Tech volunteering – why do it?

I was at a horse show this weekend where they had this sign up on the wall of the secretary’s office:

“Volunteers are not paid. Not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

 This got me thinking about the aspects of volunteering I’m involved in our industry and the reasons behind why any of us volunteer.

Personally, I am involved in VMUG and WhatMatrix. As a VMUG member I am no longer a leader, but still volunteer my time in some ‘behind the scenes’ aspects, such as speaking, helping local groups secure sponsors and being on the committee for the new board selection process.

I’m also a community board member of WhatMatrix. If you’ve not heard of – or used – WhatMatrix, you don’t know what you’re missing! WhatMatrix is the independent technology comparison and analysis site. The site is the first crowdsourced-powered IT comparison community and all involved are volunteers, from the board to the category owners and contributors.

There are other communities, such as Spiceworks, “a professional network for the Information Technology industry”. Many people contribute to the Spiceworks community, while as an organization Spiceworks’ revenues are in excess of $91M. So even when an organization is making money, volunteers are still willing to contribute – for nothing.

I remember at London VMUG the chair presenting a slide for VMUG Advantage and declaring he wasn’t a sales person for VMUG or VMware, but that the deal you get from VMUG Advantage is well worth the investment. Sometimes there is a fine line between being a volunteer versus being seen as a mouthpiece for the technology you’re involved with. As long as your involvement is for the benefit of the community then you’re going to get a buzz from being involved. There is the aspect of ‘paying it forward’ by being involved and, of course, it raises one’s own visibility. I think we all want to be involved for the betterment of technology use versus being a particular vendor fanboi.

So, if you were considering being a volunteer in tech, I’d encourage it. The rewards are different for being a volunteer in a charity aspect, but the tech community is a great one and one that needs continued volunteers to – perhaps – keep the vendors honest too!

Being a community volunteer can yield a higher profile, but the biggest benefit for me has been observing my involvement being seen as a contributing factor to others’ career progression and success. Recently a tweet was posted about my VMUG involvement to encourage a VMUG member to apply for vExpert status:

For me, this epitomises the “priceless” part of the original quote in this post 🙂

 

My Name is Jane and I’m a Spicy Newbie

Having been aware of Spiceworks for a number of years and having worked with some US clients that utilise its demand generation offerings, but never engaged with them myself, I was delighted to be invited to attend their SpiceWorld conference in London this week.  The audience is primarily IT pros with a bunch of marketing folks thrown in for good measure and, accordingly, SpiceWorld is split into 2 tracks.  The day kicked off with the obligatory keynote, which I unfortunately only caught the end of, but you can read an excellent summary from my fellow London VMUGer, Alex Galbraith here. The part that I did hear was Scott Abel, Founder, talking about how IT Pros can order direct via Spiceworks with CDW when their inventory tool tells them their low on printer ink or such like.  In fact, he mentioned CDW a number of times.  Having worked with the US channel in the past, I’m familiar with CDW, but wondered how many of the audience would know them as one of the largest, if not largest, reseller in the US? And to my knowledge they’re not in the UK, so this keynote conveyed info that wasn’t relevant to the UK audience, which was a slightly disappointing start for me.

UPDATE: Another VMUGer, Dale Scriven, has pointed out to me that CDW does have a presence in the UK with their strategic partner, Kelway. Would be keen to understand if the Spiceworks ordering can be facilitated via this relationship?

The first breakout session I attended by Sanjay Castelino, VP Marketing, Spiceworks demonstrated how the data and trends that Spiceworks gleans from its IT Pros is beneficial to marketers.  Some of the stats he shared from a recent survey, conducted with a selection of the community, highlighted how little time these guys and gals have (as if we didn’t already know I hasten to add!) and just bought home how some marketing peeps can really, really annoy and frustrate them!  And the recurring theme was lack of time.  Most marketers want to create a compelling event, but sometimes the industry creates one for us.  The example given was the end of life of Windows Server 2003, and the stats recorded from their survey around this event are very interesting:

  • 45% are still on 2003 – using the network inventory tool, this extrapolates to around 4.2m servers
  • $60k is average spend on migration, which extrapolates to a potential spend of $100bn
  • Of the $60K 29% is spend on upgrading new software, 17% on new services, 16% on new software, 8% on assistance with the migration and 4% to migrate to hosted/cloud services

Which means lots of opportunity to market solutions other than MSFT Windows 2003 around this EOL event.

Sanjay’s key message was to have empathy for the IT Pro, offer them something they need and that will help them recoup some of the valuable time they are so desperately lacking.  And remember folks, the current version of SQL Server EOLs next year!

After his session, I was intrigued to learn more about Spiceworks as a platform and headed over to their Spicebar for a demo.  This enlightened me as to why Spiceworks has over 6 million IT pro users in its community; the depth and breadth of their tools, which are free, is quite compelling, particularly I would imagine for the smaller IT shop.  Now, I know why Trevor Pott is such an avid fan! The software comprises inventory management, network monitoring and IT help desk and, from the demo I was given, are all very powerful tools and they’re FREE!  Clearly, the data and trends that Spiceworks can glean from the usage of these tools is what makes it unique to a marketer.

During lunch, I chatted to Julian Wood and Alex and Julian commented that if he Googles a tech problem, more often than not, the answer comes back from the Spiceworks community, which is quite an endorsement in my view!  After lunch, I attended the CTRL+ALT+TECH: back to the future of security panel session.  Apparently, the CTRL+ALT+TECH sessions are usually held via webcast but today’s was live, hosted by Spiceworks “marketing wizz kid”, Todd Darroca – who entered into the spirit of being a typical ‘Yank Abroad’ by dressing in a Stars and Stripes suit 🙂

I’m not sure Todd could quite get used to the usual ‘reserved-ness’ of the British audience, we didn’t quite ‘whoop’ enough for his liking I think!  But it was an interesting panel with some great questions from the audience.  My favourite was someone who asked in the light of the Edward Snowden debacle, should we even bother.  Of course the panel answered “yes!”

I then returned to the marketing track to listen to some vendors who have used Spiceworks for demand generation.  The first session was a panel on how to Win Friends and Influence IT Pros (again hosted by Todd, but no longer in his stars and stripes!) and the second entitled Spicy Success Stories.  There were some interesting examples, including a Star Trek themed video, which clearly was appreciated by the geeks in the audience 🙂 The key takeaway from these 2 sessions for me was two-fold; run integrated campaigns and Spiceworks will help you craft the best ones to meet your goals and secondly always assign a Green guy – the dialogue on the forums is not to be taken lightly and marketing peeps will be blackballed by the community if not technical enough – so beware!

Spiceworks splits their SpiceHead community into 2, Greens and Oranges and have an orange T-Rex, SpiceRex, as their mascot.  I won a SpiceRex for a question I asked in one of the sessions!

The IT pros are orange and the vendor specialists are green.

The SpiceWorld conference was a 2-day affair (but I could only attend the first day unfortunately) and had a welcome party on the Monday evening, with a happy hour sponsored by Unitrends on Tuesday followed by a Totally 80’s party sponsored by Lenovo.

This conference was a real eye opener for me in many perspectives; as a marketer, as a technologist and as a VMUG leader.  I can see why this community continues to thrive and grow and I look forward to following it more closely, which I will do firstly by signing up!!

 

 

Disclaimer: I was kindly invited to attend Spiceworld by their community manager Jennifer Faulk as a blogger (or that’s what my badge said!) but was not obliged to write anything.