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The Product Marketer Wishlist: a demand gen hands-on learning portal

What tools and capabilities do you need to build engaging hands-on Kubernetes learning courses? The Kasten team turns education into a powerful demand generation vehicle to attract and engage the developer community.

In the previous blog (Kasten story: part 2), Victoria Avseyeva, the Manager of Digital Experience and Design at Kasten by Veeam, will share what it takes to design an engaging learning platform with a seamless learning experience.

In this blog, the Kasten story: part 3, Thomas Keenan is Sr. Product Marketing Manager, in charge of the learning platform project. Thomas shared what features and capabilities are essential when building hands-on courses and how Instruqt helps them reach incredible results with Kasten’s learning platform learning.kasten.io.

Background Story of Kasten’s Kubernetes learning platform

So as Tom, VP Marketing at Kasten, mentioned (you can read his story here), we had a fantastic experience exploring the Kubernetes ecosystem, and it’s a unique ecosystem. 

Just a brief explanation, at KubeCon 2021, we heard a lot of interest in the community to learn how to use Kubernetes. We started building the idea. We collected data from many primary and secondary research looking into the foundation challenges of learning Kubernetes. In 2021 Q4, we launched a full-on Kubernetes learning platform a few months later. 

It offers unique hands-on labs designed by subject matter experts to help people of all abilities to upskill in Kubernetes. Registration skyrocketed to almost 7000 users in the first quarter at launch, with nearly 3000 users completing the labs.

What requirements to add your virtual lab solution wishlist

Low user cost and ease of use

We looked for a lab platform that fit our budget and made it extremely easy for our users to get started with the marketing.  

As Tom mentioned in his marketing research, many of the folks in the industry are just starting. They’re rookies. Not everyone is necessarily able to access a cluster by themselves. So the backend technology is not something they’re going to want to invest in, pull out a credit card to go buy in the cloud. 

When looking for a solution to create technical educational content, it was crucial for us to quickly provide all the resources needed, plus have a straightforward onboarding. Again, lots of rookies are starting, some pros. Just to give you a picture, last year, we were a sponsor at KubeCon. I met with the vast majority of folks there, and many of them shared this their first time attending.

Quickly show the value of your products, in our case Kasten K10 – #1 K8s back-up and its integration with partner technologies

One critical outcome we want to accomplish with our Kubernetes courses is to show the value of our platform, Kasten K10. 

We want to educate people on Kubernetes, obviously, and remind folks that we are the number one Kubernetes back-up solution for Kubernetes. We have a rich ecosystem with end-to-end security and ease of use, and we think we can illustrate all of those in our labs.

We will be looking more into this soon and have a lot of conversion around our integrations with partner technologies. You know, no Kubernetes cluster is an island. It does connect to other technologies, and we want to illustrate that very efficiently.

Rapid development and test cycle — add labs quickly, test in parallel

We have an aggressive course launch schedule. We plan to bring out a new lab every four to five weeks. A solution to support us with rapid development and test cycle is a great benefit. Here, I mean a feature that can enable us to quickly test labs, test in parallel, and provide a continual user experience. 

Ultimately, we aim to create quality content fast. So once folks have done one or two labs that met their expectations and are onboarded, they want to provide additional labs consistently.

Supports flexible and real-world cases. This includes quizzes, lab challenges (actual command-line interface), and links to resources;

Look for a flexible platform that enables you to create product courses using real-world scenarios via quizzes, real hands-on labs, and links to resources all in the same platform. A lab solution will allow your learners to use actual Kubernetes commands as they follow your course. 

Create learning paths that are not just about theory with many videos but allow real commands to be used. 

Interface easily with LMS (learning management systems), CRM, and the gamification aspects

Having a lab solution that Integrates with your LMS and CRMs is very important. Going back to Kasten’s Kubernetes learning platform story, you can see why we use educational content as a marketing and sales tool. 

In our case, we need a lab platform that will easily integrate with our learning management system, with our CRM, and with our gamified platform. We want to create enriched learning experiences and not just about labs. We deliver updates to the community and the users, give them rewards, provide gaming and contests. 

Why did the Kasten Marketing team choose Instruqt? 

So on in the spotlight of the labs, the physical thing that we deliver the heart and soul of the site, we really felt it met all the criteria. 

Infrastructure is supplied; easy onboarding and ramp

Instruqt’s virtual lab platform provides easy onboarding and ramping. Most importantly, no downloads or tailored environments are required from the learners beforehand. Also, the learners don’t configure or pay for the environment we provide. 

Easy to show how Kasten K10 and Partner (e.g., Storage, Security) technologies work in real use-cases

Instruqt makes it very easy for us to build courses that quickly show how Kasten 10 and our partner technologies work. 

Theory and hands-on

Using Instruqt’s flexible content editor, we can provide learners with theoretical and practical knowledge. You can create quizzes, slides, and host videos alongside your hands-on labs. 

It’s the perfect balance of theory, quizzes, and hands-on via real-world commands. At the moment, I’ve got a ratio of about 50% quizzes 50% hands-on in most of my labs. Also, I can’t forget to mention the guidance and feedback to help further engage our audience. 

Added resources round out the experience

In addition to the native content created in Instruqt, I also can add links, embeds, and other resources in every lab to enrich the experience. This way, users can continue their learning experience outside the labs themselves and see where Kubernetes can take them.

Feedback after each lab helps us optimize the user experience – CRM communications

My marketing team can work hand-in-glove with this platform. This is possible with the CRM integration, via emails, I can remind folks, 

“Hey, thank you for completing a lab. You’ve won this badge. You’ve won this award. 

Here are the next steps you should be doing. 

Here’s the additional resource you should be reading. 

Here’s the additional Gorilla Guide we now have available.” 

It’s very much a closed-loop system that involves a lot more that ties into a lot larger role than just the labs themselves.

Provide hints/instant feedback, and enable learners to skip sections

There is a variety of material in each of the labs to help solve the challenge both provided within the lab and on links. 

So have enabled the feature to skip challenges for several reasons. 

One is to ensure that if at some point the learner wants to just move past the section, for example, you might be a pro who doesn’t feel the challenge is at your skill level, but you want to do a later part of the lab. This is absolutely possible with our labs. 

Another scenario is if there’s something that later you want to go through with a peer or expert to consult on but for now want to skip. So yeah, absolutely providing skipping bring value to the learning experience.

Also, there is additional flexibility in designing the labs; you can just turn it into a playground and let people just experiment. Or you can enable checks and give feedback to the learner. 

KubeCon was a success with Instruqt’s hands-on labs

So a little history of what we did at KubeCon. We had an aggressive plan, as Tom mentioned, to deliver our first labs for the KubeCon, and we did exactly that. 

The module course structure

Kasten by Veeam Learning Platform Modules

There were three labs in the module called Kubernetes Fundamentals. Each one was led by an expert instructor and one of the values of our platform. We have deep knowledge that helps folks along the path they need to take. 

The first module is” Build your first Kubernetes Cluster.” This is the classic onboarding for a rookie. Here they will learn everything they need to do to understand the basics of Kubernetes well.  

Module 2, “Build a Kubernetes Application,” we continue to educate the community on building container images and running run applications. 

Then finally, module 3, “Back-up your Kubernetes Application,” is where we finally kick in some product placements of Kasten K10 and showcase our back-up Kubernetes application.

As you can see, we have built a combination of Kubernetes knowledge and then added the back-up capability that Kasten K10 provides as a number one back-up and disaster recovery for Kubernetes.

The pre-assessment quiz

Kasten at KubeCon

I needed a very short lab to introduce the technology on the KubeCon floor. 

The three labs I just showed are an hour apiece, and so they’re half-hour of theory and a half-hour of hands-on content. Clearly, that’s not appropriate for a conference experience. 

So the other beauty of the Instruqt platform was that we could construct about a 15 to 20-minute lab easily. 

So literally on the conference floor, in our booths, I could go ahead, have the; customer, the user, the rookie take the self pre-assessment. This way, we can quickly evaluate where they are on the continuum for Kubernetes, what topics interest them, and their responsibility?

After taking this 30-second quiz, we can suggest what labs in our series are appropriate for them. 

This assessment helped us guide people to what are all the things they should do on their Kubernetes path? Are you a rookie? — then, you should take the basics. Are you more of a pro? — you go for additional training. etc.

“Instruqt is not just a lab tool. It’s a sales and marketing tool. To spread the word, get it out to new and different audiences, and create excitement at accounts. So I want to make sure that we remember that piece of the Instruqt value.”

Thomas Keenan, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Kasten by Veeam.

As soon as they went through the self-assessment, there were two sections to all the labs. The lab at Kubecon was brief. It was 20 minutes. The theory section covered three key concepts that everyone needs to know about Kubernetes; the control plane, the pod, and the deployment. 

A plus to creating labs on Instruqt is that people have to answer the questions about the theory to get to the next slide, which is the hands-on section. 

With the hands-on, the learners get a real environment spun up, a real cluster to work on, and real commands that I put in the terminal. And in this case, the main objectives of this module are to; set a back-up policy, run the policy, provide data loss, and then provide successful restore with Kasten K10. 

This is precisely the heart and soul of what Kasten by Veeam does. We help learners see how Kasten provides a successful Kubernetes restore with Kasten K10.

So providing the real experience for the customer and hands-on in a real environment was extremely crucial. 

Really successful at Kubecon, like I said, lots of registrations, lots of labs taken in an overall great degree of success.

The Road Ahead for Learning.kasten.io

What do I see in the road ahead for learning.kasten.io? Definitely more labs. 

I have an aggressive schedule of getting out one per month and doing targeted modules with partner technologies, security, disaster recovery management, etc. 

I’m going to create more excitement, rewards, and community by adding more badges, drawings, and raffles to continue building the enthusiasm and getting the word to our community.

I’d love to see contests like hackathons, wall of fame, those types of things we’ve probably seen in other areas of life that make the experience richer.

And then finally, I want to be an onboarding source for certifications like Kubernetes and Kubernetes and Cloud-Native Associate (KCNA) Exam in the future. 

A lot of activity is coming up this year.

Deep dive into how Kasten built the hands-on labs 

This video illustrates the Kasten learning site at the Kubecon Plus Cloud Native Con trade show this past October in Los Angeles. I’m showing this particular lab is a 20-minute lab we use for the trade show floor.

How to justify investing marketing dollars in such an elaborate learning platform?

Of course, we’re not going to open the kimono too much there, but we have some advanced processes in place for people ready to hear more about our product. 

We try not to market to this database too much. We feel that when people are ready to start using our product, they will know our brand by then and come to us. 

Right? But still, as I mentioned, we also have a free version of our software.

So once we see that people are sufficiently up to date with building a Kubernetes cluster, installing or building applications in Kubernetes, and then backing up those applications, we make sure that we inform them of our free offering. Just in case they’re ready to start building their cluster and application in their own environment.

Gamification is a great asset 

The other thing I want to stress because I’m not sure if we spent enough attention on that was the gamification part. 

So there is a wall of fame. We also provide the badges, and people love those! At KubeCon, when we launched our courses, we actually had the physical badges for people, and we weren’t sure how all of that was going to go. 

Also, at the beginning of the launch, we had some issues. People should be getting the virtual badges, but we got questions from people like, “Hey, where’s my badge? I completed this in the lab. I need to get my badge.” As always, with the new system.

Of course, we made sure that everybody got what they should have gotten in the first place, but it was great to see the engagement from people and how the gamification part works.

So the next step for us is to get people to be a little bit more competitive and try to be at the top of that wall of fame. 

The badges are an excellent promotion for themselves, sharing with the world that they are an up-and-coming expert for these new technologies. 

Virtual badges are also a great way to share on social media. Some people have gone out and done that on LinkedIn, on Twitter, et cetera. 

So there’s been a lot of significant uptake with the badges, so it’s been a great asset.

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The Show Notes

Kasten Story (Part I): How to generate demand

Kasten Story (Part II): How to design engaging Kubernetes learning experiences

Kasten Story (Part III): The Product Marketer Wishlist: a demand gen hands-on learning portal

Kasten by Veeam

Kasten Kubernetes Learning Platform

Tom Leyden on LinkedIn

Victoria Avseyeva on LinkedIn

Thomas Keenan on LinkedIn

KubeCon by Cloud Native Computing Foundation

Connie Tai
As the CMO at Instruqt, Connie oversees the overall marketing strategy across all marketing initiatives, acquisition channels, and distribution channels. Together with her team, she's responsible for the company's blogs, podcasts, overall content strategy, and product launch and customer demand campaigns.

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