Monday, June 9, 2014

Cisco Live 2014 Experience

I can't tell if time moves faster before, during, or after Cisco Live. It has been two weeks since Cisco Live 2014 in San Francisco, yet it feels like I was at Lefty O'Doul's just yesterday. 

Before it got too far away from me, I wanted to recap my experience. For no reason other than I feel "wrong" if I don't. This year, I think the best way to sum up my Cisco Live 2014 experience is to focus on how, over time, my connection with the Live! event has evolved from being a member of the audience to becoming part of the event.

That Just Happened

As the sparkly, tiara wearing and bat-wielding @amyengineer says: "In case you were living under a rock in the networking world, Cisco Live 2014 happened ...". It actually happened two weeks ago and, yes, I feel like a slacker for waiting to write up this blog entry. But, that is how it goes sometimes.

This year Live! was even bigger and more exciting than last year. Honestly, I was expecting the event to have a lower attendance since it was being held in May. Boy, was I wrong. The "Nerd Herd" was north of 25,000 people. That is an amazing stat and is more than twice the number of attendees in 2009 (the last time we were in San Francisco). I attended in 2009 and it was painfully obvious that in 2014, Live! has outgrown the Moscone Center. The crowds were unreal. 

As much as I tried to hold on to the moments, Live! came and went in a blink of an eye. At the end of the week, I was lingering around the Social Media Hub watching the crew break down the event with a touch of melancholy. I think Bob McCouch (@BobMcCouch) said it best in a tweet: "Yeah, post-#clus blues. It's a thing." I had the post-CLUS blues for about a week following the event. I experienced the same in Orlando. What is interesting to me is that I used to not give it a second thought. It was done and so was I. 

Evolution of an Experience

The first time I went to Live! it was the last year it was called Networkers and my experience was all about the technical sessions. It was the first time I was in Vegas and the only people I knew were my colleagues and Cisco account team members. It was a good time and I immediately saw the value in this event but it wasn't what I would call an "experience". It was just something that happened in my general proximity. I was part of the audience not part of the event itself.

Community and the CSC

Over time, my interests at Live! evolved into a more balanced focus on establishing/maintaining relationships and the technical content. In 2011 my Live! experience started to revolve around several "Communities". Especially the Cisco Support Community (CSC, formerly "NetPro").

In 2011, 2012, and 2014 I was fortunate enough to be selected as a member of the CSC Designated VIP program. One of the perks of membership was that CSC sponsored my attendance at Live!. I totally appreciate that but it isn't the coolest part of the experience. One of the things I look forward to when coming to Live! now is meeting the other VIPs. They are very interesting and talented people. Many of them are low key individuals who simply like to help others solve problems. It is a great community and I am happy to be a part of it. Even if life sometimes affects the degree of participation from time to time.


Live 2014 - CCIE/NetVet Reception - Only 1/2 the peeps
The NetVet program is a program extension to the Live! conference where addicts get some added bennies. At least, that is how I characterize it. You get access to a special lounge area (which was really nice this year), a free e-book (that I usually forget about, doh!), priority schedule (really, really key), and you get a nifty lanyard for your badge that lets everyone know that you are an addict. I wear it proud.

Live 2014: Old Friends, Yeah right!

Last year I was also able to participate in the NetVet reception with John Chambers. This event requires NetVet status and an active CCIE/CCDE cert. I really enjoyed the experience in 2013. In 2014, it was sort of a bust for me. This has more to do with the number of attendees and the size of the space than anything else. Regardless, being a NetVet certainly enhances the Live! experience. I mean, you get a special lanyard. What's not to like about that! 

Tech Field Day Roundtable

This year marked the first time I was selected to be a delegate at the Tech Field Day roundtable at Cisco Live. Let me just say, wow. It is certainly an honor (from my PoV) to be asked to participate. I have a simple rule that ties into the overall theme of this blog entry: Any time you are asked to participate in an event like Tech Field Day, your answer is "yes". Don't even think about it. Sessions scheduled? Who cares, say yes. Not sure if you have anything to contribute? Suck it up, say yes. Feeling sleepy? Are you kidding me? say "YES".

I wasn't sure I would have anything to contribute and I was fine with that. Just getting the opportunity to sit in on a session with some of the standard delegation is worth it. Catching up with Tom Hollingsworth (@networkingnerd), bonus. Getting to meet Stephen Foskett (@SFoskett), double bonus. Getting to sit side by side with some of my favorite bloggers, twitter rockstars, etc.  Forget about it. 

I enjoyed the opportunity immensely and I am impressed with how they run the program. If you aren't familiar with Tech Field Day, go check it out ( You'll be glad you did. 

Social Ecosystem

I consider the communities I belong to or have participated in as part of an overall social ecosystem. Communities or groups operate independently of each other, sometimes they intersect, sometimes they cross pollenate, and sometimes they collide. A few years ago, there used to be a small group of Twitter folks who would congregate in an ad-hoc space dynamically spawned in the middle of the Live! event. 

I started to actively participate in the Tweetups and associated social media gatherings in 2012 (IIRC). I enjoy having a real face-to-face conversation with people where the majority of my interaction prior to this human touch was via their tweets or blog or podcast, whatever. That is cool enough, but when you discover that they know who you are and/or follow your blog/tweets/etc.? Well, that is just awesome.

In 2013 (Orlando) there was a noticeable evolution in the social media experience at Live! The change was so dramatic that it entirely changed the way I view the event. This was even more pronounced this year. In just three (?) years, the thing that started as "Tom's Corner" and was just a small satellite circling a large planet gained incredible mass and became damn near central to the entire experience. I am not kidding.

Cisco Live 2014 Social Media Group Pic
I think it is pretty awesome myself. Of course, one can't help but feel small by comparison. Because it is no longer a single Social Media community built around twitter. No, it is now a living Social ecosystem that is comprised of numerous communities spun from the thread of various media channels, thoughts, disciplines, and ideas. Nothing worth while is ever about a single individual or group. The reason the Social Media ecosystem you heard about or experienced at Live! has a deep and lasting impact is because it is organic, alive, and very human.

Wrap It Up...For Now

Over time, my Live! agenda shifted from focusing on the event itself to focusing on the people at the event. I am no longer a member of the audience. I am part of the event. Connected, in a very real way, to the others in my industry. My part is a small part but it is still more rewarding than any previous experience I have had at the event. 

Thanks for reading. If you have time, post a comment!

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