I turned down my first opportunity to go to Cisco Live right after I started my current job; my CCNA was due to run out before too long and I wanted to get my CCNP, a three-test certification, so I opted for a Boson boot-camp. I don’t regret that decision in the least; I made a commitment to myself to start shooting for my CCIE, and Boson’s classes got me started with my CCNA and helped me greatly with my CCNP.
But in 2013 Cisco held their Cisco Live in Orlando, not too far away from where I live. My boss announced that he was getting three passes and that there would be pass sharing among the seven interested parties, and a work van would be driven every day back and forth. I lobbied a bit and got one pass all to myself, going all days. It was a blur; I don’t know if I knew what I was doing, and the fact that I had to drive home a couple of hours every night meant that I couldn’t partake in much of the after-hours activities (though I did manage to book a room for myself for the Customer Appreciation Event and stay that night).
So, I’d say I didn’t really experience Cisco Live quite the way I might have wanted to in 2013.
This year, Cisco Live was in San Francisco. It was a bit of a shock when I was told I was going; I wasn’t aware that we had procured travel funding and Cisco Learning Credits sufficient for three of us to go. The first issue that popped up was that our ability to go was announced very close to the week of the event, so while classes were readily available, conference-rate hotels were not. We ended up staying at the Hotel Carlton, just over a mile away from Muscone Center and over a half-mile away from the nearest conference bus stop. As the owner of a Fitbit, this initially didn’t phase me. I was thinking “Yay! Steps for me!”
Boy was I not thinking clearly.
San Francisco, at least to someone who has lived in Florida since he was 17, is all hills. I was aware of this on a superficial level, but it didn’t quite hit me until I arrived on Saturday and then walked to Muscone to pick up my pass. It suddenly became clear that the impressive thing wasn’t going to be the number of steps per day, but the number of floors (as I understand it, the Fitbit One records 10 feet of elevation increase as a floor gained).
See, the Hotel Carlton, depending on the route you took, had probably five or six blocks of strictly uphill walking from Muscone. The moment of relief during this trek was the seemingly short block and a half from the crest down to the hotel. This was made worse for me on Monday when I forgot my pass for some dumb reason; I had to walk that uphill trek essentially two or three times that day, resulting in at least 50 floors.
Anyway, enough of me complaining about having to walk uphill in nearly perfect weather. Oh yeah – that’s the other thing. The weather in San Francisco was wonderful – mid 60s (F). Hoodie if you were chilly, but not needed if you were walking – oh yeah, I said I’d stop complaining about that. But anyway, my first piece of advice to future attendees:
Get your hotel figured out as soon as you can, and don’t wait to sign up for Cisco Live if you can avoid it. The earlier the better.
I got plugged into the social media aspect (in a sense, using my Boson instructor as a gateway). This isn’t as easy as it sounds; Twitter is the vehicle of choice here and I didn’t use it much. But I watched the firehose of the #clus hashtag and followed @CiscoLive‘s tweets, so I was able to be aware of the semi-impromptu gatherings that might occur. @NetworkingNerd usually has an attendee Twitter List he puts together; get yourself on it, and start following him and some of the others. Then, head to the Social Media Lounge and start introducing yourself. If you’re shy, you can try doing it on Twitter first. Someone might just see your tweet and say hello.
What other things might I tell someone about Cisco Live? Well:
- You are offered the chance to take a Cisco certification test. If you haven’t before, do it. If you have, then take the next level – even if you fail, you’ll have an idea as to what to shoot for next time you take it.
- The Customer Appreciation Event is a blast! (Well, I have comments about that below, but we’ll get to that later) However, if you’re a drinker, be careful! You might just end up missing your next day’s class!
- Plan your classes. Pick topics you want to follow through the week; don’t just take classes willy-nilly.
- Don’t be afraid to change your class schedule while you’re at Cisco Live – if your plan isn’t going as well as you’d hope, there might be an open class you’ll find more useful.
- While there might be something useful in even the most confusing class, don’t be afraid to call it quits and leave – you can always head to the Social Media Lounge and maybe find someone to talk to about something more your speed.
- You might even want to plan your time so that you have the opportunity to play the tourist. I didn’t do this enough while I was in San Francisco.
- One thing you might be able to skip is the keynotes. The first one with John Chambers is probably worth seeing, and the last one with the guest speaker (2013 was Richard Branson; 2014 was Salman Kahn of the Kahn Academy) is likely to be interesting. But the rest of them this year really didn’t seem to be of interest to me (or my coworkers), so we took a couple of hours to head down to the San Francisco Bay and do a quick visit to some of the sights.
The Customer Appreciation Event has so far been a high-point of Cisco Live for me; while I preferred the night at Universal Studios Florida in 2013, the Lenny Kravitz (and Imagine Dragons, which is when I left) concert at AT&T Park in 2014 was nice, and the food was welcome (more on that sentiment later). The crowd of Cisco Live attendees was huge, and getting in was a pain, but that may have just been an issue with the venue. Free food, drink, and music (or theme park rides) – can’t beat that. But, as I mentioned before, be careful – the event can go to pretty late at night, and if you’ve been drinking, you might just not be able to get up for the free 7:00am breakfast or even your 8:00am class.
Oh, and if you’re someone at Cisco: Look, I know it can’t be cheap renting out Universal Studios Florida for a whole evening. But personally, I think it’s criminal that you guys won’t be back here for at least another five years …
So, is Cisco Live worth it?
If you’re a network professional that works with Cisco equipment, especially if you have a Cisco certification, of course! The classes offer you the opportunity to learn about implementing the newest equipment and configuring the equipment in particular ways. High points this year for me included the MPLS classes (which left me feeling like I just needed to put it together in the lab to really get a hold on it), as well as the optics class (there was a lot more physics in it than I expected but luckily I wasn’t totally lost). Work related relevant classes included everything I could learn about NX-OS and two or three classes about the Nexus 7000/7700 line. And there were tons of other classes I would have like to have taken, given enough time. The good news is that as a conference attendee, you have access to all of the class recordings and slides, so even if you don’t make it to a class that you wanted to take for one reason or another, or if you just want to review the material, you can always go on the Cisco Live website and download it.
So far at each Cisco Live I’ve gotten two hats and a backpack. I was not impressed with 2013’s backpack, especially since I had to trade it in for a new one after less than a day. Even after trying to take care of it, it lasted less than two months. If I knock Cisco Live for anything this year, the one thing I won’t knock them for is the backpack: it’s not fancy, it could use a few more pockets, but at least it feels significantly more durable than last years was, and I’m still using it. Until I find a good SwissGear backpack, this will do.
Finally, the two things that bugged me the most about Cisco Live this year: the venue (Muscone Center) and the food.
- Muscone Center is three buildings – four, if you include the Yurba Gardens forum. So if you aren’t careful, you could be using a good portion of your 30 minutes between classes walking between buildings just to get to your next class. I’m colored by my experiences at 2013’s Orange County Convention Center: It was quite huge, all one building, all indoors. And yeah, you could still end up taking a good portion of your time walking from one of your classes to the other, but it just felt like Muscone wasn’t built for something like Cisco Live, whereas OCCC seemed up to the task.
- And as for the food, I’m not referring to the CAE food – that was great, especially for ballpark food. No, Cisco gives you breakfast and lunch for free, which in 2013 included hot meals for both breakfast and lunch, and to a certain extent was pick what you want. This year, the only thing hot was the oatmeal in the morning. Breakfast had no protein – it was donuts, bagels, pastries, and fruit. Lunch was boxed lunches, and at one point was the choice between two sandwiches and a salad. Personally, I would have preferred a sandwich – but both had crumbly cheese on them, and I’m not big (read: just short of allergic, hate the taste) into cheese.
If I’m lucky enough to go next year (I don’t expect the budget will be there, but you never know), I already have a plan:
- Round 2 of attempting to understand MPLS and implementing it
- First attempt at CCIE Written
- Hoping for another Sunday CCIE Lab Prep class
- Maybe some more SDN stuff
With any luck, I’ll see you in San Diego!