Re: SFD5 event and negativity / respect

Storage Field Day was hosted last week, and I typically like these events. Mainly because they have start-ups presenting their new technology and I like the flow of the sessions typically. I also like the interaction between the “delegates” and the vendors, well at times I do. There were several blog posts on the topic from people who are part of the, what I would call at this point, old boys club (yes there were women attending as well but you get the point) as that is what it felt like during the event. I wanted to comment on Bob’s article, but it looks like he is not looking for a healthy debate so I figured a blog post would be the best way to reply.

For those who don’t know: The sessions usually start with some background on the company, a problem description and then followed by a product session with demos and deep-dives where and when needed. Delegates will fire off questions during these sessions, sometimes this leads to a great discussion and sometimes it doesn’t.

This week, as some of you may have noticed on twitter, the event was held but personally I didn’t enjoy it very much. I think this tweet from my friend Jason Boche captures the feeling I had well:

What stood out to me, and by watching twitter to others as well, was the negativity from some of the delegates about some of the vendors. When the initial problem statement/marketing fluff would take too long the “boring” comments from the delegates started to pass by on twitter, especially during the start of the EMC session this was particularly bad. (Not the first time I have seen it… and definitely not trying to defend a vendor here as they could have known what they were up against and should know the first rule of presenting: know your audience.) Maybe even more annoying for the person watching the feed were the “inside jokes” and the “annecotes” / “incrowd discussions”. It really disrupted the flow of some of the sessions, and I think the PernixData session was the best example of it… it derailed too often leading to the presenter running out of time, or as Frank put it:

When several people commented on the tweets/atmosphere some heated debates kicked off. What stood out to me during these debates was that the “delegates” felt that they were doing the vendors a service and that the vendors should respect their time/effort. (I agree with them to  a certain extend) It was also mentioned various times that they were all experts and there was no need for basics/problem descriptions as all had done their due diligence and came well prepared. Personally I don’t believe that based on the questions asked, and personally I think everyone can learn something even from the basics, besides that I would argue that the Tech Field Day website is really clear on this:

Don’t assume all of the attendees are experts in your area. True to the spirit of Gestalt IT, we intentionally mix many IT disciplines at Tech Field Day to spark creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

And on the topic of respect; it goes both ways and it seems that the Tech Field Day charter agrees with me on this as this is what it states in the section what it is like to be a delegate:

… just treat them with the thoughtfulness, professionalism and mutual respect they deserve.

But what is the underlying problem? What the delegates seem to have forgotten is the vendor’s perception… Why are these vendors there. What is their reason to participate? Are they looking for feedback from a handful of people on their product(s) and aiming to make road map changes  when needed… Or are they looking to introduce their product (or new version) to the world through the reach the event has? (note I said event and not delegates on purpose) I would expect it to be the latter, as the majority of companies presenting are presenting a new product or version and not a road map on top of that I would argue that if they are looking for direct product feedback they would do this in a closed setting with a limited group of people under a strict NDA. Even when that would not be the case, just as you are asking the vendor to be respectful of your time, you should also be respectful towards them for what they are investing. Which is probably a lot more than just time as without their sponsorship there would not be an event. (Assuming Mr Stephen Foskett is not a secret billionaire… But who knows :-)) Either way, think about what allows these events to exist. Without these companies investing, it would be difficult for Stephen to organize these. Also, think about the people watching the event online and even about the person sitting next to you. What is glaringly obvious to you, may not be so for the person sitting next to you simply because they come from a different background.

So why am I writing this, well hopefully so things will change for the better. As I stated, I like these events  as they are valuable to the community in my opinion and they provide a nice podium for start-ups to present themselves to the world, but that positive aspect should not get lost in unneeded debates and negativity. As that is what these events are about in my opinion, it is providing a service to the community and I hope it will stay that way.

PS: I have a lot of respect for the endless effort Stephen puts in organizing these sessions / events…

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    Comments

    1. says

      As usual you bring up good points. However … we are making this discussion a lot bigger than it has to be if you have followed the entire event. The Pernix presentation and EMC presentation where may the two points of critique but they were completely different.

      During the Pernix presentation I have to agree that the atmosphere might have been to “amical”. Satyam and the whole team have been so close to the community that maybe both him and the delegates temporarily forgot the seriousness of the event.

      The EMC presentation is something completely different. Vendors are really good briefed on what is expected content wise from these events (and some people in the EMC team knew what was going wrong). The whole reason to have ‘technical industry experts’ is to have a conversation that goes beyond what is already out there or where there are already easy channels for. In case of EMC they did waste a lot of time talking at 30.000ft of which we have plenty of keynotes on youtube or in their own channels. Bob’s summary was spot on there.

      Other companies that do need a little bit more introduction get that time. If you look at those video’s you’ll see that. The only time it derailed a little was in the beginning of X-IO and they switched topics immediately ending up with a great conversation. At EMC it went the exact same way, it only took a lot longer to get that message through.

      So over all: please don’t judge an event of 8-9 vendors over one episode. That’s not really doing the other 3.5 days of great content any justice. It’s not about the attendees as such but without the attendees this is just a webinar.

      • says

        I think have seen plenty of sessions in the last years to have an opinion based on that. Definitely not based on one episode as you make it seem.

        I understand where you are coming from, you are part of the “old boys club” and look at it with different eyes. You are entitled to that, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are plenty of people who look at it exactly the same as I do, so instead of going in full-defense mode maybe it is time to be realistic… analyze where things went wrong and try to fix it instead of blaming a couple of vendors.

        • says

          I’m absolutely not going into full defence. I even agreed that Satyam could have had a better spotlight than it was now.

          What went wrong with EMC was entirely on them. Accusing me of going in full defence because I’m “part of the old boys club” is not right. I am entitled to have an option on the matter especially since I am one of those people that does coach vendors upfront and behind the scenes on how to engage this event and apparently they do great. And secondly I did give my $0,02 to the EMC people afterwards that have asked for it. So I do my diligence in analysing and fixing. I’m just not blaming anyone in blogposts.

          You’ve said it yourself: know your audience is number one! Most vendors that end up not having a good TechFieldDay just haven’t respected that first rule. This is a strange and pretty unique audience. If you take the time to understand that you’ll have a blast, like 9 out of 10 other TFD presentations.

          • Duncan says

            You didn’t read the post did you? Like I said and as the TFD website states: respect goes both ways.

    2. Sketch says

      So – While I was not there, and I do not have a twitter/fb/etc/… acct, I’d like to add my two cents (and I’ll probably get change back). As I was not at this particular event, I have been to similar events – and I’ve actually been told by a vendor/sponsor to come back and talk to them when I “have a larger environment”. So – Given that type of reception from even a FEW vendors, it seems that the participants and those of us who WILL ask the ‘dumb questions’ to learn more feel like we’re treated as cattle and cash cows.

      It is one thing entirely to go to an event KNOWING that a vendor wants to introduce a product, etc… but quite another to go to a 45 minutes commercial disguised as a troubleshooting discussion. Most of us like learning about new products, and most of us like to get into troubleshooting/methodology discussions, and if an application pops-up – GREAT! but don’t play us for fools. Our time is at least as important as theirs – so don’t waste it.

      Again, I don’t now if that was the case in this particular event, but I’ve seen similar cases in most other events of this type – commercials disguised as ‘learning’ sessions.

    3. says

      While I haven’t attended the event nor have I actively been reading the tweets, I do agree with what you’re saying. Mutual respect is key for a good community.

      Finding the right balance in your presentation is challenging as you have different type of attendees with different interest and levels and knowledge. Being the smart guy in the room it’s pretty dumb to assume everyone has the same level of knowledge, we can all learn from each other. I’m not implying the vendors shouldn’t be challenged to bring new and interesting content on stage (we should challenge them) but the message should be brought to a larger audience. If you’re under the impression the presentations / these events are a waste of time, don’t waste other peoples time. You think you can do it better? Do it.

      Organising an event is time consuming, finding good content is a challenge. Attendees wants to be entertained with good content which they’ve never seen before, the speaker wants to share his knowledge, the vendor wants to pitch his product and sponsors want to sell their products. All parties should respect each other or these events won’t happen.

      “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” – Maya angelou

    4. says

      My 2c:

      Seems like an event live this needs a good event moderator, that gets feedback from someone following the twitter feeds, so he/she can use that information to steer the event. Negativity never helps, in any situation. Fan boys, experts and ignorants alike, unknown makes unloved. The one thing that keeps us from anarchy is respect. Respect for someones knowledge or lack thereof.
      Anyone that shows disrespect is losing face themselves and showing the worst side to the rest of the audience. It seems that lately comments are becoming harsher and emotions run high, when competing technologies are discussed.

      So, now that grandpa has spoken :) , it seems the key to a solution would be a factor of the following; a strong event moderation, monitoring twitter feeds with live feedback from stage by the moderator, and (better) briefing of the speakers (understanding this already happened here).

    5. says

      Hello,

      I am not an _expert_ but the effort done at SFD demands respect from both vendor and viewers/customers.

      It is not easy for a vendor to just stand up and face an audience whom are experts and I presume that the vendor expects a feed back that would help them and the customers get the best out of the product and event and not just pound the vendor and be proud about cornering the vendor into a place where they can’t defend themselves.

      Now, if you really want the community to get the best of it, from my humble point of view you should leave the negative comments for a private chat with the vendor without giving them any face palms, after all one day any of us might get up the stage and will require a breather from the audience, no one is perfect.

      When I was watching SFD5 with all do respect I did not see technology enthusiasts, I only saw and heard that which irritated me extremely.

      Thank you Duncan for giving us the space to let it out.

    6. says

      I can see both sides of the argument around this one and I think you are asking for the same thing as what i was hoping for from this SFD. I understand we don’t want absolute basics as this can be found in other places but giving some background is paramount when you are someone a bit like myself who isn’t working on storage day in and day out and is looking at these kinds of events to get up to speed on new things that are coming out in the market.

      Asking questions during the sessions is great and I’ve seen it work but the snide and at points disrespectful and pointless remarks in some of them actually made me decide to stop watching which doesn’t hurt the people making the comments but the vendor presenting. I think it needs to be remembered that despite the people being invited being well known in the industry there are loads of people watching who are looking for different things from the sessions and by wasting time making pointless remarks why not prove why you are there and ask helpful questions.

      I certainly enjoyed most of the ones i watched but i do feel sorry for those who I stopped watching as their products deserve the same time and respect as anyone else despite who certain people in the crowd used to work for or who they want to work for in the future and so bring their own agendas across.

    7. says

      It’s good to have a good debate, however it needs to be done with tact and mutual respect. As stated these are not isolated events and so I would think that some thought needs to go into protecting the integrity of these very special field day events.

      One idea I thought that could curb some derailment would be to hold all questions until the presentation is over. This would at least allow the presenter to stay on focus and target with time. I’m sure there are many ways to rectify some of this, so I do hope some thought can go into it. Thanks Duncan for spearheading an important discussion that needs to be had.

    8. not-so-old-and-fat-storage-guy says

      I totally agree with everything Duncan said.

      The negativity of some delegates really surprises me and is irritating me for a while.

      @Delegates: don’t forget who’s paying for these sessions!

      Maybe Stephen Foskett should just get rid of the “mister know it all’s”, those biased delegates with that arrogant attitude, not contributing but doing anything to get a presentation off-track.

      These so called delegates should be replaced open-minded, positive and genuine interested people.

      I like the idea from ywiskerke for an event moderator. Could be useful but I am afraid some delegates have the wrong attitude…

    9. says

      A great summary Duncan. As someone who has sat at the delegate table at VFD3 I did see some challenges with the interaction, but hopefully I was always respectful of the presenters when I made my comments. As your tweet noted yesterday, the term expert is a pretty strong one, and I certainly couldn’t lay claim to the title :)

      For the comment by Yvo (@ywiskerke) re: moderation, this is one if the real advantages of the Tech Field Day forum. It is meant to be very interactive, organic, and effectively self-moderated. There can be challenges where the conversation can take a tangent and lead off course, but sometimes this is precisely where the best discussions happen.

      I definitely agree and support that we have to respect the presenters and vendors because of their commitment to bring us there as delegates, and as viewers. Being at the delegate table is a privilege that I hope to have again in the future and I fully recognize that my opportunity to be a part of it is because of the commitment of sponsors and of Stephen and the team to put this all together.

      While some of the posts and comments that have been triggered from the event have been animated, it is a sign that we have seen that something went in a way that it wasn’t meant to go and there should be some positive change as a result.

      It’s a small world and we need to be sure that we keep it a pleasant one :)

    10. itzikr says

      Hi, Itzik (EMC) here,

      I actually watched every video available from TFD / SFD in the last 2 years and i think i reached some conclusions:
      1. As the 800p gorilla, we will always be..well, the guerrilla, the “Goliath” who is easy to throw stones at, it’s the nature of the business and it will probably be like this regardless of what we do.
      2. could we do a better job? of course!, i’m asking for my audience feedback (external and internal all the time), i think it’s my duty to do it, presentations (and hands-on) is what i do for a living but again, let’s be fair here, i watched another presentation which was maybe 10% technical of the EMC one from TFD and i didn’t see the same feedback toward it so as a presenter, what can i learn from this??
      3. again, i’m biased but you don’t need to have a major in psychology to see some of the delegates faces appearances during the sessions (not only ours), guys, respect is mutual, disagreeing is expected BUT there is a way to disagree without letting the other guy feels like an idiot while throwing internal jokes..the world goes around and who knows, you may actually be in the driving seat next time it happens.
      4. like was already suggested, panel moderation is the key here, the moderator should know when to stop the audience although this type of behavior generates more traffic to whatever they do.

    11. says

      There’s a small number of social media celebrities in the tech community that thrive on snark and sarcasm. It’s a shame that these same people show up in nearly every social tech event, because the value of those events is diminished as a result. I love the TFD presentations, because it’s a great opportunity for practitioners to interact with the companies whose products we all use and hear about. But when I watch the live streams, and EVERY ONE of the delegates has their noses buried in their laptops, and all you see is TweetDeck, I lose interest.

      Is is too much to ask for the delegates to interact with the people in the same room? You’re squandering an opportunity most of us would kill for.

          • says

            Part of having a proper discussion is having people with different views on the subject. This time I wasn’t trying to be snarky or sarcastic. Just pointing to the fact that being a TFD delegate is not something “most of us would kill for”. It’s just one form away.

            I just don’t like that people think that delegates are merely arrogant celebrities that are buried in their laptops. I have been to a few TFDs and have seen the level of management Stephen and his team do to make sure everyone gets the right level of appreciation, whether they are vendor, attendee or public audience. The majority of the presentations are great and the majority of the presentations get the right level of attention live by at least a few delegates that feel comfortable enough with that product to ask the right questions.

            • says

              It’s not just one form away. I’m well aware of the process by which one can self-nominate to be a TFD delegate. You’re viewing this issue from the perspective of someone who is well-known in the community. I’m at the other end of the spectrum: just a guy with a blog and a Twitter account. I can assure you that, for the people on my end of the spectrum, TFD is a big deal.

              My criticism of the delegates should not be interpreted as a criticism of TFD itself. The concept is perfect, and the events (even the one in question) serve to educate and entertain us at the same time. Plus it’s free to stream, so we all owe Stephen Foskett a hearty thank you. However, it’s because the events are so well-liked and respected that we have high expectations of the vendors AND the delegates. I want to see some smart people asking good questions of the presenters. Interaction with Twitter is welcomed; it’s an opportunity for those of us who aren’t there to ask questions.

      • John G. says

        Again +10.000… Some folks don’t say a word all week besides snarky comments on twitter, why are you there then even?

    12. gabrielchapman says

      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.

    13. says

      Thank you all for your feedback and commentary here. I appreciate the passion and interest that Tech Field Day has created in the industry. That’s why we do it: It’s real. It’s us. It’s not perfect, but I’m honored to be a part of it!

      Just a few factual points I’d like to make:
      - We want everyone to have a great event, so we place a priority on helping presenters understand the nuances of audience and the event, including prep calls, agenda reviews, and speaker briefings before we go live.
      - We have a pre-event meeting with the delegates where we go over social norms and caution them that they are on a big stage. But we have to let them be themselves. They are not actors and this is not a scripted event. It’s real life.
      - The event is moderated from the side by me. I use a gentle hand so it stays real but have been known to step in when necessary. I also serve as a point of contact for our sponsors should they wish to raise any concerns during the presentation. Thankfully it is very, very rare for a company to ask me to intervene.
      - I personally work very hard to keep Tech Field Day from becoming an “old boys club” and have had this be my focus since planning TFD2 in 2010. My goal is to have 1/3 veterans, 1/3 infrequent, and 1/3 all-new delegates every time. I spend more time working to find new delegates than any other part of organizing the event.
      - I demand transparency in everything we do, which is why all conversation (snarky and otherwise) is done in public on Twitter and verbally in the room. It’s also why we live stream video of the event and post it immediately after.

      Thanks again for your interest in the Tech Field Day. I urge you to watch the event videos on YouTube and make your own judgments regarding the extent to which we live up to our goals for this event.

    14. says

      I attended a couple of the sessions, and let me first say I appreciate all who are a part of delivering this content and many thanks to all as these bring a wealth of information, especially those of us that are knee deep in customer engagements and do not have the time to attend other events.

      I was, however, a bit taken back by some of the actions of the delegates. Let me give an example. When a vendor explains their snapshot technology, and you have questions, give the opportunity to the vendor to explain. This was the first session I joined and right when I joined, the snapshot discussion got underway. Mutual respect is the proper regard to each’s dignity and esteem and I feel that this discussion got out of hand. We understand that some of the delegates, if not all, hold much expertise and years of practical experience. Because of this, you are held in high regard and should meet a standard. This standard has to do with how you conduct yourself, not just your technical skillset and knowledge. I’ve been in this industry for years and we all have seen the smart arrogant guy/gal, it comes with the territory. I would say in this particular case, going back and forth with the vendor without allowing the vendor to provide a full explanation is not in line with the expectations of what would be considered a “delegate.”

      You can have all the expertise in the world, but with rude interruptions, and a blatant arrogance, it does not put yourself in a good light.

      Other than that, loved the content, keep it coming and I believe there is true value here.

    15. says

      Nice article. I can’t think of a market that’s as competitive as storage. This is likely in part due to the level of nuance and complexity inherent in the technology. The divergence exists in products from multiple vendors and throughout multi-product portfolios of single vendors. Frankly, misinformation & misunderstanding may be rampant in the industry.

      Tweeter as a platform doesn’t help the cause. The terse nature of a message shared in 140 characters often colors the message with a negative tone.

      There’s a difference between educating an audience and disseminating FUD or thinly veiling FUD in the form of a question. The guy who asks the technical equivalent of, “When did you stop beating your wife?” needs to be rooted out of the conversation. With that said, the technical presenter needs to stop crying FUD just because questions are asked about their product.

      Maybe it’s time the presenters to learn to adjust with the natural ebb and flow of a conversation. You can’t always present to a group of fans.

      Take the good with the bad. Stephen and crew assembled a group of delegates for whom where very knowledgeable and have experience with numerous generations of storage technologies. I was impressed with the group’s knowledge and courage to ask tough questions. We are all better off with the information shared at Storage Field Day 5.

      Vaughn Stewart
      Pure Storage

    16. says

      I received some comments from an anonymous source during the event which I was originally going to share to support my point but with what has already been discussed I think I can get my point across without them. Agree with what anyone here has said or not, it’s peer feedback. Maybe more important in today’s era, it’s brand feedback.

      Streamed events with big names draw a lot of attention and most of the handles involved are backed by humans wearing their brand on their sleeve. From a career perspective, good brands can lead to good opportunities. The opposite has the potential to close doors. I have a little experience in this area because I was a TFD delegate a few years ago when I was independent. I’m now with Dell Storage. In fact I work with the team and report to an individual who was sitting across the table from me during that particular TFD event. Suffice to say, I think it was a good event, with good vendors and delegates alike, and future opportunity presented itself to me. And I am thankful for that.

      Be good to each other. That’s really all my tweet was about.

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