On Being a Customer Speaker and Panel Member at Cisco Live…

This year I was invited to present a customer case study of my network at Cisco Live outlining all that Cisco products have provided for security on campus. I mainly spoke about our packet shaper, the Services Control Engine (SCE), and our new wireless network (Prime NCS, ISE, MSE, CleanAir). I won’t go into the technical details of everything; this post is more about the experience of being a part of the conference.

It all started in early 2011 when we upgrade our primary connection by 250% which a new router and packet shaper due to the capabilities of what we had installed. Already having a Bluecoat, I started there only to find the prices went up considerably when you exceeded 200Mbps, and climbed even higher when you got into 1000Mbps territory. I mentioned it in passing to my Cisco AM and a few days later was sitting down for a demo of the SCE. A few months later I went through the arduous install process and got it up and running. While running the install of the SCE I also signed the paperwork on a new wireless network; Cisco’s flagship product line. A couple months later I got a call from my AM. Someone in Cisco thought we would be a great case study for how Cisco was transforming our old infrastructure and allowing us to be more secure while not limiting our users. And so the pitch started.

Starting in March of this year, I had a very nice set of conversations discussing our network with a member of the Security Marketing Group at Cisco. We went over a few key items and she wrote up an abstract to present to the Cisco Live session managers. It sounded a little cheesy but was a fairly thorough representation of what we had in place. I was excited to be considered but was incredibly busy tweaking my network and didn’t have time to even worry about whether or not it would be approved. A week or two later it was approved and as it turned out, now I was worried. I am not a public speaker, I prefer sitting at my desk quietly working with headphones on and letting the business people figure out how to give me money to accomplish my goals. I decided not to back out for a few reasons; mostly because if I’m going to go much further in my career, I’m going to be doing a lot of presentations. I finally came to grips with what had to be done and got started on my presentation. Much to my dismay, another week later I was asked to sit on a BYOD panel with some VPs and CxO levels from a couple industry giants. My feelings on BYOD are mixed and you can see a little of that over here, so I agreed because it might be nice to bring a different point of view to a mostly corporate problem.

The weeks went on and Cisco Live kept getting closer, my presentation sat untouched. Finally in mid-May I got around to completing it one night with a rush of energy lasting into the wee hours of the morning. I previewed it to my mirror a few times, tweaked here and there, then my SE and AM from Cisco came in and listened to it. They gave a couple suggestions and I obliged. It was done. Nothing more to do except wait until the big show.

Cisco Live rolled around and I got myself checked in at the speaker registration and was told that I didn’t have to turn my presentation in until the day before my session. Perfect. I was freaking out and wanted to tear the whole thing apart and start over, so that’s just what I did. Monday night at Cisco Live (my session was on Wednesday, which meant a Tuesday due date) I did just that. I stayed up late, nearly 3am, and completed it again. I felt pretty good with the material. I had an hour’s worth and I think I covered everything pretty well but left enough time for interjections and questions. I turned it in, made sure it would work on their computers (I built it on a Mac), and had someone make sure I wasn’t shaming the Cisco brand name, all the while panicking about my panel.

Wednesday morning. My panel was at 8am. I woke up extra early, got myself composed, walked to the convention center and grabbed some coffee from the Starbucks. I made my way to the hall where I would be sitting and walked in to see how big the room was. Oi. It was big and there was a stage, with lights and cameras. I swallowed the vomit back and made my way up front, introduced myself to the host and got ready for the massacre. Except it wasn’t a massacre, it went really well. I was comfortable once it started and happy with how well it went, I really felt good about the whole thing. It was a bit of fun and I think I was able to offer a unique insight into how different higher education can be from enterprise. My speaker reviews were high and I’m really happy that I did it.

On to my session! It started at 12:30 so I grabbed a quick bite to eat and made my way to the room by 12:15 to get setup and greet the people who came. As I entered the room I was approached by a member of the staff who kindly informed me the room had been overbooked. My presentation, scheduled to run until 1:30, had to be cleared out by 1:15 so the next speaker could get setup. Now my hour long setup had to be cut down considerably, by almost half if I wanted to allow for questions! That threw me a little bit but I persevered (#firstworldproblems). I explained the time crunch situation, asked people to let me know if I went too fast, and ran my session. I had a few people asking questions the whole time which helped with the flow. When I finished, just before the next speaker entered the room, everyone seemed satisfied. I even had my SE in the room who complimented me on the presentation (it was completely different than the one he had seen). It wasn’t too bad, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth about presenting abstract content. I really wanted to dive deep into the tech of everything but there simply wasn’t time for me to even touch on it. I had to keep the whole thing at 30,000 ft. to keep within time constraints and in the spirit of the presentation.

All in all, I had a great time being part of the biggest Cisco Live yet. I would hope that in the future I may be invited to sit on a panel again, possibly something focused on higher education. If I were asked/wanted to host a session again, I would first of all want to be a co-presenter (I’m still working on those public speaking abilities), and second of all want to have the ability to go into greater depth of the technology.

I have been asked for the session slides and they are made available on Cisco Live Virtual, session ID CCSSEC-4424 PDF. They are sparse because I wanted to talk about most of the content, explain each area in depth.

My employer gave me permission to use their name but speak on my own behalf at Cisco Live. My words are my own and do not represent the views of anyone other than myself.

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