I got to experience Cisco Live for the first time this February when I attended Cisco Live in Berlin. My employer sent me and a more experienced colleague of mine to the conference. This was my first time attending a conference of this size and I will try detailing the experience and maybe provide some insight to first-timers.
The conference was held in Berlin, at the Messe Berlin. It was very simple to get to. Our hotel was located in the Kurfürstendamm area and we took the S-bahn route S5 toward Spandau from the Zoologischer Garten station. This was only a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel, and the train ride was 8 minutes. When you arrived at Messe Süd Cisco had people with signs and colorful jackets to make sure you got off at the right stop.
Having registered in advance we could use the Cisco Events app to bring up a QR code for the check-in. The same code had been sent by email to us in advance making the check-in very fast. All I needed to do was visit one of the check-in booths, scan the QR code, a conference badge was printed and handed to us by the event staff after showing photo ID. I used my passport to be sure it was “official” enough, but they also said a driving license would have worked (government issued ID).
After the check-in we lined up for the official “gift bag”. This is mainly a backpack and some vendor gifts inside. It was nothing special, and I was a bit disappointed by this.
We checked in on Monday morning and the queues were non-existent. The first day is reserved for technical seminars, an add-on to the main conference pass. As we had not bought this we used the first day to check out the conference area and get the check-in sorted. If the plan is to do this on the Tuesday (first day of the main conference) it would be smart to leave a bit of time to get this done, making sure to not miss out on any sessions.
Messe Berlin is pretty big, but Cisco did a very good job on guiding people around with signs and event staff you could ask for information. The main conference area was a number of big halls were the Hub, World of Solutions, and the lunch area was placed. A number of breakout sessions were also in the main area. The keynote and the bigger sessions were located in the CityCube. This area was connected to the main conference area so it was possible to walk inside all the time when going between sessions. If your first session in the morning was in CityCube it is possible to just go straight there. It was located to the right when you were looking at the main entrance to Messe Berlin.
The hub was an area with various Cisco related booths and sectioned off areas. A big part of The Hub was the DevNet section where developer sessions were held. They had various sections closed off for “special” people, like a NetVet section (people who had attended Live a certain number of times), as well as a CCIE section (CCIE required to get access).
It was also a section where you could pop by and do self-paced labs. They had all sorts of labs, for a big number of areas and different abilities. For my next time (if there is one) I would make some more time for this as it was very rewarding and fun. Other areas included a peak into the NOC and a security overview section.
To make people visit as many booths and sections as possible Cisco used the Cisco Events app to add a gamification feature, giving people points for visiting. You would scan a QR code connected to the area. These points could be used in something called the Sphero challenge. It was a timed race with some prizes for the high scorers.
This year they had doubled the size of World of Solutions, which is basically just vendors promoting themselves. Of course all the vendors had some kind of relationship with Cisco technologies. If you want to get some vendor swag this is the area to roam. They would scan your badge for your email address, and they most certainly will use that address for their sales pitch the weeks after Cisco Live. I have already started receiving emails asking for time to demonstrate their product. If you do not want to let them scan your badge just let them know.
They had over 400 sessions this year so it should be possible to find something for your liking. The sessions were easy to find, and well marked with big screens listing the current and next session. The event staff would allow access to the session room about 15 minutes ahead of the start. And they seemed to take the start time seriously because all sessions I attended started on time. They also finished very much at the set time. Some sessions allowed questions at the end, and finished a bit earlier when no questions were asked, but most of the time they used all the allotted time.
If you need to take notes on your computer the first couple of rows were tables with power plugs for your device. All the presentations were easily viewable from far back, so if you were late and only got a seat at the back this was no problem.
The session code is an indication of how advanced the session will be. I avoided all sessions in the 1000 series and only took sessions in 2- or 3000 series. They all provided me with enough technical depth. If you are unsure about the level to choose have a look at some sessions at Cisco Live online. They have a huge library of sessions and you can use that as a test for how technical a session is.
Cisco did have events happening at the end of the day, like tweetups and craft beer evenings. I was not able to attend any of these as we had a separate evening schedule planned. We did however attend the Customer Appreciation Event. This is on Thursday and includes food, drink, and entertainment. Be aware that is will be crowded. At this event I think there were 12,000 attendees. But they did manage to make the queuing minimal with a huge number of food and drink places. They had food trucks serving food from different areas of the world.
To summarise, Cisco Live is awesome for anyone a bit interested in Cisco’s technologies and the future of networking. It is a possibility to get away from the day-to-day operation and meet other professionals in the same field as you; A great motivation boost!
I can summarise with a list of my tips and tricks as a first-timer:
Next years’ Cisco Live Europe is in Barcelona in late January, so my Berlin advice won’t be very helpful. But hopefully some of this will help if you are a first-timer going to Cisco Live. If I get the chance I will certainly go again!