Last week I attended Microsoft’s Build Conference in Seattle. It was my first time attending so I was excited and didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t take long to realize that Microsoft puts on a top-notch event. From DJ’s playing music during the waiting line, to the constantly available live-stream piped everywhere throughout the event, to “cuddle-corner” where attendees could pet animals and relax, to the awesome expo, and non-stop new features and functionality being rolled out one could easily be impressed.
It was indeed a great event and I’d like to share a few things I learned from having attended the conference. These items will be more high-level and conceptual things I noticed versus down-in-the-weeds technology specific items.
As attendees listened to live-streamed sessions and keynotes the word cloud and “Azure” was prevalent throughout. I spent a lot of time in the expo hall of the event and I must have walked around it 6 or 7 times looking and booths and talking with Microsoft staff. Each booth has a navy-blue sign with white letters at the top indicating the technology being demonstrated at the booth. It was very eye-opening how many of the booths started with the word “Azure”. Sure, Azure has been out for a while now and that’s nothing new. I’m just communicating that walking around the expo and listening to sessions and keynotes it is crystal clear that Azure is a major component of many Microsoft technologies.
Take Home Point: If you are reading this and are hesitant to embrace Azure, you should re-think your position, or you’ll soon be left in the dust.
At the event Microsoft released “Sphere” which is a solution for creating highly-secure connected microcontrollers (IOT devices). And you guessed it… they connect to Azure! Many of the highly attended sessions and one of the most highly-trafficked booths all centered around Sphere.
As an IOT hobbyist I spent some time at the Sphere booth asking all kinds of questions about the Sphere Development Kits. I think the devices will be high-powered and offer a lot of functionality, but right now the price-point seems high in comparison to competitor solutions and the device that was being demo’d only connects to wi-fi currently. I imagine in the future they will connect to cellular via a SIM as well. One could argue that the increase in cost is the tradeoff for security as Microsoft touted how secure these devices are.
While micro-controller devices were being demo’d it’s important to note that Microsoft is not making the micro-controllers, rather they are working with established vendors in the industry to do so. Microsoft is collaborating in the design of the devices and helping align them with their IOT strategy for the future.
Take Home Point: Microsoft is continuing to invest in IOT, is linking devices to Azure, and is promoting the security of their IOT solution.
Another common thread throughout the event were the words “ML” and “AI”. You could hear this being presented in several sessions, keynotes, and there were booths discussing and demoing these topics as well…. and it makes sense. If your overall strategy is the cloud (Azure) and now IOT devices are easily connected to the cloud and sending tons of data to the cloud, then what will you do with all the data? The answer: you will learn from it and use it to make better decisions and become predictive.
An example demo showed a DJI drone flying over the top of a building looking at HVAC pipes analyzing them for inconsistencies or anomalies. Within seconds the drone was able to pick out the pipe that had the issue and show it to the audience in real-time. One can easily see the benefits of equipping the drone with AI capabilities.
But it doesn’t stop there… Microsoft is making it easy for developers to tie into their ML and AI capabilities in Azure. If you’ve got data stored in Azure, chances are leveraging the ML/AI capabilities offered to you by Microsoft could help your organization.
Take Home Point: Don’t write “ML” and “AI” off as just buzzwords. If you are using Azure then you may be surprised at how ML and AI can already help you. Give it a look!
One thing that also stuck out to me at the conference was the energy and level of enthusiasm of attendees and exhibitors. And I’m not just talking about Microsoft fan-boys. There were a lot of non-Microsoft developers at the event which was interesting and served as proof to me that Microsoft is on the right track strategically speaking.
As of late Microsoft has been heavily promoting open source and being open in general. From the open-sourcing of many of their .NET Technologies, to embracing non-Microsoft technologies (think running Linux in Azure) Microsoft is earning the respect of developers. But this stuff doesn’t just happen by luck. Microsoft has taken a different strategic stance and it is paying off… you could easily “feel” it while at the conference.
Take Home Point: This ain’t your granddaddy’s Microsoft!
I’m glad I went to Microsoft Build. I’ve been to several conferences over the years (including South by Southwest) and Build was by far my favorite. Yes, the content was great, but the conference experience extended beyond the content of the sessions and was woven all throughout all touch points of the event.
Everything was well-planned, organized, and first class from what I could tell. The registration process went smoothly, swag was everywhere, food and drinks were easily available, “Flow” of the expo was easy and open, the venue was great, several hotels were close by, the new technologies and content was awesome, and the Microsoftees were friendly. I didn’t see any attendees who had issues connecting to the internet or complaining about the typical things you’d see at conferences. All the details seemed to have been handled.
After all, where else could you hear about the latest and greatest technologies, pet dogs/rabbits/miniature horses, get free massages, meet the leaders of Microsoft, and have bottomless refreshments and snacks all in the same room?
Take Home Point: If you haven’t been to Build, you should go. It’s a great event.
My wife and I recently sold our townhome and set out to buy a new home. We spent a good deal of time researching, driving out to communities, and looking at floor plans. We finally settled on a new-construction development that was a Lennar community.
As we looked at the different floor plans we had a few that we liked, but ended up settling on a plan called the “Westley”. We chose a lot that was having the foundation laid so that we could still pick floor colors and have a little control over some features. We were excited to watch the home as it went up.
Of course once we sold the townhome we were displaced and without a home while the new home was being constructed. Based on the word Lennar gave us we would close on June 26th. Since we sold the townhome on June 5th that would give us about 3 weeks where we would shack up with my mom. This was where the “fun” began.
While the home was being constructed we made a few trips to the community to meet with the builder and to fill out paperwork regarding the loan. On one trip the home seemed to be a long way from “closing” and I asked the supervisor if he thought he was still on track to close on the 26th. He responded “Oh yeah, shoot if this good weather keeps up we may close early”. With the house still having a lot of work that needed to be done it was difficult to believe that timeline, but I am obviously not a builder and so I leaned on the supervisor’s expertise.
The day finally came for the walkthrough. As you can imagine, my wife and I were excited to go and review our soon-to-be new home. I had recently been to the home and had a list of items that I wanted to ensure were completed while we reviewed the home. At this meeting there were 2 building supervisors present, my wife and I, plus our real estate agent team members.
When we arrived at home we learned that the electricity had not been turned on. Translation: there was no air conditioning on and it was in the dead of the humid South Carolina summer. As all the windows were closed in the home it was like an oven and it didn’t take long before we all were sweating. The Lennar representatives told us that we would go through the home with blue tape and mark every item that needed to be touched up or corrected. They also indicated that this would be our only chance at creating a “punch list” and that moving forward only items on the list would be worked on. So this was our only opportunity to find items that were not done correctly – during the middle of a work day, in a house with no air condition, during the heat of the summer, and with a scheduled hour for the meeting. As you can imagine, the conditions were not the best for the walkthrough.
We started in the garage and I started asking about things and marking things up. The supervisors told me that the garage was “still a work in progress” and that a lot of work still needed to be done. I thought to myself that it wasn’t really fair to tell us that this was our only chance to make a punch list, but then to turn around and say that this area was still “in progress”. What were we supposed to do other than just trust them? We couldn’t really call out items that technically were not through or finished. That was the first of several red flags throughout the failed process.
As we went through the house we found several items that were not as they should be. There were door casings with no paint at all, door casings with large splinters, several areas that should have caulk that did not have caulk (such as the bathroom sinks), a noticeable bend in the metal in the front door’s casing, thin and uneven paint throughout the house, a metal awning over the bay window that looked terribly crafted, a crawl space door that had sprayed foam through 2 of the 5 gaps in the wood, and the main thing we noticed was a pretty nice hump in the dining room floor and in the kitchen pantry closet that was along the same seam in the floor. The uneven floor signaled a foundation that wasn’t level and that really concerned us.
By the end of the first walkthrough everyone was completely soaked in sweat, hot, and we had gone through 2 and a half rolls of blue tape. Every room in the house literally had blue tape all over it. In short, the home was a long ways from being ready and there was still a lot of work to be done. The following week our real estate agent spoke with a representative from Lennar who guaranteed our real estate agent that “Your clients won’t close until they are 100% happy".
As any home buyer would do we hired a home inspection company to inspect the house. A week or so later we met the home inspector at the house to review his report. He had been there 3 hours inspecting the house by the time we arrived. The good news was that in order to inspect the house the electricity had to be turned on, which meant this time we wouldn’t leave soaked in sweat. The home inspector found several of the items that we had blue-taped but he also found several more items that we hadn’t. He indicated that the vertical seams in the outer trim work needed to be caulked, an item which I had already raised to the supervisor in the first walkthrough and that they told me didn’t need caulk. He also identified areas where the bay windows & fireplace met the roof where there was clearly exposed wood beneath the flared edges. The inspector pointed it out to us and said “If I can see that wood and you can see it then you know that moisture can enter as well as bugs”. Needless to say you don’t need any wood exposed to the elements. The exposed wood was due to a technique Lennar uses in scenarios where bay windows connect back to fascia boards near the roof. This exposed wood scenario was present in several areas of the house’s roof. And since the air condition was on the inspector was able to identify a whistling sound in the air conditioning. The whistling sound represented air either coming through or getting out of somewhere that it shouldn’t and it could result in an increased bill to heat or cool the home.
In the end the Home Inspector created a staggering 85 page report filled with images and lists of issues with the house. I’ve included several images from the report in this blog entry. While we were glad that the home inspector found these issues it didn’t make us feel any better about the home.
By this time the builder had reviewed our punch list and had also received the inspector’s 85 page report. We worked with Lennar to accommodate their request to push back the closing by a week. A week later, when I arrived to this walkthrough I saw the entire front door being removed and there were several vehicles at the home. When I entered the house I learned that we now had a new supervisor. I’m not sure if the old one was fired, transferred, or what happened, but we would be dealing with a new supervisor going forward. There was also a Lennar representative there who appeared to be the manager of the supervisors. He maintained his distance throughout the walkthrough, but I saw him through the windows outside of the house just walking around and shaking his head as if here were saying “No” when looking at the craftsmanship of the home.
In our initial conversations with the construction supervisors our real estate agent let them know that we shouldn’t have even done the 1st walk through when we did. She told them that the house wasn’t nearly in the shape it should have been for a walkthrough. The Lennar team seemed apologetic and the new supervisor seemed to recognize that he was thrown into a difficult situation. While we were there talking one of the supervisors told us “We really do want to deliver a quality product to you all”. He seemed sincere and at the sight of seeing the front door being replaced and then hearing the reassurance from the Lennar crew I felt somewhat better initially.
As we re-walked through the home we again put blue tape on areas that needed to be updated. There were still several of the same areas that needed work. We just, again, put tape back on the same areas where we previously put tape. At one point the new supervisor said that we should just stop the walkthrough and let them revisit the entire house themselves. It was as if he recognized all the general theme of the issues and knew the house wasn’t ready for a walkthrough. Though, after making that comment they continued walking through with us. It was a little odd.
Upon walking into the dining room area it was apparent that nothing had been done with the hump in the floor. This was one of our major concerns that we had voiced to them several times. We called it out to them and continued the re-walk through. When we got to the attic we still heard the AC whistling. We again cited that to them along with the areas outside the needed caulking + the exposed wood above the windows. On this walkthrough the garage doors were up and we were able to see that the “stud” boards that the garage door was bolted to were bowing inward toward the door.
At the end of walkthrough we were in the garage talking with the Lennar representatives and our real estate agents. This time the corporate guy or the supervisor of the construction managers joined us. We again expressed concern over the hump in the floor and the most senior guy piped up saying that the hump in the floor was normal. I questioned him about that and he said that the hump in the floor was within their “tolerance” and that they wouldn’t be doing anything about it. My thought was that if something is within your tolerance then we shouldn’t be able to see it with a naked eye. My wife then spoke up saying that it was unfortunate to hear that Lennar was essentially drawing the line and not going to do anything to make the floor right. Her comment apparently got to the guy’s ego a bit because he puffed his chest out and said started telling us that he had been building houses for over 18 years and that this kind of thing is expected. I laughed out loud at him because he took my wife’s comment personally and tried to tell us how much of a building legend he was. I had never seen this guy before. All I knew was that he showed up, stood around, and was on his cell phone a lot. He could have been our neighbor for all I knew. I guess he wanted instant credibility because he wore work boots. I asked him to get his level and let’s go look at the floor. We went back into the dining room and found that the wall was also bowed. The level we used was a 6 foot level and was long enough to get from one hump to the next so to me it didn’t accurately represent the hump in the floor. They again stated that they would work on the wall, but not the floor.
By the time walkthrough #3 got here we were 3 weeks past schedule on the house. The lender was forced to extend the interest “rate-lock” agreement for the 2nd time and it was costing Lennar money each time. I had also started a new job and had been gone for 10 days which gave the builder plenty of time to fix the items that remained. I figured with me being gone so long Lennar should have no excuse for not having the items taken care of.
This walkthrough was unlike any other and was odd from the onset. We again showed up with our real estate agents and it became very clear that the Lennar sales representative + the construction manager were rushing us through the walkthrough. Why did they want to rush us? We had a punch list and before even addressing all items in one room, the Lennar reps were saying “Ok, what’s in the next room?” For much of the walkthrough I was lagging behind actually spending time looking at the issues they were supposed to fix.
When we continuously called out the thin paint the Lennar sales representative told us that in a walkthrough home buyers are supposed to stand 5 feet away from a wall and look rather then get up close to the wall. This puzzled us. If were are going to make a significant investment in a home I don’t care if I lay down on my back and look upside down. If something is supposed to have paint on it, then it should have paint on it. This goes back to a conversation I had one evening with a painter, but more on that later.
By the time we had gotten upstairs we had noticed the hump still in the floor downstairs + newly scratched up wood in the den area. When the lady told my wife to stand 5 feet away from the wall to review the thin paint it kind of put a line in the sand. We just all stood there in this one room and had an awkward moment of silence. I asked the question “So you’ve known about the punch list for over a month now and there are still issues. Are you going to fix these issues?” At this point the construction manager responded “The house is what it is and we are not making any more updates” and that essentially sealed the deal. At this point we were half-way through the walkthrough and we knew where we were headed. Though we continued walking through the rest of the house.
As we continued upstairs to the 3rd floor the building supervisor accused my wife of “creating new items” that were not on the initial punch list. As you may imagine that comment didn’t go over well. My wife responded “That’s interesting because I have video of all the items from both previous walkthroughs and if you want me to go downstairs and get my phone I can show you the video.” The supervisor responded “No you don’t have to do that” because he knew he’d been caught in a lie. After being pegged the supervisor commented, with a voice of frustration “I can’t be here all day watching people, I have other projects going on as well”. It seems like Lennar either has their supervisors on too many projects or that this guy didn’t really care about providing us a quality home.
As we reached the outside of the house I asked the supervisor about the mud that was on the fascia board above the garage. I called this out to them on the very first walkthrough over a month ago. The supervisor said they weren’t able to get it off. While we were going through the walkthrough a painter had arrived. The painter was Hispanic and I asked him in Spanish if it was possible to get the mud off. He went and grabbed his ladder, climbed it, and took 3 minutes to wipe the mud off. It was that simple. This action essentially meant that in 2 weeks’ time the supervisor hadn’t even attempted to wipe the mud off or had anyone see about it and then lied about it. That was at least 2 lies within an hour from the Lennar crew.
At the “end” of the walkthrough the supervisor asked me “Well what do you think?” What I thought was that the fact that they rushed us through the walkthrough, told us to stand 5 feet away from walls, got caught in multiple lies, and didn’t seem to care about the things that concerned us represented a surface level signal to a much more deeply rooted problem. And that problem was that Lennar wasn’t serious about not closing until we were happy and they weren’t serious about fixing the house. Ultimately they Lennar team knew we wouldn’t buy the house with the issues it had and they also knew they weren’t going to fix them. Consequently any time they spent with us was wasted time and wasted money. It was as if they wanted to hurry and get us through the process so they could start over a new buyer.
By this point in time we had already put down earnest money on the house and even transferred the down payment to the lawyer’s office. We were supposed to do the walkthrough in the morning, sign a release accepting the condition of the house, and close on the home the next day. It was down to the wire. We left without signing papers and told the Lennar reps we needed to think about some things. Of course everyone knew what was happening. The Lennar reps told our agents that they would refund us back the earnest money should we decide to withdraw the offer. This was a sign that they knew they were in the wrong.
We thought long and hard about the home. It was a nice floor plan, in a nice area, and a seemingly nice community in the making. However, we just didn’t feel good about things. You know that uneasy feeling you get in your stomach that’s always an indicator that you’re fixing to mess up… yeah that’s the one we had. The main things that led to our decision to withdraw were the poor quality home (the hump in the floor being number one), Lennar personnel rushing us through the walkthrough, and also getting mixed messages from Lennar throughout the process. They didn’t do a good job at building credibility and good will with us throughout the process.
At least for us, when considering making a large investment such as this, we wanted to feel good about it and have a sense of trust in the company with which we’d be doing business. We didn’t have that feeling and felt that we’d lost faith in Lennar by the time we got to the end of the process. As you just read it had not been easy to get the builder to take care of the items they guaranteed us they would take care of before buying the house… so needless to say, we didn’t have much faith in them coming back to fix things after they had our money.
I will give Lennar credit on the refund. They did refund us the earnest money we had put down on the house. By their paper work, which was heavily slanted towards them, they didn’t have to technically give us our money back. Though, I feel like they knew the house was not quality and thus they instantly agreed to refund us the earnest money. This was one of the few areas in which I’ll say they did right by us.
While my mom was a flexible and gracious host (thanks mom!), her home is about 50 miles from where we planned to live and where my wife works. The logistics were difficult to manage in this stressful time, so we decided to rent an apartment closer to the area we hope to live. As we looked for apartments we visited 3 apartment complexes that were brand new and still being built. This area of town is rapidly growing and thus there are houses, communities, and apartments going up everywhere. As my wife and I visited these apartment complexes I still had the flaws in the home we just backed out of in my mind. As we walked around I wasn’t so much paying the apartment representative attention as I was more so examining door casings, hardiplank implementations, observing where there was and wasn’t caulk, paint consistency, and the overall quality and craftsmanship of the buildings. And as you would imagine, there were things that were done differently than what we had just experienced with Lennar. For example, the caulking of vertical seams of the hardiplank, the same areas that the Lennar builders had just told us that didn’t need caulk. There also were no whistling air conditions, dents in door casings, door casings left completely without paint, paint in the carpet, stair “skirt” boards with dents in them, etc. The list could go on, but the point is that the quality was much better in the apartments we were reviewing than the house we’d just backed out of. After the apartment reviews I knew we had made the right the decision even though it was going to cause us more stress in the short term.
During this process we incurred several costs. We had to pay for the home inspection, movers, I’m still paying on the storage, we had nice gas tabs for our commutes, now we’re paying on an apartment, and the major cost was the inconvenience in time. Rescheduling furniture deliveries with multiple furniture companies, with movers, and with the internet installer all added up to make this a “fun” process.
The experience was unfortunate for both my wife and I and I believe for Lennar as well. We really did like the community, the floor plan, the lot, and the area of town. I believe that Lennar knew the specific house wasn’t well managed from the start and they knew the hump in the floor was an item they weren’t willing to fix because it would eat into their profit margins. I think once they recognized that we wanted something structurally updated with the house they just wanted us to hurry and withdraw our offer because they knew they weren’t going to get down to the foundation and fix it. The longer they kept us around the more money they were losing. In taking this stance they showed their true colors and literally left money on the table. I’m sure they will sell the house, but I’m also sure that house will have problems down the road.
So the process has been unpleasant, but tucked away in the frustrations and disappointments are great lessons to be learned. We learned what “problem areas” to look for when buying a house. We learned the signals and body language from home builders when things aren’t quite right. We learned about the core principals, ethics, and organizational character with which Lennar operates. We learned more about the house buying process in general and are better off for it in the long run. It was like a 3 month education on house buying. I would rather be displaced and incur stress in the short term in exchange for having a problematic house in the long run. Sure it’s not fun, but it would be even worse a few years from now if we had purchased that house.
The Lennar reps statement of “You won’t close until you’re 100% happy” still holds true and it is true because we will close on another house, with a different builder, in a community just up the road when we are 100% happy.
DNN is an open source .NET CMS and application development framework that is a member project in the .NET Foundation. As the DNN Ecosystem Manager I am well aware of the benefits that our community reaps from the .NET Foundation. Last year I articulated several of these benefits in a blog titled “5 Reasons Why We’re Glad to be a Part of the .NET Foundation”.
Promoting Open Source & the .NET Foundation at Microsoft Conferences
Not too long after I posted that blog, I got an email that included a call for volunteers to help staff the .NET Open Source booth at Microsoft’s Build Conference. I responded to this call for assistance as I felt it was a great way to give back to the .NET Foundation since we receive so many benefits from it. A few weeks later I found myself at the conference and I was telling the story of DNN’s journey in open source. I spoke with attendees and articulated how the .NET Foundation plays a big role in the DNN Community’s ability to sustain and thrive.
The call for volunteers came again this year and I returned and it was apparent that developers in the .NET ecosystem are more aware that the .NET Foundation exists, but they may or may not know exactly what the foundation does or why they should be a part of it. Now that the .NET Foundation has a board in place it is a great opportunity to continue the messaging of the value the foundation provides.
DNN: A Great Case Study Example for the .NET Foundation
As I engaged with attendees over the past 2 years it became clear that DNN is a great case study example of why the .NET Foundation exists. It’s one thing for someone from Microsoft to explain what the .NET Foundation does and it’s a completely different thing for someone who is a member project of the foundation that represents the “living and breathing” example to be there on-site to convey the value and benefits the .NET Foundation provides. Telling the DNN story to attendees helps them understand a “real life” example of an open source project that’s reaping benefits from the foundation.
I think it’s somewhat of a poetic justice that DNN is the prime example of an open source project in the .NET Foundation given DNN’s history of being one of the earliest, if not the first, open source project in the .NET space.
Developers Love Open Source!
Another trend I noticed was the increased energy, appreciation of, and momentum around the open source movement at Microsoft. We had several people come up and show appreciation for how Microsoft is embracing the open source movement and for the role the .NET Foundation plays in that movement. It’s great to see this energy and it’s neat to help turn the lightbulb on for those who weren’t completely aware of what the .NET foundation is doing to help continue the OSS movement at Microsoft and in the Microsoft ecosystem.
.NET Foundation Panel on MSDN Channel 9 Live-Stream from MS Build 2019
If you’ve never been to Microsoft’s Build conference it is pretty big-time production. That is, everything is live-streamed and you commonly see video crews following people around, interviewing speakers/attendees/thought-leaders, and setup all around the stages for the keynotes. There is also a big stage where the cameras are permanently set-up and interviews and panel discussions take place. This year the stage was set up in a corner of the convention center not too far from our .NET Open Source booth.Sometimes you just end up at the right place at the right time and that is exactly what happened to me on the last day of the conference. There was a session scheduled to discuss the .NET Foundation which was slotted for the last day of the conference in the late afternoon. As things turned out, Jon Galloway, Executive Director of the .NET Foundation, had to leave early which left an open seat on the panel. Beth Massi felt bad for me and so I got to be the Jon Galloway stunt double on the panel. You never know where you’ll end up! The panel was more about the .NET Foundation in a broader sense rather than DNN specific, but it was still fun to represent the DNN Community on the panel.
You can find info from the session on the Channel 9 site and you can check out the replay below:
Last week I attended Microsoft’s Build Conference in Seattle. I was helping at the .NET Open Source booth which promoted the .NET Foundation and all things open source. The conference was very nice, and the energy level was high. I had conversations with a wide variety of people during the conference and it is obvious that Microsoft’s strategy of embracing open source is welcomed by developers.
During one of my discussions a gentleman told me that his organization uses open source software (OSS) and he wants to allow his developers to contribute to OSS, but he needed to be able to justify it to his corporate leadership. His organization is a large, global organization so he needed solid and clear reasoning for why contributing to OSS is something his company should support.
He asked me if I knew of any blogs or resources that could provide insight into this topic. I thought about it and while I’m sure there is info somewhere, I wasn’t aware of any specific blogs or content about this subject. I am obviously biased about this topic, but let’s consider some reasons why a business should support OSS… especially if their organization is using OSS-based products.
Before we list out reasons we should first define what “support” means. When business people hear the term “support” they generally think about money, cost, or financial implications. Though, in the open source world it’s not necessarily about money as support can come in many different forms. Of course, the obvious need for any OSS project is code contribution, but there are more ways to contribute than one may initially think. As examples outside of the code, organizations could allow their developers to assist in marketing and promotions of sub-projects, conferences, user groups, GitHub repos, project documentation etc. Developers could also volunteer in any area of the OSS project as well as exchange knowledge online via forums, blogs, StackOverflow, and others. Organizations could also open up their offices for user group meetings, donate swag & door prizes, or sponsor the food at meetings. Any step taken to help move the the OSS project forward is a form of support.
Now that we know that support can come in forms outside of financial contributions let’s get back to the subject. If you are faced with the need to justify supporting open source software to your business leadership here are some thoughts and ideas to consider:
In this blog I’ve summarized my thoughts around why it’s important for organizations to give back, be active in, and support OSS projects and communities. As one considers justifying OSS participation to the business side of an organization much of the conversation will center around educating the business-side on how OSS ecosystems function. Communicating the potential positive benefits will be what’s needed to help bring on a change in perspective or cultural shift within the organization.
In my mind there are only positives to gain from contributing to OSS projects. Your developers will learn more, be empowered, meet new developers of all ages and skillsets, and your organization will be more efficient, and will likely be viewed as a great organization to work for.
If you don’t want to jump in head first then just try this one small thing to get your feet wet - if your developers have “down time” then simply encourage them focus their energies and time to assisting with the OSS project in any area they choose and watch what happens to your company in the months ahead. Be sure to pay attention to job satisfaction levels, quality of incoming new hires, general passion for work, and the perception of your organization among developers in your space.
After all, have you noticed that OSS projects that thrive are the ones with active community support? Who doesn’t want the project they use to not thrive? From my perspective the benefits of contributing to open source software far outweigh the drawbacks of not contributing.
Our crew had a blast last year at DNNWorld 2011 so we eagerly looked forward to this year’s conference all year long. This year DNNWord was moved up a month from November to October which was a welcomed change by me as November is the best part of deer hunting season in South Carolina. As soon as the early-bird registration came out I registered.
To me, DNNWorld is like a combination of a family reunion, a pep rally, and information-loaded-boot-camp. It’s really hard to describe and put into words, you just have to experience it. There are great people to meet, prizes to win, awesome sessions to inspire you and get your creativity flowing, a side-conversation constantly going on via social media, competitions to enter, arrows to shoot at people, good times to be had, and trees to be climbed. It’s fun and I always leave energized about the future. There was no way we’d miss it.
As a sales engineer, I do a lot of online presentations for clients, prospects, colleagues and partners. When conducted well, online presentations and demos can be very effective sales tools. We strive to make our demos interactive.
The sales rep and sales engineer work together like a well-oiled machine throughout the demo. We encourage interaction and strive to be most efficient and effective as possible within the given timeframe.
Each presentation follows the same schedule. There are things to do before the demo, during the demo, then after the demo. In this post, I’ll share 32 tips to help you rock your online presentations.
Preparation is an obvious step. I mention it as a reminder that attendees are giving you their time, and their time is valuable. Be respectful of their time by thoroughly preparing and providing value to them. Ultimately a demo is like anything else in life: if you put your time and energy into it, then it will turn out well!
Agreeing on the agenda beforehand helps set expectations, reduces wasted time on the demo, and ensures that we only review functionality in which demo attendees are most interested. Since there is generally an hour or so for the demo, we need to make sure we hit the mark given the allotted time. By agreeing on the agenda beforehand, we drastically increase the productivity of the demo.
I learned this one the hard way. I had a webinar to present with a few hundred people waiting on me and as soon as I was made the “Presenter” my machine’s memory overloaded and I got the blue screen of death as my computer crashed. I had been working in numerous programs before the demo and apparently had nearly maxed out my memory and making the presenter passed the tipping point resulting in a few hundred people waiting awkwardly on me to reconnect. Now I restart my computer before demos so that my memory is not used up.
At some point, the presenter role will be passed to you. When his happens, the software (GoToMeeting, Join.me, or whatever you use) will ask you which screen you want to share. If you have a multi-monitor setup, this can become challenging if the monitors aren’t numbered or have similar names. Knowing your monitors names beforehand can reduce missteps. You don’t want to accidentally share to the wrong screen!
Be sure to reduce the number of potential distractions. Ever been on a demo and as soon as the leader shares their screen, you see their desktop icons and you start looking at all their files to see what they’re interested in? You are not alone, as everyone does it (admit it!).
In order to remove this distraction, be sure to hide your desktop icons or demo from a monitor that doesn’t have any application or document icons on the background. With fewer things to look at, your attendees will be more focused on what you show them.
Along the lines of removing distractions, you should turn off all pop-ups that occur on the screen from which you are presenting. The last thing you want is a sales person to send you a Skype message cracking a joke and have it show up during the demo. If you do leave Skype (or any messaging application) on, be sure you know the monitor on which the pop-ups occur.
Everyone knows it, but I’m still listing it here. Mute cell phones so that while you’re presenting there is not a constant vibration happening anytime someone emails or calls you.
If you use the same environment over and over, your browser’s cache can become corrupted. Browsers often try to remember passwords, cache content, cache URL paths, etc. and these cached items can sometimes trip you up. I usually clear my cache before each demo to ensure everything is fresh.
Just when you think you’re getting in the groove you will get a “tickle in your throat” and get choked up. You’re going to be talking a lot and a glass of water can save you in long-winded demos and in the moments that you may need to wet the whistle.
I always have a backup environment prepared should something go wrong with the primary environment. This takes more time up front, but it’s worth it. Having that backup environment can be worth its weight in gold.
Have a back-up plan for getting online. Yes, it only happens once in a blue moon, but what if you are scheduled to give a demo on that particular blue moon? Having a My-Fi or hotspot is well worth the investment.
Before the demo, try to find out who will be attending, so that you can speak the right language to them. You don’t want to talk about server architecture if you are demoing to the marketing team; you don’t want to talk to the server guys about lead generation. Tailor your story based on our audience.
This won’t apply to all of you, but I demo websites and online communities.
I make sure I have my site up and loaded in memory by the time they make me the presenter. I don’t want any time wasted on something to load up. So I keep my site “warm” just minutes before the demo so that the site is up and ready to rock by the time I get controls.
Some sites load URL’s from third party services, such as Google Fonts, Facebook, and Twitter. In my demo sites, I try to remove these external calls, so that if Facebook is having a bad day, it won’t affect my load time on the demo. There are scenarios where you have to rely on these external calls, but reduce them as much as you can.
During the introduction, attendees will tell you new information. In some cases the information shared during the intro can drastically alter what you present.
Listening and waiting to talk are two entirely different things. By listening, you can pick up things that may alter your demo. You can also pick up on personality traits, the mood in the room, and social queues that may help you better connect with the demo attendees. Listening carefully can help you establish better rapport with demo attendees throughout the demo.
We like to do a roll call during the intro of a demo as well. It never fails that there is someone in the room that we didn’t anticipate being there. It may be some manager, marketer, or developer who just happened to have another meeting cancel and was able to attend, but usually there is somebody either there or not there that we didn’t expect.
This again helps us to more accurately hone in the demo. If all of a sudden the CEO shows up on the demo, then we’ll be sure to add in the value proposition and benefits of each feature as executives don’t necessarily like to know the nuts and bolts, but ask the “why’s” and the “what results can we get” or “what does this help us do” type questions. Taking roll call will help you be on point with your delivery.
I ask the question early on as to whether or not the attendees have a “hard stop.”. This helps me know whether or not we can get long-winded with explanations or if we need to be very mindful of the time. Attendees may have an extra 10 to 15 minutes at the end and when that happens we know that we have more time for questions. Finding out the exact ending time of the demo early on can help you better manage time.
One thing I strive for is smooth transitions throughout the demo. Whether it’s transitioning from one subject to the next, transitioning from me talking to the attendees talking, or the transition of the “passing of the presenter role,” we want everything to flow as smooth as silk.
I ensure that our sales reps know how to pass the presenter in the meeting software we use.
I also tell them to pass the presenter as they are finishing up their last few points. This gives me time to get the presenter role and share the correct monitor. Otherwise, there is an awkward pause where everyone waits on me to get the presenter controls.
People present in different ways and that’s a good thing. Some like questions and interactivity and some don’t. Whatever your style is, set the tone early so that demo attendees know how to act and what to expect. I encourage questions, interruptions, and interactivity, so I put that fact out there very early on in the demo. Setting the tone will eliminate any guessing on the part of your attendees.
I encourage questions during the “Setting the Tone” stage because I want attendees to feel comfortable asking questions. At the same time, each question equals an interruption. The more questions there are and the more disruptions there are, the less smooth the demo goes.
Over time, you will begin to see where similar questions get asked. After you denote a trend in the same question being asked then just go ahead and answer the question before it gets asked. This will help things flow more smoothly. So, again, while I encourage questions, I hope to give such a thorough presentation that I remove questions just before they get asked!
On some occasions, there will be an attendee who is determined to get you hung up on some very minor technical detail. In these situations, it is your job to control the demo and not let the train de-rail. When these scenarios happen, it’s good to schedule these topics as “follow up” topics so that you can get your demo back on track.
Ever listen to a very dry presenter and wanted to be somewhere else? Don’t be that presenter! When appropriate, I like to inject humor. I crack jokes on the sales guys or on my own Southern accent. Your attendees will relax and build a stronger rapport and maybe even remember you more as a result.
Oh the echo, ooo… ooo… ooo… You know the echo that I’m talking about! We’ve all been on meetings where one person is using their speakers and their microphone picks up on the sound from the speakers which creates an echo effect. The person usually denies that it’s them, it makes things awkward, and then you have to recover and make things un-awkward again.
So what can you do about this? One option is to mute your participants. You can see which participant is making the noise and then mute them. In some meeting software, you can mute all attendees.
You may have heard of the “Power of the Pause” before. If we are presenting a demo and the attendees are not very lively, then I will show a feature and then ask them what they thought about that feature. Sometimes these pauses seem like an eternity and I just let the awkwardness hang until someone responds.
While it seems like a long time on my end, I know that attendees may be in a meeting room with the phone on mute and they may be talking to each other or going around the room seeing if anyone has a question.
When I first started giving demos I was scared to death of not knowing something. Though, not knowing something is perfectly fine. If someone asks you a very technical question there is nothing wrong with saying “Hey, I don’t know that answer, let me check with our engineers and then we’ll get back to you.” Admitting that you don’t know something lets the attendees know that you are human, builds credibility, and it also gives you something to follow up on. Following up continues the conversation and gives you another touch point with the lead.
Just as I’m doing here in this blog post, tell a linear story. Build on top of things you’ve already covered. Telling a sequential or linear story makes it easy for attendees to follow you and better consume the information you are presenting to them.
There will come a time when you have to present or demo something that is complex in nature. When this happens it’s best to try to describe these via multiple concepts. Sometimes people refer to concepts differently so using multiple descriptions can help ensure clarity and that everyone understands and is on the same page.
As you get close to the end of the demo, be sure to check on the clock. If you have a hard stop, you may have to cut a feature set short so that you can leave time for questions. Q&A is critical to the demo because there are some people who will remain quiet until everything is over and then they speak up. We want to ensure that we give those people ample time to voice their thoughts because they can provide great insight.
This is a chance for you to get vital information about the demo. Attendees’ comments can be key indicators as to the demo’s effectiveness and whether or not the lead is ready to move forward.
After the demo is over, we work hard to solidify next steps so we can keep the process moving forward. Identify any “deliverables” that you need to follow up on. Often times these deliverables are PDF documents, blog links, or videos. Summarize the set of deliverables and let attendees know when they can expect them.
Once you’ve established those deliverables be sure to follow up in a timely manner. This will help you keep the process moving forward while things are fresh on the demo attendee’s minds.
The reason we conduct demos is to progress a sale forward. If the demo is effective then the lead will want to continue the conversation. Ultimately the demo is a reflection of the presenter and the organization they represent. By fine tuning the process of a demo you can better move your deals forward! I hope these tips have given you some insight into things you can do to have your demos and presentations at their best.