What just happened at Storage Field Day 5? An open letter to all

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I’ve been in a lucky position to be a delegate for Tech Field Day in the past (Guess who’s going to be at Virtualization Field Day 3?), and I’ve been an advocate of the Tech Field Day series (Why you need to be watching Tech Field Day).

This week was the Storage Field Day 5 event hosted by the Tech Field Day team with a great panel of delegates, and a strong field of presenters. There were some challenges during presentations on Day 2 which triggered a number of excited conversations online and in the room. Not all of them were viewed as constructive.

I like many of you, was watching intently from my screen as I was doing other work, but I jumped into the active conversation and started to see something happen that has caused some difficulty in the community.

This may not sound like much, but I wanted to help to extend the olive branch between everyone who may have felt that things didn’t go well, because in the end, I think it wasn’t as bad as many may have thought.

This is how I thought I could do that:

An Open Letter to EMC, the Tech Field Day team, and All Who Watched Online

I’m Canadian, so I will start by saying that I’m sorry. Something happened at Storage Field Day that became a perfect storm of challenges during the EMC presentation. In the grand scheme of everything, this was a blip on the radar, but it was also one that was noticed in a negative way.

I was at Virtualization Field Day 3 where we had some rather animated conversations on products and processes, but we were able to push past that and get to the fun of sharing the story of the technology that brought us all there.

At SFD5 the perfect storm happened from a number of different ingredients:

  • Tech Field Day delegates are experts, and they like to dive deep into technology…immediately
  • EMC is a storied company, with a broad portfolio of incredibly powerful and innovative technology. They enjoy telling that story as it is a deep part of how they lead into their product discussions
  • Viewers of the event have grown to become very active in participating with the Twitter hashtag (#SFD5 in this case)
  • People are particularly passionate about storage
  • Twitter and the 140 character space do not provide room for effectively conveying a message sometimes
  • In the IT blogging community we love SaaS (Sarcasm-as-a-Service)
  • Everyone hates (or should hate) FUD (See this: http://www.yellow-bricks.com/2014/04/14/fud-it/)

The format of Tech Field Day events is *typically* a short blurb on the high level organization and the marketing back story  which brings us to the really cool technology that is about to be discussed. The question that is on many people’s minds is what just happened with the EMC presentation? (all videos available in the Storage Field Day 5 YouTube Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLinuRwpnsHaenc_YzsotnnQcn3IdRd14A&feature=view_all)

Here is my humble (and wholly my) opinion on how it all went down:

EMC were passionately sharing their story that was meant to lead to the “why” of their product development in their flash and Software Defined Storage (SDS) product suites.

The delegates were listening for a long time to the story, and nicely poked at the panel that it would be good to jump ahead.

Twitter began to light up with comments echoing the feeling of the delegates that we wanted to get to the fun stuff which is the deep dive on what is going on under the covers with particular technologies.

Then things got a little weird.

Comments moved from comedy laced with sarcasm towards sarcasm laced with impatience. This happened from all sides, and it escalated quickly.

What we really needed was for someone to remind us that we could all be cool and move forward with some really great conversation:

It's Tech Field Day. Let's all be cool!

It’s Tech Field Day. Let’s all be cool!

It wasn’t unlike a kindergarten boy who tugs a little girl’s ponytail because he wants to get her attention. He likes her, but didn’t know how to say it. The audience, delegates, and viewers who may have silently said things to their monitor as they watched, all were secretly cheering the presenters to be all that they could be.

In the end, the EMC team pulled out some great content and the closing presentation was a clear win judging by the response from all, and the great interactivity that happened both in the room and online.

So, to all involved, please don’t be offended by what happened. What we all need to take away from this is that we have an incredibly passionate community, with passionate vendors, and a well orchestrated event in the Tech Field Day series. This happened because we were all cheering you on inside, but the message may have been clouded, and some things may have been said which didn’t come across with the original intent.

This wasn’t a negative reflection on EMC. It wasn’t a negative reflection on the delegates. It wasn’t a negative reflection on the viewers. It just got a little heated, but we all came back to a common place in the end which was to celebrate the spirit of the event and all those who participated.

In closing I’ll leave you with this because if nothing, we need to look back on the event and see that we are all passionate just like this classic sports fan. We all look at the event, the delegates, and presenting vendors with hope that they can all shine and be their best for themselves, and for all of us. We all want you to succeed, because as technologists, bloggers, customers, vendors and viewers alike, we all win when innovative technology and stories are shared.

So I say: Tech Field Day – It’s Still Real to Me Dammit!

DiscoPosse

People, Process, and Technology. Powered by Community!

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28 Comments

  • James Green
    April 25, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Thanks for the open communication Eric. I’m definitely guilty of getting a little impatient yesterday. I think something that is easy for us to forget as delegates or viewers is that to the presenter, it’s personal. They’ve poured their life into this product and they want to share the story with us. Lots of times we get bored with the same markitechture slides we’ve seen a thousand times, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate their passion. If there’s anything that helps make a great product, it’s passion.

    -James

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 25, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks James! It certainly was an interesting day for the delegates and presenters. Hopefully everyone can walk away with some new knowledge and an appreciation of the overall situation. Admittedly I was poking the bear a bit during the event, but I just wanted them to succeed. The turnaround is sometimes the best story!

  • Jonathan Copeland
    April 25, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Sadly I agree to feeling impatient most of the time. It has become all about the story with some organizations and with those of us who are the technical folks it’s not about the story. Who cares about the story. Just give me the meat of the presentation. It’s like having to wade through the bread and salad dishes at a steakhouse. I don’t want to fill up on non essentials and get to the good stuff. That’s my opinion. If we’ve been around the industry a while we all know the story. Save it for the C-Levels and the non-technical folks who need the marketing fluff.

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 25, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      Well said Jonathan! It is a challenge to be in front of deep technical resources for some teams, and this really highlighted where adaptability in the presentation is super important. I’ve seen presenters turn a room but it took a while to get that to happen in this case. It will certainly continue to spur on conversations over the next while.

  • Louw Pretorius
    April 25, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Hi Eric,

    As a non-EMC customer I don’t think they did themselves any favors with their presentation, I watch #TFD for the technical deep-dive so I don’t have to ask the hard questions but after watching these videos I still don’t understand why I should buy EMC products. I think they should have just put Chad on stage and left him there and sent the “other” presenters to a Ford convention… 😉

    Let’s hope they do it better next time around.
    PS. Any news on when the virtual-VNX will be available to non-EMC customers?
    Cheers

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Hi Louw,

      Agreed that it would be great to see Chad in there 🙂

      No offence to the presenters who were selected, but at somewhere in the process there appears to have been some preparation that was missed. It is too bad to have seen it happen, but I imagine that a lot of folks learned a lot as a result.

  • Scott D. Lowe
    April 25, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Eric,

    You chose your words carefully. I will not.

    That wasn’t passion that was on display this week. It was unbridled hostility and arrogance.

    While I do agree that some presenters don’t understand their audience well, I’ve seen before — and we saw it again yesterday — some delegates become something less than professional… maybe there’s a word for it — oh, yeah — unprofessional, as in completely and utterly so. Although the presenters are coached ahead of time to avoid such issues, there have been and will continue to be those that don’t heed the advice and jump into murky marketing and Gartner led waters. Even so, the presenters are professionals with a job to do and they deserve more respect than they get from the delegates at times. I said as much to a delegate a while back and the response was, “The presenter didn’t respect our time, so I didn’t respect him.” as this person was referring to a failed presentation. Arrogant much?

    Some gentle ribbing is fine, but when it descends into what we saw this week, a time out needs to be called.

    I’ve been to a LOT of Tech Field Day events and wouldn’t trade the experiences for the world, but there are times when I inwardly cringe when I start to hear some people start to bash the presenters — sometimes right to their faces in the room. I believe that we are there to provide feedback, but, as professionals, we should maintain some semblance of maturity when doing so.

    It’s a terrible reflection on our community and I can’t believe that it doesn’t damage Tech Field Day in some way.

    Scott

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 25, 2014 at 8:35 pm

      Bravo for an honest and open reply Scott. Admittedly, I did soften the approach. There was definitely stuff happening that at the event that I am glad we didn’t encounter at VFD3. I hope to represent as a delegate again one day at Tech Field Day and to make sure that we help to direct the content to get the best value, but in an appropriate way.

  • Howard Marks
    April 25, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    As one who was in the room and I must admit has been guilty of pushing things a bit too far at Tech Field Day in the past, and may in fact have been the one that said presenters who don’t respect the delegates time shouldn’t expect to get respect in return I have a bit to add to the conversation.

    While it is true that the presenters are professionals in no small part that means they should be professional presenters. I spend a lot of my time in the front of rooms doing presentations and have been in the top ten highest rated speakers at Interop repeatedly. The most important part of being a professional presenter is knowing your audience.

    The Gestalt IT team spends a lot of time telling companies what to expect. Several of us have written blog posts about how to present to TFD delegates who are passonite experts in their fields and comunicators ourselves. Andy Warfield wrote a great post about what its like to present at TFD

    We by definition don’t hold questions to the end and will frequently tell anyone who listens that the best presentations are the ones where the vendor doesn’t quite finish what the wanted to because the conversation, and it is a conversation, has gone deep instead of broad. EMC has people that understand this audience, Chad in fact tweeted something on the order of there should be no marketing at TFD. The first few presenters yesterday didn’t.

    From where I sit the vendors do have to respect the delegates and give us the technical discussion we are there for. Delegates make a significant investment in being at TFD. Each of us travels a significant distance to get there. 5 of the SFD5 delegates crossed an ocean for the event. That time has as significant opportunity cost. I spent a week at SFD5 including prep and travel time and could instead have billed my clients several thousand dollars. I would guess the delegates opportunity costs are as much as any one vendor pays Gestalt IT to speak at the event.

    Sidestepping questions, saying you dont want tyo get too deerp, as if we wouldnt get it if you did or flat out not answering is disrespecting us.

    When we are hearing more stuff we know than we like we, OK I, try to hint that explaining the problem to experts is wasting not only our time but the limited time you have to make an impression. See the XIO video too see how a presenter can react to that well.

    In truth I saw a lot more disrespect on the twitter stream from people not in the room, some of whom work for EMC competitors than in the room.

    Some who watch the stream have made comments that imply the presentations should be for them and we shouldn’t interrupt or drive the conversation in the directions we are interested in. Why they ask is it live streamed if the delegates are driving? Its an interesting question but misses thgast TFD is. a discussion amongst knowledgeable folks. We invite you on the net to watch, and will even ask questions from the twitter stream, but TFD isn’t a path from vendor to audience that would make it a webinar.

    I’m sure there are cultural issues as well. I am a Jew from New York, to people from more reserved, or civilized, backgrounds like Canada or Europe what I call a conversation may look like an argument. When I say, really? Prove it. I’m not actually saying I think you are lying but exactly what I said prove what you are saying so I understand.

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 26, 2014 at 7:59 am

      Great stuff Howard, and thanks for sharing your view on it. You all did some great content creation at the event overall and it was great as always to watch.

  • Chris Evans
    April 26, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    As another delegate who was in the room, I agree entirely with Howard’s comments. These events are a big investment in my time (in this instance an entire week non-billed). I want information that can help both the audience and MY customers make choices on the right technology. In that respect the “story”, “journey” or “evolution” is irrelevant. EMC (and any other vendor) can save the marketing for talking to customers directly – I’m all about objective technical, operational and financial comparisons.

    The event is called “TECH” field day for a good reason. It’s not called “Marketing” Field Day and good luck to anyone who wants to set that up.

    The outcome for EMC wasn’t as bad as described. The XtremIO presentation was a car crash because the presenter’s arrogance meant he wasn’t able or willing to answer the pointed questions – like the one on expansion. (you can’t have a scale out storage array that doesn’t scale out).

    However, look at how ViPR was presented. The presenter was much more *honest* about the system capabilities. As a result, the flow was positive and I believe gave the audience a much more useful review of the technology.

    Both XtremIO and ViPR are 1.0 release products (or thereabouts) with many, many gaps. There are lots of positives about them too, but taking the approach that you already have the most complete and leading solution at 1.0 is just crazy.

    I would hope EMC reflects on how the day went and chooses another presenter and time to go over the technology with a more technical focus. Otherwise the message of good technology is lost in the discussion and for the audience it becomes a waste of time.

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 26, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      Agreed on the later presentations. There was some great info shared, and the best thing that a product engineer can say in my opinion which is “we don’t do that, but it would be a great feature”. As many have said, it’s ok to not be unique, as long as you do something really well.

  • Scott D. Lowe
    April 26, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Howard,

    It wasn’t you that made that comment to me 🙂

    Scott

  • Scott D. Lowe
    April 26, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    All,

    Don’t get me wrong. I agree that some presenters are better than others and some are just plain bad. And I also agree that it’s important for all companies and presenters to learn from their mistakes so that they can do better next time and, in that, feedback is important.

    However, what I take issue with is the way that this feedback is sometimes delivered. I believe that we owe the presenters and companies at least the appearance of respect. If the presenter fails to heed advice or fails to answer questions, there are more professional ways to complain.

    And, yes, I, too, have been frustrated more than once in some presentations, so I understand how it feels.

    Scott

  • Duncan
    April 28, 2014 at 5:24 am

    BIG FAT plus 10000 on Scott’s comments. Heck even the Tech Field Day charter very very clearly states that NOT all delegates will be experts in all discussed fields. And that respect should go both ways.

    I don’t understand the big emphasize from the “delegates” on the “WE / I” part. Without those vendors there would be no Tech Field Day.

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 28, 2014 at 6:45 am

      Scott wrapped it up nicely for sure. There has got to be focus on the technology and the delegates are selected as they can help spread the message. I know that when I sat at the delegate table I felt I was the one who was lucky to be there, not that anyone was obligated to meet my needs.

  • Brandon Riley
    April 28, 2014 at 10:35 am

    As a previous delegate, I agree with Scott. Respect is paramount, and even leaving the entire EMC presentation aside (since that seems to be the focal point for the complaints), I think there were some lost opportunities. Like Scott said, I also cringe at times. I think back to Satyam’s presentation, and the number of times he was interrupted out of the blue, not by anyone wishing to clarify a point, but by some kind of weak attempt at humor.

    Anyway, I’m not going to rant on. I just wanted to emphasize the respect angle. And I think it’s important that we all ask ourselves whether what we have to say is going to add to the conversation, or benefit anyone, before we say it.

    As far as Twitter goes, trying to control a Twitter death spiral is futile. But delegates don’t have to participate. Good conversations all around on this, and I am sure it will make future events better.

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 28, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Thanks for the great comments Brandon. I agree with this and we can definitely take away some great lessons from this and bring those learnings to future events 🙂

  • Gabriel Chapman (@Bacon_Is_King)
    April 28, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Posted on Duncans blog, figured I’d throw it here as well.

    No one is forced to be a TFD delegate, if you don’t wish to sit through a few minutes of level setting discussion prior to a deeper technical presentation then maybe being a TFD delegate isn’t the right thing for you. If your time is that precious, perhaps not investing it in this endeavor is the proper decision to make.

    I think what people are missing here is that this is first and foremost a marketing event. Vendors pay to have their message put forth, albeit in the TFD world the vast majority of that message is of a significantly technical nature. This is part of the quid pro quo that I would think is fully understood between the influencer community and the sales/marketing vendor side. I think there is value for all involved to have a bit of level setting done prior to the deeper technical discussion. Not everyone watching is an “expert”, and frankly these presentations are not for the delegates, they are for the viewers and for the companies who are sponsoring the sessions.

    I understand and welcome tough technical questions being put before the presenters, what I don’t understand is the being rude. I’ll echo Scott D. Lowe’s points made on other sites, be professional people.

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 28, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      +1 Gabriel! Great comments and a good depiction of what the overall view of the event should be. There are multiple sides to the TFD event, and this particular situation highlighted that some parts of the interaction received more focus. I think the conversation happening is good. We have a great community, so we need to get back to sharing the information through TFD and other great forums and then everybody wins 🙂

  • Amy Lewis
    April 28, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Let this blog and the comments be proof that disagreements can be handled in a civilized fashion. Thanks for the post Eric, and to the commenters for providing texture to something I watched unfold at a distance. In a world where we’re all yelling, no one can hear.

  • Keith Townsend
    April 29, 2014 at 12:49 am

    I think it matters how the delegate views themselves and their time. If you perceive yourself as an expert and you feel as if a vendor isn’t respecting your time as an “uncompensated” expert then impatience can show. This is not an excuse for disrespectful behavior but it helps explain what Duncan is calling an Old Boys Club attitude. I don’t know if I’d call it Old Boys Club versus just a mismatch of expectation. If the delegate believes their time worth x and they aren’t being compensated with enough information to warrant their time then there will be issues.

    It’s how the issues are handled that shows the value of both the vendor and delegate.

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      April 29, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Great points Keith, and thank you for the great content at the event 🙂

  • Rob Nelson
    May 2, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Eric,

    Perhaps it bears reminding people that conflict is not necessarily bad. If conflict can be resolved – and it appears that for most, it has been – all parties have learned from the experience. Holding it in is worse, because then no-one has learned anything. It seems like this was an important, if trying, conflict in the community.

    • DiscoPosse
      Eric
      May 2, 2014 at 9:28 am

      Nicely said Rob!

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