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Cisco Live Tips

Since I'm a NetVet this year... I figured I'd write down my pro tips for going to Cisco Live. I'm putting these up because the conference is really overwhelming the first time you go there. And that's putting it mildly. For those who don't know what Cisco Live is, it is the yearly customer conference put on by Cisco Networks. A leading company in the networking, visualization, telephony, and many other spaces. I've don’t some lack luster blog post on the conference before so you might want to look at those for some more detail (or not because they're not very good and I never did the follow up to them). The conference is designed primarily for education on their products but also acts as a vessel for marketing new products and to be a customer appreciation party. Though the party aspect is nice it’s usually secondary for me because the learning opportunity usually wears me out to the point that I don't even go out after the conference sometimes. Anyway follow these simple tips and I promise you'll have a much better experience.

Edit: 0) WEAR GOOD SHOES, above all, wear good shoes.

1) Register early enough to get the early bird discount. You save about $500 dollars if you book early enough. I personally don’t like to use learning credits here. Simply because you don’t get a discount if you use the learning credits so they can go a lot farther if you use them to something more specific. Plus, learning credits are never really free. Even if you lump them in with a project that means you just didn’t get as good of a discount on the project. But obviously if your company has credits and they want you to use them than you should. Just keep in mind there’s no discount if you use them.

2) Once you register make sure you book your hotel right away though the Cisco Live portal. You'll get the best rates there and the cheapest hotels good quickly. You'll want to use one of the hotels associated with the conference because they'll supply transportation to these hotels. However, if you want to bargain hunt outside of these hotels, just make sure your hotel is with a quick walks distance to one of these hotels and you can still jump on the bus there.

3) Book a certificate exam. Cisco live gives you a free certificate exam so this is a perfect chance to get certified or renew a cert. Even take a stab at the CCIE written if you want. These exams can run hundreds of dollars so they are a huge part of the value of going to Cisco Live. Even if you fail you aren’t out the money and you at least had the experience of taking the test and will be much more prepared for the second attempt.

4) Arrive the Saturday before the conference. Many people arrive the Sunday before and just fight the early Monday morning crowd to register. I, however, fly in Saturday. Two reasons, you can register on Sunday and the test labs are open on Sunday. So if you schedule a cert exam you can take Saturday night and Sunday morning to review and then take your test Sunday afternoon. You can register and find the testing facility without fighting any crowds. Much better than trying to find the facility and fight the crowds during the conference proper and you don't have to miss out on any sessions.

5) Register for breakout sessions as soon as they become available. Breakout sessions have limited seating and they fill up quickly for popular topics. Do this through the web portal and make sure you actually register for them and don’t just “star” them. Did that my first year and had to fight the entire week for topics I was interested in. Oh on a side note, don’t export your sessions to your calendar till right before the conference, even though you sign up for them months in advance they usually change the rooms they’re in right up to the last second.

6) Break out session levels. When registering for the breakout sessions make sure you pay attention to the session numbers. They usually come in a 1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000 variety. Personally I try to stay with the 3000 level courses. As an engineer this is where you're going to get the best amount of actual technical knowledge and are most likely to have a technical presenter that you can ask questions afterwards. 2000 level sessions can be great for an introduction to new products. 1000 level sessions have been mostly useless in my experience and typically are just marketing. Would be better for a manager or project manager. 4000 level sessions are rare and can be far to technical in some cases.

7) Changing sessions. You can change sessions on the fly from the web portal or the app. Or if you end up in a session you decide isn't a fit for you, you can just look up a new one to go to. Just note that most likely you'll be waiting in a queue to get in. But in my experience this isn't usually a big deal and I've never not gotten into a session before. At worst you have to wait 5 minutes for someone to leave the room.

8) Typically I don't like mobile apps but it’s worth it here. Mostly just so you can look up the sessions, their location, and consult the map. There are kiosk everywhere but it’s just easier to do it on your device. This can be done on the web portal to but the app is usually more convenient.

9) Power. Power is everything when you're at a conference for 8-10 hours a day. First, buy this. Anker PowerCore 20100 and charge it every night at the hotel. This will allow you to charge your phone and tablet without having to find a power outlet. If you still need a power outlet for say a laptop. Then you’ll want to get to your next session as soon as you can. Every session has at least some tables with power on them. Usually the first half of the room has tables and every other table has a power strip. So if you get to the session late you’ll probably miss out on these seats as they fill up first. Typically the plugs in the hallways are always being used and you don't want to be stuck in a hallway missing sessions.

10) Take a lot of notes. I use Evernote for note taking and take as many notes as I can. This is because you're going to hear and see so much that you will never retain it all. Additionally you should update your notes later with the slide decks which you can usually download form the web portal. This will mean you don't have to hunt them down later and you can skip a lot of detail in your written notes. Extra credit: Blog your experience and what you learned. I've made some failed attempts at this and usually you're too tired at the end of each day to write but if you have it in you it’s a great experience.

Those are my main 10 tips. There are a lot of other tips that could be helpful but if this is your first time these will help you get the most out of the conference. For extra credit you should write up an executive summary of the top three things you learned, the top three things your company could do better or implement, and the top three new products you found. If your company is paying for your trip there this is a great thing to show them afterward to show their investment was worthwhile. If you have any questions drop me a line.

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