Cisco Live 2013 Final Thoughts

Image of JD on his bike in West Virginia

Image by Klaus Jones

I spent the last 5 days on the seat of my motorcycle driving hundreds of miles through the mountains of West Virginia. I do some of the best thinking on my motorcycle. The sound and vibrations of my pipes, driving with my whole body, leaning in and out of curves, the awareness of everything on, in, or around the road. Somehow, with all of that going on, I think A LOT.

As I continued to process everything I learned at Cisco Live, there were some thoughts that stuck out. These have very little to do with the social aspect, as I have already written about that here.

 Cisco Live Itself

1)   Why isn’t there a “lessons learned” document or post from the team who setup the wireless network? That was an incredible undertaking. I heard no complaints. I want to know what the Cisco Live Team has done over the last few years to scale the wireless network. Maybe the article is out there, but I haven’t seen it. This article wouldn’t be theory or sales, this is open communication about a real-life incredibly complex environment.

2)   Ditto on the WAN connection.

3)   As a first time, late registering attendee, I didn’t fully understand the Meet the Engineer, or the Table Topics at lunch. Now that I understand both, I will take better advantage of them next year.

4)   There is a special program for Netvets. There is a special party for CCIE’s. Why isn’t there a session on Sunday or early Monday for first timers? Make it a welcome party, initiation, meet and greet, and Q&A. I would have felt overwhelmed if it wasn’t for the great group of engineers that I hung out with at the Social Media Hub.  It would have also answered #3 above.

World of Solutions

I was surprised by the number of engineers running through the WoS chasing cheap plastic swords and other bits of junk. I liked a few of the T-Shirts, and grabbed a few of those, I picked up some buttons from Solarwinds, who clearly understands geek humor, and I avoided the rest. I realized on my ride this week, that the attendees were following the design. Run from booth to booth conquering and claiming prizes. Vendors, can I make a few suggestions?

1)   If you plan to give away shirts, make it a good design. If I like the design, I will wear it. Other engineers will see it. Conversations will be started about your company. Isn’t that the goal? If the design is bad, it will end up in the “donate” pile, as the yard work t-shirt, or used to wash cars. None of those are good for brand recognition. Special points given to geek humor and high quality shirts. If you want to guarantee that it sees the office, make it a polo shirt.

2)   Stop trying to win customers with a 5-minute pitch thrown out at the speed of sound by a mouthpiece that can’t answer questions. Your audience is technical. Do you think the audience can’t tell when the speaker is reciting words that they don’t understand?

3)   Find a way to engage potential customers. Make it easy for them to talk with a technical person, who can answer technical questions, and provide technical solutions. (Noticing a theme?)

4)   Don’t scoff at me when I refuse to provide my information for your cheap junk.

5)   Most importantly, don’t scoff when I sit through your presentation, give you my information, and then refuse your cheap junk. I am the person you are trying to reach, someone who is genuinely interested in your product, and who could easily be convinced to become a customer. I’m not there for the cheap junk, I’m there for more information about your product. If you could only answer my technical questions…

Now is a great time to register for next year!

Experiencing Cisco Live for the First Time

I’ve been back from Cisco Live 2013 for 5 days. I’m still not caught up at work on email or task that were assigned while I was away. It will most likely take a couple of weeks of working extra hours each day to finally get back to the point where I am only drowning a little. With such morose statements, it probably seems like I’m not happy with my first trip to Cisco Live.

In-fact, you cannot be more wrong. Cisco Live is like Space Camp for adults. Once you have been there, coming back to normal life is difficult, but I’ll get to that later.

I understand that I had an unusual first experience but I’m not special. If 2014 will be your first Cisco Live; your trip could be just as good as mine, or even better. If you came away from Cisco Live 2013 unimpressed, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

From my time on Twitter (@subnetwork) and this blog, I knew a lot of other engineers via the Internet. The very first stop I made after checking in was The Social Media Hub. On Sunday there was a Twitter Meetup (tweet-up). This gave me chance to meet in-person engineers that I have been conversing with online for years.

The engineers who attend the Tweet-up are a special breed. They write blog post about network engineering. They post to twitter about network engineering. They think about network engineering a LOT. This was an opportunity to learn, teach, and otherwise geek out about network engineering without getting that look that says the other person checked out as soon as you mentioned LISP.

From there, Cisco took over their role, and managed to host an incredible event. I sat through classes, ate meals, walked the World of Solutions, went to the Customer Appreciation Event (CAE), and attended vendor parties each evening.

All of this falls into the standard experience. However, in my case, everywhere I went, there was someone from social media crowd. Lunches were discussions about problems at work, new technologies, classes we attended, difficulties in finding good coworkers, geek lore, and the list continues on.

From the Social Media Lounge, I was able to participate in various contests Cisco posted online. I scored a special pass to the CAE, which allowed me to meet the band Journey. Thanks to Twitter, I was invited to the CCIE event. While sitting in the lounge, between sessions, I was invited to participate in a Tech Field Day featuring Open Gear.

I met Journey, attended the CCIE party as a non-CCIE, and participated in a Tech Field Day. These aren’t part of the normal experience. None of this would have been part of my experience if I wasn’t active in social media and hadn’t sought out these great engineers who sleep, eat, and breathe networking.

Your task, if you choose to have an extraordinary experience next year is simple. Begin participating in the conversation now. Make virtual acquaintances now, then turn them into friends in San Francisco.

If you do it right, next year, you will have difficulty adjusting back to normal life. You will be overflowing with fresh knowledge, and will be looking for people to share it with. You will find yourself often wishing that you were back at Cisco Live so that you could share your excitement with someone else who LOVES what they do for a living as much as you do.

Now is a great time to register for next year!