Cisco Live — Convincing Your Boss to Send You

Read­ing Time: 3 min­utes

“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.