“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.