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IT Blogger Spotlight: Chris Wahl of Wahl Network

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Chris Wahl (@ChrisWahl) recently wrote a great product review of Virtualization Manager on his blog Wahl Network. It got me thinking that it would be nice to get to know him a little better. So, we tracked him down and got answers to a few questions for this month’s IT Blogger Spotlight. Enjoy!

SWI: So, tell us a little about Wahl Network.

CW: I use the tagline “Technical Solutions for Technical People” as a way to quickly sum up Wahl Network. As I stumble on things I think are interesting – such as new products, tips for a solution or ways to identify and overcome technical challenges – I write about them. Most of my experiences are drawn from maintaining and managing a home lab, working with clients as a technical architect and traveling the world to speak and engage with the IT community at events and conferences.

Posts that solve problems are my favorite to write. They feel like the purest form of giving back to the community, and I especially love it when someone comments to let me know that I either solved their problem or helped them figure it out.

I also run a rather popular segment on creating, buying and building home labs. A number of my resources address the food groups – servers, storage and networking – that can be used in a home lab environment. In my opinion, it’s gained so much traction because budgets are so tight and there are no right ways to build a home lab – as long as it works for you, it’s a great home lab! It’s also fun to have a totally safe segment of equipment to bang on that won’t result in taking down production, but also gives you the power to really understand how the various hardware and software bits fit together.

SWI: Nice. How did it all begin?

CW: I used to use a wiki-style site for recording my notes for various projects and workarounds at work. After several years of reading and finding very helpful tips and tricks on a number of blogs, I decided I’d do the same. I founded Wahl Network in 2010 with two goals: to record my thoughts around different challenges and solutions, and to make those same thoughts available on the Internet. I chose Wordpress because it was simple to use, popular on the Internet and eliminated my need to maintain the back-end such as backups, OS, etc.

SWI: OK. So, obviously your day job very much ties into the topics you blog about. What do you do for a living?

CW: After 13 years working on the customer side of operations – systems admin, IT manager and virtualization engineer – I finally went over to the consulting side of IT. My role as a senior solutions architect blends a variety of fun things into one job: I help clients elevate their operations and build efficient data centers, I get to educate IT folks on a variety of solutions that exist in the market and how they can take advantage of them and I get to create written and video content for our company blog.

I also own my own company, which is focused on creating content for the greater community. So, beyond my blog, I also create training courses and materials for Pluralsight, speak at various VMware User Groups, write for a number of technical publishers and co-host the Virtualization User Podcast as a Service (VUPaaS) with some great folks.

SWI: Very cool. How did you get into IT in the first place?

It’s more like IT got into me. I put my hands on an Apple computer at a very early age and never looked back. At first, I started playing games – like Choplifter, Burger Time and Lode Runner – and later I decided to learn how to write games in BASIC. As I grew older, I ended up co-hosting a BBS – we hosted VGA Planets – and doing some development work for my local grade school as a lab assistant. Once I finished my undergrad in network and communications management, the sky was the limit. I’ve always known that I wanted to work with technology and am extremely pleased at the amount of encouragement, support and guidance I received from my parents, spouse and mentors.

SWI: You mentioned your spouse, so that means you must have a life outside of IT and blogging, right? What are some of your non-IT hobbies?

CW: I prefer to completely unplug from the Internet for recreation. This typically means going skeet or trap shooting at one of the local clubs – I shoot a 12 gauge. I also enjoy working on various woodworking, plumbing or electrical projects around the house. There is something incredibly rewarding about seeing a room both as it is and as it can be, and then working with your hands to build something new and special.

SWI: Stepping back into the topic of IT for minute. What are the tools you find you use the most?

CW: Scripting is still my first love, so I tend to gravitate towards PowerShell by way of the ISE and an app called PowerGUI. I’m also a bit of a SQL gearhead, so I spend a fair amount of time in good ol’ SQL Management Studio. I’ve begun shifting my gaze towards open source projects. As of the past year or so I have been spending a much more time staring at GitHub – I run it on my PC – and IDLE for Python scripting. Other tools that I’ve really enjoyed working with include Onyx – VMware fling, Notepad++, SecureCRT for managing SSH sessions and keys and KeePass.

SWI: Given your expertise on both the admin and consulting sides combined with your industry blogger perspective, what do you think is next for IT?

CW: The need for IT specialists is beginning to erode, making room for a return to the IT generalist. Skillset requirements are evolving from hardware-centric to software-centric. With abstraction technologies taking care of a great deal of the complexity within a number of hardware products – especially storage – even large IT shops are no longer going to need to find a super deeply technical person to manage the gear on the floor. Instead, an IT generalist who knows a fair amount about storage, network and compute – servers – along with a healthy dash of scripting will be king.

As an example, I recently wrote about a company that sells hybrid flash storage arrays. There is no tuning, configuration or performance tweaks to apply. You buy, rack and setup the box. After that, it just works. This is a rather new trend in storage products, but it’s catching on even with the larger and more established vendors. The business wants to consume the resource immediately, not wait while IT fiddles around with making it work. This trend is driving the way vendors build products and businesses purchase and consume products. As such, the people that are needed in IT will have to be able to adapt. Change is hard, but overall I think this will result in a greater job satisfaction and less Sev1 calls in the middle of the night for IT!