Cisco Live was last week and it was an event full of both relief and worry. Having not seen any of my friends and colleagues during the Geek Summer Camp for since 2019 I was excitedly anticipating how things would go this year. While I was thrilled to see everyone in real life again there were also challenges that presented themselves by the end of the event that we need to discuss as well.
I could spend volumes detailing every little thing that went on but no one really wants to read that kind of discussion. I’ll just summarize some the stuff that I liked, some of it that I didn’t, and some bigger things that everyone needs to think about.
What Worked for Me
I was happy to once more be a part of the CCIE Advisory Council. We have been meeting via Webex for the entire pandemic but there’s just something about being in a room together that fosters conversation and sharing. The ideas that we discussed are going to have a positive impact on the program as we look at what the future of certifications will be. There’s a lot more to this topic than I can cover in just a quick summary paragraph.
I was a bit confused about the Social Media Hub hours on Sunday, so I resurrected my original tweet about meeting people right outside registration:
I had lots of people stop by that morning and say hello. It warmed my heart to see everyone before the conference even started. Thankfully, the Cisco Live social team came out to tell me that you could get to the Social Media Hub even though the show floor wasn’t open yet. I went in and grabbed a comfy chair to await the opening tweetup.
The tweetup itself was a good one. Lots of new faces means lots of people that are getting introduced to the social side of Cisco. That means the community is going to continue to grow and prosper. One point of weirdness for me was when people would introduce me to their friends and such by pointing at the Social Media Hub and saying, “Tom is the reason we have all this.” While that’s technically true it still makes me feel weird because the community it was keeps driving Cisco Live forward. No one person defines it for everyone else.
I enjoyed the layout of the World of Solutions this year because I wasn’t packed in with everyone else elbowing my way through crowded alleys trying to visit a booth. It felt like Cisco put some thought into having ample space for people to spread out instead of trying to maximize space usage. I know that this is partially a result of the COVID pandemic (which we’ll cover more of in a bit) but I wouldn’t be sad to see this layout stick around for a few more years. Less crowded means better conversations.
The keynote was fun for me, mostly because of where I enjoyed watching it. We put together a watch party for the Tech Field Day Extra delegates and it was more fun than I realized. We were able to react live to the presentation without fear of making a calamitous noise in the arena. I had forgotten how much fun the MST3K style of keynote commentary could be.
Lastly, the social media team knocked it out of the park. They were on top of the tweets and answering questions throughout the event. I have some issues with the social media stuff in general but the team did a top notch job. They were funny and enjoyed bantering back and forth with everyone. Social media is hard and doing it as a job is even harder. I just hope we didn’t scar anyone with our tweets.
What I Was Concerned About
Not everything is perfect at events. As someone that runs them for a living I can tell you little things go wrong all the time and need to be addressed. Here are some of the things that happened that made me take a few notes.
The communication across the whole event felt a bit rushed. Like certain things were announced at the last minute or were only announced in certain places. Nailing down the best way to share information is always difficult but when in doubt you need to share it everywhere. If you have access to social media, email, digital signage, and other avenues use them all. It’s better to overshare and remove doubt than undershare and end up fielding questions anyway.
There was some grumbling about the way that some of the social media aspects were handled this year. I think that sentence gets typed every year. Some of it comes down to the focus that stakeholders want to put on certain aspects of the event. If they want more video content that’s going to favor folks that are comfortable recording videos. If they want more long-form written items that naturally prioritizes those that are good at writing. No one is ever going to find the perfect mix but, again, communication is key. If we know what you want to see we can help make more of it.
The other thing that annoys me a bit, specifically about Las Vegas, is the land rush of sponsored parties. On Monday evening I was walking back to the Luxor to my room to drop my backpack and more than half the restaurants and bars I walked past all had banners out front and signs stating they were closed for a special event or booked until a certain time. While I appreciate that the sponsors of the event are willing to go out of their way to spend money and entice attendees to go to their party and hear about how awesome their products are it also creates an artificial crunch for other things. If half the bars are closed then the other half have to pick up the remainder of the hungry people. That means that a half-full exclusive party causes a two-hour wait at a restaurant next door. While this is nothing new in the conference community the lack of other options at the south end of the Las Vegas strip means you’re pretty much stuck taking a taxi to another hotel if you don’t want to wait to have a burger or pizza. In full transparency one of those parties on Monday was one that I attended for the Cisco Champions program but there were also two other parties booked in Ri Ra that night concurrently.
What We Should All Be Asking
Now it’s time for the elephant in the convention center. The reason why we haven’t had an in-person Cisco Live in three years is COVID. We were locked down during the pandemic and conference organizers erred on the side of caution in 2021. 2022 was a hopeful year and many conferences were back to being live events. RSA happened in San Francisco the week before Cisco Live. There were thousands of people there and a reported 16,000 people at Cisco Live.
The reports coming out of Cisco Live were that a lot of people tested positive for COVID after returning home. Cisco had a strict policy of requiring proof of vaccination to attend. Yet people were testing positive as early as Sunday before the conference even started. The cases started rising throughout the week and by the time folks got home on Thursday evening or Friday my Twitter feed was full of friends and colleagues that came back with the extra strength conference crud.
Thankfully no one has been seriously affected as of this writing. Most everyone that I spoke with has said they feel like they have a cold and are tired but are powering through and should be clear to leave quarantine at home by today. I, amazingly, managed to avoid getting infected. I tested every day and each time it came back clear. I’m not actually sure how I managed to do that, as I wasn’t wearing a mask like I really should have been and I was around people for most of the day. I could attribute it to luck but the logical side of my brain says it’s more likely that I caught it sometime in May and didn’t realize it so my body had the latest antibody patch to keep me from coming down with it.
Between RSA and Cisco Live there are a lot of people asking questions about how in-person conferences of size are going to happen in the future with COVID being a concern. RSA was tagged as a “super spreader” event. Cisco Live is on the verge of being one as well. There are lots of questions that need to be asked. Can a conference ensure the safety of the attendees? Are there measures that should be mandatory instead of encouraged? What value do we get from face-to-face interaction? And will the next event see fewer people now that we know what happens when we get a lot of them in one place?
I could go on and on about Cisco Live but the important thing is that it happened. No last minute cancelations. No massive outbreaks leading to serious health problems. We all went and enjoyed the event, even if the result was coming home to quarantine. I went fully expecting to get infected and I didn’t. Maybe I should have done it a little differently but I think a lot of people are saying the same thing now. I hope that Cisco and other companies are encouraged by the results and continue to have in-person events going forward. Not everyone is going to attend for a variety of reasons. But having the option to go means building back the community that has kept us going strong through difficult times. And that’s a reason to see a silver lining.