Tech Conferences in Las Vegas for Newbies

As June is here we are deep into tech conference season already so I find myself behind the curve somewhat with this post, but here we are. I am extremely fortunate to have an employer who understands the value of attending Tech Conferences for IT Professionals and I’ve been able to attend at least one each year since 2014; going back and forth between CiscoLive and VMworld with a sprinkling of VeeamON and more local events such as vBrisket and VMUGs for good measure. As a “Hyper-Converged Admin” my choice of which “biggie” conference is done each year by looking at where my projects land; last year was CiscoLive due to a lot of Voice and Security Projects, this year VMworld due to lots of updates coming down the pike there and a potential VDI project.

The problem when you have a conference with north of 25,000 attendees is that you are limited in where you put these on. While Cisco does tend to move around some, VMworld has typically either been in San Francisco or Las Vegas. With the Moscone Center closed again this year for renovation we find pretty much all of the big guys are back in Las Vegas, with both CiscoLive and VMworld at Mandalay Bay once again as well as AWS re:Invent and Dell/EMC World in town this year as well. If you haven’t been to one of these Tech Conferences before or to Las Vegas both can be both exciting and overwhelming, but with a little help from others and some decent tips neither are that big of a deal.

Las Vegas Basics

So for a small town guy like me Las Vegas is very cool town, but tiring. The common thread I feel and have heard others voice as well is that Las Vegas is deceptively large because all of the hotels on the strip are so massive. While you can see from your Mandalay Bay window that New York New York is just the next block, it is probably about a mile away if walking there. Why this is important is that if you look at the list of hotels on each conference’s list you’ll see lots of options, but getting to that 8AM session may require a 30+ minute walk or even longer shuttle ride if you chose to stay at the Cosmopolitan (my personal favorite of all Las Vegas hotels but prohibitively far away). Couple that with temperatures in the triple digits during summer and proximity becomes more important.

Hotel Choices

So the first tip for any of these conferences is get a hotel as close as possible. For CiscoLive and VMworld keep in mind that you can move freely between the Mandalay Bay, Delano the Luxor and the Conference Center without ever stepping foot outside.  I would highly recommend trying to be in one of these. If you are booking late and the conference is out of rooms it’s worth trying to book directly through the hotel as they don’t let the events have the whole place. That said you are still going to be in for a hike. For example I stayed in the Mandalay Bay last year and it was approximately 1800 steps from my room to the entrance to conference.

Many of the vendor types that seemingly live their lives at these types of events like to opt for either the nearby Marriott Courtyard Las Vegas South or the Holiday Inn at Desert Club Resort for those that like a kitchen. From either of these you’re a quick Uber or Lyft away from the Conference Center entrance but don’t have to deal with the hustle and bustle of staying on the Strip if you don’t want to.

Getting Around

Speaking of Uber and Lyft, getting around with out walking is a bit of a consideration as well, both for the daily commute as well as for the various events. Traffic in the afternoons into the early morning is pretty impressive on the actual strip so to be honest I’ve not heard good things about trying to rely on the conference shuttles when available. Further I’ve heard many complaints from those who are locals that drive in and try to find parking.

Where that leaves you is 1) ride sharing service, 2) using the monorails, or 3) walking. Uber is nice because they are pretty knowledgeable about routing you around traffic regardless of time of day. Keep in mind when it comes to this and Mandalay Bay there are actually two defined Uber pickup/drop off spots, one outside of the conference center and another around the valet area underneath the hotel drop off area. These are impressively far apart so be sure you know where you want picked up before you request a ride.

The monorails are also nice but short. For those of you going to CLUS this is a good way to get to the Customer Appreciation Event as it will drop you off close to the T-mobile Arena.

Finally walking is a decent option, especially after dark for the various vendor events, but I do recommend if you are going to do it find a buddy or 3 or 4. I’ve never personally seen violence on the strip but you hear about it and there are lots of “character buskers” dressed like everything from Michael Jackson to Spongebob that will harass you.

One final note, while first impressions are important there really isn’t any point to being that person in the fancy shoes unless you’ve got booth duty. I typically while go buy a new pair of good running shoes a week or two before the conference so I can break them in and then that’s what I wear. If you are a step tracker kind of person like me expect 20,000 and up each day so take care of your feet.

Things To Do

Seriously, there’s plenty to do even if you weren’t at a conference already providing lots to do. Regardless of your interest if the conference doesn’t have you jam-packed enough you can find something you like here.

If you are new to IT or are just starting to get your name out there the most important things to do outside of the sessions is to get out there and be social. Both of the conferences we are talking about here have a great community that surround it with some wonderful people in it. The first step if you aren’t already would be to get yourself on twitter and follow the hashtag stream for your event (#CLUS for CiscoLive US, #VMworld for VMworld) , not only while you are there but before especially as many outside events will be planned then. Be sure to find the social area for your given conference and go make friends. Outside of the standard conference hours you’ll find that many of the Vendors will have events planned for attendees. If you have partners or vendors you work heavily with its worth asking your SE if they are doing anything.

CiscoLive Basics

CiscoLive will be held this year June 25-29th and promises to be a great show once again. While I have really enjoyed all of the conferences I’ve attended CLUS  was my first and near to my heart. First off of all those I’ve been to this one feels more academic than others. There aren’t really as many softball sessions and the sessions are a bigger part of the focus for the event than other. That said, they do a very good job of supporting the social community by having a Social Media Hub right in the middle of it all with special events for the twitterazzi most days. I highly recommend showing up and if nothing else walking up and just introducing yourself, trust me, you’ll fit right in there somewhere especially if you bring a Kilt. 😉 If you can come in early on Sunday the annual Tweetup Sunday afternoon is always a good time to make friends.

If you are going to CiscoLive you should have at this point booked most of your sessions. A couple of points here. First do not overbook yourself on sessions. While the pressure is always there to make sure you are getting all the education out of it as possible every session these days is recorded and can be watched later. My decision on if I’m going to do a particular session is based on if the subject is directly related to something that’s got me stumped and I want the opportunity to touch base with the speaker. Past that I’ll watch most after the fact. A better use of your time is getting out and networking, soaking up some of the distributed information there and will in many cases serve as a resource after the fact. I’ve yet to leave an event and not come home to do some kind of redesign based on things I’ve learned from the community.

A highlight for anybody who’s been to CLUS is always the Customer Appreciation Event. This year Bruno Mars will take over the T-mobile Arena and I am legitimately bummed that I will be missing it. The celebrity keynotes are always very good as well and usually provide a different view on how technology interacts with the world. I truly enjoyed listening to Kevin Spacey last year and this year they’ve booked Bryan Cranston.

Regarding keynotes, I typically like watch these in the social areas rather than packing myself into the keynote halls. The seating is better, there’s fewer people and usually refreshments are close at hand, plus you can find a surface to put your computer/iPad on to take notes and/or live tweet the talk.

VMworld Basics

As much as the focus on CiscoLive is on the direct educational benefit the focus from VMworld is more on learning from the community. With the conference officially running from August 27-31 there just as many official conference sessions as there are at CiscoLive, but I find there to be more lower level, marketing style sessions at VMworld. What makes up for it though is any number of community learning opportunities surrounding it. If you can swing coming in either Saturday or very early Sunday the vBrownbag/VMunderground Opening Acts is always a great place to learn about what is coming next in virtualization and technology. Speaking of vBrownBag, these guys have a stage running concurrent to the conference with session about anything you can conceive of all week long. Historically the vBrownBag stage has been found in the Hang Space (VMworld for social media area) but this year is still to be determined.

Another thing you’ll find is the potential to have your evenings books is exceptionally high with multiple vendor events every single night, traditionally starting with vBeers on Saturday evening. At some point as we get closer to the conference VMworld will fill a website with information and registration links for many of the gatherings to make scheduling easy. The Veeam, VMunderground and vExpert/VCDX/VMUG parties are always the most talked about. There is also the annual VMworld Party with typically big name acts but at the time of this writing there really isn’t any information about this yet. Be sure to follow along online and on social media to find out soon enough.

Conclusion

With all that being said, just go enjoy yourself as you are meant to do. There’s a reason that Denise Fishburne refers to CiscoLive as “Geek Summer Camp” because it does feel that way, regardless of the conference you’re attending. Everybody does things their own way. As I’ll be attending VMworld this year if you are there and want to say hi feel free to reach out and find me on twitter @k00laidIT.

Vegas Baby! Heading to CiscoLive! 2016

As 2016 moves into April we find ourselves ready to go into the conference season once again. For the past couple of years I’ve been to VMworld because that is where my work has had me focused, but for the same reason I will be heading the Cisco Live in Las Vegas, NV this year. The event will be held at the Mandalay Bay Resort July 10-14. Yes it will be hot, but let’s be honest you are going to be inside most of the time. This is the 2nd time I’ve attended Cisco Live US (you may see it referred to as #CLUS quite a bit) and if this is anything like the last time it’s going to be great. I have been particularly impressed with the content they make available and the community that has grown around it.

What to do

The first and foremost thing you should check out at Cisco Live is the always excellent sessions throughout the conference. If you are new to conferences this is actually something to consider sooner than later; the session catalog is currently up and the scheduler will open on May 3. I recommend that if you have any particular sessions or focus you are looking at with this trip go ahead and have a list done early and then be ready on the 5/3, many popular sessions will fill up quickly and nobody wants to wait in the overflow line. 😉

To be honest if you just look at the scope of topics covered in the session list it is a bit overwhelming. While I’m no grizzled veteran of conferences by any means what I’ve found best is to pick a focus or two and then start there. For example this year we have a big focus on upgrading our edge security and our production datacenter to include Cisco UCS solutions. What sessions I pick will almost entirely be from either the Security and Datacenter & Virtualization tracks to support those goals. Keep in mind all of these sessions will be available to you online after the fact so keep in mind the people giving them as well.

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If you have never been to one of the major tech conferences (20k attendees and up) there is never really a shortage of things to do, ranging from the educational to the social to just straight fun. Cisco Live is in my opinion a great event with a better than most mix of content and social, the highlight of which is the Customer Appreciation Event. The CAE this year will be held at the T-Mobile Arena and features concerts with Maroon 5 and Elle King. I saw Maroon 5 in a very cold field  a couple of years ago and they are a pretty good show and I’ve really liked what I’ve heard from Elle King on the radio.

Besides the concert event there will be no shortage of things to do if you are socially inclined. Besides the mixers each evening there are a wide array of events from different vendors in the Cisco ecosystem each evening. Many of these are by invite only so now would be an appropriate time to be reaching out to Account Execs you have at the various vendors and see if they are doing anything there.

 

20130627_173819000_iOSGo forth and be social

This will be my 6 tech conference in 4 years and while the content of the sessions is great and extremely helpful like I mentioned above all of that content is available online, 24/7/365 after the conference. What is not is the ability to meet and have conversations with some of the best minds of our chosen field. My very first major conference was CLUS 2013 in Orlando, FL and as I got myself out of my shell and started to meet people I was frankly floored by the combined brain power in such a small area. The way I’ve often put this to people is that the entire state of West Virginia, where I am from, has a total of 3 CCIEs in it. While this is not a normal demographic, there are only 50,000 some worldwide. At one point that first year I found myself  sitting in a discussion where out of 20 people I was the only person NOT a CCIE and really it is amazing what you can absorb in the social settings at Cisco Live. If you are willing to put yourself out there and not be the cave-dwelling geek many of us are naturally drawn to be you will find a community of people who will readily accept you in.

So how do I find such social people and befriend them? Well fear not there are plenty of ways. To start with if you are just starting out in your tech career the very first advice is to get yourself on twitter if you haven’t already. I literally setup my twitter account walking down the main concourse of CLUS 4 years ago and it has presented no end of enjoyment, help and opportunity since. Once you have said account head on over to Tom Hollingsworth’s site and sign yourself up for the annual twitter list.

Now that you are in the social mood right off the bat one of the first places I will be locating is the Social Media Hub. This is pretty much the main congregation area for the socials types. At some point in the early evening Sunday there will be an opening Tweetup there, if you attend be sure to say hi!

If you are interested in going yourself but haven’t registered yet you can do so on the Cisco Live 2016 website.