Best things to do when attending Cisco Live 2023
Cisco is returning to Las Vegas June 4-8th at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for their annual conference – Cisco Live 2023.
This conference has been running for several decades, across two centuries. There have been many changes and a steady evolution over the years to what it has become today. If I have one complaint about Cisco Live, it’s that there is way too much to do and not enough time. As a result, to make the best of the conference I’m laying out my suggestions on activities to maximize your experience at Cisco Live.
Register here, then book your flights early. Don’t forget to pack comfortable clothes and super comfortable footwear – there will be more walking than you are used to.
Cisco Live brings technology and user experience together over several days. Hang out with old friends, meet new friends, talk tech, solve problems – and most importantly, have fun!
Pre-game training – Labs and Seminars
Cisco offers additional paid training in the days before the conference officially kicks-off. There are many good technical, lab sessions on focused topics with hands-on exercises. These sessions often complement the technical sessions later in the week which do not include hands-on fun (DevNet excluded – but more on this a little further below). I find much of the content in these tech-lab sessions overlaps with the general sessions later in the week. Knowing this, a useful strategy is to pick the tech-labs most relevant to your needs, and skip similar sessions later in the week, freeing you up to cover other content or participate in exclusive event-only activities.
Converging of the NetVets
If this year’s Cisco Live marks your 4th Cisco Live attendance in the last 5-year window, you are considered a “NetVet”. This status carries some advantages such as a cool LANyard and access to a dedicated lounge. In addition, what I consider more beneficial is the ability to select your sessions one week before registration opens to general attendees. This makes a difference as many popular sessions do reach capacity. For those NetVets that also hold current CCIE/CCDE certifications, there is a NetVet reception with the Cisco Chair and CEO – Chuck Robbins. Don’t forget to add this meeting to your schedule.
NetVet qualification is automated during registration, but if you have registered with different emails over the years, the automation fails. For me, this was quickly be resolved by sending an email to ciscolive, listing the years, emails, and companies that were used during past registrations.
If this is your first time at Cisco Live, you can ask questions to one of the very helpful people directing traffic or working in the information booths. Alternatively, you can also ask someone wearing a NetVet LANyard.
Schedule your sessions
The sessions are excellent and you should set your schedule as early as possible. Cisco has been ranking speakers over the past years with top presenters earning coveted distinguished speaker status. If deciding between two sessions, I would lean towards the distinguished speaker. While sessions are great to see live, all content (slides and recordings) are available post conference. As a result, I often participate in conference-only activities and defer catching up on presentations once the show is over.
For a list of the sessions that I am hoping to get to during the conference check out this post.
Scheduling your free exam
While you can write a Cisco exam anytime, the exams are not often free. As part of the conference, Pearson VUE sets up a temporary testing center at the conference for you to challenge any Cisco exam they offer. Admittedly, I am a bit of an exam junky and will write exams for fun. Hey, it’s a free exam and I am not afraid to try something and fail. I suggest booking a timeslot early in the conference (Sunday or Monday) to challenge the exam before the stress and exhaustion build later in the week. Your mind will be mush be the end of the week and only newbs schedule the exam for the morning after the Customer Appreciation Event (CAE).
Lastly, the exam room is often kept at a temperature cold enough to compete with the Ice Bar and this Canadian suggests bringing a sweater to your exam so you can focus on the questions and not get distracted by the cold.
During Cisco Live – or how to juggle Conferences within a Conference
World of Solutions (WoS)
The World of Solutions is a massive collection, covering over 46,000 sqm of Cisco’s partners and other technology companies that can augment your Cisco experience. Interact with some of the vendors face-to-face. Discover new companies and products you were not aware of. Grab enough swag that you will need to buy another suitcase. This is where some strategy comes into play. Some swag is bag filler, other swag is useful and provides value. Hint: If attendees only accept the useful swag, vendors may up their swag game for the following year.
In WoS, there is an unwritten rule, listen to a sales pitch in exchange for a swag item – nothing is free. Some vendors require attendees to sit through a 5-10 minute sales pitch with those asking questions at the end rewarded with bonus swag. Other vendors hand out marketing such as stickers or flags to be worn on display throughout the event. Random attendees spotted while serving a marketing role are rewarded with swag.
WoS also has a Cisco merch and bookstore – they are useful places to spend your dollars, well the bookstore at least. In addition, there are several villages within WoS, including: CTF, DevNet, NoC, and Walk-In Labs area. There truly is so much to see and do in this area, that you could spend the entire conference just in the WoS.
I describe the DevNet Zone as a distributed community of developers, practitioners, and product managers, woven throughout the conference. Through DevNet zones, attendees are exposed to hands-on workshops, knowledge challenges, API frameworks, coding examples, Cisco tools, sandboxes, and other resources.
There are “DevNet” sessions offered throughout the week that place attendees alongside software developers to expose or develop skills: to deploy and maintain automation applications, cloud based microservices, secure & full-stack applications, and/or harnessing the power of APIs. These sessions are wildly popular and fill up quickly. If you are interested, sign-up for these sessions as soon as you possibly can.
There are often crowds of people watching these sessions trying to soak in the information, wishing they had signed up earlier for a seat at a terminal. DevNet could be a Cisco conference on its own and there still wouldn’t be enough time to get through it all.
Capture the Flag (CTF)
I think CTF contests are incredible rewarding and allow users to gain real experience in the throes of friendly competition and this is no different with the CTF competition available at Cisco Live. Solve a series of real lab challenges across a variety of Cisco solutions to earn points and a chance to see your handle on the leaderboard. Last year, CTF was right beside the “lock-picking” village. I hope this year’s CTF includes more than just Cisco specific challenges 😉.
For those of you not able to fund your own home lab environments, you can select and sign-up for a 45–60 minute lab which guides you through various configuration to get some hands on time with some of the latest products and solutions from Cisco. I am absolutely sitting in on a LoRaWAN hands-on lab – if there happens to be one… hint, hint.
Network Operations Center (NOC)
Cisco sets up a booth where people can stare at real time operational dashboards of the Cisco Live conference event. Sometimes the network performs well, and sometimes there is a lesson in the art of deploying a 30,000+ person conference event in a matter of days with a very confined budget. Sometimes, design requirements are what they are. High level design diagrams can be reviewed, and you can have frank conversations with the Ops team who designed and is tasked with keeping the network up throughput the conference. I, for one, appreciate the candor of my conversations about wireless challenges with Chris O’Donnell; this is a difficult network setup with many Layer-8 constraints.
One key metric that I always like to lean into is that for a conference full of 30,000+ IT geeks, the average device to user ratio is less than 1:1. Avoid the trap of over designing your Wi-Fi networks for capacity assumptions that are not valid.
There is also a session toward the end of the conference where the Ops team describes the requirements, architecture, equipment, and configuration. Sometimes they will even describe some learning lessons and interesting observed traffic patterns.
For those Cisco customers not able to access a Cisco engineer throughout the year, this is a great opportunity to schedule one-on-one time with a Cisco technical expert. During the 1:1 meeting, you can deep dive challenges or issues with your design process or with your production network. If this is your only time to meet with an engineer, it’s well worth scheduling; remember to book early, as experts are in demand.
If your sales team already arranges meetings with Cisco engineers, I would skip the MTE, as it would simply be time away from other things you could be doing while at Cisco Live.
Customer Appreciation Event (CAE)
The CAE is a yearly tradition where attendees can socialize and listen to live musicians – headlined this year by Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton hosted at Allegiant Stadium, Wednesday night – 19:30-23:00.
These events are always fun and interesting. Attendees get to go a venue where Cisco tries to craft a variety of entertainment for different personalities and generations. Some are drawn in by the musical guests who put on great shows for a relatively small audience (compared to larger public concerts). This year, listen for Gwen and Blake calling out “Cisco- Let’s go” in between songs or even during songs.
Alternatively, for those not into loud, live music, there is a variety of food/drink items to munch on and enjoy. It’s a time to hang out with colleagues and experience the power of influencer marketing.
Social Media Contests
Some people thrive on competition and Cisco Live taps into that culture with several social media hub contests offered prior to and during the event. Prior to the event you can write pre-conference strategy and survival tip blogs (like this one!). During the event, you can set records for social media posts or interactions in the WoS. Some contest winners are rewarded with capes to wear daily or throughout the conference. If “IT superhero wearing a cape” is on your bucket list, now is your time to shine.
Las Vegas is one of my less preferred locations for Cisco Live. However, there are many cost-effective flight options, and everything is “walking” distance, but Vegas is surrounded by… well Vegas. You are not going to spend a lot of time in the room, so fancy hotel is not required. Money can be better spent at one of several foodie destinations.
Cisco Live 2023 Registration
Cisco Developer Portal