It all started with a conversation at VMworld two years ago.
During the 2010 show, Paul Valentino, enterprise infrastructure architect at student loan guarantor ECMC, and Tim Oudin, who runs his own technology consulting firm, were discussing the case of one VMworld attendee who wouldn't have been at the conference if it hadn't been for the generosity of the community, friends and family who paid his way.
"We thought that was pretty awesome," Oudin says. "The conference can really be beneficial to people in the industry if they take advantage of it." But registration for VMworld costs a couple thousand dollars, and that doesn't include travel and a hotel.
The two Minneapolis-area techies also talked about the cost of VMware Certified Professional certification. A VCP certificate comes with a hefty $3,000 price tag. "For someone who's trying to break into the industry and who's not working at a senior-level engineer position, that can be hard to scrape up," Oudin says.
Then came the "Aha!" moment: Why not set up a fund to help those without the financial resources to obtain VCP certification? That's when Oudin and Valentino came up with the idea for the vCommunity Trust.
"Being in the virtualization industry for several years now, I just love the technology," says Valentino. One way he stays abreast of the latest developments is by attending conferences like VMworld. "I'm always looking to learn more about everything, and my thought was to share some of that information through the vCommunity Trust," Valentino says.
To see if their idea was a viable one, Oudin and Valentino walked among the thousands of virtualization professionals attending the conference and asked for input. "We randomly started asking people, 'If it were you, what would you want to see out of a program like this?' and we got a lot of great feedback," Oudin says.
Luigi Danakos, an IT coordinator for Universal Technical Institute, got on board right away. "I like to give back to the community, and I was, like, that is an awesome idea," Danakos says. "It allows you to help someone with no reward for yourself."
They received so much support that they wasted no time putting vCommunity Trust in motion. The group received its federal 501(c)(3) tax status in August 2011. Valentino chairs the organization and Oudin serves as vice chairman.
"I've noticed that the virtualization community is a very strong community as a whole, and they try to help each other when possible," says Danakos, who is now the organization's director of marketing. vCommunity Trust aims to help in several ways. One is with the vProfessional Program, which offers free training and financial assistance to aspiring virtualization professionals seeking certification. Another is by developing a virtualization training program that can be downloaded for free.
Because they believe hands-on training is important, vCommunity volunteers are building a lab so students will get an understanding of the underlying technology, something Valentino likens to the shop classes of his youth.
"The labs are going to be a lot like the ones you'd use if you actually took a VMware class, where you can use the interfaces and do real-world configurations," he says.
vCommunity runs a tight ship financially and relies on donations, which mostly come from the virtualization community.
Minneapolis-based ipHouse has donated a half-rack of space, including power, cooling and Internet access. Mike Horwath, ipHouse founder and chief technology officer, offered his help when he heard about the fledgling organization. He says more high-level and fully certified VM professionals are needed to meet demand. "There's nothing like it in our area," Horwath says. "I'd like to get anybody on board who's going to put in the effort to finish."
Although vCommunity now has the basics to get its training program started, it still needs financial and equipment donations, particularly Fibre Channel storage. The foundation hopes companies will donate equipment they've used for trade shows or conferences, or save themselves the cost of recycling.
Eventually, the volunteers intend to broaden vCommunity's offerings to assist with other industry certifications. "We could actually help produce a more well-rounded engineer," Oudin says.
Valentino concurs. "The goal is for our certification to be just as valuable, or more valuable, than others because it combines the different areas for an infrastructure."
What it needs now — apart from money and more equipment — is students. The foundation is focusing its attention on two groups: high school students who have an interest in technology and who are about to graduate but don't have the resources for training; and people already working in the technology field who need help getting to the next level.
Danakos is planning to use VMware user groups around the country, blog postings, Twitter messages and word of mouth to attract students. vCommunity would like to start with four students a year in 2013, although it may launch the program with one student this fall. "I'm certain someone out there knows somebody who could benefit from the vCommunity Trust," he says.
Although the programs offered by vCommunity are aimed at up-and-coming virtualization professionals, the people behind the nonprofit have already felt the benefits of giving back to the community — unwavering support and the satisfaction of seeing their idea solidify into a real, functional organization.
"It's been an amazing experience to see a thought turn into something as well known as it is and see it grow," Valentino says. "It's really exciting.
Here's an overview of the two major training programs vCommunity Trust plans to develop.
vCommunity Trust Certification and Training: This program offers financial support to train for and take the VMware Certified Professional exam, the first level of virtualization certification. The program is open to students who are high school seniors or older with a minimum grade point average of 3.0, who are experiencing economic hardship and who are already active members of a virtualization user group or community.
vCommunity Trust Datacenter Training for Public Schools: The plan is for vCommunity Trust to set itself up as a resource for public schools that don't have access to data center technology by building labs in schools, teaching in schools, and providing offsite education with access to remote labs. Schools will need to serve an underprivileged student population to qualify.