This was my first time attending Cisco Live in person, and it was a wild time. In addition to the normal Cisco Live event, I also had the opportunity to participate in a few extra events. I attended the CCDE Techtorial (detailed post on it coming soon), there were several Cisco Champion events, and I was a delegate at Tech Field Day Extra (TFDx) – https://techfieldday.com/event/clus22/
It was a jam-packed week with a ton of walking, countless conversations, and enough information to make my head hurt. I’ve attempted to distill down my thoughts on the event and provide recommendations from a first-timer to future first-timers.
If you aren’t familiar with Cisco Live, it’s a major IT industry event that Cisco puts on Every year (virtually in 2020 and 2021) and there are versions of it run globally. The US-based event is the largest, but there are also events in Europe and Australia. I attended the event in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center from June 12th through 16th. Hundreds of breakout sessions are available, covering the entire Cisco solution portfolio. The sessions can be very high-level, explaining the basics of a technology, or very deep and technically focused. People from all over the world attend, and I believe the 2022 attendance was near 15,000.
1. The people
I can’t say enough about how much of a factor the social side of Cisco Live was. I spent countless hours talking to people outside of sessions. I had the opportunity to meet so many people, made even more special after two years of quarantine. Many of those people were from other countries, and I likely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet them otherwise.
Just to name-drop a bit, I had the chance to talk to Cisco giants Peter Jones, and fellow Champions Daren Fulwell, Mark Sibering, Sijbren Beukenkamp, David Peñaloza Seijas, Bill Burnam, Dustin Gabbett, Joe Houghes, Kenny Paula, Robb Boyd… this list could go on by a few dozen more people… plus the people that I was able to hang out with on the TFDx side (many are also Cisco Champions) – Ben Story, Micheline Murphy, Pieter-Jan Nefkens, Jody Lemoine… (huh, that list is all Champions)… Again, the list could go on. I also had the chance to meet people I’d recorded Cisco Champions Radio episodes with, including Jason Gooley, JP Vasseur, Shai Silberman, and Carlos Pereira. I’ve probably not even listed half of the people I should have.
There were definitely moments when I was in awe of the people I was talking to. I have books written by these people on my shelf. I’ve watched their training material. As a professional geek, it was awesome to just be in the same room, let alone actually talking to these people.
I had the chance to talk with a few people about ThousandEyes, and I could discuss how I’ve used it with peers and learn how they are using it. We discussed challenges and how we overcame them. I talked to people about some of the announcements Cisco made and learned from those different perspectives. I listened to questions people asked during sessions; sometimes, it was a question I was wondering myself but hadn’t thought to actually ask it.
The “live” aspect of Cisco Live was massively beneficial. The conversations were far more interesting and engaging than pre-recorded or virtual meetings. The opportunity to sit in one of the lounge areas and talk shop (or talk about anything else) with peers from many different backgrounds was truly awesome.
2. The people (yes, we just did this)
Told you I couldn’t say enough about the people! The Cisco Insider Champs team (Amilee San Jaun, Breana Jordan, Britney McDaniel, Danielle Carter, and Lauren Friedman) did an awesome job getting us access to special sessions and behind-the-scenes access. They truly made the experience better! Much of, if not all, of the above, was made possible because of the Cisco Insider Champions team. I can’t stress enough how much value came out of the community connections, and I am extremely thankful to be part of it.
Shameless plug: If you’re interested in joining the Cisco Insider Champions program (or the Cisco Insider programs -Advocates, User Group, and User Research), you can find more info here: https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/about/cisco-insider.html#champions The Champions applications are typically available in the October-December timeframe.
The Advocates program can be joined at any time here: https://insideradvocates.cisco.com/join/ReferToInnovation
If you join either program, please let me know so I can follow you.
3. The techtorial session
The techtorial was a premium session held on Sunday, the day before Cisco Live officially kicked off. It was a 4-hour deep-dive session, and it was amazing! Having that much time really allowed the presenters to go into depth with the material, and there was enough time to have an interactive discussion. Those sessions are also very focused, which means there’s not really a level-setting/marketing part of the session. From a value-per-hour standpoint, I think I got a lot more out of the techtorial than I did the normal sessions.
I have to mention the swag. Sure, I didn’t get sent home with the thousands of dollars of swag that are given out for the Oscars, but I was happy. A few shirts, socks, and a wide assortment of other random bits. I will say that I’m disappointed that the AMD booth wasn’t handing out Threadripper Pros to everyone that stopped by.
5. Did I mention the people?
Yup, back to the people. I had the opportunity to randomly belt out Metallica lyrics with Kenny Paula and the #metaldevops godfather, Jason Gooley. I ate many a stroopwafel that made the trip from the Netherlands. I watched a Dutch man hit the bell in one of those carnival strength games with the oversized mallet. I made solar battery charging kits with fellow Cisco Champions and the awesome Champs team. I got my selfie with Robb Boyd.
I think Cisco Live could easily be three weeks long, and I still wouldn’t do everything I wanted to. There were a lot of sessions that I couldn’t make because they overlapped with other things. I only visited a few vendor booths. I didn’t do any labs, play capture the flag, or do activities in the DevNet zone. I would have loved to have had more time to engage with more people, attend more sessions, talk to different vendors, etc. Trying to fit everything in is a challenge, and as a first-timer, I found that overwhelming in many ways. I also found that I was spending time doing things that weren’t as valuable of a use of time, like the Cisco Live challenge game. I thought it would be cool to win a prize, so I did some of the activities and quizzes to get as many points as possible. Well, I didn’t win, and I probably wasted an hour or two on it. Looking at the leaderboard, I’d bet the people at the top spend a significant amount of time on it, and though the prizes were nice, I don’t think it would have been worth the time. Next time I’ll try to prioritize better what I want to do and limit time spent on anything else.
2. The walking
The walking itself wasn’t really the problem, but the time spent walking was. I stayed at the Luxor, about a 17-minute walk from the hotel lobby to the entrance of the conference center. I bought some stuff at the Cisco Store and wanted to drop it off in my hotel room before I went to my next session. It took 45 minutes to go from the store to my hotel room and back to the next session room. Next time I’ll try to get a room closer to the conference and better plan my trip to the store.
3. The on-site exam
When I registered for Cisco Live, I was really excited to get a free exam. There were a few problems, though. First, there wasn’t an exam I had been preparing for, so I just picked one I thought I’d have a chance to pass with minimal study. Second, when you think about it, an exam might be $400, but when you compare that to the cost of Cisco Live, you’re losing a few hours of the conference to take a test that you could take any time. If I could schedule my exam for a time that didn’t interfere with the conference, it might be a different story, but those spots go fast. Third, trying to get an exam done during the conference just adds extra stress that’s not needed. Next time I don’t plan to bother with the exam. I’ll probably take a look at the schedule, and if there’s a great spot open, I might go for it, but it would be quite low on my priority list.
4. The parties
I’ll admit, I’m not much of the party type. The appreciation event concert was Britany Howard and the Dave Matthews Band. Though both might be great acts, they aren’t my style. The food at the celebration wasn’t great either. The CCIE party (I was a +1, I’m a long way from an IE) wasn’t a big hit for me either. That said, I know there were plenty of people stoked to see DMB, and they had a blast at the parties. They were a great opportunity to hang out with people, and many great conversations were had. Next time I’ll approach the parties as more of a networking event than a concert or similar event. Unless they manage to get a concert lineup with Jonathan Coulton (check out Code Monkey) and Psychostick (check out Blue Screen, which also happens to be one of the best music videos ever made).
And The Tech
Cisco Live is always buzzing with new product launches, announcements, and a massive amount of information. This year was no different. The biggest announcement was the ability to monitor Catalyst switches in the Meraki dashboard and even convert them to running Meraki code so they would be fully Meraki-managed. Plenty of other awesome stuff happened, but I want to focus on the event’s overall experience. I’ll save the tech details for another post.
Aside from product announcements and sessions, there’s also the World of Solutions. Essentially, that’s the show floor of the event. Cisco had huge spaces dedicated to different things like DevNet, Emerging Technologies and Incubation, WebEx, labs, etc. There were also dozens of other vendor booths, some even giving their own sessions on the show floor.
Recommendations for Future Attendees
- Wear good shoes. It’s a lot of walking! I think I calculated something like 30+ miles of walking during the week.
- Bring a water bottle and stay hydrated. With all the walking, the Vegas heat, and the overall dryness, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Add in air travel and perhaps some alcohol consumption, and that’s a recipe for disaster. There are plenty of water coolers, but sometimes it was challenging to find one that wasn’t empty. Bring a water bottle, fill it when you can, and make sure to drink enough water.
Now that the basic human needs are covered, on to the actual conference recommendations.
- Make time to talk to people. Sessions fill fast, making it feel like you need to register for as many as possible. Don’t fall into that trap. Sign up for the sessions you really want to attend, and then use the open time to talk to people. Most sessions are recorded, but the chance to talk to people isn’t.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to someone. See your favorite blogger, podcaster, and beard? Go ahead and say “hi” to me. And if I’m not your favorite, that’s fine. Say “hi” to me, and them too. Did you hear someone ask a question in a session, and it sounded like they might be in a similar position to you? Talk to them. Maybe they’ve solved a problem you’re working on. Maybe you have some advice you could give them.
- Don’t focus on the parties. Sure, they can be fun, but after an 8+ hour day of talking and tech sessions, if you need some downtime, take it. Maybe doing back-to-back-to-back 16-hour days for a week is something you can do, and if so, go for it. If not, that’s cool. The parties, swag, and all of that are great, but if you risk burning yourself out, make sure to pace yourself.
- Swag is great. Prizes are also great. Neither should be the focus of a trip to Cisco Live. The cost of the conference pass, hotel, and airfare far outweigh the value of the swag. There’s always joking about finding the vendors with the best swag, but really, look for the vendors that can help you. Talk to them. Talk to vendors you’ve never heard of. Maybe they have a product that can solve a problem you have, and you didn’t even know it existed. If it ends up not being a good fit, move on. There are plenty of vendors for a participant to talk to and plenty of participants for vendors to talk to, so if there’s no value, then it’s better for both of you to move on.
- If you need approval to make the trip, highlight how Cisco Live is a lot more than sales demos and swag. You have the opportunity to meet a lot of people and learn about what they are doing. The odds are pretty good that you can find people that have solved whatever challenge you might be facing or at least people that could provide useful information.
If you have the opportunity to go, do it! It was an awesome experience, and I can’t wait for my next chance to attend!
I can’t stress the value of the conversations enough. Speak up in sessions. Ask questions. Track down people if you need to. (Twitter can be a great way to find people), but talk to people. You can get much more focused answers and better insight with direct conversations. Plus you might find a friend.
Have questions? Have Cisco Live tips? Drop them in the comments, or reach out to me on Twitter @Ipswitch
I might have missed or misspelled some important names. If I did, I’m sorry. Let me know, and I’ll update this post. If you want me to add Twitter and/or LinkedIn links for you, send those over, and I’ll be sure to add them.