[There is a version of this post updated for 2013 here. You should read that one instead!]
This post is an annual collection of advice on how to get the most out of attending the Cisco Live conference (aka Networkers). Some of it is applicable to any training event, but most of it is more specific.
If you have corrections or additional suggestions, please comment so I can keep this information up to date and accurate. I’d like this to be a resource for everyone.
Plan to get to the conference city no later than mid-afternoon the day before the conference starts. That way even if you have a delayed flight, you should get there before too late in the evening. Even if you can’t check in until 3PM you can always drop your luggage off at the hotel and wander around. The idea is to make sure you get there early enough to get a decent night’s sleep.
Cisco Live is the only conference I’ve been to where you need to sign up for your breakout sessions before you go. You may be used to conferences where you can wander in & out of sessions if you hit one that turns out to be uninteresting or you have a sudden change of heart about the one you want to attend. Networkers is different. The purpose of signing up before hand is not just to be a helpful schedule. You need to sign up beforehand because it’s your reserved seat for the session. This is primarily important for the most popular sessions, but you don’t want to be stuck waiting outside of a session you really want!
Here’s how it works: at the doors for every session will be attendants with a computer and a scanner. They’ll scan your badge as you attempt to enter and you’ll see a green light or a red light on the computer. If you are registered for the session, you’ll get the green light and you’re good to go. If you aren’t registered or are on the waiting list, you have to wait. If it’s not full, you will get the opportunity to enter. I’m not sure how long they wait before letting you in, as I’ve not yet had to wait, myself.
NetVets are conference attendees that have been to 3 of the last 5 Networkers. NetVets get to sign up for their sessions a week before everyone else. This is done because many sessions repeat from year to year, and you may not have been able to get into a popular session in the past. This gives the repeat attenders an opportunity to sign-up for sessions they haven’t been able to get into. NetVets also get some extra benefits; even more if they are a CCIE or CCDE. This is my first year as a NetVet, so I’m looking forward to that!
When the session catalog opens up, I suggest you get in as soon as possible to schedule the sessions you care about most. You can always go back later to change sessions. When I first went to Cisco Live, I wanted to sign up for all kinds of interesting sessions. After a while I realized that despite there being 4 days of sessions, you can only squeeze so much into your schedule and had to prioritize the topics that were most important. I also recommend you leave some room in your schedule for the WoS Expo, but more on that later.
Don’t forget to sign up for your free certification exam, and don’t forget to schedule your sessions around it. Personally, I recommend doing it first thing in the morning so you are fresh. Eat some fruit for breakfast that morning. Save the carbs for other days.
As a conference attendee, you will also get access to Cisco Live Virtual. This has all the PDFs and many recordings of sessions from the last couple years. Some of the sessions recommend you have attended another session as a prerequisite. You can view some of these (or browse the PDF) before the conference. Sometimes, you can glance through the PDFs of sessions you are thinking of attending to decide if you actually want to.
To be Early is to be on Time
Whenever possible, get to the sessions early. Getting there late only to find nowhere to sit is a bummer. Don’t be afraid to sit in the front, especially if you are late. There are often open seats in the front and in the middle of rows while the back and all the edges are packed. Be prepared for a good speaker to make light of you and the others that are arriving late, at least during the first few minutes. They may even invite you to sit in front. Go with a smile. There’s always late people, especially in the morning sessions, you won’t be the only one.
Of course, being in the front can backfire if you decide you want to leave. You can feel very conspicuous if you get up and leave. That said, do you pay any attention to other people leaving? Just do it quietly and don’t waste your time in a session that’s not what you need.
Stay on Task
Why are you or your employer paying for you to attend the conference? Obviously, it’s so you can spend all day on Twitter/Facebook/IRC (some people still use it, really!)/Foursquare “networking”, right? That’s not to say that the proverbial hallway track and social media aren’t valuable. They definitely are. In fact, I recommend following the hashtag #clus on twitter. However, while you’re in the midst of the NX-OS Software Architecture session is probably not the ideal time to be watching your Twitter feed. Otherwise, you’ll hear something you really care about, come out of the distraction, and realize you’ve missed it. At least, that’s the way it goes with me, so that’s the suggestion I make.
Another thing to avoid is the temptation to look up that new feature you just learned about, or even remote into your favorite networking device to see if it supports the new bell and/or whistle. Save it for later!
World of Solutions Expo
This is the trade show. It’s big. You can definitely spend some time here learning about new
products, talking to vendors, and picking Cisco TAC’s brains. I’ve found all kinds of useful vendors that I previously had no idea existed. You can ask Cisco people, both technical and non-technical, those tough questions. There’s a special section of the show just for asking TAC people that question that’s been bugging you, or that you thought of because of a session you attended.
Yes, there’s the various tchotchkes and receptions with food and beverage, but it really is a great place to make contacts. If you want to have a real conversation with any of the vendors, don’t count on doing it during a reception. It’s just too busy. Devote a breakout session to the expo. There will be a lot less people in the hall and you can actually have a real conversation with the vendors. If you want a tchotchkes, usually you have to get your badge scanned. You’ll get a call from them in a few months. Sometimes they want you to sit down and listen to a spiel. Make sure it’s worth your time. If you haven’t been to one of these before, you may be tempted to get all kinds of free t-shirts and junk. Don’t forget you have to get all that stuff home. :)
Cisco Live (aka, Networkers). It’s a great place to learn, network, and get questions answered. You’ll meet people from all kinds of environments, some will even be similar to yours. You can find out how they do things in their shop or how they solved the same problems you’re trying to solve. Sometimes you’ll just share war stories, which can be therapeutic, too. I find the sessions useful, but the conversations and people you meet can be just as useful, if not more, than the sessions you attend.