What a long, strange year it’s been… Year one at Cisco

I’m writing this post on June 23, 2015, from a hotel in Boston. On June 23, 2014, I walked into building 9 on the Cisco campus in San Jose, taking my first job in almost 20 years with no hands-on sysadmin responsibilities. I’ll admit, it was terrifying in a way.

Tell me more, tell me more…

I had just come home a month earlier from Cisco Live 2014 in San Francisco. When I got on the train to go home that Thursday afternoon in May, I couldn’t have told you that it would be my last sponsored visit with Tech Field Day, or my last trade show as a regular customer. But when I woke up the next morning to a voicemail from my soon-to-be manager at Cisco, I made the decision promptly and prepared to hang up my oncall pager.

In the year between last June 23 and this June 23, I seem to have built a personal brand as a big data safari tour guide, complete with the safari hat you see in my profiles around the Internet. I’ve presented to internal sales engineering teams, my VP’s leadership team, partners and customers, vendor theatre audiences at Strata+Hadoop World and Cisco Live, as well as keynoting three Big Data Everywhere events. And in the highest honor so far, I was chosen to give a breakout session at Cisco Live earlier this month in San Diego.

I’ve brought context, proportion, and no small amount of humor to the topic of big data at Cisco, as well as sharing my experience with systems management and real-world Cisco UCS deployment, and while I’ve still got work to do, it’s gone fairly well so far. I’ve had customers say “oh, I’ve read your blog, we’d like to talk to you” and “if you’ve got the hat with you, could you put it on?” I’ve been told that VPs are noticing what I do in a positive sense. And once again I’m pretty well known for my coffee addiction as well.

There have been a couple of downsides… seeing as I’ve gone over the dark side (and still can’t find the cookies), I can’t be a Tech Field Day delegate anymore. I also lost Cisco Champion (although I’m still a Champion Emeritus and a supporter of the program whenever I can be) and PernixPro (for reasons I’m not 100% sure of) status. And of course, the free Disney parks admissions went away very quickly. But the benefits of the change definitely outweigh the downsides; I still get invited to the TFD parties, and I can buy my park hopper passes when I need them.

So where do we go from here?

When this trip is done, I’ll be home for about two months, and will be focusing on some of the more hands-on technical stuff I’ve postponed, with the help of a couple of spare electrical circuits for my home lab. I have a couple of speaking engagements likely on the horizon, and probably some booth babe duty as well.

I’ll also be catching up on my Interop coverage from last month… I feel bad about neglecting a couple of those interviews but a couple of work obligations came up and ate most of May. I still have that citizen-analyst role to play from time to time, even though I don’t have mouse ears to take off to play that role anymore.

But for now, I want to thank everyone who’s made this year of incredible growth possible, from the bosses who (perhaps unintentionally) convinced me to prove that my message had an audience, to friends at Cisco who convinced me that there might be a place for me here, to the leaders and colleagues and partners who continue to remind me regularly that what I have to say matters and helps people both inside and outside Cisco.

I’ll leave you with what was an unexpected cap on the end of year one… I gave my “What could possibly go wrong? Tales from the Trenches of Big Data” talk a third time at Big Data Everywhere in Boston this morning. A reporter from CRN, the channel marketing website, was in the front row taping and taking notes… and my “plan for failure” message resonated enough to get mentioned on CRN today.

I may not be a vice president, but I’m still doing work I love, with people I admire and respect (and who often reciprocate), and who knows, I may end up in your neighborhood soon using 20th century pop lyrics and terrible puns to make sense of big data. See you real soon….

Last minute tips for Cisco Live 2014 in San Francisco

We just had a great Cisco Champion Radio program that was half about Cisco DevNet and half about surviving Cisco Live. The latter was more of a fit for me, and I wanted to open a post with some of the suggestions from that program.

Do you have suggestions for folks who are new to Cisco Live (or who haven’t been to a Live lately)? If so, please share them in the comments below.

1. Apparent apparel

Wear comfortable shoes. Tom @networkingnerd Hollingsworth brought this one up, and I definitely agree. Typical business shoes may seem de rigueur, but there’s a lot of walking between the three buildings of Moscone Center and a lot within each building. So you’ll want something that looks reasonable but is comfortable. Wear what you can stand in all day.

Bring a spare pair of shoes and alternate if you can. And by all means, don’t wear a new pair of shoes for the first time at an event. I’d say go buy your new shoes this week and wear them next week to break them in. Your feet will thank you.

If you’re not direly familiar with San Francisco weather, or even if you are, bring cold/windy weather outerwear. The graphic above is Weather.com’s San Francisco planner. It’s linked to the current forecast page, so if you check after the 15th you’ll see the full week’s forecast. But consider a sweater, a sweater vest, a light jacket, a heavy jacket, a scarf, an anorak, and closed-toed shoes as your personal comfort may require.

2. Time management

Don’t feel the need to fill every session slot. There will be a lot of what LISA calls the “hallway track,” where you can talk to other professionals on an ad-hoc basis. The Social Media Hub is a good place to start, or the DevNet space if you’re more inclined in that direction. Or both!

Don’t feel obligated to attend every after-hours event either. You’ll find half a dozen events every night but you can prioritize, or try putting in an hour at each if you must. Note that some events may be offsite (a few miles away) and the sponsors may not offer transportation after the first hour. You can take taxis or Uber. Consider sharing rides with other attendees to save some money. You can also take MUNI (trains or buses) to AT&T Park (easy on the N or T trains) and to much of the rest of the City.

Do touch base with your favorite vendors to see if they’re hosting special events or receptions. It’s easier to get those arranged (and get on the guest list) before you get there.

3. Food and bev

There will be meals, snacks, coffee, and refreshments during the event, but you may not always be able to get away for them. Bring energy bars, protein bars, and other dry crush-proof snacks (thanks Rick @rickvanover Vanover for this suggestion) so that you can have a quick burst of energy between sessions even if you can’t get something to eat. There are places to buy them near Moscone if you prefer to shop on site.

Bring a water bottle. I recommend a crushable/collapsible bottle for convenience (also works for airports), something like this “H2O 2 GO” one. Last year, one of the vendors at one of the summer shows was giving these away, and it was possibly the most useful swag item I have received at a show. If you can’t find one of these, bring a relatively crush-proof bottle and fill it up often.

Cisco Live will have twitter tables in the lunch room by the way. If you want to meet up with other Twitter folks and the Cisco Champions, this would be the place to look. I believe they’re going to be near the front of the table space, but hopefully one of the CLUS coordinators will correct me if I’m wrong.

4. Technology

Plug in and charge up every chance you get. This goes for laptops, tablets, phones, and your portable battery packs as well. I have this Poweradd Pilot E2 12Ah battery that’s been one of the best USB power packs I’ve used (and I have at least a dozen of them). Great deal if you need something like this, to half-charge your iPad or fully charge most smartphones.

Travel light. As Tom Hollingsworth mentioned, it may not seem like a 10 pound bag is all that heavy, until you’ve been carrying it around for 18 hours. Empty your bag and only put what you know you’ll need. Even I won’t be carrying my usual two smart phones, Nexus 7, iPad, and two laptops. You can scale down too.


You can buy tech stuff here. In addition to the things that the Cisco Press store will offer, you will be within relatively easy walking distance of the One Stockton Apple Store and the Microsoft Store at Westfield, both along Market St within 10 minutes distance. And a little-known gem of the Bay Area is even closer. Central Computers is a Bay Area mainstay for computers, components, accessories, etc. It’s likely the best place to go if you forgot your charger cable or need a hard drive or phone case or a new laptop, and it’s directly across the street from what will probably be the bus terminal at the Moscone West building.

5. Communications

Follow @CiscoLive and the #CLUS hashtag. You’ll get lots of useful information and be able to get answers to your event-related questions wherever you are. There might even be giveaways and contests.

Bring business cards to share. Consider getting some printed (or making your own) with your personal contact info (Twitter handle, blog address, appropriate logos and such) in case you have affiliations aside from your employment.

Pick up a prepaid SIM once you get here if you’re not on a US cellular carrier. I have a T-Mobile starter kit in one of my phones; it’s $35 on Amazon and includes a month of service including 100 minutes/100 text messages/5GB 4G data. If you have an unlocked GSM-type phone, this or another SIM will get you covered for your stay in the US.

There will be WiFi. If you don’t have a data plan, don’t worry too much. Most hotels and most of the convention center will have wireless Internet access, and the odds are pretty good that Cisco will take care of us in terms of connectivity on-site.

6. Swag Management

Get some flat rate shipping boxes from the post office (either at home or in San Francisco–there’s a Post Office in the Macy’s on O’Farrell and Stockton a few blocks away) to send your swag bag home in. Domestic flat rate for a medium box is under $20 and may be more convenient than buying another suitcase. International shipping is also available. There is UPS service at Moscone, and a Fed Ex ship center on Bryant nearby, if you prefer those.

Ship stuff to your hotel. If you’re bringing things that would be more convenient not to go through airports with, consider shipping it to your hotel in advance. Check with the hotel first, though, to see if there are any limitations or charges for this sort of activity.

Drop-ship stuff to your hotel. I do this even within the US. If you know you’re going to want things like a battery pack, or a case of bacon raspberry cheesecake energy bars, or a new pair of eating pants, consider ordering them to be sent directly to the hotel. This can save you packing and shopping time in advance, and may be cheaper than finding them locally.

Don’t feel obligated to take every bit of swag you’re offered. Last year I think I came home from 4 conferences with 40-50 shirts. Half of them went straight to Goodwill, and I still had to lug them home from SF or Orlando. If you do take more than you need, consider taking them over to Goodwill or Out Of The Closet or another thrift store in the area. Or ask for smaller sizes for your kids. Or some mix of those.


7. Money Considerations (especially for non-USians)

There are automated teller machines (ATMs) all over the place. Before you come to San Francisco, check with your bank to see what ATMs you can use with minimal or no surcharge, or whether your bank rebates surcharges (many credit unions do this). ATMs in hotels and conference centers may charge $5 (or more) for a withdrawal, but most of the major US banks are available a couple of blocks away on Market St.

If you plan to use a non-US credit or debit card, check into whether your card has foreign transaction fees and be prepared for those.

Check with your bank or credit union to see if you should provide a “travel notification” to minimize the risk of your card being shut down by automated fraud checking systems.

So where do we go from here?

To San Francisco, and BEYOND!

Seriously though, these were just some of the suggestions I came up with in one hour (so far). If you have suggestions for fellow Cisco Live attendees, feel free to share them in the comments and I’ll pass them along. And check back often, as hopefully there will be updates and improvements to this post as we get closer to the magical date.

I went to Cisco Live, and now it’s coming to me

So it looks like I’ll be back in fish-out-of-water territory May 18-21, 2014, when Cisco Live comes back to San Francisco for the 2014 US event. Read on…

Update: 2014-05-01 big news, win a free lab pass for Cisco Live US 2014; see the update at the bottom of this post!

Fish out of water?

I went to Cisco Live US in Orlando last year. It was my first really big event, and the reasons for the fish-out-of-water comment are twofold. One is that I’m not, for the most part, a networking guy. I’ve done networking, mostly LAN/VPN and a bit of wireless, but I’m primarily a server sysadmin, bare metal all the way. And two, I learned my original network chops (beyond 10b2 Ethernet and dialup networking) supporting the Ethernet switching products division of Nortel up until the turn of the century.

But two years ago last month, my boss asked, “Want to come to the datacenter in Vegas and work on some servers?” It was something to do, and I was curious how Cisco would make servers… so I went, and started loading cards into UCS C210 M2 servers and trying to get operating systems onto them.

And for the last two years, a big part of my day job has been setting up, maintaining, deploying, and troubleshooting a pretty big pile of Cisco UCS C-series servers and related infrastructure. It’s been a wild ride, and it’s probably a relatively rare patch of expertise, and I’ve learned a lot via trial by fire (and a lot of dumb questions to my TME/savior).

So last year, when I had the opportunity to go to Cisco Live (thanks to some help from Tech Field Day), I jumped at the chance. I stretched my trip home from Tech Field Day 9 in Austin to take me through Orlando and joined in a roundtable with Opengear while there, but mostly went around being a bit overwhelmed and meeting a lot of the people from Cisco who I’d worked with indirectly during the UCS adventure.

Stay social, my friends

Cisco Live 2013 Social Media

I also met a lot of the people I interact with daily on Twitter , and some I just started interacting with at the event. There’s a few of them above this paragraph (and I think I’m in the middle of the right side near the back). I couldn’t get anyone to give me a ride out to Disney World, even with the promise of free passes, but it was a good time anyway.

At some point as I was getting ready to leave for Orlando, I got a message on Twitter asking if I was interested in a new social media program Cisco was starting up. I was baffled but intrigued, and a month or two later I was one of the first dozen people in that program.

Will you come with me, won’t you come with me?

So this year I’m headed back, an hour’s train ride away rather than 5 hours plane ride, with some lessons in my backpack and bigger plans for this year’s adventure. This year I’m going back as a Cisco Champion, with a couple of posts on the Cisco Perspectives blog and an even wider ring of social contacts in all corners of the Cisco ecosystem. I’m planning to head into the certification forest a bit (have to branch out somehow, right?), and maybe show a bit more restraint as far as bringing tee shirts home (for the sake of domestic tranquility) .

If you’re considering going, well, by all means check it out. There’s the main site for Cisco Live US, and a page describing the packages and options for registration. If your company does a lot of business with Cisco, check to see if they have learning credits available, or see if your organization has training or professional development budgets.

If you’re local but on a tight budget (or if you can get to San Francisco cheaply anyway), consider Explorer ($49) or Explorer+ ($595) which give you access to the keynotes, the World Of Solutions vendor expo, and (with the plus) two tech sessions. Or there’s a social event pass for under $200 that lets you into the receptions, the expo, the keynotes, and the Wednesday night Customer Appreciation Event (likely a big concert and festival at AT&T Park or Treasure Island).

If you can’t make it at all, check out the “Learn Online with Cisco Live” section of the above registration link. You can see a lot of sessions from past events, including one or two that you’ll hear me in the background of (with the speaker’s approval), and access to live broadcasts from time to time. And of course, follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #CLUS and follow @CiscoLive (the official event Twitter account).

If you’d like to read my observations and comparisons from VMworld 2013 and Cisco Live 2013, I conveniently have a blog post on those.

If you’d like to read Jeff Fry’s preview post on Cisco Live 2014, and you should… click on that link. The map of official hotels (some of which may be sold out of the CLUS discount block rates) is worth the price of clicking alone!

It should be interesting to see how Cisco Live translates onto the Moscone conference space. While I won’t miss the humidity and 90-degree heat from Orlando, I will miss the $90 walking-distance hotel option. But I’ll be back, joining the social fray again, and looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible.

And as a disclaimer, if you click on the Cisco Live links above, I get entered in a contest for a free lab or technical session at the event. Other than that, I get no compensation or consideration for this post beyond the warm fuzzies of supporting an event and team I like.


Update as of May 1, 2014
I’ve been informed that I won the Cisco Live blogger contest for a free 4-hour lab or technical session at 2014’s Cisco Live conference May 18-21 in San Francisco.

This is great news, and I’m grateful to everyone who helped me win by reading my posts and clicking through to the Cisco Live website.

The downside is, I already have two labs scheduled and paid for, and my brain is likely enough to explode already. So by special dispensation, I’m going to give away my free lab pass. Here’s how to get in on the action:

If you are already registered for a Full Conference pass for Cisco Live US 2014 in San Francisco, and can use a lab or technical session, just tweet a link to your favorite blog post of mine. Include the hashtags #CLUS and #RSTS11 in any order. Up to three tweets per person will be accepted as entries, so that the first tweeters to enter aren’t left out. However, if my timeline view shows more than one tweet in a row from you, that only counts as one. So tweeting an entry 25 times in a row is nice but won’t win you the prize.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of Cisco Live, I will identify the 25th qualifying tweeter (with a link to a rsts11 blog post, and the two hashtags) and pass along your twitter handle to the Cisco Live team to arrange for your free lab or tech session. You might want to follow me (@gallifreyan) so I can DM congratulations and get your registered name to share with Cisco Live.

Note that the 25th in chronological order at the time I look at the tweet stream will be chosen, and retweeted, deleted, multiple, delayed, or incomplete tweets may not be considered or eligible. Tweets before @ciscolive announces this win will be ineligible. Bacon not included. This is only for a 4-hour lab or technical session; you must already have a valid registration for the full conference pass itself to use this prize. Neither I nor Cisco Live is responsible if your head explodes from the learning experience itself either.

Cisco Live and VMworld: Two first times compared

This was a year of many firsts for me, including four conferences I attended for the first time: Interop Las Vegas, Cisco Live, Nth Symposium, and VMworld. This is a long one, but I wanted to share my comparison and suggestions for future events.

Disclosure: I received support from Tech Field Day, HP Storage, and VMware in attending these events. I was a delegate to roundtables with Tech Field Day at all but Nth, and a HP Tech Day delegate at Nth. None of these sponsors were promised any special consideration in my coverage (or lack thereof) of the events, nor was I compensated for any participation in or around their events.

0. Overview

Both Cisco Live US and VMworld US were huge affairs, effectively a full week with 20k+ attendees, keynotes, breakout sessions, noticeable social media engagement, and all the challenges that come with housing, feeding, entertaining, and educating a large crowd, not to mention navigating that crowd.

Cisco Live was at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. About a dozen official Convention Hotels were within a few blocks of the convention center.

VMworld was at the three buildings of the Moscone Center, and conference facilities in two or three nearby hotels as I recall. Attendees had choices of hotels within a mile of the conference center.

Continue reading

Event thoughts and event hygiene pre-VMworld

Tomorrow I’ll be in San Francisco for the pre-event festivities of VMworld 2013.

I have a couple of thoughts/observations my prep for this event, and my adventures to Interop Las Vegas, Cisco Live, and Nth Symposium this “summer.”

I’d welcome your feedback and other suggestions… maybe this will all end up in front of the right eyes.

And maybe people planning other similar events can take this advice and at least think about it over a scotch on the rocks next weekend.

Make Scheduling Easier

I think the Cisco Live and VMworld scheduler sites are the same back-end. However, as I pointed out when I first tuned into Schedule Builder, VMworld’s schedule is far more limited in usefulness.

Admittedly, Cisco Live didn’t give 5 minute granularity for scheduling, which has to be useful for people who want to attend 15 minutes of each presentation. But I can live without that granularity.

What I find more difficult to deal with is the inability to schedule after-hours “personal time” to keep track of social and vendor events. Sure, I can load everything into Google Calendar or Outlook, but then if I change things in the Schedule Builder, it’s a manual resync or I miss something.

As a bonus option, it would be great if vendors could get unlisted codes for their events, so instead of manually adding, say, VMware Customer Event, I could put in 9EVT2039 or something and have the details populate. Password-protect if you want, so people can’t randomly find the events as easily, but it’d be nice to make the scheduling and planning as uneventful (heh) as possible.

Manage Scanner Pouncing, or, I just want free stuff

I try to manage my badge scanning. I know I’m going to get a year or five of random untargeted emails from most companies that scan my badge, and while the free iPad you’re giving away would be a nice late birthday present for my fiancee at home, you’re not going to note on the contact form on your scanner that I’m not really interested in your call management system considering my job is running Hadoop clusters.

I’d love to have two scan codes… one for “yes, I want to hear more about your products,” and one for “no, I’m not interested in your products, but I’d like to be entered in your giveaway so you don’t stalk me everytime I walk by.”

I’d love a third one for “my employer spent 7 figures with you already this year, but thanks for asking” (I’d use that one a few times most likely, even if I’m not wearing my mouse ears) and maybe a fourth one for “I’ve had dinner with your CEO and I suggested that new feature you’re touting between the fourth and fifth scotches” but then the name badges would get really crowded. And Hans would probably only scan that last one all week.

Don’t Be That Idiot, or, control your devices

I have probably tweeted about this during conferences dozens of times already this year… and it would be really great if presenters and organizers would help remind the less considerate/professional in the crowd…

We’re not here to hear your cell phone, pager, IM tone, etc… or to see the presenter/musical guest/keynoter through your iPad.

Before your session begins, set your mobile devices to silent, or vibrate only if they’re not sitting on a table or other noise-amplifying surface.

If you’re expecting a call that you absolutely have to take, sit near the door. And don’t take a call until you have left the room. If we needed to be on the call, they’d have called us too, right?

And as much as you want to share the experience with all your Instagram/Facebook/Vine/blog followers–you don’t need to block the view of people behind you by holding your iPad up pretending you’re a videographer. If your iPad wasn’t in the way, we could still see the speakers/performers, so you’re not doing anyone a favor. . Just don’t do it. Put the iPad away and enjoy the show. 

This is what it ends up looking like, and we don’t want this .

Speaking of hygiene…

I’ve often thought someone like Right Guard or Axe should be a sponsor for job fairs, expo floors, etc. There are always people who don’t bathe/shower/change clothes, and people who thought the TSA 3oz figure was a suggestion for daily cologne/perfume use.

Unless you’re trying to snag a Kardashian, you can go easy on the fragrances. Beyond that, wear a clean shirt, and clean up a bit before going into close quarters with other people who’ve hopefully have done the same.

Like the rest of this, it should go without saying, but there always seems to be at least one or two of what a hairstylist friend of mine used to call “the peanut butter people.” As in warm peanut butter fragrance. Not becoming, I tell you.

So where do we go from here?

If you’re a presenter or organizer, consider finding some slightly more filtered way to encourage people in your events to silence their mobile devices.

If you’re a professional human attending an event, learn how to set your devices (laptops, tablets, phones, pagers, Tamagotchi, etc) to silent mode. Set your devices to silent mode before the presentation, event, concert, or keynote begins. Identify the nearest exit to you in case you have to take a call. Don’t talk on the phone during a session/lecture (there were people doing this at Cisco Live, seriously). Gently encourage your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who might listen to you to do the same.

If you are at this event just to show off how loud and obnoxious your ringtones, IM notifications, email alerts, and iPad videography can be… well… there’s a Justin Bieber concert for you somewhere. And they’ll love your Cheetah Girls ringtone.

What suggestions do you have for fellow event attendees? Feel free to share in the comments.

Oh, and GET OFF MY LAWN. 🙂