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The Cloud Field Day Experience as a First Time Delegate

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Cloud Field Day is a 3 day presentation based event that is ran by Tech Field Day and Stephen Foskett. Here's my first experience.

Quick Jump: You May Not Be Who You Think Are You | What Does a Tech Field Day Delegate Do? | The Initial Experience on Day 1 | The TL;DR on Days 2, 3 and 4 | Traveling Home on Day 5 | Was It Worth It?

On February 13th 2018 I woke up to a Twitter DM from Stephen Foskett. It was an invitation to Cloud Field Day 3 which happened on April 3rd to 6th 2018.

Stephen and I follow each other but I really had no idea what his company did in detail. All I knew was he ran a bunch of live tech oriented events and he was very active on Twitter.

Instead of immediately saying yes, I told him I was going to sleep on it, but there’s a 99.9% chance I would go. I hesitated initially because I’m not an experienced traveler and doing something like this was way out of my comfort zone but life is meant for living, so I slept on it and gave him the OK the next morning.

Oddly enough, that’s all it took to get the ball rolling. After accepting we set up a quick 5 minute call and a few days later I was in contact with his travel agent.

About a month after that I was on a plane to fly 3,000 miles from New York to California.

You May Not Be Who You Think Are You

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As an aside, In a few years I’m going to be 40 and I consider this event to be a pretty big turning point in my life. I have always seen myself as kind of a loner. The typical dungeon dwelling developer who keeps to himself because “I’m introverted. It’s who I am”.

Truth be told, I don’t think I’m introverted and it took me about 20 years after graduating high school to realize this.

Yes, I was nervous about the event and yes, I was really afraid of flying, to the point where I gripped the armrest on the plane so hard that I talked myself into thinking if I grab it any harder, I may end up ripping it off the chair and compromise the integrity of the plane.

I was nervous about all sorts of things. What if the engine explodes and I get sucked out, and then get eviscerated by a sheet of metal. Now the last moments of my life would be spent seeing my pancreas and I fall down to Earth at terminal velocity.

Then there was the whole situation of being around a bunch of people in a video recorded room for 9x 2 hour presentations. That freaked me out the most. I don’t have any public speaking experience and that type of situation is new to me.

Like most people I’m not that comfortable in my own skin, but like most things, practice makes perfect. I talked myself into thinking it’s normal to feel uneasy about this because it’s something brand new to me and that calmed me down a lot.

The moral of this story is, even if you’re not invited to a Tech Field Day event, you should consider challenging yourself with new experiences. Don’t pigeon hole yourself into being a specific label. Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

What Does a Tech Field Day Delegate Do?

Tech Field Day brings together innovative IT product vendors and independent thought leaders to share information and opinions in a presentation and discussion format.

Cloud Field Day is just one of the events they happen to handle. I’ve only been to Cloud Field Day once but I imagine the other events such as Storage Field Day follows a similar pattern.

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Over the course of a few days (3 days in the case of Cloud Field Day 3) you’ll be expected to sit in on (9) 2 hour presentations. These presentations are live streamed and recorded. You’ll be wearing a clip on microphone the whole time.

Your task as a delegate is to ask questions to the presenters. These can be anything from easy questions, to really pressing these companies.

You’re not there to praise them, but at the same time you’re not there to be a jackass or be that “as a matter of fact” person. You’re there to make sure these vendors get a clear message across to their audience using whatever means necessary (within reason).

You’re there to make the presentation the best it can be for everyone included. That’s the presenting company, the live stream audience, and you and your fellow delegates.

Guiding Something Iffy to Something Great

In one of the presentations, Tim Crawford (a fellow delegate) basically told a presenter from Veritas (a 35 year old multi-billion dollar company) to stop talking, throw away all of the slides and start again with the presentation because the company’s message was not clear.

He did it tastefully and it was for the better. After 30 minutes no one was really getting anything out of the conversation, but with the help of Tim and the other delegates’ guidance, the last half of the presentation was really solid.

It went from a train wreck to something focused and valuable. I can’t speak for Veritas, but I think they would probably want to come back.

Why Would a Company Want to Do This?

That’s a question I had too, but if you break it down and really think about what’s happening, it makes a ton of sense.

Here’s a few benefits from being a presenting company:
  • High quality live stream and recorded videos that they can use for marketing. This is much better than self-recording their own videos because these are done with a room full of experts asking unscripted questions. There’s a lot of social proof behind that.

  • Practice and feedback on their presentations. A lot of these companies are pitching presentations to big enterprise clients. They can now change their presentations based on our questions and feedback which could help land massive contracts.

  • The questions we ask are very raw and honest, and use terminology that real people use. This exact language can be used on their marketing sites to help address concerns people have before using their products. Nothing is better than real feedback for this type of thing.

Why Would You Want to Do This?

This isn’t a paid gig, and you typically arrive 1 day before the event and either leave on the night of the last presentation or perhaps the day after.

In my case, I arrived on a Tuesday and left Saturday morning. That’s 5 full days.

You won’t get a salary but your trip will be fully sponsored. That means Stephen will pay for your travel, hotel, transportation to and from the hotel, all meals and snacks.

After those 5 days I ended up spending $22 out of pocket for 2 meals at the airport.

So while you won’t leave with money in your pocket, you’re going to leave with something so much more valuable. You’ll meet 11 other delegates who are just as passionate as you are about technology.

For example, Ned Bellavance invited me to do a podcast episode with him after the event was over. In another case, Keith Townsend and I recorded a quick 5 minute video about the event during a brief moment of down time.

I left the event with intent to follow up and stay friends with all of the delegates. The networking potential is pretty huge. I also met a lot of great people from all of the vendors who were presenting.

I don’t want to drop names because I don’t want to leave anyone out, but it ranged from shaking hands with the CEO of a 1+ billion dollar company to just hanging out at dinner and chatting it up with a few developers and presenters.

The life experience you’ll gain from one of these events is really something else.

The Initial Experience on Day 1

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All I really knew beforehand was the presenting days were going to be long, but we’ll be well taken care of. That ended up being true, but don’t confuse “long” with “bad”.

The first day was pretty relaxed. A lot of people were flying in, and we were set to grab dinner at about 6:30pm. Our goals that day were to arrive to the airport safely and not explode from all of the great food we had at dinner.

After being picked up at the airport by Ben Gage (event support / goto guy) we went to the 4 star Marriott hotel (seen above). It was only about 15 minutes from the San Jose, CA airport.

That’s where I initially met most of the delegates.

Stephen was there (he founded Tech Field Day) with his impressive Leica camera taking pictures while greeting everyone who was coming in.

Meeting the Delegates and Organizers of CFD3

This picture was taken in front of Rubrik’s amazingly high tech and super clean building a few days into the event. This was the only group shot we took.

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From back left to back right and then front left to front right:

  • Keith Townsend: Building on the shoulders of other people’s work since 1973.
  • Ben Gage: Musician from Akron. Event support for Tech Field Day. Pizza enthusiast.
  • Jeff Wilson: Experienced 40ish IT Pro w/ Master’s in Public Admin.
  • Michelle Laverick: Teessider, Techknowologist, Blogger, Author, Podcaster, Journalist, Public Speaker, TechMarketing, vExpert (2009-2018).
  • Tim Crawford: CIO Strategic Advisor.
  • Scott Lowe: Co-founder of ActualTech Media.
  • Chris Porter: IT Architect working in FS in London. VMware and AWS Certified. UK VMUG Attendee & Speaker.

  • Martez Reed: Technology without boundaries.
  • Chris Evens: Technology Subject Matter Expert, blogger, author - Storage, Virtualization & Cloud focused. Foodie and quiz superstar.
  • Justin Warren: IT consultant, tech analyst, sometimes journalist, Python coder.
  • Stephen Foskett: Just some guy talking about data storage, virtualization, the business of IT and whatever else. Creator of Tech Field Day (explained more below).
  • Estelle Auberix: IT Consultant, Entrepreneur, Speaker, MVP Azure.
  • Ned Bellavance: Azure Stack MVP, Pluralsight author, IT generalist, imbibes beer.
  • Nick Janetakis: Developer / Teacher / Docker Captain (author of this blog post).

But Wait, Who is Stephen Foskett?

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Stephen needs a whole section dedicated to himself. If you asked me how to describe Stephen, it would be difficult because I’m not used to people like this.

I can throw out terms like “life of the party”, “authentic but approachable” and “charismatic” but what does that really mean?

It just means he’s legendary. If he were a Dungeons and Dragons character he would have 20+ points in Charisma, Intelligence and Wisdom.

He’s filled with awesome stories and can carry any type of conversation. People just flock to him. I can’t explain it, but you want to be involved with whatever he’s involved with.

That might sound intimidating, but somehow he pulls all of that off while immediately being relatable. It’s like you’ve known him all your life, without ever meeting him.

To put things into perspective, on the last night, we were standing around for drinks after the last presentation and he asked me what I thought about Cloud Field Day.

I thought for about 2 seconds and just blurted out “you ruined my life… but in a good way”.

I think the message came across correctly because he and a few people listening knew what I meant, but Stephen wanted more details, so he asked me what I meant by that.

Without hesitation I said “it’s like tasting human flesh for the first time. After that, there’s no going back to ground meat”.

A couple of people in ear shot laughed a bit and I wasn’t drunk at all. I didn’t even have a drink yet but Stephen is that type of person. I felt like I could be “the real me”.

It’s not that I’m a closet cannibal, but I just so happened to watch the Netflix original show Santa Clarita Diet (a zombie comedy) a week or so before going on this trip and someone in the cast drops a similar line in the series.

I didn’t plan that, but it was the first thing that came to mind because that’s what the experience felt like to me. My life isn’t totally horrible at home, but man, this event briefly elevated my standard of living to points that I didn’t even know existed.

Thanks for inviting me to be a part of it Stephen!

The TL;DR on Days 2, 3 and 4

I don’t want to get into the specifics of each day’s presentations because those stories are for another time. I want to keep this post high level and about the travel / social experience.

Days 2, 3 and 4 were loaded with presentations. We did 3 of them on day 2, 4 presentations on day 3 and then finished it off with 2 talks on day 4.

I thought I was going to be drained on day 2 because my sleep schedule was all sorts of broken.

For starters I didn’t sleep the night before I flew out because it was such a new experience for me. I was riled up with excitement and sweating the flight.

Then after the relaxing first day I still didn’t sleep a wink at the hotel. I just layed down with my eyes closed but had no REM sleep. To be clear, it wasn’t because the hotel was bad. I am just not used to sleeping in hotels and I was a little on edge for the first presentation happening the next morning.

Here’s the Hotel Room (Everyone Had Their Own Room)

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As seen above, the room was glorious. The bed and pillows were more comfortable than what I have at my own place. I was legit impressed by how clean it was.

The View from the 7th Floor’s Terrace Was Very Nice

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Yep, that’s a roller coaster from an amusement park in the background.

Day 2: You’re Not Supposed to Eat Edamame Skins

Even after the 2nd day, I still couldn’t sleep but at least I got about 2 hours of REM sleep. I think drinking a bit of alcohol helped a lot there.

I don’t drink much at all, but I figured what the hell, let me live on the edge, so I drank 3 beers that night with dinner which was enough to totally destroy me.

That was the night we ate at the hotel’s sports bar. I had a California burger which was the best thing ever after a stressful (but amazing) first day of presentations.

But before we ordered dinner, we got a few table appetizers. One of them was Edamames. I’ve actually never had one before, but it looked interesting.

It had spicy sauce on top of it. One of my goals of the trip was to eat new things. So I put a couple on my fork and started chewing.

Damn, they were really spicy but I also kept chewing and chewing and chewing until I eventually swallowed them. Ned was sitting across from me at the table so I asked him if he wanted some spicy green things (I had no idea what they were called).

He said he really likes spicy food and grabbed some from the community plate. I remember an hour later into the dinner, I saw like 7 or 8 of them on Ned’s plate. I remember thinking to myself “Hmm, why would Ned take so many of them but then not eat them.”.

Well, it wasn’t until I got home that I found out that you’re not supposed to eat Edamame skins. The guys at the table must have thought I was a maniac, just shoveling bushels of Edamames into my mouth and eating them to completion.

Day 3 Involved Being Away from the Hotel for 14 Hours

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Day 3 was the long day. We had to leave the hotel at 6:45am which meant getting up at about 6am. That was enough time to take a shower, get ready but also squeeze in 10 minutes of emails because that’s about all the free time we have during the day. A bit in the morning and at night, but at night you just want to sleep as soon as you reach your room.

I think we got back to the hotel around 9:30pm that night. Oddly enough I still wasn’t tired. I even remember telling Stephen that if we had to do a 5th presentation I would be up for it.

This is without caffeine too. I’ve never tried coffee and also never drank a red bull. Everyone was pretty surprised about never having tried coffee.

I think part of the reason why I wasn’t so tired was because the day was broken up pretty well. That and there’s always water, meals and snacks available, so you’re never hungry.

This was the first night where I actually slept. Got a solid 6 hours of REM sleep, victory!

Day 4 Was Super Relaxed with Only 2 Presentations

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When I woke up that morning I felt so refreshed and like a new person. A good night’s sleep helps so much.

We started off by eating breakfast at the hotel at about 8am and didn’t have our first presentation until 10:30am that day. Our 2nd presentation was around 3pm, which left a lot of time in between to socialize.

We ended up eating lunch at Druva’s place after the first presentation. They had a nice spread of macaroni and cheese in their kitchen. I ended up snapping one of their plastic serving spoons in half when grabbing a slab of it, and I was happy to hear (literally) that someone else did the same thing shortly after. I think it was you Jeff?

After lunch, we arrived really early at Veritas’ headquarters. We had about 90 minutes of spare time after getting set up.

This is where Keith and I recorded a quick video while a few other delegates participated in a Tech Field Day Roundtable podcast. That podcast episode is on the topic of whether or not you should care about which cloud provider your SAAS providers use under the hood. It’s a really insightful conversation, go check it out.

The A / V Crew (Prime Image Media)

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One cool thing about the event was being exposed to real world audio and video equipment. I record all of my courses in my own home office with a single microphone so it was interesting to me to see how they have everything set up.

I wish I had more time to talk shop with those guys but they were really busy making sure the live stream and everyone’s microphones worked.

It was really cool. They had 2 cameras aiming at the presenters for wide angle shots but there was 1 camera in the middle which was controlled remotely with a joystick. They used that to point to people when they were talking.

Main Transportation around Town

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Needless to say, Stephen goes all out on these events, so that was our ride for the trip. Ramone was our driver and he was really friendly and helpful.

Ben (event support) also stepped in to drive us around for anyone who wasn’t up for riding in the limo. Some people don’t like riding sideways (motion sickness). I mostly rode in the limo, but I did hitch a ride with Ben and a few guys once.

Traveling with Ben (AKA the Mini-van)

Ben parked in a garage during one of the presentations, and to exit the premises you had to put a token into a little machine that raised a barricade. It guarded the entrance and exit to the parking lot. We tried putting in the token like 5 times but it didn’t work.

So Ned stepped out and tried to manually raise the barricade arm.

He couldn’t have looked more suspicious. He looked around like he was about to rob a bank, then touched it, and it instantly dropped to the floor. Next thing you know, security came out and told us we needed to slam the token into the slot to make it work.

Our Final Group Dinner at the Mexicali Grill

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A lot of people were heading out around 11pm on day 4, so we had our final group dinner at a place a few minutes from the Marriott hotel.

Stephen described it as a place where authentic Mexican people wouldn’t be embarrassed to eat there. They are famous for making fresh Guacamole at your table.

Instead of going for my usual Fajita at a Mexican place, Stephen talked me along with 4 other people at the table into ordering the Mole Rojo (pronounced moe-lay row-hoe).

Unfortunately no one took a picture of it, but it’s shredded chicken wrapped in a soft tortilla, which is covered in Mexican chocolate sauce. It’s pretty spicy and the chocolate isn’t like they just melted M&Ms ontop. It was very subtle.

That may have been my favorite meal of the trip because it was so new and tasty.

Oh yeah, earlier I mentioned I don’t drink much but Stephen ordered a pitcher of Margaritas. That was the first time I ever had one of those. I somehow managed to go 37 years without ever trying coffee or a Margarita.

Let’s just say it didn’t take much to get a wicked buzz, 1 glass easily did it.

Omitting a Few Spoilers

There were quite a few things that happened during the event which were really neat and unexpected but I didn’t want to write about them because I think if you get invited and go, there should be some elements of surprise.

I knew nothing about Cloud Field Day other than what was provided by Stephen in a few emails and spot checking a few videos on Youtube. I’m glad I went into it with no bias or expectations.

Dealing with Impostor Syndrome

I felt very under qualified for this event. I’m mostly a software developer with a reasonable amount of ops experience but at smaller scales.

I wasn’t in the same league as any of the delegates that were at this event.

Most of them were hardcore ops people with many years of experience operating at enterprise scale. Honestly, out of the 9 companies who presented, I only heard of 2 of them prior to this trip.

While I wasn’t totally lost in all of the conversations, I couldn’t engage with the presenters at a deep level like the other delegates, but maybe that’s what Stephen had in mind?

Most of the questions I asked were from a developer’s perspective or someone who is new to that company’s offerings. Hopefully they were helpful for any beginners watching on the live stream or anyone who happens to catch the videos on Youtube later.

I managed to ask a few questions for most of the presentations but there were a few where I just couldn’t add a single thing of value to the conversation. I tried to lay off on ultra beginner questions when the presenters were running low on time, and I know most listeners likely wanted the deeper questions answered.

In either case, I was easily the dumbest person in the room but I didn’t let that get me down or intimidate me. The only thing I was really intimidated of was being seen picking my nose on camera because it’s hard to tell when it’s on you.

By the way, bring chap stick if you ever go because your lips will get dry.

Traveling Home on Day 5

Despite needing to get up at 5am to catch a 5:30am ride to the airport, I really wasn’t too tired and I did fall asleep by 11pm the night before.

It was just a long day of traveling. One thing worth mentioning was it took 6 hours to fly from Baltimore, MD to San Jose, CA but it only took 4 hours and 20 minutes to fly from San Jose, CA to Baltimore, MD.

There’s a very strong tailwind that moves west to east which shaved 1.5 hours off the plane ride home. That was a very nice thing to hear from the pilot.

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We flew over a bunch of different terrain. The Colorodo Rocky Mountains, a bunch of green rolling hills, tons of farmland and lakes. All of that was new to me because I never went more west than Ohio in my entire life prior to this trip.

I still don’t know what the above picture is. Some type of salt flats? The picture doesn’t do it justice. It was much whiter in real life but it didn’t look like snow.

Was It Worth It?

It was absolutely worth it. To me it was like living in an alternate reality for a few days.

It was non-stop action filled with great company and excellent food.

All of the delegates who have been to a few of these events said you’re going to feel bummed out that you have to go home, but you’ll be invigorated afterwards.

That’s exactly how I feel. The whole energy of the event left me wanting to become more successful and keep experiencing new things. As someone who doesn’t travel often, I was surprised at how big and diverse this world really is.

If you happen to get invited by Stephen for any of his events, take him up on it. There’s no way you’re going to be disappointed. You’ll have the time of your life.

To everyone who I met at Cloud Field Day 3, thanks for making a bunch of badass memories and I hope to see you again at some point.

To everyone who didn’t go, there’s hundreds of tweets listed on #CFD3 and you can view all of the videos on Youtube.

P.S., I also learned that if I ever travel to Australia, there’s a dangerous spider about the size of a grape. Always check your shoes if you take them off outside – thanks for the tip Justin!

Update: I’m updating this post from August 2018 where I attended Cloud Field Day 4, so if you want to read more about CFD related travel adventures then check out this post.

What did you think of the event? Let me know below!

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