I don’t have any horror stories as such – most companies I work with are FTSE 250 companies with highly skilled engineers – but what surprise and frustrate me equally is the inertia. Some companies would say, “We’re going to public cloud, it may take us a few years to get there, but we will get there” whereas some companies are stuck in ‘analysis paralysis’. I still find that many customers spend their time firefighting instead of progressing their stacks. If I was a CTO I’d try and have an innovation office which would look at newer tech and decide whether there is a valid use case for it to move things forward. I know it’s easy to say for me but how are you supposed to make significant and disruptive technology decisions when you’re consistently distracted by operational issues?

Round 3: Technology

I’ve spent plenty of night’s drinking with Nico, shared a stage with him at VMworld, but like every good Frenchman should, he always looks smart, trendy (still a word?!) and well prepared. One thing I’ve never done though is seen what trendy tech he’s got in his bag. Lets do some digging…

Lets start with personal tech, what is in your arsenal at the moment, both at home and work?

So I used a Macbook Pro for work, iPhone 11, Airpods Pro but my Raspberry Pi  is my newest toy I am playing with at the moment. They’re really cheap and I’ve really enjoyed seeing what can be done with them. The biggest new toy though is my new Electric Golf (car). It’s not because I want to save the planet, which is good – but it’s mostly because it’s a new toy!

Lets move into the enterprise tech world, what tech would you love to see the death of – but won’t go away?

My biggest gripe is licensing, it brings no value to customers. If we want to make enterprise tech as easy to consume as consumer tech, where it’s a couple of clicks to join a service, why do we have to make things so complicated? There are vendors that are determined to make licensing incredible painful for customers, especially when trying to integrate solutions together. I’ll leave it at that!

I know you are lucky enough to have three wonderful kids. Will you be encouraging any of them to follow you into the world of technology, or are they already outsmarting you?

I would especially love if my daughter could get into technology and the coding club I am part of at the local school has mostly boys and very few girls, but it’s a skill that will be relevant for the next 50 years. As a parent, you want your kids to have good career prospects. I’d love it if my career interloped with my kids, if they were in the same field or whatever. We have a guy in our team who is going to be 64, who is totally passionate and technically brilliant and he keeps on going and learning new things. He has kids who are developers and recently he was doing some Ansible and his son helped him out setting up Python virtual environments. You may not always have something in common with your kids, but if you can talk about technology then I think that’s pretty cool.

Round 4: Covid-19 Pandemic

Everyone is having to adapt to cope with the various social restrictions applied across the world at the moment – I know you or I are no different.

So my first question around this, is what changes have you had to make professionally to ensure your customers are well supported and that VMC continues to be successful?

We have some more official VMware statements on how we’re supporting our customers, but on a more personal basis, what I’ve found more interesting from our side is navigating the fine line between going out to a customer and saying “Hi, are you ok, can I help you?” or coming across as an ambulance chaser, which is the last thing I want to do.

I’ve heard plenty of fantastic stories of IT teams across the globe pulling together to keep the lights on, how have your internal IT team supported you and what have the VMC team had to change to ensure everything keep ticking over nicely?

For many of us in presales, we’re used to working from home, but many VMware employees are office-based. VMware IT have ran some sessions in the UK on how to work from home, and in some of the sessions there was as many as 600 people. Some of the content for some of us was pretty obvious but to people who have never done it, it’s really valuable. The speed at which we’ve adapted to the situation was quite phenomenal. VMware IT manage over 60,000 devices using WorkspaceOne, they are just phenominal given the size of the estate they have to manage.

From a VMC perspective, we are seeing customers requiring capacity on-demand at short-notice or remote working solutions as employees can’t go to the office or to a DC and ordering parts is proving challenging. It’s rewarding to see our service being used by various healthcare organizations.

I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of seeing Nico’s twitter, one recent one was a lovely image of the VMConAWS EMEA team on Zoom. How much have you had to rely on tech like this over the past month or so to interact with colleagues and customers alike?

For an example, we were supposed to have our internal ‘Tech Summit’ where we learn about new products that are being developed and I was supposed to be in Barcelona at the end of March. Our enablement team had to change it into a virtual event in a matter of weeks. It is harder to engage on a virtual platform, but they did a great job of turning it around.

We’ve been having regular Zoom meetings, some of the time with no agenda, just to catch up. We’ve had virtual pub quizzes with the team, so good to catch up, see other people and have a bit of that social element. I’ve even done some meetings with friends, having a laugh with the camera filters. Do not do what I did though when you are presenting to over 100 people and forget to turn off your camera filters.

Nico with his alter-ego, Nicola

To try and keep it ‘internet safe’ and not just ramblings over plenty of alcoholic beverages, I’ll leave the questions there. Nico, have you got anything you’d like to comment on before I wrap this up?

Other than the fact that I hope you have censored most of this – I have nothing more to say!

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