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My Life in Tech: Q&A with Microsoft MVP Kerrie Meyler

Kerrie Meyler describes her path to becoming a Microsoft MVP, how she became the author of numerous System Center books, and what she does for fun.
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InformIT: You’ve co-authored quite a few books on System Center. How did you get started as an author, and what keeps you writing?

Kerrie: Although I assisted as a contributing author on an IIS 6 book—which was eventually cancelled because the authors were so far behind schedule—I don't consider that to have launched my authoring career.

Things really got started when someone I knew in a Microsoft product group called to ask if I was interested in writing a MOM 2005 book for Microsoft Press. Ultimately that book also was not published, as Microsoft decided instead to focus on the upcoming Operations Manager 2007 release. However, the content became the inspiration for Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 Unleashed, published in 2006 by Sams.

Writing a book is a lot of work. What keeps me going is realizing that these books can make a difference in people's lives. Microsoft products can be extremely easy to install as all you have to do is run a setup wizard, but that doesn't mean one knows what to do afterwards. If the Unleashed series helps IT Pros in their deployment of System Center products, I feel that the work is worthwhile.

InformIT: What has been your career path? What did you study in school, and how did you get where you are today?

Kerrie: I was a history major who didn't want to be a librarian or teacher, and wasn't ready to go to graduate school. I took an introductory programming class to see what it was like and realized I had an aptitude for programming, so I took enough computer-related courses for that to be an unofficial minor. I started as a computer programmer and then became a database administrator and later a systems administrator. Later as a Technology Specialist at Microsoft, I focused on Windows Server and the early System Center products.

InformIT: You’re currently President and Chairman of the Board of a nonprofit fitness center. This is certainly a departure from your technical career! How did you get started with this new venture?

Kerrie: It's a bit of a long story. My father built a cabin in the mountains in southern Colorado about 9 years ago. The first time I visited, I was enchanted by the beauty and peacefulness of the mountains and wanted to come back. After visiting several times, my husband and I decided we would like to come regularly and began looking for a summer home in the area. (As I am self-employed and he is a university professor, we have some flexibility with our schedules.) Working out has always been important to me, and one of the nearby towns had a fitness center, which is fairly unusual for a small town in a rural area.

We purchased an older house there (a "fixer-upper") two blocks from Main Street. When that gym went out of business several years later, several of us got together to "save the gym" and bought all its equipment at a liquidation sale. Given that a for-profit model hadn't worked with previous owners and saving the gym was more of a service to the community than a money-making proposition, we incorporated as non-profit and applied for 501(c)(3) status as a charitable organization. The gym opened in May 2012.

The gym is located in the second poorest and least healthy county in the state. It is really inspirational to see how access to a fitness center makes a difference in people's lives by helping them to become healthier.

InformIT: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?

Kerrie: Somewhat tongue in cheek: when I started at Microsoft, I was amazed at how many smart people worked there. I was convinced I would exposed as not being as smart as everyone else!

InformIT: You’ve written many books, including System Center 2012 Orchestrator Unleashed, System Center 2012 Operations Manager Unleashed, and System Center 2012 Configuration Manager (SCCM) Unleashed, among others. How do you see the role of these technologies changing over the years?

Kerrie: When Microsoft first announced the concept of System Center, it was to be about the eventual integration of SMS and MOM through a reporting subsystem. Over the years, Microsoft added additional products to System Center. With System Center 2012, the push has been to become more integrated, with System Center being the product and the individual technologies becoming components.

The other big change has occurred with Microsoft's focus on cloud computing. They are really pushing for the System Center technologies to become cloud-based. The integration between Configuration Manager and Windows Intune is an example of this.

InformIT: Many developers consider Microsoft’s programming suite to be world-class. Do you think their tools for sysadmins can also be held in such high regard?

Kerrie: Microsoft's big strength with their tools has always been ease of use through a graphical user interface. What is interesting is they are now incorporating PowerShell everywhere, so scripting skills become an important part of one's toolset. This came about from Microsoft's realization that to have excellent administrative tools, one needed to be able to perform things in batch instead of just by clicking in a GUI.

InformIT: Microsoft seems to have weathered the influx of open source alternatives fairly well. Was there a time when you considered jumping to a different platform? If so, which platform and what were your main reasons? If not, what has kept you with Redmond’s offerings for so long?

Kerrie: I've remained pretty constant with the Microsoft platform. This may be partly because I "drank the Kool-Aid" as an employee. Being a MVP also helps because I have the opportunity to help shape the direction of the products.

InformIT: Can you describe your path to becoming a Microsoft MVP?

Kerrie: Long and arduous. ☺

MVPs are recognized for their technical expertise, willingness to help others make the most of their technology, and for making a significant and positive impact on technical communities. This is no small feat–there are over a million social and technical Microsoft community members worldwide, but only about 3,800 MVPs.

The road to becoming a MVP varies by product, product life cycle, and by what is determined as a significant impact to the community. You are evaluated on your contributions in the past 12 months in a variety of areas; this can include blogs and online Microsoft forums, presenting at conferences and user groups, podcasts, websites, articles, and books. You have to be nominated (preferably by another MVP or someone at Microsoft) to be considered, and your status is reconsidered for renewal on an annual basis.

In my case, it was a combination of blogs, conferences, and books. And a lot of hard work. Probably what made it happen was authoring books in the Unleashed series, beginning with the MOM 2005 Unleashed book, which was over a 2-year effort before publication.

When you are being considered for the MVP award, you are contacted by Microsoft asking for information on why you would qualify for the award–so you know you are under consideration. I also received a second email some months later from Microsoft asking for confirmation of my contact information, which indicated they were more than slightly interested. Awards are quarterly, so January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1 are dates to watch your inbox to see if you were selected. Often the emails are flagged as junk email–I found my award email in my Junk folder at about 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day 2008. It was very exciting–I was jumping up and down!

My award letter was to be a MVP in the Microsoft Operations Manager specialization. This category has had its name changed several times since then–to System Center Operations Manager, and now to System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management (try saying that 5 times fast). When I received the MVP award, there were about 30 MOM MVPs. Today there are over 75 SCCDM MVPs, encompassing all areas of System Center other than Configuration Manager, which is a separate category as Enterprise Client Management.

I was the first female MOM MVP (there are two SCCDM female MVPS at this time). There are advantages to being a female in a technical area–it’s one of the few times the guys are waiting in line for the restroom, not the women! Seriously, as an IT Pro and a MCT, I was used to being in the minority gender, and I really don’t look at it that way; we are all colleagues. It is of course of some concern that there are so few qualified female candidates in the more technical MVP areas. There are quite a few women for Office and SharePoint, but not many in Windows Server or System Center. This is not only the case at MVP gatherings, but also at user groups and conferences.

InformIT: What has been your most gratifying achievement in your career?          

Kerrie: Receiving the MVP award. I felt I had reached the pinnacle as far as being involved with Microsoft technologies.

InformIT: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

Kerrie: Many employers talk about "work/life balance," but they don't tell you how to make that happen. I think the only thing worse than sending someone you work with an email at 1 a.m. is getting a response shortly thereafter!

Seriously, writing books is hard work, and very few people make enough for it to replace a paycheck. Realize that going in—you're not doing it for the money. The workload can be easier when you have coauthors, since that means you don't have to do it all on your own. The challenge then is keeping the book from sounding like it was written by multiple people.

InformIT: Did you always want to work with technology? What made you want to pursue this career?

Kerrie: I actually wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up, but I ran into a few bumps along the way. Working with computer technologies was something I discovered I had an aptitude for. Authoring books gives me the opportunity to combine the technology with writing.

InformIT: What do you do for fun?

Kerrie: Pick up weights and put them down. :)

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