Cisco Live — Convincing your Boss to Send You

“Knowl­edge has to be improved, chal­lenged, and increased con­stantly, or it van­ishes.”
Peter Drucker

One of the ques­tions that gets asked a lot when peo­ple find out that I go to the Cisco Live con­ven­tion every year is, “How in the world did you con­vince your boss to send you?!” To be fair, that ques­tion gets asked more often in cer­tain years than oth­ers, like when the con­ven­tion is in Orlando, as it is this year. If the con­ven­tion was in Juneau, Alaska in Jan­u­ary I don’t think I’d get as many questions.

That said, the ques­tion is rel­e­vant because I know plenty of peo­ple who would love to attend and quite sim­ply can’t get their boss to approve the expense. These are not com­pa­nies where a revolv­ing few mem­bers of the net­work team get to go each year and maybe your num­ber will be up next year. These are com­pa­nies where the pre­dom­i­nant cul­ture is “we don’t waste money on trade shows.” It’s a deeply flawed sen­ti­ment, but one that is, unfor­tu­nately, some­what com­mon out­side of the Value-added Reseller (VAR) and man­u­fac­turer space.

Why? I think it has to do with way trade shows have his­tor­i­cally been mar­keted to the masses–as giant 24/7 par­ties with free-flowing liquor, late night debauch­ery, high-profile musi­cal per­for­mances and the like. Even Cisco is guilty of this, empha­siz­ing the “fun” aspect of the con­ven­tion and down­play­ing (at least in mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als) the seri­ous­ness of the con­ven­tion as a learn­ing experience.

That is unfor­tu­nate, because the Cisco con­ven­tion is much more than just a fun time (although it is that as well). In fact, if you work pri­mar­ily, or even sig­nif­i­cantly, with Cisco tech­nolo­gies in your day-to-day life, this is the most bang for your training-buck you’ll find anywhere.


There are a lot of rea­sons to go, but I’ll list just a few below:

  • Thou­sands of train­ing ses­sions over the course of the week, all taught by experts, Cisco employ­ees, Cisco Press authors, etc. Where else are you going to meet all of the authors of Cisco Press mate­ri­als, or the design­ers of some of the pro­to­cols you use on a daily basis?
  • Access to Cisco engi­neers via Cisco’s Meet-the-Expert pro­gram. You can sched­ule a meet­ing with high-level Cisco engi­neers in a spe­cific area of exper­tise and “white-board” out prob­lems you’re hav­ing. Last year, for instance, I worked with an engi­neer to val­i­date a large-scale rout­ing restruc­ture I had planned for my cor­po­rate net­work. The plan­ning and review ses­sion was absolutely invalu­able; and as a result the project went off with­out a hitch.
  • What I’ll call the “floor show” and what Cisco calls the World of Solu­tions. This is where hun­dreds of ven­dors set up booths and show off the lat­est and great­est tech­nol­ogy within the Cisco ecosystem.
  • Peer-group net­work­ing. The con­nec­tions and friends I’ve made over the years at Cisco Live have proven invalu­able time and time again. I have a large cohort I can turn to with prob­lems, and I usu­ally find the infor­ma­tion I need from them well before I need to turn to any other method. Thou­sands of peo­ple who do what you do, all in one place, at one time. The value of that sim­ply can­not be overstated.

At the end of the day, you’re going to find your­self work­ing for one of two kinds of employ­ers, and I’ve worked for both:

  • The kind who val­ues your input as an expert in your field; who val­ues what you bring to the table and see Cisco Live as a fur­ther invest­ment; not only in you, but in their own busi­ness. These employ­ers value train­ing, they value life-long learn­ing, and they gen­er­ally want their peo­ple to suc­ceed even if it’s at a dif­fer­ent company.
  • The kind who see you as a cog, as a cost cen­ter, as some­thing to be man­aged. These employ­ers tend to under­value con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion, and assume that every­thing you learned in col­lege is all you’ll ever need. They give lip-service to learn­ing, but at the end of the day you’ll go years with lim­ited train­ing, and no approval to attend events like Cisco Live.

As the IT Man­ager of a multi-national com­pany, with a whole IT team report­ing to me, I can tell you that I do every­thing I can to be the type of boss who helps my team to suc­ceed. I attend this con­fer­ence yearly, and I advo­cate that my team mem­bers all attend rel­e­vant trade-shows and edu­ca­tional sem­i­nars annu­ally. I also try to get quar­terly train­ing approved as well.

At the end of the day, there are other things you can and should do to learn; things like read­ing white papers, attend­ing web sem­i­nars, try­ing to build a real or vir­tual lab for more hands-on expe­ri­ence. I would sug­gest to you now, how­ever, that if you aren’t being allowed to attend train­ings and trade shows like Cisco Live, you’re prob­a­bly in the wrong posi­tion at the wrong company.

I per­son­ally nego­ti­ate atten­dance at Cisco Live as a con­di­tion of employ­ment because of what I do and how valu­able my knowl­edge and career are to me. The day I’m work­ing for a com­pany that doesn’t value those same things is the day I move elsewhere.