A Different Kind of Technical with Tom Hollingsworth (2/3)

Welcome to episode 126 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 2 of the interview with Tom Hollingsworth, discussing his transition to event lead at Tech Field Day, how the role was still technical in many ways though different, and a little more detail about what those who attend Tech Field Day experience.

Original Recording Date: 06-01-2021

Tom Hollingsworth has been the Tech Field Day event lead for about 8 years as part of his role at Gestalt IT after serving as a Network Engineer for many years. Catch part 1 of our interview with him in Episode 125 to further learn about how he fell into the Networking specialty

Topics – Moving to Tech Field Day, A Different Kind of Technical, The Mission of Tech Field Day

2:48 – Moving to Tech Field Day

  • Tom spent years studying for the CCIE. He failed it 6 times and passed on the 7 attempts. Around attempt 4 he started documenting things.
    • Tom came across some great blogs by Ethan Banks (a previous guest) about the CCIE.
    • Tom then created his own blog to parallel what others were doing. As he started being more active in writing and on social media, he was contacted by Stephen Foskett about participating in Tech Field Day.
      • This involved flying to California and learn about tech companies.
      • Tom kept being invited back to these events.
      • Around this same time, Tom was at an inflection point in his career and felt like he either needed to breakthrough and do something more or walk away.
      • Foskett offered Tom a job, referring to it as The Dread Pirate Roberts. Tom would be completely nontechnical in what he did.
      • Foskett basically hired a CCIE to buy airline tickets for people and edit video, and Tom agreed he wanted to do it. That was June 1, 2013 (Tom’s first day at Tech Field Day).
      • Tom spent the first 1.5 years doing a lot of administrative tasks related to the events.
      • At one point Stephen and Tom split the workload down the middle, with Tom running point on Networking and Wireless events and Stephen taking care of the rest.
  • The growth pattern here was getting involved in the community, recognizing what the community needed, getting recognized for that work, and then coming on board at Tech Field Day and growing into it.
    • There are some in the greater community who feel certain tasks are beneath them.
    • When Tom started he was the 3rd employee of the company. There was no area for him to oversee. He was one of the people doing the work, and it did not matter what it was.
    • "Don’t be the person that says no because something is beneath you because nothing should be beneath you." – Tom Hollingsworth
      • Listen to Tom’s experience as manager of operations in a food service environment and how he used to give his employees breaks, showing them the work was not beneath him.
      • The reason you say no to something should be better than "I don’t think that is worth of my attention or talent."
  • It took Tom a long time to realize it, but servant leadership is something he has embodied for his entire life.
    • It is important for a leader to get down in the trenches with employees to do the work.
    • Other managers who have been guests have stated their role is to remove roadblocks for employees.
  • Tom used to "tank" angry customers, standing in front of that person so his employees could work and asking people to shout / get angry at him instead of his employees.
    • It was important to allow the employees to work and resolve the issue. Then the analysis about who might be at fault can be done.
  • Good managers let us know when we have messed up but defend us to their managers.
    • "I’m doing this because I know you can be better…and if that means taking heat for you from someone else who doesn’t get it, that’s what my role as a manager / supervisor should be." – Tom Hollingsworth
  • In a way, Tom acts as a manager for Tech Field Day. As event lead, it is his job to make sure everything happens as it is supposed to happen (presenters show up on time, live stream goes up on time, etc.).
    • Capable, intelligent people who know how to motivate others to get things done can make good managers. Real managers will recognize that quality and encourage these folks to take a leadership role.
    • Recognizing that you are in over your head is something Tom wishes he had learned a long time ago.
      • Instead of making things up, ask yourself if this is a decision you need to be making. If there is doubt, run it by someone else.
    • Tom gives an analogy from the military, speaking to how sergeants and others in charge can likely do your job better than you but really excel at getting you to do your job better.
      • Listen to the George Washington story Tom shares as part of this.

17:41 – A Different Kind of Technical

  • Tom says he transitioned to a different kind of technical role rather than a less technical one and speaks to the difference between architect and engineer.
    • The architect knows how all the pieces work together.
    • Tom gets to use both his architecture knowledge and his engineering knowledge when trying to evaluate some of the technical presentations for Tech Field Day.
  • There are many firms that employ analysts (Gartner, Forester, etc.).
    • The job is to take what a company tells you about their technology and give it a critical eye.
    • As an analyst, you may not implement the solutions, but you get to hear about all the different vendor solutions. Cisco is different than Juniper which is different from another vendor.
    • You have to understand the commonalities and the differences (almost like a logic problem).
    • If there were no analysts, SD-WAN would never have taken off.
    • Basically they put an opinion or flavor on a technology to help people understand why it is important and valuable.
    • This role involves a LOT of writing.
      • Tom really likes to write and to explain how things work, but it requires a very deep understanding of the technology.
      • Those starting out in their career haven’t built the body of knowledge for use in picking out patterns and trends that industry veterans have and would not be good analysts.
    • Tom’s experience in networking helped him be a better event lead, and his experience as an event lead helps him be a better analyst.
      • He understand the business drivers that make the technology work as well as the technology drivers.

26:03 – The Mission of Tech Field Day

  • Tom told Stephen in the beginning that he is a horrible salesperson.
    • He tells potential customers how awesome Tech Field Day is and expects them to pay money to be part of it, and he’s not going to chase them.
  • Some companies don’t quite understand the value of what Tech Field Day brings.
    • For a company to participate, they have to get something out of it (an exchange of value for the cost). Is the video produced a valuable enough resource, the coverage from amateur analysts, etc.?
    • Some companies want to pay for lead generation, but that isn’t the goal of Tech Field Day. Tom and Stephen like to let the technology speak for itself.
      • This is different from scanning someone’s badge at a trade show booth.
  • Attendees of Tech Field Day (those in the live audience for events) are called delegates. They represent peers in the tech community who aren’t going to be able to make it in the room.
  • There are 3 qualifications to be a delegate.
    • You must be an independent technical influencer (cannot work for a company that makes stuff – VMware, Dell, or other). The intention is to avoid all perception of a biased viewpoint.
    • You must be technical, have some industry experience, and be willing to learn.
    • You must be an influencer of some kind (a platform of some kind like a blog, podcast, video series – an audience).
    • Previous guests Jon Hildebrand and Keiran Shelden shared with us how attending Tech Field Day elevated their careers.
  • There’s no writing requirement for delegates. That would be like assigning a book report.
    • It’s the genuine writings that get produced as a result of attending Tech Field Day that are the most helpful (and what vendors who present really want).
    • There are times where people write about what companies are doing and what could be done to make it better (very much like an analyst).
    • Nick equates Tech Field Day to an advocacy program.
    • Tom says it’s more like being a trusted advisor. A trusted advisor is someone who walks into a Sales meeting and guards the customer against buying something they don’t need.
      • Nick believes you can still be consultative even if you could be perceived as being biased based on where you work.
      • This goes hand in hand with checking your ego at the door. You have to look at things critically and not just with rose colored glasses.
      • There are ways for someone on the inside to present a fair analysis of something.
        • "Is it perfect? No Will it work? Yes, with these caveats. If you’re ok with that, we can make it work for you." – Tom Hollingsworth
        • Too often the person in this conversation is more concerned about hitting a sales goal than helping the customer.
        • Nick says we can all benefit from [Josh Duffney]((https://nerd-journey.com/just-add-value-with-josh-duffney-1-2)’s advice of just adding value.

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