Sunday, February 21, 2016

What Can You Learn From an Industry Event? A WFD Update, 4 Months Later

As I see the Spring event season starting to pick up, MWC starting in Barcelona, WLPC in Phoenix, IWCE in March, Interop snowballing into May, and of course WFD9 dates announced in April, I start to get excited about what I can see, what I can learn, and how it will change me and the way I do business.

I have been to so many tradeshows throughout my career and have worked every side of them; presenting, speaking, paneling, working a booth, and as a plain 'ol "EXPO PASS ONLY" guy. No matter in what manner I attended, there is always something to learn from these events, but you have to be open to it and participate in the event, before, during, and after the exhibit hall is open. This is what started my @Wirelessnerd Twitter handle and led to this blog. Actually, it was Tom Hollingsworth (@NetworkingNerd) who led me to this at WFD7.

Which brings me to the point of this post..

What has Wireless Field Day done for me lately?

When I first started paying attention to Wireless Field Day, I thought it was a pretty incredible thing to be able to get a peek into the types of sessions that *I* wanted to see. When I saw that the people at the events were people who worked in the same field as I did, were at the same level as me, and who were asking the same questions as I was, it started to get exciting.

When I got the chance to present to the group at WFD about a technology I thought was fantastic, I got to experience first hand the other side of the table, and to be honest, it was AWESOME. There's something about sharing your passion with people who are just as passionate about it as you are, and then being able to field questions and thoughts that are relevant and sincere.

A year later, I got chosen to be a delegate at WFD8 and was totally stoked about it. What an awesome experience: Interact online, share your thoughts, and you have a chance at getting picked up to get a seat at the table.

So Wireless Field Day 8 came and went, the #WFD8 tweets and conversation flowed strong, and afterwards, blog posts and reviews got sprinkled across the internet.  Now, 4 months later, where do we stand? I asked myself that this morning while thinking about WFD9. What was the *real* impact of WFD on my job, me as a person, and what I do? So lemme dive in!

The Impact of WFD Vendor Demos

Note: instead of being a Negative Nancy, I am leaving out a few visits that I don't feel took advantage of our time out there and as such had little to no impact on my view of the products and services they offer.

Cambium Networks


We got a great view into the Cambium line, but the impact for me was way more than the slideshows. We were provided 2 ePMP units each. I handed these to one of my guys as soon as they came in so that he could get hands-on with them and familiar with their operation on his own schedule. Being able to pass gear off to someone so they could create a link between their grandfather's house and barn may not be what Cambium had in mind when they sent me those two units, but that is what they got. What I got out of that was a network tech who knew the product intimately because he got to use the demo units and it has now made him a stronger individual.

Another item that we all got was instant access to the Cambium Cloud Service, cnMaestro. This allowed me to on-board 21 basestations and 35 sm's (as soon as we got the kinks worked out on the Cambium forum) and show off the product to a number of different people in the industry. Overall the exposure to the product line and the products placed in my hands led me to familiarize myself, my company, and our customers with the product line.

Cradlepoint


Quite arguably one of the best vendor presentations I have seen; cheesy props, juggling engineers, and most importantly demonstrations that made a huge impact. We learned alot about the products and what they could do, the company and what it stands for, and real examples of how we could use their products to create solutions once we got home. When we got the demo units shipped to us, we were able to immediately hit the ground running. I used mine to facilitate routing and wireless internet access to a mobile classroom on wheels that provides tech and programming lessons to economically challenged areas. I got to learn about the product, how it works, what it is really capable of, and I got to share that with customers, the community, and the world. It has made me a stronger partner to Cradlepoint and a more educated VAR.

Cisco


One of the coolest things that happened at the Cisco presentation is something that we couldn't even talk about. That in and of itself is radical and the reason why events like this are so awesome. Embargoed information.
Although it was a little past me as a non-Koolaid drinker, I still got something out of this: a new found excitement over the Cisco product lines. The demos of ME and how easy it was to use made me want to plug in APs and try it myself. When I got home and these ridiculous boxes covered in cat wrapping paper showed up, I got the chance. I feel like this is exactly what was supposed to happen as a delegate at WFD: You get the dog and pony show, the ability to interface at a high-level with these companies, the technical information to understand what they are trying to do and how, and then the opportunity to do it yourself.

I took my 2 APs to the local Junior League office and donated the gear to a place that was going to use them everyday and with a ton of clients. I get to install it, monitor how well it works, and show it off to people that it makes a difference to. It was just as easy to install as they made it look in the demo at the offices the day of our visit and it has made me a more informed solutions provider. Even though I don't sell Cisco products, I know exactly what I am dealing with.

Aruba


Aside from an amazing outing to Levi's Stadium that gave us a nice change of scenery, I think the Aruba vendor time was time very well spent. We learned a ton about their products and services, not from a sales and marketing team, but from the people that had built the software, installed and managed the services, and in short were our counterparts. This personal approach was well received and gave me an honest feel for what to expect from the company. When the presenter opens up the CLI to get into the nuts and bolts of the products and has no problem showing off every crease and roll, regardless of what the output is, it says alot not just about the company but about the overall confidence of the product. The impact that the presentations had on me was only amplified by taking a walking tour of the deployment. Understanding specifics about how and why this manufacturer deployed what they did, why they did, and how they did it made me feel like I really understood what they were trying to do, and how I could apply that to what I did everyday. Again, a pinnacle WFD moment: Talk to the right people, get the right information, and then get to do it yourself. Before the APs had even arrived at home I was signed up as an Aruba partner and funneling the next 8 deals over to them. (Vendors take note: learning the right things about the products makes us want to sell them more!)

The Impact of a Trade Event & the WFD Event

It's easy to write-up a review of a presentation or demo. Even easier to review a piece of hardware or software. But what is really cool is to look back at the event as a whole and see what kind of impact it has had. It has led me to sell more Aruba. It has led me to sell more Cradlepoint and Cambium. It has even led me into grayish-blue Cisco waters with a smile on my face. But it has done more than that.

At any tradeshow you attend, you have to get at least knee-deep into it.  Don't waste your time going to an event if you are not going to REALLY try and learn something. What's the point in being there if it's not going to make you better at your craft? Here's what I do: Walk the floor 3 times. 1st to see what's there and peaks your interest, 2nd to follow-up with the ones you've flagged, 3rd to see what you may have missed by not knowing what you know now, after the 2nd time you walked!

For all of you in the industry who work the shows, take some time to walk the floor too. See what's happening in the booths on your row. Just showing up to ring the bell and do your booth time won't give you a chance to grow into something more than just a logo'd shirt in a pair of khakis.

When you see a group of very specific nerds on the schedule in your office, or in one of your presentations, please take the time and effort to make sure you can give them your best foot forward. They are there specifically because they want to learn more about your product. Don't blow an opportunity to let them like you. Even if you're in a tradeshow booth, that 3 minutes it takes to speak to someone walking by can make an impact.

Back at WFD8, at a bowling outing where we got to interact with past delegates, other wireless industry folks, and spend some time with each other, nerd to nerd, I got to learn about tips and tricks to help me be better. I met a person named Jussi who told me his product was awesome, a lot of the folks there agreed. He had a demo key in my inbox before my plane landed. Now, after purchasing a full license of the Ekahau Site Survey software, I can relate that back directly to WFD. Not because he demo'd it, sold it, or tried to position it, but because at a bowling alley in Cupertino he had a candid conversation with me about my needs. 

Events like this, specialized in a field of study, or even more broad ones like CTIA, CES, and Interop give you the chance to meet and greet vendors. However, they also give you a chance to grow your knowledge and network by taking advantage of the time you spend there. 

I'm not saying get all corny and sing karaoke with a group of drunk international delegates, but hey, why not? You never know who you are going to meet, how it's going to impact your job or company, and what you can get out of it if you don't leave yourself open to it.

You may also notice that some of the delegates that I met at this event are also featured delegates and speakers at other industry events that are taking place soon. Not only do we get to know the vendors and the people that work there, but we got to know each other as trusted resource is in the industry. Don't ever discount who you're spending time with, because you never know when you might need their specific skill set or their ability to help you out with the customer, with the presentation, or as a presenter at your next conference.




I would also like to extend a special thank you to Stephen and Tom at GestaltIT for bringing us all together at this event. I know how difficult it can be to get a good group of people together and have them mesh well with each other. As our leaders, organizers, and babysitters, please know we appreciate you.

And yes, I even ended up getting a MacBook Pro, which I just wrote this blog post on. :)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What is Your Wireless Engineering Worth?

I had something interesting happen to me this week. A project I have been working for the last 4 months took an interesting turn.

Our area is experiencing phenomenal growth; new stores, new houses, new entertainment facilities, etc. Through that, the requirement to provide technology that is easily accessible, works well, and serves as a benefit to the user is strong.

One of our projects that we zeroed in on was something that would serve thousands of users simultaneously and provide a killer fan experience. It was put together and worked on by a number of people on my team, and it was exciting!

Through the help of the tried and tested LPV (Large Public Venue) team at our vendor, we took the time and effort to build a network that would provide a remarkable service, while keeping budget and future growth in mind, but still being so robust that we wanted to stamp our name on it. A mini-Levis Stadium if you will. From naming rights to purchasing suites at the facility, everything is on the table. This is something that we can be proud of and we want to be proud enough of our work to share it. 

However, something really shitty happened. Before moving on, this is not a sour grapes post. This is about believing in yourself and your work, so don't stop reading if you think it's about someone losing a deal. 

The end-user, not a technically minded company at all, made a few decisions that made no real sense to us, but that happens all the time, especially when it is not an IT-centric end-user. Having to categorize everything into two categories, "computers and telephones", was a grim reminder how technology, no matter how pervasive we think it is, still hadn't made its way into the nooks and crannies of the entire civilized world. 

After months of design, engineering, and precise calculations on this network, we were presented with a bid sheet that asked us to quote "apples to apples" against a list of components that had been supplied by a national, non-local, vendor. This supplied list included components of a certain brand which has a strict requirement to engage their LPV team on a project of this size.
The only problem was, this competitor hadn't. They, the competitors, decided to circumvent that policy and spec in their own equipment recommendations, against the manufacturers policies, and sell it off as the same type of solution. 

The problems with this are too many to list, but I'll give you one technical peek at it: the radios specified by them were 4x4 MIMO devices, using external 3x3 MIMO antennas. Hint: 8 radio connections, only 3 antenna connections. 

When I was first asked to use the LPV team by my manufacturer, I didn't want anything to do with it. "I've been doing this for 20 years, I know what I'm doing" I told them. "It's policy" they told me. Because I value my partnership with them and I wanted to be a good partner, I let it go their way. Does that mean I win the deal because I'm right? Probably not, but it means I stuck to my guns and stood my ground for me and my vendor partner. 

When asked to submit prices against a competitor who refused to use the process required by our vendor, I refused. I brought up the fact that it wasn't the right way to do it and the manufacturer would likely not be happy about it or support it. 

Knowing that my bid is probably double or triple the amount of the competition, I have left it on the table. 

I believe in doing the right thing not just by my partners and vendors, but by my customers. Sometimes they might not see what the right thing is because they're trying to save budget in one place or another. Information technology is usually not the right place to try and trim budget to save a buck or two. 

As a consultant my job is to make sure the customer knows what is good and not good for them and stand behind it, sometimes to the point of losing. 

As a company I can't stake my brand or name on something that is not designed properly. Going through the process and stringent requirements of my vendor gave me the peace of mind that our design is and was what would serve the customer best. I believe in our work and the work of everyone on our team. 

As I mentioned to our end-user, comparing apples to apples is fine, but make sure you're doing it on the design and spec supported by the manufacturer, not by the team that is so eager to win they'll sell you crap now, to sell you more crap tomorrow. 

So did I win or lose the bid? 
I don't know. But honestly I am not worried about it. If I win, I win doing the right thing and if I lose, I lose doing the right thing too.