VMworld SFO 12 takeaways

In a month or two VMworld will be held in San Francisco, I have been selected to go there for PQR to cover the EUC and mobile side of things. Delighted of course to be chosen I think I is a good idea to share my conference knowledge with you. Perhaps it’s your first time around and you wonder what to do, how to move.

It’s my fourth VMworld in San Francisco and I still can remember the impact my first visit had. Then, in 2009, “only” 15000 visitors were at VMworld. Walking into a conference as a rookie and seeing this vast amount of people trying to find their way is impressive. You get used to it pretty soon. 
The first time after that when I visited Citrix Synergy I felt like I knew everyone after a day, only 5000 people there, like a friends gathering.

This year will be my fourth visit to VMworld San Francisco, it will be my first time as a member of the vExpert-EUC group. Very much looking forward in meeting the guys and the discussions that will take place.

So let’s start with some takeaways:

1. Location

The event is held at the Moscone center, the heart of it all.
I told you it’s huge but that also means you have to walk a lot between sessions. Sessions are being held on different places, the Moscone center itself isn’t large enough to hold all sessions.

The map below shows the places last time where the sessions were held in 2014.
From the Moscone center to the Marriot hotel is a 6 minute walk but when you walked up and down in the heat it might take a bit longer. It’s a nice scenery to walk by Yerba Buena Gardens but you’re always in a rush to get on time for the next session. take at least 10-15 minutes time if you don’t want to keep on running.
The other location is Moscone Center west, this is were a lot of sessions were held last time, it’s around the corner but you need to take at least 5-10 minutes in account to get there in time with traffic lights and stairs and so on.

2. Food – one of the important things.

Perhaps because I’m from Europe but the food they serve there isn’t my kind of food. Let’s start with breakfast. below you see a picture of the breakfast we got, yeah yeah there was fruit also, sure that was just there for decoration ;). If you like a more healthy breakfast you’re in for a game for that’s pretty hard to find.
Lunch is a bit better, different tastings are being served in the main rooms. I always ate lunch at the conference but never touched the donuts (which is a Dutch invention I learned the other day, really did we make those?).
There are diners around the Moscone center were the serve a better breakfast.

It started to look like a normal breakfast, they could have skipped the fries and bacon but hey we burn calories while sitting on our ass don’t we?

There are a number of locations where you can get a breakfast one more rich of calories than the other, here’s a list of diners within walking distance of Moscone;
  • Lori’s Diner at Mason street (Google also shows one at Powell but that one is closed);
  • Cafe Venue at 5th close to Mission street – most European like breakfast I found;
  • Mel’s drive in at Misson street, mind you this one is populair so come early if you don’t want to wait in line.
Of course you can get breakfast at the Moscone centre but it is never that good as the ones above.

3. Parties

There are many parties and events around VMworld, some you can register for and some you have to be invited. There are a few parties you have to attend, the VMworld party is one of them, last year party at the stadium with Train and Imagine Dragons was pretty awesome. 
Two years ago the party was at AT&T Park, home of the Giants.. Don’t know much about this sport but for people living in the US it seemed huge to be there. Last year the party was in the Moscone.. like it was also other years. Don’t expect too much to eat at the party, if you think of dining at the party you’re in for a surprise. 
There will be event agenda’ s popping up in the next weeks and more the closer we get to VMworld. 
I’ll post a link to the most comprehensive one I can find that way you have one source and not many.
Pick your parties wisely, of course it fun to party all night and drink like you’re 18 but the next day you have to sit in those sessions again… I’ve done that once, partied a bit to much (it was fun with great people) but the next day we had the keynote and I was suddenly realizing that I left 18 far far behind me.
One list you might want to keep an eye on is: http://www.vmworld.com/community/gatherings 

4. Getting around

Once you are at your hotel you need to get around. Hopefully you booked a hotel at walking distance for that’s the most easy way to get around the area. Another way to move is the Uber taxi service, it’s a cheap and fast way to get around. Within minutes a black car pulls over and you are on your way. The only downside is that they can’t pick up from the airport.
If you are going the tourist route you might consider the busses and cable cars which are driving frequently. San Francisco is a friendly city and I never experienced any negative behavior so far. If you want to take the cable car to Fisherman’s wharf don’t get on at the starting point, move up a few stops, that way you get on easier… trust me.

5. Sightseeing

If you are there a first time you are dying to look around, it’s a beautiful city that offer a lot of sights. One thing we have done twice now (different people with us) is bike the bridge. No organized trip but just go down to Fisherman’s Wharf early in the morning on the free Sunday and rent a bike. We rented one at Bay City bike, opens early. I get no money from them sponsoring them but they rented good bikes twice now so that’s a good place to start. Being Dutch the bike matters 🙂
From there down to Crissy field and over the Golden gate bridge to Sausolito is a very nice drive. Even with less fit people this biking trip is nice, there are a few hills in the track but most people can get them. We had an elderly guy with us the first time and he walked up that hill but loved the rest of the biking trip. Us youngsters (46 myself) were showing of the onlookers to show our fitness (and experience muscles pain the next days).

At the Sausalito side of the bridge, as you can see there is fog on the other side. keep that in mind, San Fransisco is known for the foggy mornings, it can be pretty cold at that time. Dress for the occasion. 

 At Fishermans Wharf while biking to the bridge, the bike renting company is at Fishermans wharfs as I showed you before so stop that the wharf to take pictures it’s a lovely place… if just those tourist would be gone :).

The way back from Sausalito can be done by bike but we took the ferry back that takes you past Alcatraz.

This saves a lot of time and gives you the opportunity to see some more of the city, we biked to Lombard street famous among tourist for its hairpins. The street leading to Lombard street is one I didn’t ride, that was a steep one.

I’ve been a traveller all my life and I’m not too keen on tourist spots, I like a pure view of things. Didn’t visit alcatraz for that reason although I heard it’s worth the visit. If you plan to visit Alcatraz make sure you get tickets way before (like today) to get there. My colleague looked for tickets a few weeks before VMworld and everything was sold out.

So tourist views are:

  1. Bike the bridge
  2. Fishermans Wharf 
  3. Painted ladies
  4. Ride the cable car
  5. Lombard street

 6. Where to dine?

We’ll that’s the easiest part of this city, there are so many places to eat, it’s hard to choose. Of course most of the places serve some kind of hamburger. One hamburger a day keeps other food away..
There are many small restaurants that look shabby for the outside but server good food, tried a few and have to say that if you don’t mind a hamburger once in a while take the challenge.
Also while walking back from the painted ladies we came across a flea market where the served nice pulled pork. If you never had pulled pork try it, it’s pork at it’s best.. that might be one spot I’m visiting this year, really enjoyed that sandwich.
On the other side you can find good Sushi restaurants where people are waiting in line to get in. it’s just what you are looking for. I like good company more and prefer that over high class food. I think the sushi restaurant was Yamasho.
There are so many places to eat it will be difficult to mention them all and not forget one that was also good. I did try a couple of places, also some that looked shabby from the outside. i don’t care much for fancy places, interesting people are not met in fancy places I think. 
At the Wharf I had a very nice Dungeness crab bisque, it’s a sour bread with a crab soup. I can recommend this it’s very nice to eat.

7. Sessions

Of course you go to VMworld for the sessions, we’ll choose them wisely. A lot of session start of with 10 minutes of marketing BS and then go on in a far to low technical level. It’s therefore wise to read well on the content of the session and look at the session level. Most of us IT consultants come to VMworld with knowledge and want to learn more, get more deep insight information.
A lot of session are level 300 or lower and don’t provide that deep dive, they are for the less experienced ones and for others. My technique is that I have a short list of topics I want to learn about, get information about during VMworld.
Make sure you register for session on time, you don’t want to be in the waiting line.  The session builder has been opened the 14th of July. when you work with the session builder make sure to hover over the “site menu” and pick Schedule there. That way you can pick sessions per day and see the impact on your schedule instantly. Also add time to visit the floor, you can do that with adding personal time from the top of the schedule screen.
I pick session where either the content is about those topics or the one presenting has knowledge about it. I prepare some questions (have them in my head all year long) and wait the moment to ask them during the session. sure not all questions are answered in the session, sometimes the question goes to far for the level of the session. If that happens you should wait until after the session and talk to the presenter in the hallway. First you have to wait for the fanboys to say goodby for they are always around.
Had some nice conversations in the hallways that gave more info than 1 hour in a session..my list of topics is growing already for this year.
…and don’t be afraid to walk out of a session if the content is not good enough, you are not there to please them, you paid loads of money to get good content.

8. The floor

The real content is to be found on the floor. Having said that, I should warn you that half the people at the stands has no clue on what they sell, they are hired to smile and show their nice figure to you. Try to find the guy who wrote the code, invented the product and talk to him. There are moments that the floor isn’t that busy (when they don’t draw for an iPad) and that you can actually talk to people. 
Again I make a shortlist of vendors on the floor and write down why I want to talk to them. Some talks are because they are long time friends but most are talks about new techniques and products. 
If you don’t come prepared you are facing 500 vendors in a hall that all have a stress ball or sticker for you, not why you came to the event is it?
At one side of the floor are the smaller companies the startups, They get the least attention and are almost most interesting. I make time to visit them, not all of them but again through a shortlist.

9. Wifi

WiFi at VMworld is pretty good, almost at every location I had decent WiFi except the floor. For some reason WiFi is blocked at the floor. I’m sure it’s because the vendors would be using it for demo’s and therefore block it for the visitors but still it’s weird.
If you are in a session at the Marriot you will have to use the Hotel WiFi, the code for that is somewhere at the entrance of the session. Don’t hesitate to ask, WiFi is a basic need these days at conferences to find your next session.
I have to say WiFi at VMworld is one of the most stable of all conference I’ve been to. Even with 25000 guest with two or more devices it reacts pretty fine. What they could add is a bit more range just outside the building to give us connection also there. We don’t have a US contract so when meeting with someone outside you have to get direction while inside and hope you don’t get lost. Happened to me last time, had to go in a few times to reconnect for outside I was the blind and deaf guy.

10. Gadgets

If you want to pay a few thousand of dollars for an event and hotels to get stress balls, stickers, usb stick and so on… you gotten to the right place. I’ve seen men walk out with two large shopping bags full of crap worth pennies. Every stand will offer you this kind of stuff and the game is to pick out the nice things only.
A lot of vendors are giving away an iPad or similar, if you have time enough you could enter all drawing and hopefully go home with one. If you enter the drawing you have to be present and will miss sessions. I would be very picky about this for it will eat your time and time is limited. I would pick up the occasional t-shirt but only if it was original enough, perhaps if you are building a house you will collect a few more. If you are looking for t-shirts and gadgets you better take an extra bag with you, saw a guy walk out once with two big shopping bags full of it.

11. Registration

One last thing, registration. Registration is open already on Saturday and Sunday so go there, it saves you standing in line on Monday. in the weekend the opening is only a few hours but at that moment there are no lines so you’re done fast. Take all the crap out and only walk around with what you need.

12. During the day

Okay, one more thing. At VMworld they take care you have enough to drink and eat, during the day water, drinks and snacks are provided. it might be wise to take bottle of water extra the first time it’s offered. The temperature while walking from one spot to the other might be high and a nice bottle of water is a welcome threat at that moment. 
Lunch is being served inside and outside. If the weather is fine and it mostly is, you can have a nice lunch in the park. I’ve had worse places to get lunch.

13. Dress code

Dress code at VMworld is business casual I guess although you see everything from business suit to flip flops and bermuda’s. I tend to go in jeans with a T-shirt and jacket to look a bit business and a bit relaxed. The jacket is handy for a wallet and phone and gives me a bit business look. 
I think to be taken seriously when asking questions to expert you have to look like you are serious. You can’t appear with a Hawaii shirt and ask a question… for me that a no go.

14. Running

Being at a conference is a tough time, not that I want to complain but eating at rare times, having to attend parties and so on isn’t my daily ritme at home. If you want to loose those calories and get a general good feeling before entering the chaos of the conference. We ran almost every morning last year, not too long but a run for 30 to 45 minutes is a nice run to get a good feeling.

It’s a flat route with nearly no elevation there, so perhaps I see you on our morning run.

We did run one other route once…. the difference in height was a bit too much, we had to stop running a couple of times. The whole day we felt our muscles like crazy.. if you plan to run take the flat route.


Well that’s my view on VMworld, hope you will get something useful out of it, if you have questions or additions please let me know in the comments or via twitter @robbeekmans.

Hope to see you all there and have a burger together. If you are looking for me, I’m the guy with the Citrix bag at VMworld… always in for a good discussion or just a nice chat.

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