A Day in the Life

A day in my life. Thoughts on leadership, management, startups, technology, software, concurrent development, etc... Basically the stuff I think about from 10am to 6pm.

12/06/2006

GNoTECon take aways...

Monday’s GNoTECon was very informative. I learned a few things, got validation on a few others, and met some very interesting people.

Root and Branch
Mary Trigiani asked a very important question during one of the panel discussions that was basically along the lines of, "Is the rise in technical evangelism a result of a failure of marketing?" This is an important question because the answer is vital to help understand how technical evangelism will mature. At its root the question is asking, "Why was technical evangelism invented?" Technical or secular evangelism was invented to fill some needs and it has grown because these needs are common. But what are the needs? Has marketing gotten too passive? Has it lost touch with the markets it’s trying to reach? Do technical products need to be marketed differently? Are people tuning out marketing messages?

Knowing why technical evangelism was created and has grown is also important to understanding how to better reach our prospective customers. All the presenters emphasized the importance of getting in front of people and telling your story. But flying people all over the country is expensive. When an entrepreneur sits down to write her first business plan does she have to factor in the expense of evangelism? Has this become a requirement for startup success?

Startup Techniques
There was a lot of talk about trust, honesty, integrity, and transparency. An evangelist’s reputation is vital and the evangelist must strive for transparency so that when he says something people will believe it and not dismiss it as a sales pitch. In a startup there is a fine line between being an evangelist and being a sales person. If you cross that line then you lose credibility and as a result your company loses.

I had inherently suspected this and it was very interesting to hear it emphasized so much. Here are some low cost techniques we use to try and spread the message:

- Microsoft Groups: The Digipede Network has a very powerful SDK and so that opens our products up to developers. I watch the developer groups and forums for opportunities to mention our product. I try very hard to be respectful when I post a response by not making it a sales pitch but rather to offer technical assistance and point out options. I actually will mention Alchemi sometimes or threading if that is an option. I also answer posts that are not directly relevant to Digipede. I do this because it’s the right thing to do and I think that that is one of the root elements to evangelism...helping people be successful.

- Blogs: With my blog and on other people’s blogs I try to add to the conversation. Which is what blogging is all about. Over half of the Digipede team is blogging because we believe that blogs are a very effective communication tool. What is hard about blogging as an evangelist is again that fine line between adding value and selling. I’ve seen people push their products without adding anything else to the conversation and I know that when I see something like that, I don’t like it. I love the idea of blogging because it’s the geeky honesty thing at work, out where everyone can see it. I’ve written before that I think engineers are required to have a thick streak of honesty because of the nature of our jobs. And because I am pushing a product that has an SDK component, you will find programming stuff on my blog. Even programming samples that are not directly tied to Digipede. The reason for this is again...helping people.

- White Papers: Yes, I’ve written a couple white papers for Digipede. These just take time to write, but creation and distribution is basically free. Stick them on the web site and make them accessible.

- Videos: Video creation has gotten extremely easy and cheap. While our videos are not the highest quality available, YouTube and other video sites have lowered the quality bar and made this okay. Dan has become the face of Digipede and he tries to make the videos informative and educational. More "here’s what’s in it for you" and no "here’s why you need to buy this".

- Talk to Everyone: We talk to anyone and everyone. That’s how Dan got on DotNetRocks!. He told the guys what the Digipede Network can do, they thought it was cool, and now you can listen to Dan and Carl talk about grid computing. Dan just asked. What’s the worst anyone will say? If they say "No" you’re no worse off than you were before.

- Give Presentations: I will talk to any group that is within a 4 hour drive of Oakland, CA. I will fly to any city where I can get a $250 or less round-trip ticket. Just get me 20 people to show up to hear what I have to say. But I don’t just talk about grid computing and Digipede. I talk about concurrent software development. I did this because the first person I approached about presenting was Oliver Nguyen, President of the Bay .NET User Group. Oliver was very helpful and he pointed out that .NET user groups don’t want a sales pitch. They want to leave the presentation with something that they can use right away. So, I talk about concurrent software development, why it’s important, design considerations, and two concurrency tools: threads and grid objects.

- Piggy Back on Partners: The Digipede team works hard to form solid, positive relationships with our partners. Especially our large partners who have significantly more resources than we do. This really paid off for Supercomputing 2006 because we were invited to hang-out in HP’s booth. And for the SIA Management Technology conference we were in the Microsoft booth AND in the Microsoft break room. The Microsoft break room was very cool because it was where Microsoft, HP and Digipede products where being demonstrated working together by a Microsoft employee. Hardware: HP Proliant Servers; OS: Microsoft’s Windows Computer Cluster Server 2003; Software to pull it all together and demo: Digipede. This was great. John blogs a lot about partnering.

- Webcasts: We also have taken advantage of doing webcasts with MSDN. These webcasts are free, on a Microsoft site, and searchable. The fact that the webcasts are hosted by Microsoft adds validity to the presentations. I see these webcasts as being evangelistic, we also do monthly webcasts but those are presented to folks who have identified themselves as prospects.

- Make it Easy: We provide a free Digipede Network Developer’s Edition which is a fully functional Digipede Network, the only limitation is that this version only supports two compute nodes. But this is enough for people to see how easy it is to set up and use, and to see a performance improvement. There are plenty of code samples and complete documentation. Providing the Developer Edition has helped us get free reviews. Mike Gunderloy of Larkware was kind enough to do an unsolicited review. This was awesome.

- Community: We have a community board that is one way we communicate with users. What’s great about using a forum format is that if we’re not here, the board is. So if someone runs into a problem they can search to see if someone else has run into the same issue or post to get help. I did like the idea from the SAP evangelist about using a point system to encourage more participation, but we haven’t implemented anything like that...yet.

These are all low cost techniques that we have been using to spread the message that, "Yes Virginia, you can do grid computing on Windows and it’s really easy." You can even grid-enable Microsoft Excel.

Customer Evangelists Rock!
Customer evangelists are the most credible and enthusiastic messengers. I wish I had a hundred. What more can I say? Except that I wish it was easy to identify who has the potential to become a customer evangelist. As was pointed out by many of the presenters, these folks are often not the ones you were targeting.

Things I Learned
Most of what I learned on Monday validated what we are already doing. But there were some other great ideas and they came from Guy’s presentation.

- Go with your strengths. Guy pointed out that a product may be built for a specific market or to solve a specific problem, but if users come up with something else...support that something else.

- People see things through the lense of what they already know. Wow. Great point. Obvious point, but only after it was stated.

Conclusion
This was a great event and I’m glad I went. I think evangelism has become an important part of the product life-cycle. Yes, I said product life-cycle. Because evangelists are also educators and remember that a product is far more than the software or hardware. It’s all the other stuff that makes it easy for customers to find value. If you’re interested in learning more about Technical Evangelism then I recommend you join gnote. It’s very easy and it’s free.

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