The Idera ACE Program, So Far

The Idera ACE program is something I’ve been involved with for over a year now. I’ll share a bit of the back story, and some thoughts on how the idea has grown and morphed since then.

Back in late 2010 I had a couple conversations with David Fargo and Heather Sullivan from Idera, they had been talking about hiring an evangelist to represent them in the community, done some interviews, and just hadn’t found the perfect fit. The community representative is a common model, certainly used with great success by a number of vendors in the SQL Server space, but I think – my words, not theirs – is that they just weren’t quite ready to commit. Hiring someone full time to just do “community stuff” is a leap. Not just the salary, but figuring out what they will do, how they will fit within your organization and add value. That’s the place where the magic has to happen and they didn’t have a handle on what would work for them yet.

As we talked through what they wanted to do it was clear to me that they didn’t want someone that would be part of the sales cycle. The focus was participating more at events, getting more candid feedback from users and non-users of their products, and helping Idera itself change,to become more community focused. It wasn’t one of those meetings where we had three bullet points they had to get accomplished! This is a good time to add that David & Heather aren’t in marketing,or sales – they were (at the time) R&D managers for the SQL Server/Sharepoint/Powershell product lines, David now heads up all community involvement for Idera.

My suggestion was to try something different. Instead of hiring one person and figuring out how to make that work go with what would almost be a part-time model – go out and find some people in the community that were ready to grow and give them some funds to travel with. That would allow Idera to “have someone” at more events, it had more of a community feel to it, and they would benefit from being exposed to a lot more points of view about what SQL community really was. The overall cost would be the same or a bit less than hiring someone full time and would let them evolve something that would work for them.

The program launched last year with a light campaign for candidates, selection, and then a meeting in Houston in July to kick off the program. We had some ideas and dreams, but we knew that we only had the beginnings of that – had to walk through it to find out if it would work and what would need to be tweaked. One of the things we realized even before the meeting is that the effort would need someone pushing it along – managing the logistics as a minimum, so Idera hired James Dodd to do that and it made a big difference.

Looking back now we definitely took longer to get started than we hoped, many of the first ACE’s didn’t get to an event until September or October. That’s one of about 50 lessons learned. That’s a good thing in my view. Start with an idea, work it, evolve it, and find out what works and what doesn’t.  We met for a day in December to assess how things had gone and work on forming the 2012 program. It was good to see it renewed for another year!

The “Class of 2012” will be meeting in Houston in April along with the outgoing Class of 2011, during the week of the Houston SQLSaturday, and I think that going forward this will be the standard transition month for the program – a nice win to bring in a pile of speakers to Houston. Overall there aren’t a lot of changes planned for 2012, minor tweaks, making sure we get the new ACE’s going quickly, let them make the most of the year.

A lot of people ask me “what does Idera get out of it?”. That’s a fair question, and one that is both simple and hard to answer. From the middle ground of not being an outsider and not being an Idera employee I would say it is this:

  • It’s opened lines of communication and made that communication more personal with the SQL community – at a high level it’s network building, or maybe a better phrase would be entering a network. That often means getting candid feedback from someone that before might have not said anything, because they didn’t know who to voice it to.
  • It’s been a vehicle for carrying the feel of the community that you get at a SQLSaturday and other events back to the office via the short trip reports and follow up calls. I can’t explain that well. I guess the best I can do is compare it to thinking about how hard it is to explain to your co-workers that won’t go to a SQLSaturday why they should, why it’s so valuable. Idera has always been great about sponsoring events, but this helped them understand why the events were so popular and what the sponsorship dollars really did for the community.

Doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s enough. Enough for Idera to continue the program, and that means this year and hopefully for years to come six or more lucky people get to travel to some events that wouldn’t have otherwise and once there they get to share ideas with people about SQL, they grow, they take ideas back, and that cross-pollination has a great impact on the community.