Guest Post: My time as Red Hat Certified Professional of the Year

by Sean Millichamp

Sean Millichamp was crowned worldwide Red Hat Certified Professional of the Year in June 2012 at Red Hat Summit. With Rafael Guimaraes officially set to be the next recipient of the award at next week’s Summit event in Boston, Sean offers us a look back at his past 12 months since winning the esteemed title.

It’s been a little over a year now since Red Hat selected me as the 2012 Worldwide Red Hat Certified Professional of the Year and what a year it has been! The whole experience was (and continues to be) amazing.

Initially, I didn’t tell too many people when Red Hat notified me that I had won. As with any contest there is some requisite legal paperwork (permission to use your name, etc.) that has to be cleared and so I only told my family, my boss, and a couple of other co-workers who knew I had submitted an entry, but that didn’t last long. The news passed quickly from my boss, to the company VP, to the CEO and then to the entire executive and sales teams. I still had not announced it to my surrounding coworkers but when a fairly continuous stream of people began walking up to me to shake my hand I found myself repeatedly explaining to those around me why I was being congratulated and what the award was – all the while caught somewhere between my more typically modest self and extreme bubbling pride.

In fact, I think my employer, Secure-24, was every bit as excited about this award as I was. If this seems unusual you need only to understand our business. We are a managed hosting company: IT is our business. The majority of our employees are either technical or work to directly support technical resources. So, when a senior engineer on one of their main product platforms wins a top award with a key partner – it was a sales/marketing dream come true. Our marketing team even issued a press release about it!

After the award was announced, Secure-24 quickly moved to sponsor a fairly large booth at Red Hat Summit and send a contingent of a dozen other people out to Boston to attend, including fellow engineers, sales, and recruiting. The marketing team even put a picture of me in my red fedora doing my best Shadowman impression on one of the booth’s panels promoting that I had won the award. It wasn’t my idea and I was extremely embarrassed about it when we were putting the artwork together, but it turned out great and I was really happy with it in the end. Since a lot of people have asked me, Red Hat does NOT give you a red fedora for winning the award. I already owned it from years past for a Shadowman Halloween costume I put together. And, for the record, if you don’t work at Red Hat and you choose to dress as Shadowman for Halloween, at best one person may recognize and appreciate the costume without explanation – even if you are surrounded by Red Hat-using super nerds all day – and explaining it invariably only gets you an odd look.

The Summit itself was a great time. I’ve been to the Summit a number of times, and it is always a great event, but I think attending as the Worldwide RHCP of the Year will always be the top Summit event from me. Everyone from Red Hat was great and getting to meet and speak with Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO, was a real treat. The awards presentation was awesome and I really appreciated having my co-workers there up in the front row as my own personal cheering section.

The last day of the Summit my photo was on the front page of the daily “Red Hat Free Press,” the newspaper that they publish to recap the previous day and list the current day’s events. I waited to make sure everyone who wanted a copy got a copy and then I grabbed a small stack to bring home. I gave one each to my bosses, my kids, and my parents as part “sorry you couldn’t have been there” and part “thank you for the support”.

After the Summit, things settled down a lot but certainly didn’t end there. Our COO (and one of the company’s founders) frequently tours existing or potential customers through our headquarters. Following the award he’d stop at my desk, introduce me to visitors and explain the award, then ask me to talk a little bit about myself. The first couple of times it caught me off guard but I got used to it and even began enjoying the opportunity to represent my team and our corner of the world. Our recruiters have even been known to use the “come work with the Worldwide RHCP of the Year” angle. If it helps sales sell or recruiting fill spots, even a little bit, then I’m happy to be a part of it.

Speaking of recruiters, I had no intentions of switching jobs but I do try keep my LinkedIn profile up to date. So as soon as the award was announced I updated my profile. It didn’t take long until the already fairly steady stream of recruiters reaching out to me took a sharp uptick. I can only imagine that if you were looking to switch jobs the perfect time would be shortly after winning this award. The title does look particularly great on a resume and LinkedIn.

With my fellow Linux engineers, the congratulations soon turned to good-natured fun. To this day if we are having a debate on design or architecture it isn’t uncommon to hear someone say, “don’t make Sean get his red hat!” Even though my red fedora pre-dates the award I suppose it has become the embodiment of it for most of my co-workers. I don’t wear it often but I do keep it hanging at my cube and I will, on rare occasions, don it around the office. One of our managers recently told me, “we don’t see you in the red hat enough! All of my new people have heard about it, but haven’t seen it yet.”

When I won the award my wife was extremely proud and supportive. She even gave me some nicknames, including “Mr. Worldwide Awesome” – which I wasn’t going to object to. For the record, being “Mr. Worldwide Awesome” doesn’t mean you no longer have to take out the trash, mow the lawn, or empty the dishwasher, all of which came as a great disappointment to me. However, when the ball dropped at New Years the very first thing she said after “Happy New Years!” was, “you know this means you are the FORMER Worldwide RHCP of the Year now”. I think she had been waiting to say that since I won the award. So, now I am “Mr. Former Worldwide Awesome”, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it but such is life.

Overall, it’s been a wild ride and a lot of fun. I would encourage EVERYONE (who is Red Hat Certified, of course) to enter to be the next RHCP of the Year. If you never enter you’ll never win. If you enter and don’t win then the worst you did was not win that year – you can always try again.

Finally, let me congratulate Rafael Guimaraes on winning 2013 Red Hat Certified Professional of the Year! I look forward to meeting Rafael in Boston at this year’s Summit but until then let me end with this with a mix of fun and practical tips for him and any other future RHCP of the Year:

1. Hopefully your employer recognizes your achievement at work, but if not at least make sure you have made sure the “important people” at work know about it.
2. Take a minute to do some self-promotion on your LinkedIn, Facebook, blog, etc. Even if you aren’t looking for a new job right now, the time to let the world know is now. Then when people search the Internet for your name later they’ll find it. Every edge helps.
3. Take a few of the “Red Hat Free Press” with your picture printed in it home with you. Hang it at your desk as a reminder or take it to your next performance review.
4. If you are married or dating someone, see if you can get them to give you a fun nickname that makes your ego inflate a little.
5. If you aren’t, try using your title as part of a pick-up routine. Let me know if it worked. My wife would frown upon me testing that out myself, but I am nevertheless curious.
6. When Red Hat’s Mike Randall asks you to write a guest blog post for Services Speak, and gives you a month to do it, say yes, but don’t wait until the night before to write it.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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