It’s a bittersweet morning for me. I’m sitting in McCarren Aiport in Las Vegas about to leave to head home after Cisco Live 2011. Cisco Live is the annual convention that brings together Cisco customers, partners, and employees for fun and learning. I have been an annual Cisco Live attendee each year since 2006, so I’ve been everywhere from Anaheim to Orlando. This year, however, was the best Cisco Live ever. This is thanks, in no small part, to the amazing people I met in my short six days. I’m going to break things down by day simply because there was so much that happened that it would look like a trainwreck otherwise. Although, it’s probably going to look like a trainwreck anyway.
I arrived Saturday around noon and immediately ran into Jeff Fry. After we collected our baggage and hailed a cab to the Mandalay Bay, I deposited my luggage in my room and decided that watching TV wasn’t the most exciting thing to be doing. Jeff and I grabbed lunch by the Cisco Live registration desk and got to register early when the desk opened about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Jeff is kind of Cisco-famous thanks to an excellent guide he wrote for first-time Cisco Live attendees, so when we found Leslie, one of the coordinators, she handed both of us a special ribbon for our name badges that allowed us to display our Twitter handles for the world to see. I had my own little addition to the conference badge, a little insert that had the Packet Pushers logo and denoted me as one of the hosts. I figure a little advertising never hurts, right? Once we got the new conference bag, we walked over to the tables just outside the registration desk and just hung out for a bit. I knew that some of my tweeps were coming into town, so I decided to let them know where I was so they could stop by and say hello. I ran into Jon Nelson, my old nemesis from the Cisco Collaboration Code game from last year, where Jon took home an iPad. We chatted with Jon and Jeff and lots of other people that just dropped by to meet me. I even had someone come over from the registration desk because he recognized my voice from Packet Pushers and wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed listening, which always makes me feel good. Darby Weaver stopped by to congratulate me on passing the CCIE, something that a lot of people would do throughout the week. We finally wound down a lazy day one by hitting the buffet. Little did I know what was going to happen…
Sunday was interestingly busy. I didn’t have any sessions until the late afternoon, but most everyone else was in Techtorials for the whole day. Left to my own devices for once, I walked back down to the tables outside registration and just parked myself there, hoping to meet some more tweeps arriving that day. What shocked me is the amount of people stopping by to meet me and then sticking around to hang out. I honestly thought it would be a quick “hello” followed by people wandering off to look around. Instead, we got a Tech Field Day-style hangout area that just kept growing and growing throughout the week. Right around lunch, I even got to meet Amy, who remarked, “You’re taller than you sound on Twitter.” After lunch with Amy and her crew, I resumed my post at the registration tables, which quickly became the Unoffical Tweetup location for the first couple of days. This was especially funny, as I had tweeted before the conference that while there might be an official tweetup at the Customer Appreciation Event on Wednesday night, the unofficial location would be wherever I happened to be drinking. As Sunday wound down, those of us registered for the Cisco Collaboration welcome session and reception started filtering to the breakout rooms. We probably should have avoided the session, as Amy, Doug Bineti and I spent more time heckling people than anything else. The reception, on the other hand, was wonderful. Instead of being herded into half the Eyecandy Lounge, we got to spread out and occupy the whole thing. It was also better this year because I wasn’t battling Jon for Collaboration Codes. After we wound that party down, my friends from Wireless Field Day told me I should come hang out with them. After walking all the way to the Bellagio and back, we settled on a few beers at New York, New York and eventually back at Eyecandy. This would be the first of many nights where sleep was merely a suggestion.
Monday I found out that the Unofficial Tweetup location had been renamed to “Tom’s Corner” in honor of me sitting there for the past two days. It was a little humbling to say the least, but the name caught on like I couldn’t believe. I had a couple of sessions during the day, but I was really looking foward to the opening of the World of Solutions (WoS). I was a little sad this year, though, because I found out that my favorite game, the Cisco Challenge, wasn’t going to be around this year. I ran into my friends from the Cole Group that have done such an amazing job every year doing the Challenge, so at least I got to catch up with them. Monday was also the day that I discovered that my phone was dying rather fast due to my constant use to keep upon Twitter. I usually had to go back to the room and charge it at some point. Just glad I reverted it to iOS 4.3.3. I recorded a special Cisco Live edition of Packet Pushers with Greg Ferro and Tony Mattke just to let our listeners know what was going on here this week. At noon, I ran into Stephen Foskett hanging outside the registration desk. I walked over and spent some time catching up with him and told him I was excited to attend his party later that evening, a themed affair called “Everyone Comes to Rick’s”, after Casablanca. After more chit-chat with Stephen and Jennifer Huber, the Wireless Queen, I bounded off to take my CCDE written exam. I figured since I had a free shot this year with no pressure to recertify anything, I’d give this exam a shot since it had bested me since I took the beta version two years ago. This time, I squeaked by about twenty points above the mark, so I finally got to best this challenging test. I headed back to my corner to await the WoS repception. At 4:30 on the dot, a sea of nerds streamed into the WoS for free beer and t-shirts. I made a beeline to the Certifications Lounge to pick up my all-important silver CCIE ribbon and glass mug gift. I noticed they were doing airbrush CCIE logo tattoos for a little bit of fun (more on this later). I collected the conference t-shirt, which was once again back to the “US Tour” design this year, a very welcome change. I walked over to the Cisco Collaboration Booth and ran into the people there than recognized me from my previous battle last year. They encouraged me to play the game, and I obliged by entering some codes. Thanks to the experience I had from last year, it didn’t take long for me to find all the codes I could and put them in for a chance to win a Cisco Cius. I departed the WoS and headed up to Paris to hang out at Rick’s (actually Steven’s). Before I departed, I ran into CCIE #1026, Terry Slattery. I always enjoy talking to Terry, and I invited him to Stephen’s party just in case he wanted something to do. Stephen’s party was a great time. I bumped into lots of people I knew from Packet Pushers and Tech Field Day, as well as some new people. Fun was had. Wine was consumed. Pictures were taken of my bald spot (once again). In fact, the pictures from Stephen’s NEX-5 camera were so good, many of them ended up becoming new Twitter avatar pics (mine included). I ended up chatting quite a bit and closing down the reception. After thanking Stephen and Jennifer for such a great time, I caught a cab back to the Luxor with Terry Slattery himself. As we walked through the Luxor, I got a chance to talk shop with this legend and learn quite a few things. It was another humbling experience to get to talk to such a great person, one that was greatly appreciated. On the way back to the Mandalay Bay, I ran into Brandon Carroll, Chris Jones, and Tony Mattke and turned around to go to Ri Ra, a great little Irish Pub in Mandalay Place. After a few more drinks, including some I had to chug in one sitting, we finally called it a night around 2 am, ready for the pain that was coming the next day.
Tuesday morning was better than I thought. I wasn’t hungover, just a little tired. Guess Stephen’s parties aren’t the draining after all. Either that, or massive amounts of bourbon are a good thing. I went to my morning session like a good boy, but ended up leaving a little early to head down to Tom’s Corner. Since yesterday, they had made a sign for our tables denoting they were for “Tom and his Twitter Friends”. Kellen Christianson even made Tom’s Corner a 4square check in location. I got a big kick out of that one. Once the John Chambers Keynote got started, I finally got to have a great seat on the floor with the other CCIE NetVets that are annual attendees like myself. The keynote was good, as usual, with John laying out some new areas of focus and talking about his vision for Cisco. After the keynote, we raided the WoS once again for more t-shirts and backpacks. I got a text message from Kira, the wonderful person in charge of the Destination: Collaboration game this year. She told me that she “might” have a cool prize for me and that I should stop by and see her. Once I arrived at the booth, she told me that I had won the first Cisco Cius giveaway! I was elated to be holding this new unified communications endpoint in my hands, as I had seen a big push from Cisco to turn this into a central hub for voice, video, and data communications in the coming months. And now I had my very own to play with! I ran back to the room to start charging it while I recorded yet another Packet Pushers episode with Greg, Ethan Banks, Kurt Bales, and Nicholas Michel about the CCIE exam. My useless hotel internet connection cut out a few times in the recording, but we had a great time overall. I returned the World of Solutions for a little more exploration and saw that the Learning@Cisco folks were offering a free CCIE t-shirt to anyone willing to get the CCIE airbush tattoo on their lower back, a look commonly referred to as a “tramp stamp”. When I asked the artist, he said that he hadn’t don’t one yet. After speaking with Julia, I decided that I would give it a shot. Once I jumped in with both feet, Marko Milivojevic sacrificed some of his pride as well and got a matching tattoo. Several pictures were snapped, but little did I know what was in store for me. I went back to my corner to await another perk of being a CCIE NetVet, the reception with John Chambers. Jeff and Hank Yeomans went with me and we had a good time. While I won’t divulge what was discussed out of respect for John’s candor, I will say that my first CCIE NetVet question was met with a round of applause. I even got to take my picture with John and my new Cius!
After the reception, we headed to the buses for the CCIE party. I was pumped to attend this year, as I had heard good stories about last year. We went to Madame Tussad’s House of Wax for food and drink and socializing. However, the number of people and guests overwhelmed the catering staff and the layout of the museum was not conducive to a living, breathing event. Lots of people knotting up to take pictures and drink beer led to stuffy conditions and more than a little disappointment. The funniest part of the whole party involved that picture of Marko and me. Thanks to tagging the original tweet with the Twitter hashtag for the CCIE party, every retweet kept showing up on the monitors there. It wasn’t uncommon to see the photo four times in a row. We headed back a little early and ended up spending the night at Ri Ra once again, where I ate the largest order of fish and chips I’ve ever seen in my life (and I ordered the small). There was a little more sleep, but I was still running on a deficit. The week was starting to catch up with me, and my batteries were running low. That would change on Wednesday morning.
Instead of going to my morning session, I was invited by Aneel Lakhani and Brian Gracely to head over and take a tour of the SuperNAP facility in Las Vegas. Besides knowing it was a datacenter, I knew very little about it. I’m going to have a separate blog post about it later, but suffice it to say that I was blown away by what I saw in there. On the way back from SuperNAP, I found out that someone had created a Twitter account dedicated to my little slice of Cisco Live, @TomsCornerCLLV. I was completely amused by this little sentiment. It was once again humbling to see what your friends will come up with sometimes. When we arrived back and the Mandalay Bay, Stephen and Jennifer showed me a box full of swag leftover from their party two days previous that they were trying to find something to do with. I volunteered to take it off their hands because last year my coworkers devoured my leftover pile of trinkets before I knew what happened. I figured 18 pounds of various stuff should be enough to keep them occupied for a few hours at least. Upon arrival, I was informed the Carlos Dominguez had taken the CCIE Tramp Stamp photo and put it up on the main screen right before Padmasee Warrior’s tech keynote that morning. Some people might have been mortified having their backside shown to 15,000 people on site and thousands more watching on the Internet, but not me. Marko and I were happy that Carlos referred to us as “our two brightest CCIEs” in his description. I took my time on Wednesday afternoon, going to one class and lounging around in the NetVet area as well as the Corner. I was invited to talk to a program manager for the Cisco support website over dinner and spent some productive time giving my opinion about some proposed changes that I can’t wait to see. Afterwards, it was time to hop on the bus for the Customer Appreciation Event (CAE)! We rode out to the M Resort just south of Las Vegas proper. Once on site, we picked up our flashy new hats (literally) and I headed over to find the official tweetup spot in the Chill Lounge. I spent most of my time there, shooting the breeze with the Twitter folks as they filtered in and out of the party. Some of my fellow tweeps were lucky enough to have a VIP cabana right by the stage to watch OK Go and Train rocking the house. By all accounts, this was one of the best CAEs in recorded history. I had a blast myself just hanging around, occasionally venturing out to listen to some music. I was later told there was a nefarious plot to introduce me to the pool in a most unflattering way, but I was luckily able to be conspicuously absent during this vile attempt to wash off my newest decoration. After the buses ran us back to the hotel, we descended on Ri Ra once again to do as much damage to their stocks of beer and bourbon as possible.
The last day of Cisco Live started out with one cracked eye and Herculean effort to drag myself into Shannon McFarland’s IPv6 class. I’m glad I hauled my aching body there, as the talk was amazing simply due the amount of great information that was presented, not to mention the extra 140 slides hiding in the material that weren’t presented on. I went back to the Corner as time ticked down to the closing keynote. Around noon, all of the Twitter folks around the corner headed over to take a picture with the giant Cisco Live sign that you see at the beginning of this post. While this is a fairly popular thing for people to do during the conference, I doubt that having 25 people in front of the sign is a common occurrence. After lunch, we headed over to the closing keynote with Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. Literally seconds before Carlos got on stage to interview TJ Hooker, he spotted me in the crowd and ran over for a quick picture.
The Shatner keynote/interview was very good. He wasn’t afraid to poke fun at his hosts and was a very funny guy overall. He strikes me as a man that knows his audience and knows how to play to them. Once we finished up with Denny Crane, I went back to my room and packed up all the swag I could fit into my suitcase in prep for leaving the next day. I still ended up having to ship myself some things back, a first for me in six years of Cisco Live. After shipping my junk off to parts unknown, I walked back over to Tom’s Corner for one last hurrah. We closed the place down in style, only relinquishing our seats when the guy came to take them from us. Afterwards, we learned that trying to seat 25 people at one restaurant in Vegas is like hitting the progressive jackpots – unlikely under even the best of circumstances. We ended up splitting the group between two restaurants for one last tweep dinner. As people left to pack up and get some rest, several Twitter folks gave our last regards to Ri Ra. We even managed to chase Leslie out of her room for one last hurrah. This might have been what we in Information Technology like to refer to as “a bad thing”, as Leslie was so entertaining that we ended up nearly closing down the bar. Good times were had by all and it was a little sad to see everyone heading back to hotel rooms one last time.
My previous Cisco Live events have all been fun. Even so, I only knew five or six people there at best. This year was nothing short of amazing. I was hanging out with twenty and thirty people at a time. There was always something to do or someone to talk to. Lots of heckling and razzing for everyone. The parties were that much better with people to hang out with. And when we didn’t have a place to gather, we made one. I can wholeheartedly say that this was the most fun I’ve ever had anywhere. I owe it all to my friends, old and new. As I said at our last party at Ri Ra, “Thanks to all my imaginary friends for making me want to come to Cisco Live, and thanks to all my new real life friends for making Cisco Live the best ever.” I honestly can’t wait to go to San Diego in 2012 and see what is in store for us there. As long as we all show up ready to have fun, I have no doubt that it will be just as amazing as Cisco Live 2011 was.
I would like to thank all of my tweeps that showed up to hang out with me at Tom’s Corner and other places. In no particular order:
Amy Arnold, Brandon Carroll, Bob McCouch, Chris Jones, Tony Mattke, Aaron Conaway, Teren Bryson, Doug Bineti, Ed Weadon, Scott McDermott, Kellen Christensen, Blake Krone, Andrew von Nagy, George Stefanick, Jennifer Huber, Stephen Foskett, Terry Slattery, Pilot Mike, Darby Weaver, Chris Marget, Patrick Swackhammer, Mario Gingras, Jody Lemoine, Hank Yeomans, Jeff Fry, Dane DeValcourt, Marko Milivojevic, Steve Rossen, Oleg Konovalov, Erik Peterson, Jay Franklin, Ralph Olsen, Gideon Tam, John McAlpine, Ryan Adzima, Mr. Tugs, David West, Matt Reath, Shannon McFarland, Jon Nelson, Joe Papesh, Bryan Baize, James Key, Kira Swain, and last but not least Leslie Hasvold.