Moscone Madness

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The Moscone Center in San Francisco is a popular place for technical events.  Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) is an annual user of the space.  Cisco Live and VMworld also come back every few years to keep the location lively.  This year, both conferences utilized Moscone to showcase tech advances and foster community discussion.  Having attended both this year in San Francisco, I think I can finally state the following with certainty.


It’s time for tech conferences to stop using the Moscone Center.


Let’s face it.  If your conference has more than 10,000 attendees, you have outgrown Moscone.  WWDC works in Moscone because they cap the number of attendees at 5,000.  VMworld 2014 has 22,000 attendees.  Cisco Live 2014 had well over 20,000 as well.  Cramming four times the number of delegates into a cramped Moscone Center does not foster the kind of environment you want at your flagship conference.

The main keynote hall in Moscone North is too small to hold the large number of audience members.  In an age where every keynote address is streamed live, that shouldn’t be a problem.  Except that people still want to be involved and close to the event.  At both Cisco Live and VMworld, the keynote room filled up quickly and staff were directing the overflow to community spaces that were already packed too full.  Being stuffed into a crowded room with no seating or table space is frustrating.  But those are just the challenges of Moscone.  There are others as well.

I Left My Wallet In San Francisco

San Francisco isn’t cheap.  It is one of the most expensive places in the country to live.  By holding your conference in downtown San Francisco, you are forcing your 20,000+ attendees into a crowded metropolitan area with expensive hotels.  Every time I looked up a hotel room in the vicinity of VMworld or Cisco Live, I was unable to find anything for less than $300 per night.  Contrast that with Interop or Cisco Live in Las Vegas, where sub-$100 are available and $200 per night gets you into the hotel of the conference center.

Las Vegas is built for conferences.  It has adequate inexpensive hotel options.  It is designed to handle a large number of travelers arriving at once.  While spread out geographically, it is easy to navigate.  In fact, except for the lack of Uber, Las Vegas is easy to get around in than San Francisco.  I never have a problem finding a restaurant in Vegas to take a large party.  Bringing a group of 5 or 6 to a restaurant in San Francisco all but guarantees you won’t find a seat for hours.

The only real reason I can see for holding conferences at Moscone, aside from historical value, is the ease of getting materials and people into San Francisco.  Cisco and VMware both are in Silicon Valley.  Driving up to San Francisco is much easier than shipping the conference equipment to Las Vegas or Orlando.  But ease-of-transport does not make it easy on your attendees.  Add in the fact that the lower cost of setup is not reflected in additional services or reduced hotel rates and you can imagine that attendees have no real incentive to come to Moscone.


Tom’s Take

The Moscone Center is like the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.  While both have a history of producing wonderful events, both have passed their prime.  They are ill-suited for modern events.  They are cramped and crowded.  They are in unfavorable areas.  It is quickly becoming more difficult to hold events for these reasons.  But unlike the Cotton Bowl, which has almost 100 years of history, Moscone offers not real reason to stay.  Apple will always be here.  Every new iPhone, Mac, and iPad will be launched here.  But those 5,000 attendees are comfortable in one section of Moscone.  Subjecting your VMworld and Cisco Live users to these kinds of conditions is unacceptable.

It’s time for Cisco, VMware, and other large organizations to move away from Moscone.  It’s time to recognize that Moscone is not big enough for an event that tries to stuff in every user it can.  instead, conferences should be located where it makes sense.  Las Vegas, San Diego, and Orlando are conference towns.  Let’s use them as they were meant to be used.  Let’s stop the madness of trying to shoehorn 20,000 important attendees into the sardine can of the Moscone Center.

Cisco Live 2014 – Recap

CLUS Social Media

Cisco Live Twitterati and Social Media Rockstars

Cisco Live 2014 was a rollicking fun ride from start to finish this year.  Lots of people to see and things to do.  The social media aspect of Cisco has come full circle as well.  No longer are social folks trying to borrow chairs at lunch tables or finding spots to camp out for keynotes.  Social is integrated into everything now at all levels.  And that’s because of the people.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The Places

Cisco Live seemed a bit spread out this year.  But that’s not the fault of Cisco.  It’s because Moscone wasn’t designed to handle an influx of people like this.  Who has a 25,000 attendee convention?  Cisco Live overwhelmed the place.  You couldn’t walk on the streets without seeing CLUS badges.  Mel’s Drive-In was packed every day.  Moscone was built for a day when 10,000 people was a lot.  Now it’s just too small.  Sessions spread across three buildings.  People loading for the keynote through the tunnels.  Moscone needs an upgrade before CLUS comes back again.

That being said, the location of the Social Media Hub (upgraded to the Social Media Routed Bridge on Foursqure) and the Tweetup area were spot on this year.  Right inside the doors at Moscone South.  Easy to find.  Great to hangout within.  Easy access to keynote monitors.  Except for the ever-present DJ, it was close to perfect.  Seeing how the  hub has grown really makes me proud.  Social is starting to be a bigger part of everything. And that’s because of the people.

The People

People make the event.  Plain and simple.  Cisco Live is like the biggest family reunion you’ll ever get to attend.  Catching up with old friends.  Meeting new ones.  Staying out until the wee hours of the morning discussing routing design with four people you met two hours ago.  Those are the kinds of memories you won’t forget any time soon.

This year was packed with greatness.  People that wanted to get involved.  People that helped make the event bigger than it’s ever been.  The first introduction of the Cisco Champions at Cisco Live.  The Tech Field Day roundtables.  Even walking the show floor and bumping into friends working the booths.  That shows me that the power of a single person on Twitter or on a blog is starting to have a huge impact on the perception of a brand.

One voice makes a difference.  One person can influence a group and bring about change.  Sometimes it’s small, like getting getting friends to meet up to got to lunch.  Other times it’s the CLUS Scavenger Hunt, where dozens of people competed for prizes.  Still bigger is the Sunday evening tweetup, where 150 social media rockstars showed how powerful our voices can be.  It’s important to remember that people are watching the things you say.  You can have an impact.  When you realize that, you’ll know just how powerful you can truly be.

Tom’s Take

I was talking with Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) during the Customer Appreciation Event about how far we’ve come since Tom’s Corner just a few years ago.  In fact, we took a pic that someone remarked “made us look like proud parents”.

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We are proud parents.  But only because our kids, namely you, have shown everyone how to make it on their own in the crazy social media world.  We’re a community now.  This isn’t a club or a clique.  This is about awesome people coming together to be a part of something greater.  That’s what gestalt means.  We’re greater than the sum of our parts.  Cisco Live is our chance to shine.  Sure, we have goofy jokes.  We give each other bats and t-shrts and tiaras.  But that’s because we want to show each and every one how important they are.

Every year we have more people at Cisco Live.  We have more and more people joining the community.  But we also have those that can’t make it back for one reason or another.  They are always missed.  But it does show everyone how the community keeps going every year.  And that’s what makes me the most proud.  That the community can and will endure.

Thanks to everyone that said “hello” during Cisco Live.  Thanks also to Cisco and their great staff for making CLUS 2014 so amazing.  We always appreciate everything you do for us.  Next year in San Diego is shaping up to be epic again.  Let’s make our voices heard once more!

The SDNicorn

SDNicorn and the CLUS Princess

SDNicorn and the CLUS Princess

Cisco Live is a conference full of characters. Larger than life people like Scott Morris (@ScottMorrisCCIE) and Terry Slattery. Even I’ve been known to indulge in the antics sometimes. Remember the tattoo? This year, I wanted to do something a little different. And with some help from Amazon I managed to come up with one the best and worst ideas I’ve ever had.

The SDNicorn

Why a unicorn head? It’s actually an idea I’ve had for Networking Field Day for quite a while. The Wireless Field Day folks already have their own spirit mascot: the polar bear.

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I wanted to give the networking folks their own mascot. What better animal than the unicorn? After all, when things just seem to happen for no reason, who says it isn’t because of unicorns? In addition, Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) of Cisco is a huge unicorn fan. If you’re going to go for something, go all the way right?

The SDNicorn Rides Again

When I pulled the mask out at the Sunday evening tweetup, it got a huge round of applause. People started lining up for pictures with me. It was a bigger reception than I could have hoped for.

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I thought it would have a few laughs then I would retire the unicorn head until the next day. That’s when it took on a life of its own. I started looking for picture ideas. Rob Novak (@Gallifreyan) got a picture of me drinking an energy drink.

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It is unicorn fuel after all. The best part came when a random group of Cisco interns shooting video for an executive event asked me to put on the mask for a quick pickup shoot. That’s how you know you’ve made an impact.

The rest of the event was just as fun for me. I wore it to the CCIE party when Amy Arnold (@AmyEngineer) got a great shot of me enjoying wine.

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George Chongris (@th1nkdifferent) got a nice selfie too.

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A few people even remarked that I was a little bit scary. I took the mask down to the World of Solutions and ran into Mike Dvorkin (@Dvorkinista), where he proceeded to borrow the mask and trot around the WoS asking for hay. I was doubled over with laughter the whole time.

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I also got J. Michael Metz (@DrJMetz) to admit that Dynamic FCoE is really powered by unicorns.  Hat and all.

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The Customer Appreciation Event had to be the highlight, however. I wore the mask with the CAE hat of course. But people started borrowing it to do other things. Bob McCouch (@BobMcCouch) got a great shot of Kale Blankenship (@vCabbage) in the mask enjoying a beer.

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James Bowling (@vSential) was a highlight with his cloud-powered video too.

Tom’s Take

I admit the unicorn was a bit silly. But it was memorable. People have been tweeting about it and writing articles about it already. I plan on bringing the SDNicorn to Networking Field Day 8 this fall as well as VMworld in August. I think this idea has a bit more life left in it yet. At least I’m covering something up instead of showing off again, right?

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Cisco Live 2013 Wrap Up

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Cisco Live 2013 Tweetup Pic 2

Cisco Live 2013 in Orlando is in the books. I’m sitting in the airport once again thinking about what made this year so special. It’s interesting to see the huge number of people coming to events like this. All manner of folks that want to see what Cisco is bringing to the market as well as those that want to talk to the best and brightest in the networking world.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon after taking a direct flight from Tech Field Day 9 in Austin. I made sure to pack a few extra clothes to be sure I’d have something to wear in the Orlando heat. As soon as I arrived and checked into my hotel, I headed down to the registration desk. Once I picked up my NetVet badge, I headed right next door to the Social Media Hub:

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This area has grown substantially since its introduction at Cisco Live 2012.  And when you consider that my original meet up area was a corner table with three chairs, you can help but feel awed at this presentation. I was very impressed to see the lounge aspect fully realized and the ample amount of seating provided a great place for attendees to hang out between sessions. Many of the Twitter folks at Cisco Live like Justin Cohen (@Grinthock) and Patrick Swackhammer (@swackhap) even used the Social Media Hub to watch the keynote addresses and comment on Twitter as they happened. They might have even exceeded their tweet count for a given time period and gotten silenced. It was impressive to see social media being used as the primary method of giving feedback during these big events.

Speaking of social media, the Sunday evening tweetup was a huge success. We had more than 50 people packed into our little corner of the Social Media Hub enjoy good conversation and amazing company. We even got a surprise visit from the former host of Cisco Live, Carlos Dominguez (@carlosdominguez), who stopped by to chat for a bit. We had a chef making Cherries Jubilee along with all the caffeinated and sugary snacks that one could hope for. I jumped on a chair to say a quick “thank you” to all those that attended. Events like this are the way to show the higher ups at Cisco how important social media is to a coherent and vibrant business strategy going forward.

Transportation seemed to be a commonly discussed theme at the event this year, though not usually in a positive manner. While the hotel shuttle system was keeping up rather well with demand and even offered in-bus wifi connectivity, the whole system seemed to break down when forced to cope with large numbers. The CCIE party on Tuesday and Customer Appreciation Event (CAE) on Wednesday both had large numbers of folks waiting for a very small number of buses. The most commonly heard explanation was heavy traffic around the convention center. I would love to believe that, but the fact that a few hundred people were standing around in the oppressive Florida humidity waiting for one of the dwindling spots on the few running buses was what I remember more than anything else. While San Francisco is a much friendlier city for walking I’d rather avoid the issues from this year.

The best part of Cisco Live is the people. I rekindled so many outstanding friendships this year and made quite a few new ones as well. I was astounded at the number of people that would stop me in the hallway to say hello or thank me for writing. Almost everyone was appreciative of the input that I gave into all the social media events. Truth be told, I didn’t really do that much. I helped out with a couple of things here and there, but for the most part I let the incredible Cisco Live Social Media team led by Kathleen Mudge (@KathleenMudge) do everything possible to make the experience amazing. I just wrote a blog post or two about things. If anyone deserves credit, it’s them.


Tom’s Take

I think Cisco is finally starting to get it when it comes to social media. They are pulling out al the stops to enhance the experience through meeting spaces, additional access, and even real time information gathering. For once, it wasn’t an airbrushed tattoo that announced me to the world of Cisco Live 2013. It was this tweet about hotel wifi:

Others such as Blake Krone (@BlakeKrone) got their tweets in the keynotes as well. VMware has always had an edge when it comes to social media in my opinion. This year, Cisco closed that gap considerably. Some of the conversations that I had with decision makers highlighted the ability to involve large numbers of people in a very personal way. Those influencers then spread the word to others in an honest and genuine manner. They are the soul of Cisco Live.

I’m already starting to plan for Cisco Live 2014 in San Francisco. I plan on putting up a poll in the coming months so we can plan a time for the big sign picture instead of leaving it until the last minute. I want to involve everyone I can in submitting suggestions to the Cisco Live Social Media team. Anything you can think of to enhance the experience for everyone will go a long way to making the event the best it can be. From the bottom of my heart I want to say “thank you” to everyone at Cisco Live. See you next year in San Fran!

Cisco Live 2013 Tweetup

CLUSSignIt’s down to one month until Cisco Live 2013!  As usual, this is the time when the breakneck pace of updates starts coming out.  Whether it be about discount Disney World tickets from Teren Bryson (@SomeClown) or the comprehensive update from Jeff Fry (@fryguy_pa), you’ve got your bases covered.  One of the events that I’m most excited about is the official Cisco Live Tweetup.

Twitter has become a powerful medium in the IT industry.  It allows people from all around the world to communicate almost in real time about an increasingly broad list of subjects.  Professionals that take advantage of Twitter to build contacts and solve problems find themselves in a very advantageous position in relation to those that “just don’t get it.”  When a large group of IT professionals gets together in real life, it’s almost inevitable that they all want to get together and hang out to discuss things face-to-face instead of face-to-screen.  That’s the real magic behind a tweetup – putting a living, breathing face to a Twitter handle or odd avatar.

The 2012 Cisco Live Tweetup was a huge success.  Many of us got to catch up with old friends, make some new friends, and generally spend time with awesome folks all over the industry.  The social corner was the place to watch keynotes, troubleshoot problems and even talk about non-nerdy stuff.  After the end of the event, I couldn’t wait to try and top it in 2013.  Thanks to some help from the Cisco Live Social Team, I think we’ve got a great chance.

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The 2013 Cisco Live Tweetup will be held on Sunday, June 23rd at 5:00 p.m. at the Social Media Hub.  It’s on the first floor of the convention center right across from registration.  We’ve got some prime real estate this year to check out all the happenings at Cisco Live!  That also means there will be curious people that want to check out what this whole “social” thing is about.  That means more people tweeting and sharing, which is always a win in my book.  Jeff and I will also have a limited supply of the coveted Twitter flags for your Cisco Live name badge.  While there may be a printed version on the main badge itself, nothing shows your social media plumage quite like a piece of name badge flair.

The 5:00 p.m. start time was chosen by popular vote in an online poll.  I know that there are lots of events that typically run during Sunday, like labs and Techtorials.  In particular, there is a Cisco Empowered Women’s Network event that starts at 4:00.  I don’t want anyone to feel slighted or left out of all the fun at Cisco Live from the need to leave an event just to run to another one.  To that end, I plan on being at the Social Media Hub starting around 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and staying as long as it takes to meet people and welcome them to the Twitter family at Cisco Live.  I want everyone to feel like they’ve had an opportunity to meet and greet as many people as possible, especially if they have to leave to attend a reception or are just coming out of an 8-hour brain draining class.

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Remember that the fun at Cisco Live doesn’t just end with the Tweetup.  We’re planning on having all kinds of fun all week long.  I’m working on the plans to get a 5k run going with Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) and Colin McNamara (@colinmcnamara) for those out there that want to stretch their legs for some great charities.  There are also a couple more surprises in store that I can’t wait to see.  I’ll drop a few hints once those plans come closer to fruition.  I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the people on the Cisco Live 2013 Twitter list as well as meeting some new people.  See you there!

Cisco Live 2013 CAE – Don’t Stop Believing

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Cisco Live 2013 is coming to you this year from Orlando, FL.  After a 5-year absence, everyone’s favorite networking company on Tasman Drive returns to the Sunshine State to bring information and discussion to legions of network rock stars with Open Arms.  However, all work and no play makes networkers very dull.  That’s why there is an event to make us all feel appreciated.

What would Cisco Live be without the Customer Appreciation Event (CAE)?  In the past six years that I’ve attended Cisco Live, I’ve been a part of some very exciting times.  Watching Devo in the middle of San Francisco Bay.  Seeing KISS in Anaheim.  Watching the Barenaked Ladies on stage at the House of Blues in Orlando.  There’s always fun to be had and good time all around at the CAE.  This year promises to be no exception.

Universal entry with Cisco logo

The 2013 Customer Appreciation Event is going to be held inside Universal Studios Florida!  I had a great time in 2008 wandering around the Universal backlot.  I got to ride the rides, see the Back to the Future DeLorean, and watch an awesome concert.  It’s nice to have access to such a wonderful theme park and it’s super nice of them to host 10,000 invading nerds looking for geeky t-shirts and lots of pictures next to the T-800 outside the Terminator 3-D ride.  I’m going to make sure to bring an extra poncho again this year just in case we get one of those famous Florida thunderstorms, but I hope the rain holds off long enough for everyone to have a good time. With all the available attractions at Universal Studios Florida, there’s almost too much to do in one evening.  Really, there’s a good time to be had pretty much Any Way You Want It.  And that’s not even taking into consideration the star attraction for the CAE.

The headline band for the CAE always generates a lot of buzz.  Whether it’s KISS, the B-52s, or Weezer, people want to see the best.  The attendees Faithfully come to the CAE to be entertained.  In the last couple of years, Cisco Live has given fans the opportunity to vote on the headline band for the CAE.  This year’s vote was a close one that included some great artists like Beck and Jane’s Addiction.  But in the end, the fans went their Separate Ways with the other options.  I give you the Cisco Live 2013 headline band:

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The Cisco Live 2013 Customer Appreciation Band – Journey!

Journey!  Folks, I can hear the kareoke now.  While I’m still a huge fan of all the other bands, I think having a headline act with such wide appeal promises to have an epic level of fun for everyone.  I’m really hoping that unlike last year, I’ll get to Stay Awhile at this CAE and enjoy all the entertainment to be had at Universal Studios.  I also hope I get to see all of the awesome attendees there as well.  I promise to keep the Touchin’, Lovin’, and Squeein’ to a minimum.  Okay, I promise I’m done with the Journey puns.  For now.

Cisco Live 2013 is still a few months off, but stay tuned for more great info coming up.  Once I find out who the special guest keynote speaker will be, I’ll be sure to let everyone know.  We’re also in the early stages of planning the big Tweetup and I’ll have the Cisco Live 2013 Twitter list posted soon.  There may also be a few more surprises in store, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.

Cisco Live 2012 – Recap

Cisco Live 2012 Social Media

I knew it was going to be hard to top the great time I had at Cisco Live 2011, but I had great hopes for this year. I flew into San Diego early on Sunday morning. I figured I didn’t do much on Saturday the year before, so Sunday would be a great arrival time. I didn’t even make it out of the airport before I ran into Bob McCouch (@bobmccouch) in the Super Shuttle van. We caught up as we made our way to our respective hotels. The hotel situation in San Diego has been the source of some real consternation, even causing some folks to not be able to attend due to high lodging costs. I think the San Diego area hotels realize that they have their visitors at a premium, so they are charging appropriately for the privilege of staying so close to the convention center and the Gaslamp entertainment area. I’ll definitely be more considerate of places like San Francisco and Las Vegas in the future. Sunday was a bit of a whirlwind. I had been working with the great Cisco Live Social Media Team to try and schedule some times for the people that communicate together on Twitter to meet up and have a little time to catch up before we started the conference proper. I showed up to the convention center and checked in to receive my bag and materials. I then ran into Tony Mattke (@tonhe) and Jeff Fry (@fryguy_pa). We talked for a bit while deciding what to do. I knew the tweetup was going to be at 3 p.m., but I also wanted to take some time to check out other areas, like the NetVet lounge. One of the benefits of coming to Cisco Live as often as I do it the NetVet status. This allows for things like priority seating and access to special lounge. Inside, I picked up my free NetVet Cisco Press book, NX-OS Switching. I’m sure I’m going to need some more stick time on that particular subject. I also quickly linked up with the Cisco website team, as they setup in the NetVet lounge to do surveys and get feedback on the user experience. I work with them frequently as well, so it was good to see them in person once again. I realized that I didn’t have enough time to grab lunch before my scheduled exam, so I rushed over to get in line. I have started taking my exams on Sunday or Monday to cut down on the pressure to find time to study during the week of Cisco Live, as that’s usually impossible. This year, I wanted to attempt the CCIE Data Center Beta written exam, as I’ve blogged about the certification before. I figured it was about time to put my money where my mouth is, even though I’ve got less familiarity with the various platforms (hence the NX-OS book).

It was here that I had my first strange moment. As I was talking with Amy Arnold (@amyengineer) and others, someone came up and told me that they read my blog all the time and thanked me for all the writing that I do. I have to say this was a humbling experience. I still think of myself more as an occasional prognosticator and part-time snarky tech analyst. To have someone approach me out of the blue and give me good feedback about what I’m doing here makes me feel great. Afterwards, I jumped in and took my best shot at the beta. While I can’t disclose what was there, I can say that the test was a great indicator of what will be covered on the exam and I now know where some of my weak areas are when it comes to figuring out what I’m going to need to work on. I got out of the test just in time to get down to the Tweetup area. The Cisco Live team moved things from where I thought we were going to be to a more suitable area. We ended up having about 50-60 people show up, which was a great turnout. The Social Media team provided some refreshments in the form of Frappucinos and Red Bull, along with cookies and other sugary snacks. I had some great conversations and met some outstanding people that I hadn’t talked to before on Twitter. We stuck around for about three hours, since some fellow tweeps were coming from Techtorial sessions. We also wanted to wait for Jay Franklin (@jay25f), as he was taking his CCIE lab on site. Once everyone had caught up, several of us went into the Gaslamp district and had dinner at Mary Jane’s. One thing I will say for social media gatherings: while it’s great to catch up and hang out at dinner together, it’s a bit of pain to try to find a table for 25-30 almost anywhere. Better planning next year, I suppose. The staff at Mary Jane’s was great, and I had an opportunity to talk to @grinthock. After dinner, I went on a mission to a local grocery store to acquire supplies for a joke that would play out on Monday. A walk back to the hotel tired me out enough to make me turn in well before midnight.

Monday started off with me bolting out of bed at 5:15 a.m. local time. Guess my internal clock wasn’t quite adjusted to PDT. I grabbed all my supplies for the day and headed down to the convention center. Breakfast wasn’t served until 7 a.m., so I had a bit of time to catch up on some email and other tasks. After breakfast, I headed up to the NetVet lounge and spent some time talking with the web team. It was there that Jeff Fry and I were told that none other than Carlos Dominguez (@carlosdominguez) wanted to meet up with us and ask us some questions. Opportunities like that don’t come around every day. I skipped my 10:00 session but we were unable to meet up, as Carlos is a very busy guy. Back in the NetVet area, I ran into Shannon McFarland (@eyepv6), who’s class on IPv6 Enterprise Deployment is always good. I was afraid my afternoon schedule might cause me to miss a portion of his class, so I decided to let him in on my joke. I told him on Twitter a few weeks before that I was coming to his class to heckle him. He responded in jest that I was free to do so as long as I didn’t throw fruit. I replied that I was bring watermelons and cantaloupes, and his retort was that was fine so long as I didn’t throw coconuts. Remember my Sunday night trip for supplies? Guess what? I had two coconuts in my backpack. I reminded him that if he didn’t bring the good stuff in his session, I was more than willing to send the projectiles his way. We had a good laugh and set off in separate directions. Alas, I ended up missing his session, as I was called away to do an impromptu Packet Pushers episode. Greg Ferro (@etherealmind) and Ethan Banks (@ecbanks) had come out to Cisco Live to record some great Cisco Virtual Symposium material with Omar Sultan (@omarsultan) from the Data Center and Virtualization team. I just happened to get invited to something a little different. I walked into a podcast with Greg, Ethan, Amy, Wendell Odom (@wendellodom), Scott Morris (@ScottMorrisCCIE), Russ White, and Natalie Timms. The brainpower around the table was overwhelming. We spent a good amount of time talking about certifications, and I was pleased to have a chance to share thoughts with some real stars in the certification arena. I also stayed over to record a Virtual Symposium show with the Packet Pushers team.

Once out of the podcasting, I made it down to the opening of the World of Solutions. I knew that I was going to be running short on time, so I made my way over to the Certifications Lounge to get my CCIE ribbon and spiffy CCIE hat. They once again had the tattoo artist. There were many that were calling for me to get my infamous tattoo once again. There was even talk that Carlos wanted to stop by and see me getting it.  The fates decided to conspire against us and Carlos was delayed. That might have been for the best, as I was going to try to convince Carlos to get one too. Right before I needed to leave for a briefing, I was able to talk Blake Krone (@blakekrone) into doing it with me. We had a great laugh or two and more than a couple of pictures were taken. We sent Twitter buzzing once again with pictures that no one really wanted to see. At this point, though, it’s practically tradition. After a briefing, I finally had a chance to unwind with some friends. Monday night is historically meetup party night, as it’s the only night without an official party scheduled. I had three of them on my calendar and managed to only make the tail end of the INE event. I made it up to the roof just in time to have a quick drink before people started heading for the door. We ended up hanging out with the IP Expert team as well, and many bourbons were had with lots of laughs and good discussion. Little did I know that I would pay for that fun.

Tuesday morning was someone I was both looking forward to and dreading at the same time. Colin McNamara (@colinmcnamara) decided to put together a charity 5K run to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. Being a wounded warrior himself, Colin understands the benefits of helping out. I had been working my way towards running a 5K for many weeks, so I figured I’d put it all out on the line for such a great cause. Alas, 6 a.m. came early for me after a night of revelry. I managed to make it down for breakfast before rushing over to the run course along the oceanside. Colin and the fellow runners were great fun. I pushed myself to keep going the whole way, and Colin helped out by pacing my the whole way. We both crossed the line to the cheers of the assembled runners some thirty minutes or so after we started. I felt drained but exhilarated at being able to do some great things for a deserving charity. Colin was also able to exceed his hopes for funds, as he ended up raising $1700! I know it will go a long way to helping out. I grabbed a quick shower before heading over to the John Chambers keynote address. Mr. Chambers is still a dynamic speaker, and his talk about the directions that he wants to take Cisco in the coming year really set a tone in some areas. I was also interested that the big demo this year involved Location/ID Separation Protocol (LISP), which is a much-discussed technology for reducing routing table size and increasing mobility. You can check out a very in-depth discussion about LISP on Jeff’s Blog. After the keynote, we met up for lunch before heading back into the World of Solutions. I spent some time walking around, but I had to go back to the Certifications Lounge and get a new CCIE Ribbon. Seems they aren’t as water resistant as I might have liked. While in there, I managed to work my magic and talk Marko Milivojevic (@icemarkom) and Colin McNamara into getting my famous CCIE tattoo. I’d managed to increase the CCIE Tramp Stamp club membership by 50% in just a single day, so I was mighty happy to post for yet more pictures. I got a quick chance to meet Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) of the DCV team and her roving reporter Josh Atwell (@Josh_Atwell). They are a hilarious duo that had me in stitches for a bit.

I really wanted to attended my Nexus 5500 architecture class, but I had to miss it due to the CCIE NetVet reception. I walked over to the event with none other than Terry Slattery himself, which is always an honor and a privilege. We rode up to the Ultimate Skybox and enjoyed some refreshment before Mr. Chambers arrived. I got up to go to the restroom, and when I came back John was sitting in my spot. I couldn’t very well ask him to move, so I knelt down beside him as he started asking our group if we had any questions. This really floored me, as the CEO of a major networking company was having one-on-one discussions with engineers about issues that affected them. While he normally has a Q&A, the personal attention this year with a small group really set a tone for things. While I respect the setting and the candor with which the discussion takes place, I can say that Mr. Chambers is very aware of many of the pressing issues that we all feel and things are being examined even as we speak. After our discussion, we headed back to the Tweetup area to gather people before our trip to the CCIE party at the USS Midway museum. We got a chance to get on board a floating aircraft carrier and walk around. There were even some pretty impressive planes on the flight deck that many people were taking pictures next to. While this party was better than the Wax Museum the year before, there were still some issues. San Diego can be chilly at night, especially on the water. The flight deck was a bit cold, even under the provided heaters. The lines for food were also longer than expected, and many people were going back to the end of the line right away, as some portions weren’t large enough to satisfy. I’m still trying to think of logistics on the scale of the CCIE party, and no easy answers come right to mind. Still, I know that Cisco tries hard to have fun and do interesting things for their flagship engineers. We decided to jump out a bit early and head over to Brian’s 24 to meet up with Amy Lewis and the rest of the Data Center team for a “bacon & waffles” tweetup. This consisted of hanging out with a smaller group in a great little diner and stuffing our faces full of breakfast food. Thanks to a warning from Ethan, I manage to not order a large portion of food, but the Stuffed French Toast that I did get was like eating a plate-sized club sandwich. I packed away what I could before calling it a night and heading back to the hotel. Blake Krone’s hotel was so far away that I told him he could room with me, as I had two queen beds and ample room to save him the long walk back to his hotel.

Wednesday was another packed day. We attended the Padma Warrior keynote discussing new technologies like Cisco’s approach to Software Defined Networking (SDN). There’s been some recent buzz around things like OpenFlow and network programmability, so seeing Cisco enter the conversation about them made me perk up and bit and start paying attention. This is certainly something I’ll be looking more into in the future. I also managed to get my picture on the big screen during Carlos’s introduction. Colin, Marko, and I were once again famous for our proud display of the CCIE logo in an embarrassing location. After the keynote, I had the chance to meet up with the Cisco Demo team for a small Q&A session. We talked about the pressure to have demos going off without a hitch on stage and the fun that can be had making new technology accessible to a big audience. I also got the chance to meet Jim Grubb (@jimgrubb) as well as Padma Warrior (@padmasree). I even managed to finally catch up with Carlos! We had a great time, and I supplied Jim and Carlos with little Twitter ribbons for their conference badges to show the power of social media to Cisco Live. I went back to the World of Solutions after lunch to try and grab a t-shirt or two before yet another briefing. My hectic schedule was really cutting into my session time, but the valuable information that I lucked into is going to help a lot down the road. I jumped back into the WoS Social Media lounge to meet up with Mike Fratto (@mfratto) and Narbik Kocharians (@NarbikK). I always love chatting with my good buddy Narbik and picking his brain about some challenging scenarios. With the Customer Appreciation Event looming, I elected to go to dinner with the website user interaction team and give them some feedback about things. I made sure to draw on some of the things that my friends and readers had been telling me in the past few months that have been bothering them about the website. Here’s hoping that we can have some positive changes down the road. However, that made me about two hours late to the CAE, well into the start of Weezer’s program. I worked my way up to the exclusive CAE Tweetup skybox and enjoyed a view of the stage from the comfort of a chair. The CAE ended about 10:30 or so and a good time was had by all. A few of us ventured out into the wilds of San Diego, but I quickly realized that a noisy bar packed with people is not the place for me. I came back to the hotel and crashed due to an 8 a.m. session the next day.

Thursday was a much slower day thankfully. I managed to catch my 8 a.m. class, a great discussion about the CCDE exam as well as the Cisco Certified Architect exam. I’m thinking about writing a blog post specifically about this session, as there were a lot of things discussed that I want to talk about. My session ended and I headed back to the World of Solutions to record a special edition of the Packet Pushers Podcast. With many of the great minds of social media in the WoS, Packet Pushers and the NSA Show thought it would be a great idea to do a kind of “round table interview” style of podcast to get some thoughts and discussion around the things we’d heard about at Cisco Live. I really liked the interaction of the assembled guests and the format worked better than I could have hoped. I’m really looking forward to seeing the final product, so stay tuned to the Packet Pushers. A quick lunch was followed by once again returning for a last swag run through the WoS. I didn’t really come away with much this year, but that’s fine, as I’m still on t-shirt probation with my wife anyway. The closing keynote this year was from none other than the Mythbusters, Adam Savage (@donttrythis) and Jamie Hyneman (@jamienotweet). There were some great stories from them, as well as a couple of special videos that hadn’t been seen before. It was a special chance to hear from some real “geek” legends that inspire people to dig deeper and not accept things at face value. Afterwards, we hopped over to the tweetup area to enjoy a refreshment or two before walking down to the Cisco Live sign to take the picture above. I was really happy to see that this year’s picture was even bigger than last year, even if it didn’t include the occasional random person.

I want to take an opportunity to say a special thanks to the Cisco Live Social Media team for making all of this fun possible. They worked their tails off to address issues and answer questions all week. They were the driving force behind the Tweetup area and the lounge in the WoS. Without their support, this year’s corner wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as it was. I was once again humbled that people were referring to the area as “Tom’s Corner”. However, without the amazing people that I am friends with from social media, it would just be a guy sitting in a chair making snarky comments on Twitter. I’ve said it time and again: Cisco Live is the best because of the people. Whether it be the army of Twitter or the tireless efforts of the social media team, I think we showed the top people at Cisco this year that social media is a big part of what we do. I hope someday to have participation like EMC World or VMWorld. I know that every one of you in the picture above, as well as many others out there have really stepped up to help make the networking pieces of social media such an amazing place. I am once again honored and excited to know each and every one of you and I can’t wait until June 2013 to see you all again in Orlando.