A few months ago I was graciously invited to attend as a delegate for Networking Field Day 8 in San Jose. It was an amazing experience,, having the opportunity to represent the industry and some of my peers during a series of vendor product presentations, demonstrations, and road map/strategy conversations. As this trip was coming to an end, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to sit down with fellow Tech Field Day delegate Lindsay Hill, and we got to chatting about the topic of vendor-sponsored influence marketing programs that have appeared recently in the social circles of the tech industry.
As the conversation progressed, Lindsay shared with me his concerns that some of the influence marketing programs may be leading certain technical individuals to ‘sell out’ too cheaply, and lose their independent thinking ability (drinking the vendor kool-aid, if you will). As a recent entry to one of these programs myself (participating as a Cisco Champion for the Collaboration segment for 2014 and now 2015), I shared my thoughts on the subject with Lindsay, and I thought it might be a good topic for a blog post. I never got around to publishing that post, but the topic again came up in conversation so I decided to polish the draft and publish this here for all to see.
Lets start off by talking about my Twitter handle – @ciscovoicedude – First off, I want to make it very clear that I do not, nor have I been an employee of Cisco Systems. I spend my time these days working for a Midwest-based Solutions Integrator installing and supporting Cisco collaboration solutions over a number of vendor-agnostic networks – so that’s where the handle comes from – I’m just a network dude, working with Cisco voice. Am I a Cisco ‘fan-boy’ ? HELL YES! Does that mean I won’t install or support a Juniper router – HELL NO! Let me explain…
I’ve been doing IT related tasks both part and full time over the past 20 years (yes, I was first building computers and learning Novell Netware administration at the age of 12), I’ve designed and built a number of enterprise-class data centers, and I’ve become a very well-rounded generalist in working with Routing, Switching, Server, Security, Remote Access, and other associated technologies. A few years ago, I decided that it was time to supplement my overall IT generalist skillset with a specialization, and started a deep-dive into collaboration technologies, because I find them so interesting. Over these 20 years (and most concentrated in the past 10) I’ve leveraged a lot of Cisco solutions including routers, switches, VPN endpoints, firewalls, etc. Most of these solutions worked really well and met the expectations I had for them, and the promises made by the Cisco sales teams – in other words, they earned my endorsement. Every time I looked for a new solution, and Cisco was selected, it was because the product proved it could do the job I was asking from it, NOT because of the name stamped on the chassis. In some instances, Cisco failed me, and as a result, they lost that business (can anybody say ‘WebEx’ circa 2009), but I’m going to take the high road on this one – water under the bridge. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that every step along the way, my vendors of choice were forced to earn my respect, and ultimately my business. Sure I would talk to the incumbent technology leader, but there was no free ticket to the dance – you have to earn your stripes.
I’ve been a network architect for well over a decade, have maintained and designed a number of multi-vendor networks using hardware from vendors such as 3Com, Bay Networks, Nortel, Cisco, Juniper, and Alcatel. Many of these products made my life as an engineer easier (because they did what they promised) and get my whole-hearted endorsement, while others failed to impress, and didn’t live up to expectations.
So back to my point…
I use influence marketing participation as a way to engage with my peers in the field about technologies that I’m passionate about. If a vendor has a product that excites me, and that I think is a best-of-breed solution, I’m going to share my excitement about it with others. I’m going to talk it up, and try and convince you that it’s worth considering. If it’s an epic fail, I’m not going to endorse it, and I’m going to be equally as vocal about my opinions in the public forum (hopefully taking the high road most times, but sometimes I do feel the need to be brutally honest with something is just a dud). I sure hope that other engineers/bloggers/technology evangelists that participate in these programs do the same thing.
I think that the people running many of these programs (I can’t speak for all of them) have the same thing in mind. When I joined the Cisco Champions program, they made it very clear that their intentions were pure – they didn’t recruit me with promises of free goodies in exchange for putting their products up on a platform to help increase sales, in fact, they were very clear that they wanted my honest and open feedback about what I think , and I respect them highly for that. Sure, if I say good things about a product, others will likely give it more consideration (or not?), but the same is true if I decide that it’s crap and not worth investing in.
So, Lindsay – I think you asked a great question and I share your concerns. Thank you SO much for taking the time to talk with me about it! I hope that others, like me, hold to their beliefs and stand up for their own opinions in these public forums, and while participating in these communities. In 10 years, (or in 10 months, we never know what lies ahead), I may be endorsing some other product, and calling myself @NewAwesomeVendorXVoiceDude, if I find myself working with a product that turns the industry upside down. I guess my point is, being a fan-boy is GREAT if you’re doing it for the right reasons, make sure you’re writing or endorsing what you believe in, and don’t be a sell-out. Cisco, you’ve got my vote today with Collaboration technologies, keep doing what you’re doing. Other vendors out there – Keep trying to make awesome things that turn the industry upside down, I’ll be watching.