For the fourth year, I’m spending a week’s vacation in Las Vegas attending Interop. What started with Stephen Foskett inviting me to participate in a Tech Field Day Roundtable at Interop 2013 has become a tradition, thanks to the courtesy of Interop PR. I’ve experienced all four hotels in the Mandalay strip, learned the secret identity of airline chicken, and met some great people with great projects and products and the occasional interesting vending machines.
YOU CAN’T SEE MY HAT
My coworkers were in large part confused that I would take vacation time, come to Las Vegas mostly on my own dime, and act like I don’t have a day job. When I did things like this during my employment with Disney, I’d “leave my ears at home,” as I did for the Tech Field Day events. Cisco doesn’t have iconic ears, and I don’t have a bridge hat (as Teren Bryson suggested yesterday). But I still leave work behind.
You’re not going to be able to leave your experience and expertise behind, of course, and there are enough folks out there who know who I work for, but my work phone, work laptop, work business cards, and work identity are left behind for the duration of an event like this.
There’s always going to be a concern about whether you can effectively leave your hat (or ears) behind. For me, this leads to being proactive and even a bit paranoid when it comes to dealing with certain vendors in my sans-hat mode. I wouldn’t do a private server briefing with one of the other two big server vendors even if invited, for example.
But there are “mild overlap” vendors who, if they’re okay with it, I’m happy to talk with. Shuttle and Netgear come to mind, and I’d talk to SuperMicro about some of their motherboard offerings, since there is enough space between some of their offerings and what my employer works with.
Ultimately it’s a negotiated dance. I provide a disclosure before setting up a meeting or agreeing to attend a vendor event. If the vendor is okay with it and I am as well, and it doesn’t present a perceivable conflict of interest, I can get pretty interested in all sorts of technology. And I’ll share what I can.
WIRELESS BIG DATA??
I started Interop 2016 off with George Stefanick’s “Building and Managing Effective Wi-Fi” breakout session. I deal with Wi-Fi every day, although I’ve rarely had to do it for a living (which might explain why I still have some of my hair). So I come into a session like this knowing enough to know what I don’t know.
George started off with a roll call, seeing who were management (surprisingly they were not sent back to the bar), who were practitioners, who were Wi-Fi focused, and who were bloggers/reporters. I had to acknowledge the last of those, and later learned that George was surprised that a big data guy was sitting in his Wi-Fi seminar. (I’d love to get into how you can use big data to optimize wireless networks and customer experience, and maybe someday I will. But not today.)
He explained that the roles within IT have changed, expanded, and specialized over the last few years–it used to be that the same person did LAN, WAN, firewall, and then wireless when it came into the scene. Today, you’ll have a Wi-Fi guy (maybe even George) who knows what he knows very well, but knows what he’s not specialized in.
“Don’t ask me about big data, Rob,” he said, in my second callout of the session. I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t expect George to ask my opinion on QAM256 and WMM optimization, because I’m the first to admit I can acknowledge and spell them but not explain them.
But despite my shortcomings, I got a lot out of the session, and will be checking out some of the tools George demonstrated today for my POHO wireless infrastructure. There are some really amazing and really expensive tools out there (Fluke’s Aircheck Wireless Tester for example, in the $2-3k range from what Google tells me) but there are a lot of really amazing and free or nearly-free tools out there as well. And maybe I don’t need another AP in the dining room after all.
And as an aside, I learned that Wi-Fi is not an abbreviation or acronym for anything. And now you know it too.
One of the first things George mentioned in his session was the concept of “FOUR THINGS.” That is, he likes to walk away from a session like this with four things he can take back to the office and use. It’s a great way to digest and later convey an hour, three hours, or a whole day of seminars when you have to get some value imparted to coworkers, family, or the guy on public transit who really wants you to know he bought those shrimp fresh off the boat in the middle of the desert.
While I mention #interop4things as a hashtag here, inspired by Gideon Tam (who was in another session this morning), it’s hard to get your four take-homes into one tweet. I hate lengthy serialized tweets, so while you could do “#interop4things (1/32)” I can’t advocate that. But it’s worth considering as you’re reviewing your notes (as I’m doing now), so you have some feedback to share with people who missed the event, or with people who want to hear what you got out of the session.
My first #interop4things item from George’s session is something every IT practitioner, IT manager, and business person should take to heart constantly. It’s worth at least 4 things if you ask me, and since you’re reading my site, well, you did.
Just because you can,
doesn’t mean you should.
In this case George was talking about making things wireless. Just because it can be wireless doesn’t mean it should be. Wiring up printers, storage devices, cameras, and maybe even access points will make a lot of sense in most environments, even if they have Wi-Fi capabilities. Every new device on a wireless network takes up resources and can cause contention. Might as well use fixed networking for devices that are critical to the environment, so that they don’t add to the noise and suffer directly from the perils.
But it’s also important to extrapolate that to most decisions you make.
How many times has someone asked “why don’t we just use this new tool?” Sure, you have five other Wiki platforms, three other ticketing platforms, two configuration management platforms, and a perfectly usable laptop that just feels geriatric at 4 months of age. But there’s a new shiny.
Think about what your new shiny can do that you aren’t doing with your current somewhat-shiny, and whether a new tool and its uptake time are really warranted as opposed to some engineering effort (or maybe some new stickers) to make your current somewhat-shiny do what you need.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
I’m feeling mildly masochistic, so I am sitting in on Kirk Byers python for network administrators course today. He does a version of this course online as well, for those of you who couldn’t get to Interop or took another session today.
And I’d recommend checking out my Strata+Hadoop World post from last week, as the second part should go out in the next 23 hours or so.
And if you feel like sharing, let me know which sessions you took on Monday and Tuesday and what your #interop4things are, in the comments below.
 Interop provided a media pass at no cost to me, allowing me full access to the event’s tracks and activities as well as lunch and coffee. They do not review or endorse the content I produce from the event, although they definitely want to see it.
 I work for Cisco’s Americas Partner Organization, but I have taken PTO, paid for my own travel expenses (air/hotel/dinners), and turned off IM/email for the week to cover Interop as an independent blogger. I will say hi to any Cisco folks I recognize here (Cisco is a top tier sponsor of Interop), and won’t let them scan my badge in the expo, but I’m here as rsts11/Indyramp Consulting for the week.