Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Running Diary: The vendor trade show - Part 1

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on a recent trade show visit I made and the things I learned while there. Other parts can be found:


There are two kinds of trade shows:

1) Huge conglomerates put on at some convention center by a big company or even an entire industry.

2) Get together's by small to medium-sized companies where they invite all their customers.

The first type can have tens of thousands of people. Think E3. There are far more of the second type simply because there are more small to medium sized companies that exist. The following is a Running Diary of the latter kind of trade show that had an attendance of around 1500 people and was hosted by a software vendor that the big company I work for has a pretty tight relationship with. It took place in the Fall of 2006 and got a little long, so I broke it up into three parts.


Sunday - Travel Day


A Monday morning start and eastbound travel means I'm traveling on a Sunday for this one. I didn't miss the Saints game and was able to keep tabs on my fantasy football team, but I hate having to miss putting my 4-year old daughter to bed. Such is the sacrifice of the job, I suppose.

Still, it's not like I'm on a death march or anything. Portland to Austin via Phoenix on America West. Three days in Texas at a trade show for a software vendor we work with pretty extensively, to the point that we're a major sponsor and paid for "entertainment night" on Tuesday featuring a copycat regional Cirque du Soleil show.

The agenda is pretty typical of such gatherings. I'm skipping the Sunday activities (a golf tournament and a fancy cocktail party). Monday will have every training class the vendor offers on their products jammed into one day. I'm not sure how their training staff will swing that, but I'm going to use it as an opportunity to learn about their products we aren't currently using. Tuesday, the main part of the conference kicks into gear with the some keynote speeches from their CEO and some others and then the breakout sessions. Wednesday is pretty much the same deal with slightly different speakers and I'll leave a little early to catch the plane home.

Without going into excruciating detail, lets just say that I forgot to follow my own advice and have preprinted directions to the hotel. I got lost at midnight in a scary part of Austin where the liquor-store-per-capita had to be higher than US average. Then, I hit a dog with my rental car, tried to go back to help it, and finally decided that, despite being a dog lover, it wasn't worth risking my life for some bozo who didn't contain his own animal. Instead, I said a little prayer and went on.

Monday - Training Day

Attending a training class in an environment where there are a lot of people from a lot of companies present is a good opportunity to gauge your skills. I don't like to be among the first people asking questions, even if I have some. Instead, I like to hear what other people are probing about first. It's usually a good window into the kinds of problems they are having back at their day to day jobs. Just about everybody attends classes that will help them with their immediate tasks, so they usually have some context already that they are trying to apply what they learn back to. By listening first, you can get a sense for what those problems are and how yours differ by comparison.

It becomes pretty obvious at the first of the day's worth of training sessions that almost nobody here works for a Fortune 20 company like I do. In some cases I wish I only had their problems, but in others their woes seem insurmountable in comparison to the kinds of things I take for granted (testers and data back up operators, for example).

Then, I made a mistake. Somebody asked a question that the teacher didn't know the answer to, but I did. I answered it in front of the group and suddenly became "the answer guy". I had people coming up to me the rest of the conference asking me for my business card because clearly I was the worlds foremost authority on linking single sign-on authentication systems to the vendor's main product suite. That wasn't true at all, of course, I simply knew the answer to one question but that got me a whole lot of attention that I didn't want.

Mostly, the day gave me a way to find out about the vendors products we don't use and I came away feeling like we were better off staying with what we have. Plus, I discovered you could see the University of Texas football stadium from the conference floor of the hotel where the conference was being held. I felt closer to Vince Young already. All that and a room service grilled cheese sandwich for dinner made for a satisfying day.

Other parts to this series:

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