Mythbusters – Tech Field Day Edition


Minimalist Mythbusters - Image by Joey Vestal

On today’s episode of Mythbusters, we look at Tech Field Day.  The brainchild of Gestalt IT and Stephen Foskett, Tech Field Day gathers technical bloggers from all over the world and puts them in front of vendors for 2-4 hours at a time.  Far from a normal presentation, the delegate bloggers get to ask tough questions and hear real answers about capabilities and concerns.  In this episode, we will look at three myths commonly heard about Tech Field Day to see if they hold water.  Remember, we don’t just tell the myths.  We put them to the test.

Myth 1 – Tech Field Day Delegates Are Paid Vendor Shills

The number one most-repeated myth about Tech Field Day (TFD) by far.  There are many that believe that the TFD delegates are simply brought to a vendor’s office and told what to write.  The delegates are merely supposed to regurgitate the party line and “kiss up” to those providing funding for the trip.  Supposedly, delegate’s posts must be approved by company PR before going up and being advertised to death to reinforce vendor PR.

Let’s look at this one.  Firstly, the delegates aren’t paid.  Yes, we have our travel and lodging costs taken care of by the vendors by way of Gestalt IT.  But we don’t get a dime to come.  In fact, some delegates must use vacation or personal days to attend.  We get a good meal or a nice hotel bed, not a paycheck from Vendor X.  It’s not all that uncommon for vendors to do this kind of thing for PR people and other types of bloggers.  Would it make a difference if the delegates all paid their own way?  Probably not.  That’s because we aren’t shilling for the vendors.  Delegates attending TFD are under no obligation to write only good things about the presenting sponsor companies.  In fact, we’re under no obligation to write about anyone at all.  I never wrote a post about Embrane, the embargoed presenter from Network Field Day 2.  Why?  Because I didn’t understand the technology well enough to do it justice.  Just because they provided a portion of our meals and hotel room didn’t make me an indentured servant required to regurgitate platitudes about them.  They do have a great product that has generated a lot of buzz in the industry.  But I doubt I’ll get around to writing that post any time soon.  You don’t even need to be a blogger to attend.  There are delegates that have attended without any blog to their name. It just happens that the majority are known in the industry by their blogs.  I’ve talked about my independence feelings before.  You know that I have no compunction about telling things like I see them.  My Infoblox review from TFD 5 was all that glowing.  My Cisco review from Wireless Field Day 1 was critical.  Coming from a CCIE, you figure that if I was going to shill for anyone, it’d be Cisco.  But I don’t.  And neither does anyone else as far as I know.  There are plenty of firms out there that will write whatever they are told for far less than it costs to fly people to San Jose (or wherever).  TFD delegates tell the truth about what they see and feel.  That’s no myth.

Myth 1 – BUSTED

Myth 2 – TFD Delegates Only Come To Get Free Stuff

TFD delegates supposedly show up with hat in hand to get vendor handouts and other free stuff.  They expect to get free items from every vendor and only write good things about those they give them the best stuff.

Um, what?  Really?  I started hearing this after Wireless Field Day 1.  Why?  Because a couple of the wireless vendors went out of their way and gave us evaluation units to test with.  I was especially called out because I won an AirCheck unit from Fluke Networks.  By the way, I gave that very same AirCheck away at the delegate dinner during Wireless Field Day 2.  I hope Matthew Norwood (@matthewnorwood) gets more use from it that I did, and I trust that he won’t write nice things about me simply because I gave him something.  Yes, it’s a fact that vendors at both Wireless Field Day events have given away products to the delegates.  Yes, some vendors in the past have given away discounts codes or products.  Guess what?  That’s not the reason I go to Tech Field Day every chance I get.  Sure, it’s nice to get your hands on equipment and put it through its paces.  What about all the other companies that never give us anything other than a pen and notepad?  Did they deserve a bad review for being cheapskates?  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Wireless companies are a bit of a deviation from the norm, since their equipment is all small and easily transported in a carry-on bag.  It’s also fairly inexpensive (overall) for them to give away a $100 access point in order to let us review them and generate good blog posts about the equipment.  How exactly would I transport a Nexus 7k switch?  Would I have to check a Palo Alto firewall or could I put it in the over head bin?  Some companies don’t lend themselves to having easy-to-provide evaluation equipment.  But even if they did, giveaways are not a requirement of Tech Field Day.  In fact, most of the time they happen without the knowledge of the event coordinators.  But in the end, you should ask yourself a question about the delegates receiving evaluation equipment.  Would you rather we not get anything to test out and put through its paces and then write about it?  Or would you rather see us trying out best to break something and really give it a good evaluation before talking about it?

Myth 2 – BUSTED

Myth #3 – The Same People Go To Tech Field Day Each Time

You have to be one of the “cool kids” to get to go to Tech Field Day.  The list isn’t really chosen democratically but instead the delegates are all just friends that get invited over and over again.  The organizers are afraid to hear new voices and inherently distrust those that offer opinions different than the party line.

I’m going to use strong language this one time – this is a bunch of bullshit.  There is no magical list of people that are “friends” and get to go every time.  And remember, that statement is coming from someone that has been to four out of the last six Tech Field Day events.  Every delegate is evaluated on their own merits and voted upon by the Tech Field Day community.  Why?  Because we evaluate technical ability as well as interaction capacity.  There are people in this world that are insanely smart and afraid to ask questions.  There are wonderfully social people that don’t have a lick of technical sense (these people tend to end up in management).  Tech Field Day is about bringing in people that can comprehend Matthew Gast from Aerohive or Victor Shtrom from Ruckus when they start talking about a deep wireless rabbit hole.  Those same people also need to be able to take what they’ve learned and put it down for everyone to see.  That’s why we called the Tech Field Day attendees “delegates”.  We stand as representatives for those in the technical community.  We take questions from interested parties and forward them on to those that can answer them.  We don’t shy away from being tough.  Ask yourself a question: How many blogs do you read?  Then ask yourself how often you read blogs from new bloggers.  Once a week?  Once every six months?  Never?  Blogging isn’t for everyone.  Blogs get abandoned every day.  People get busy and don’t post.  They lose their passion for the subject.  They just give up because they have no readers.  So the people that do the most blogging and stick around tend to get the majority of the attention. People like Ivan Pepelnjak or Greg Ferro or Brad Casemore.  You don’t have to agree with everything they say but you do have to admit that these folks have staying power.  So, when it comes time for the vendors to start talking to people, naturally they want to talk to the people that the industry reads.  That’s why it seems the same people get asked to come back to Tech Field Day each time.  We try to add new blood all the time.  People like Blake Krone and Derick Winkworth.  But, the vendors also get a say in things.  They feel uncomfortable when they see a delegate that no one has heard of before.  Would take a chance on being judged by someone that you don’t know?  It’s one thing to go into a TFD event knowing that I’m snarky.  It’s something else entirely to find out that one of the delegates has a pathological hatred of your product and will never be convinced otherwise.  Vendors don’t like taking those kinds of chances.  The regular delegates at TFD events represent a kind of “known quantity” for vendors.  They can predict how we think and what our reaction will be to things.  It’s a reflection of our influence.

Myth 3 – BUSTED

Tom’s Take

For my own part in this, I can kind of explain my attendance at so many events.  I’m a rock star at a very small VAR.  I have to spend a lot of my time learning every technology.  So while I don’t know MPLS as well as Ivan or wireless as well as Andrew von Nagy, I can hold my own in discussions about routing, switching, wireless, security, storage, voice, virtualization, video, or even comic books.  As such, I can fill in pretty much anywhere.  I fill many roles.  I’ll never be the Michael Jordan of any one discipline, but I can be the (somewhat) quiet guy that plays a couple of roles and gets the job done.  At Tech Field Day, I can play the network outside among wireless folks or I can be the firewall guy at a security event.  This speaks to the heart of what Tech Field Day is all about.  When you get different disciplines together to discuss things, you wind up with fun things like Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).  I was even having discussions at WFD2 about routing protocols.  I went from being the utility player to being the expert in short order.  I never want to displace someone from going to Tech Field Day who might be more qualified than me, but I also welcome the chance to see how deep the rabbit hole of these technologies can go and I love the interaction with a great group of people.  I won’t get to go to every Tech Field Day.  The logistics don’t work out and there are great people that will go in front of me to events like Virtualization Field Day and Storage Field Day.  But whenever the folks at Tech Field Day ask me to come, I can’t very well say no.  I owe it to the people that read my blog to learn all I can and dispel as many myths as I can.

Disclaimer

This post has absolutely nothing to do with the Mythbusters televison program.  I watch it and respect the talents and knowledge of the hosts.  And those that get to meet them in person in the VIP section (I hate you Rocky Gregory).

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8 thoughts on “Mythbusters – Tech Field Day Edition

  1. Good post, Tom. Re. potential vendor objections to hosting people who “pathologically hate your product”–those vendors would be missing something. There are a few reasons for this:
    1) If someone consistently displays this pathology, then anything further they may write about your product will tend to be discounted by regular readers who are familiar with the blogger’s tendency to go non-linear whenever confronted by the phrase “AcmeProductXYZ”. In short, it doesn’t really matter that much.
    2) Taking that person out of his/her usual environment and putting him/her in a group of others who are coming in with open minds can sometimes positively influence such people to take a step back and be, at least, more measured and thoughtful in their behavior.
    3) Ideally, from a vendor perspective, a Tech Field Day delegate slate should be a good reflection of your customer/prospect base: a few who know you, a few who don’t, some who like you, and some who are more skeptical. You get a different take than you do via customer advisory boards (hand-picked friendlies) or prospects in the field, with whom there’s necessarily a certain amount of gamesmanship going on in most interactions (on both sides). TFD is instead an opportunity to get a completely honest outside-in perspective on your stuff from people who might wind up living and breathing it. That’s hard to put a price on (but definitely worth more than the cost of a few T-shirts!).

  2. If they watched the vids you wouldn’t have needed to post this.

    The ENTIRE value of what Tech Field Day is about is that to the greatest deal possible, bias is removed, influence removed. Data is shared, even if it has to be pulled from the vendor kicking screaming.

    Historically I hate it when people post their own blog as an answer to a blog, but this is exactly what this http://ethernetfabric.com/2011/12/sex-lies-and-vendors/ is about.

    At every company their is a nervousness about really letting raw feedback to be published.

    For example when we did our tech day at Brocade and I first told some people about our desire to do a live competition with real equipment, a few really looked at me in terror. Fortunately the core team were more mature and open minded and fully supported the concept.

    Watch the vids guys like Ivan @ioshints asking the raw (right) questions. The questions that get to the nut of what the user community needs to know and has neither the time or the resources to get the info themselves.

    People can accuse the previous things as they wish, but the ENTIRE reason for Tech Field Day is to offer HONEST info. This is why it’s really best to have bloggers like Stephen, Ivan, Jeff, Tony on who don’t work for actual vendors like I do. As much as I may try (and I do) it’s impossible for me to be as unbiased as those guys can be.

  3. Pingback: Wireless Field Day 2: The Links

  4. Hey Tom,
    First, full disclosure – I work for HP Storage. We have been holding blogger events at HP that we call HP Tech Days since mid-2009. We worked with Ivy Worldwide to do our first Tech Day and continue to work with them in our outreach to bloggers. In fact we had one last week focused on storage that I wanted to invite Stephen to but saw he had a wireless TFD(see http://h30507.www3.hp.com/t5/Around-the-Storage-Block-Blog/bg-p/139/label-name/hptechday). Stephen was a blogger (we don’t call them delegates) at our October 2009 Tech Day (see http://h30507.www3.hp.com/t5/Around-the-Storage-Block-Blog/StorageWorks-Tech-Day-starting-now/ba-p/78995) and has told me that his attendance at our first storage HP Tech Day was where the idea for TFD germinated.

    Through our separate but similar blogger events, I’d personally love to see more independent bloggers step in. It seems as though many that have demonstrated technical prowess and influence have been swallowed up by vendors. We need more guys like you and I’d love to see more storage focused independent bloggers out there.

    Nice job and congrats on your hard work to establish your blog.

    • Tech Field Day did indeed take its original inspiration (“germination” is a cool metaphor) from the HP Tech Day run by Calvin at HP. And my hat’s off to him for continuing to run their blogger days – it’s really hard work to make that happen!

      I’d also like to echo what he said about getting more bloggers to step up. A diversity of viewpoints is critical to getting a complete picture of anything, technology or not. It’s best for the industry and the entire economy (dare I say the world?) if we have lots of people teaching and learning from each other. This is the core value of events like Tech Field Day, and it’s nice to have so many people see what we’re really doing!

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