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.