I just had the pleasure of attending my second Cisco Live event which was hosted in Orlando Florida this year. I am a veritable new comer to this conference but thought I would share some thoughts and observations from my most recent expedition into networking geekdom.
General Pros And Cons
- Technology: When assembling 20k geeks who eat/sleep/breathe tech you have to get this right. Cisco did an amazing job of it this year. The wireless network was rock solid and had plenty of capacity for all that needed it. Consideration was given to charging battery driven devices and nice touches of technology use could be seen everywhere. Even the busses were connected with 4G driven wireless networks for connectivity to/from your hotel. This was a nice touch and a great display of a creative application of the very devices/technologies we are here to learn about.
- Information: I’m pretty sure this is a given or we wouldn’t be seeing such large groups paying for entry passes, leaving their jobs for a week and traveling (sometimes half way around the world) to attend. I’m confident that I learn more at Live than I do in any other week the rest of the year.
- Event Coordination: I find it absolutely amazing that I can attend an event with so many people and never queue longer than a few minutes. Meal times at Cisco Live are an art form and probably one of the most impressive pieces of people logistics I have ever seen. Session seating is ample and well coordinated. Even when attending the keynote events that everyone attends at the exact same time, the lines move quickly and you are to your seat without issue. The people who run Cisco Live “get’ how to move people from place to place with minimal discomfort. Like much of what we do it is rarely appreciated when done right but can be an absolutely pain when done wrong. Kudos to the staff who make this happen…it really is quite impressive.
- The People: I don’t think I could overstate this. The people are what make Cisco Live great. It’s only here that you will be walking through your hotel lobby and be able to jump into a conversation about high level datacenter networking technologies or compare features of the latest unified communication platforms. I don’t know about you but I have a hard time finding people in my town who could unravel the acronym soup we use, let alone speak to design considerations and best practices. And all of this is before you set foot into a session or engage an expert. It is amazing what you learn just sitting in proximity to others who engage in the same challenges as you do.
- Central Florida is HOT and humid in June: The location this year certainly left a lot to be desired in comparison to last year. The oppressive weather made exploring the local area a chore rather than something to look forward to. Meals, parties and meetups all had the common theme of great conversation amongst many many sweaty people. Nobody likes that.
- Transportation: This is the only exception to the pro listed above regarding event coordination. Cisco Live got this wrong in a big way this year. I certainly can empathize with the coordination nightmare that must exist when trying to move thousands of people miles across public resources but this was bad. Simple things could have been done to mitigate the impact of delays but there just didn’t seem to be much thought put into it. Next time it might be a good idea to ensure that lines form somewhere protected from the hot/humid weather of central Florida. Another good idea might be to have more than 1 bus per route running at the end of your customer appreciation event. When there are enough people to fill 15 busses standing around waiting, and the last bus you saw was 30 minutes ago, people who can do math can get very frustrated very quickly. This may be a unique problem to the Orlando location but certainly could have been thought through better.
- Mobile App: I love the idea of the mobile app. I love having my schedule and other conference information at my fingertips. I also really like the idea of using the app as a tool of interaction for surveys, session questions and keynote enhancements. Overall, I loved the concept of the app this year. Execution left a lot to be desired though. Session questions never really seemed to work. IOS devices had major issues logging in on the first day. Capacity appeared to be underestimated. I am not a coder by trade so I will reserve judgement on if these types of things were to be expected. This would have been a serious pro if all had worked as planned.
- Celebrity Keynote: For some reason I was expecting more. Maybe it was last years guests. Maybe it was the “lore” that follows Richard Branson. I left the keynote asking “was that it?” He wasn’t bad but he wasn’t good either.
This year Cisco placed a large emphasis on social media at the conference. From keynote shout outs to prominent twitter networking personalities to the impressive social media lounge, Cisco made it clear that it listens and values the voices of their customers engaged in social media. But beyond that, social media has greatly enhanced my personal experience at Cisco live. Lets face it, it’s hard for us introverts to meet new people. This is particularly true when overwhelmed by large groups of very intelligent and vocal engineers. I sincerely believe that platforms like twitter even the playing field and allow all to participate in the conversation. It also gives you some baseline on who people are before showing up to the conference and a starting point if you have the opportunity to engage in conversation. Social media empowers everyone to contribute to the community and by doing so it deepens the richness of the information being communicated.
The twitter crowd at Live this year was absolutely amazing. I don’t know that there was a more engaged group of non-Cisco employees at the conference. They were everywhere and literally come from all backgrounds, disciplines and experience levels. Cisco is right to pay attention to this group as they are passionate, vocal and engaged with the technology and by doing so they are influencing opinion of everyone around them. It was a privilege to be counted as a member of this group and I look forward to participating in it for years to come.
Ultimately Cisco Live is a great learning opportunity. Not just from all of the sessions they have assembled (don’t discount them though…many of them are great) but also by simply putting thousands of like minded network engineers into the same place at the same time. The conference is clearly run with an intention of excellence and delivers on this in just about every way. Like most things in life, the more you invest into the process the more you will personally receive and benefit from it. A big thank you is due to the amazing people I met this year and those I had an opportunity to reconnect with. You are what makes this conference great.