10 on Tech Episode 006 – IT Conferences with Trevor Pott

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In this episode, Trevor Pott (@cakeis_not_alie) and I talk about the changing face of the IT conference landscape. VMworld and other conferences like it have long been on of the primary places that deals are made and careers are accelerated. Is the focus of those activities shifting to new conferences like OpenStack Summit and AWS re:Invent? We cover that and more in only 10 minutes!

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Show Transcript
James Green: Hey everybody. James Green here, with another episode of 10 on Tech. Today, my guest is Trevor Pott. If you don’t know Trevor, first of all, shame on you. Second of all, today is your lucky day. Thanks for being on the show, Trevor.
Trevor Pott: Hey, thanks for having me.
James Green: Today we’re going to talk about conferences. Last week, David and I talked about VMworld specifically. We gave some tips for first time attendees, as well as seasoned attendees. If you haven’t listened to that show, make sure and stop and listen to that one too, especially if you’re going to be there.
  Trevor and I, today, are going to talk about conferences in general, because as conference season is starting, we see a lot of the big conferences happening just recently or in the near future here. We want to kind of take a look at what is the landscape of industry conferences right now. How are those changing, from the perspective of the vendors who participate in those conferences? From the perspective of attendees at the conference, what’s the value in certain conferences and is it different than it used to be? We’re going to touch on all of those things real quick.
  Trevor, let’s start with vendors. Conferences are an awesome way for vendors to engage with their potential customers, to touch base with their existing customers, and to meet some of their marketing and sales goals, as well as just build relationships. What do you see … I know you go to a lot of conferences. What are you seeing while you’re there, with regards to the way the vendors are leveraging the conferences, and maybe changing the way they do things there?
Trevor Pott: Well it’s interesting. It’s not just what I see at the conferences, but what I see as I’m talking to these vendors. As they’re preparing for conferences, they’re wanting content, etc., etc. Vendors tend to use conferences in a couple of different ways.
  The first way is the fairly straight forward. They’re looking to hear from attendees. They’re looking to reach out to potential buyers. The marketing term is they’re looking to “fill the pipe” or “fill the funnel.”
  The other major thing vendors are after is biz dev opportunities, which is to talk to other vendors to hammer out some agreements in principle, to start putting together partnerships. In a lot of cases, partnerships happen at conferences, functionally organically, as executives take the opportunity to walk the floor a little, see what’s out there, make sure that they still have an idea of what’s going on in the industry.
  Right now what I’m seeing is changes on both of those levels across the landscape of the different conferences.
James Green: Specific to the partnerships that you mentioned, I assume what you’re talking about is some of the executives from companies who’ve sponsored the show are there at their booth. While they’re there, they decide to walk around and see who else is out there. They talk to, maybe an executive that’s present at another booth. They strike up a relationship that winds up being mutually beneficial. Is that what you’re talking about.
Trevor Pott: That’s part of it. In some cases, it happens that the only time that the two executives from companies that have been talking about attempting to partner together will be in the same place, is at a conference. This is where partnerships can get realized that were previously building.
  Also in a lot of cases, Executive A is going to be wandering around. He’ll see an interesting company, and not necessarily be able to talk to an executive from Company B. At least he’ll be able to grab some information and take that back and have his tech guys take a lot at it, and go, “Is this a company we should investigate partnering with?”
  What I’m seeing is, where those sorts of biz dev opportunities are taking place is changing. It used to be for example … It’s interesting that you mentioned VMworld earlier … It used to be VMworld was the absolute hub of this for our industry. Now this is occurring more and more at Amazon’s conference. This is happening at OpenStack to a certain extent, but certainly at Flash Memory Summit.
  A lot of the biz dev opportunities are moving away from VMworld itself and away from Microsoft’s conference. What we’re starting to see is opportunities for the attendees to encounter these executives. To have some of the conversations they would like to have, are occurring now not at VMworld, not at Microsoft’s conferences, but at other ones such as Amazon. That’s changing not just what’s occurring from the vendor level, but what’s occurring from the attendee level.
James Green: One question I have about that is: why do you think that is? Given the way the industry looks right now, why are those meetings moving to different conferences?
Trevor Pott: One of the things that I actually do know for sure is that there is a feeling of frustration, amongst a lot of the vendors that attend these conferences, that they’re essentially recycling the same old people. What’s the point in going to these conferences, if all the people whose badges you scanned are the same people whose badges you scanned last year, and the year before that, and the year before that?
  This is causing vendors to draw down some of their presence at these events. Some of them, they’ll continue to go but they’ll sort of just phone it in. They’ll send a couple of marketing guys and some lower level tech support guys, but none of the heavy hitters really show up.
  The other part of that is that where the real innovation in the industry is occurring is also shifting. There’s a reason that Flash Memory Summit is really picking up. That’s because the innovation and the storage industry is all occurring around Flash.
  All of the really cool announcements happened at Flash Memory Summit, which is drawing in the attendees. It’s drawing in all of the really neat startups. The same can be said for Amazon. There’s an awful lot of really neat stuff, really innovative stuff that gets announced at Amazon. This isn’t showing up at VMworld anymore. It’s not showing up at Microsoft.
James Green: Sure. Let me ask you then, is there still value for some people in going to VMworld, to Ignite, to those conferences that used to be the place to be? Is there still good reason to go? I believe there is.
Trevor Pott: I believe so too, but I think it really depends on what you’re trying to do at these conferences. Are you attempting to become one of the “thought leaders?” One of the elite that is going to go around and be a top notch blogger and all the rest of that? Then you know what, maybe you really are better off walking away from VMworld and going to Amazon.
  That’s where you’re going to get the bleeding edge stuff. That’s where you’re really going to get into the … There’s no polite way to put this. It’s where you’re going to get into the venture capitalist funded startup scene, as opposed to the middle aged startups that are getting kind of desperate for IPOs.
James Green: Sure.
Trevor Pott: That’s not a big group. That’s not a big group of people that are out there trying to be these thought leaders. Most people are just systems administrators who are just trying to make their server rooms and their data centers work. Those people are going to find immense value at VMworld, because the value for them is going to be in the sessions.
James Green: The big differentiator between whether something like a VMworld is going to be useful to you, or whether a Flash Memory Summit is going to be useful to you is, what is your objective in going there? If you’re trying to keep up on skills, and you’re trying to learn things that are going to help you do better at what you’re already doing, something like a VMworld could be great.
  You’re not going to … That area is saturated, as far as leaders go, as far as big names go. There’s not going to be … If you’re a blogger, and you’re looking for your presence to be known in this industry, there’s not room for many more “Duncan Epping”s at VMworld, right?
Trevor Pott: Yes.
James Green: You’re going to have to start somewhere new, like at OpenStack Summit. Those people, they’re being made now, the “Duncan”s and “William Lam”s and “Cormac Hogan”s of OpenStack. Over the last few years, they’re being made. Maybe that’s the place for you.
Trevor Pott: Yes. If you want to change the world, go to Flash Memory Summit. Go to OpenStack. Go to Amazon. If your interest is in keeping the lights on, go to VMworld. Go to Microsoft.
James Green: Fair enough. Well that’s incredibly helpful advice. Trevor, I really appreciate you being on to talk with me. We’re going to be at a number of conferences coming up, and I know Trevor is too. If you’re going to be there, and you’d like to hang out, definitely hit us up on Twitter. You can get ActualTech Media at @ActualTechMedia on Twitter. You can get me at @JDGreen. You can get ahold of Trevor at @cakeis_not_alie on Twitter. We’d love to talk with you and maybe meet up with you out there. Thanks again, Trevor.
Trevor Pott: All right. Thank you. Cheers.
James Green

James is a Partner at ActualTech Media and writes, speaks, and consults on Enterprise IT. He has worked in the IT industry as an administrator, architect, and consultant, and has also published numerous articles, whitepapers, and books. James is a 2014 - 2016 vExpert and VCAP-DCD/DCA. Follow James on Twitter

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