Advice After 17 Trips to CLUS

By certskills April 24, 2017 14:53

I’ve been to Cisco Live in the US – #CLUS in the Twitterverse – for what seems like almost every year since I was a kid. So, I thought I’d collect some thoughts about the show into a blog post. Frankly, the ideas kept flowing, and the post got rather long. But rather than spread the content over multiple posts, I put it all in this one post. Jump in and find:



  • Things to Bring
  • Maximizing What You Learn
  • Must Do Activities
  • Going to CLUS on a Small Budget
  • Advice Related to the Conference Center and Local Hotels

Also, for those attending… the session scheduler opened for NetVets this week, and opens for all on May 2nd!

It’s a long post, so look for those headings!

Things to Bring

No matter where you stay, you will need a few supplies to make the conference easier:

Bring a water bottle. In case you hadn’t heard, Las Vegas is in the desert. Even inside the air is much drier than where most of us come from. And you add all that walking, in the summer. At the shops at the hotel, 1 bottle of water costs $5-6. And while they supply water at the show, it’s in 5-gallon tubs from which you can pour water into a cup instead of filling a landfill with tons of disposable water bottles that week. Solution: bring your own water bottle, fill it up every time you see a water station, and don’t forget to tank up on water.

Buy a collapsible/hiking water bottle. For anyone who wants to carry less with them, and maybe avoid carrying a backpack, get a collapsible water bottle before the show. They often come with attachments so you can loop it on your belt loops. It’s a great option if you do not intend to carry a backpack or bag.

Use Your CLUS New Backpack? If you attend with a full conference pass, you will get a backpack. You can plan to use it, and not bring your own. (The photo shown here is the 2016 backpack.)

Lightest backpack and kit you can get by with. Think about what you will want to drag around with you at the show each day. Then find the lightest/smallest bag/backpack that you already have, bring that, and use it. Often, I find the CLUS free backpack, while nice to own, is a bit too big for use at the show. I often use a small side pack, and this year, I may manage without a pack at all. Then just carry the new CLUS backpack onto the plane with you.

Bring two pair of your most comfortable walking shoes. 5-6 miles of walking per day for the conference itself. Good shoes, broken in, two pair in case one pair has a problem. Simple enough.


Maximizing What You Learn

People go to CLUS for many reasons, but one of the big reasons is to learn. It may be to learn about a specific technology, or to learn a little about many different technologies. It may be to get answers to specific questions, or to practice a skill in lab. Or it may be that you do not know the topic, and you go just to have your eyes opened to the possibilities.

The good news is that if you go, and pay attention, you will learn a lot.

The better news is that if take the time to plan a little, you can learn even more. In this section, I’ll suggest a few ways to maximize what you learn.


The World of Solutions (WoS)

The CLUS World of Solutions (WoS) includes many features of the show, but most notably a larger area with booths hosted by a variety of vendors. Cisco itself has a large presence at WoS, but so will a few hundred other companies.

You could easily spend half the show at WoS. It is large, it is often crowded, and there is a lot to see and do. Here are a few tips:

Plan which companies you must see and which you’d like to see if time permits. If you already know what vendors you want to see (in addition to Cisco of course), check out the map. Then plan your priorities. There’s a lot to do at CLUS, so getting it all in is a challenge.

Learn what companies will be there. Of course, there is a list!

Would you give up 1 session slot for a few hours of higher quality time in WoS? Depending on the schedule, you have about 10-11 time slots of breakout sessions during the week. Would you spend the time during one of those timeslots in WoS? The WoS is the least busy during sessions, and that’s the best time to get the attention of those at the booths for a conversation.

Don’t expect to do as much learning during social hours on Monday/Tuesday nights. For those that haven’t been there, the people that run CLUS put out a nice spread of hors devourers and drinks, and they place them in the aisles of the WoS. The WoS is open, but it’s a madhouse as well. So, think of it as a social hour with WoS open, but it seems like everyone at the show is in the room at that point. So, grab something to eat and drink and enjoy whatever conversation comes up!


Plan Your Sessions

Do not show up at the show and then start thinking about what sessions to attend! Here’s why:

  • While the conference pass gets you into any conference session, you must register for the session (so they can plan).
  • If a session fill up because others planned earlier than you, you can choose to be on a wait list for the session
  • Better to think about it in early May, register, and then change your mind later.

How do you do it? Use the session scheduler. Once you have registered for the conference, you can begin my marking your interest in sessions. Then, by May 2nd (per a tweet reply from @CiscoLive), the scheduler will be open for business. At that point, you can choose what sessions to attend in each time slot.


Why Take Notes?

Yes, taking notes. I know from experience at CLUS that many more people sit and listen instead of taking notes at the presentations. For me, I almost always take notes. So, let me start with some reasons why.


First, my primary motivation to go to CLUS is to learn. Frankly, I learn more by taking notes than by sitting and listening, even if I never open the notes again. But I also open the notes again after the show, which helps me learn the content a little better.

Second, the pace at CLUS is intense. Sure, you can attend, do a little less, and keep the intensity at bay. But there are learning opportunities from roughly 8AM to 7PM most days, and options for other things to do afterwards. Before I started taking notes at CLUS, I found that I would forget the morning’s topics by late afternoon the same day. I need to write something down.

Finally, if you are willing to strike up conversations, you can learn a ton from the other people at the show. Sometimes you might need to remember what you learned from a colleague, or from a vendor at their booth, or at a social event.

So, how about you? What will your plan be? Here are some questions to ask yourself, and then I’ll give my suggestions:

  1. Will you take notes in the typical 1-2 hour breakout sessions in the conference and at DevNet?
  2. Will you take notes in the keynote speeches?
  3. Will you take notes about conversations: at WoS, or Meet the Engineer, or other conversational settings?
  4. What are your preferred tools for taking notes?


Advice on Taking Notes at CLUS

Get an audio notes app that makes the recording available on all your preferred devices.

For instance, I use AudioNote, an app on my iPhone. It stores the audio files in iCloud (and supports Dropbox as well). I use it for quick spoken notes after meaningful conversations.

For instance, if I plan to talk to a vendor about a particular topic, once I do that, I’ll find the quietest nearby spot at the show floor and talk to the app. I record the important facts from the conversation, and then move on. Later – on the trip home, or within the next week – I’ll listen to those notes and turn them into text, usually in Evernote or in a Mind Map.

Use a tablet with mind mapping software for notes in sessions.

In the sessions, you obviously can’t take audio notes without disturbing others. Many rooms are rows of chairs, no tables, with chairs linked together. Even if the room has tables, and you get a little more space, it’s still a little tight if the room is full. So, using a laptop can be a challenge.


My personal preference is to use a tablet and a mind-mapping app. I’ve used a full-sized iPad in the past, which worked fine. However, I now use an iPad Mini, and I can hold it in two hands and reach all keys in the on-screen keyboard with the two-hand grip, tapping with left and right thumbs. (With the larger iPad, I had to hold the iPad underneath, and use the single-finger typing.) It’s just a bit quicker with the smaller tablet.

So, years ago I started Mind Mapping (or sometimes other notes as time and content allowed) for any event. (I have mind maps – that I can find – from CLUS dating back to 2013.) Why Mind Mapping? At CLUS especially, my goals for technical content are:

  • To recall more of the main points
  • To organize the main points so I can better understand the technology in the next conversations about it at the show.
  • The NOT attempt to master the content, as if in a class. I’d expect to listen to recording again if I wanted to try and master that session’s content.

A mind map does the trick. It’s excellent at letting you mentally organize and re-organize over time, it requires only short notes, and it’s electronic. While I do use Evernote a lot for freeform notes, I find that a mind mapping app really helps in that first listen at a show, given the pace of the show overall, the need to sift many topics in a short few days, and the need to re-organize.

FYI, I typically review/update the maps on the flight home, and then take one more pass at them at some point in the next month or two to help internalize the notes.

By the way, because I use iPhone, iPad, and Mac, I like MindNode Pro


Must See and Do

CLUS has too much to do. Here are some of my favorites!

Lunch and Learn (formerly Table Topics): Ever feel awkward at a conference sitting there eating with strangers? Well, how about tables where a topic of conversation is already listed, and it’s a technology topic related to CLUS. Go to the Lunch and Learn area where meals are served, look at the list of topics, and go to that table. Each table is staffed with a Cisco employee or two and a pre-arranged topic. Have a seat, join in the conversation, or get some questions answered. (I almost always end up at one of these tables at CLUS for lunch.)

DevNet Zone – It’s like a conference in a conference. I’ve spent 1/3 to ½ of my time at CLUS in the DevNet Zone over the last few years. Sessions and labs all about topics related to software control of networks.

The DevNet Zone used to be one of the best-kept secrets at CLUS. Truly, there is far too much to do in the time allotted at CLUS, and the DevNet Zone was first part of CLUS in CLUS San Francisco back in 2014. And the DevNet Zone has grown and in the number of sessions.

Meet People: Cisco Champions, Social Media Hub, Cisco Cert Zone: You CAN go to the show, be anonymous, and not be “bothered” by having to talk to a lot of people. But you’ll get more out of it if you make a point to meet people. Here are some simple ideas for meeting people if you want to do more than just chit chat with the person beside you at lunch or a conference session:

Hang out at the Cisco Certification Lounge.

Do you have a Cisco Certification? Then you can get into this lounge, grab something to eat or drink, and find several folks willing to chat. Learn more about Cisco certifications, and meet the people that make Cisco courses and exams happen.

Hang out at the Social Media Hub

The social media hub is a hangout space. You do not have to have a social media account or app on your phone to be there, but it is a place to hang out when Tweeting etc. about the show. But it’s also a GREAT way to meet people! Many of the people there are hanging out talking.

Break the Ice with Cisco Champions

Cisco Champions are a group of people who work in the industry, who are not Cisco employees, but who are active online in discussing Cisco technology. For your purposes, though, many Cisco Champions come to CLUS, and they often hang out at the social media hub! As a group, we’re easy folks to get to know, start a techie conversation, learn something about the show, and make a contact. And then maybe you’ll want to be a Cisco Champion next year as well! You could:

  • Go to the Social Media hub
  • Tweet a bit, tag it with #CLUS, #CiscoChampion, and ask if there are any Cisco Champions at the social media hub right now
  • Find them
  • Then you’ll know one more person!

Also, there’s usually a Sunday Tweetup around 6PM – another great place to meet people!


Go to the Party… and Get a Hat!

The Cisco Live Customer Appreciation Event, aka CAE, aka the Party, is a great event. It’s lots of food, drink, and a concert by a legit band or two. This year, it’s Bruno Mars.

Each year I torment my teenage daughter with the announcement. You have to be 21 to attend, and she about died last year when she wasn’t allowed to come along to see Adam Levine’s band Maroon 5.  This year, when I told her that it was Bruno Mars, her response was classic:

I’m so bitter I can’t go ugh.

Looking forward to when she hits 21 and can come with me! But bring your spouse (or even adult son/daughter) and get him/her a social pass!

Oh yeah, and you get a hat, too. Those are cool – and not revealed until the party!


If I left Out Your Favorite… Say So!

Cisco Live has tons to do. I already spent a lot of time writing this post – just had to stop. If I left out your favorite, tell me what it is in the comment area!


CLUS on a Budget

If you can justify the cost, CLUS is a wonderful show. I could go on and on about why, but I can sum it up this way. It’s a business expense for me, but I’ve paid my own way to CLUS for around 15 of the 17 or so years I’ve been to CLUS. Clearly, I think it’s worth the $ for the full conference package.

That said, you can go on a budget. Here are some ideas about how.


Explorer Pass: $100 or so, Tons of Opportunities

This pass gets you into:

  • The World of Solutions all four days
  • DevNet Zone all four days
  • All Keynotes
  • The World of Solutions receptions (food and drink) in the late afternoon evenings Mon – Wed

DevNet can keep you busy all by itself for the entire week. Or fly in one morning, stay overnight one night, and do the WoS in depth for a day or two. And yes, for those on a super tight budget, there’s enough to eat at the show floor to make that your meal. So, it can truly be an inexpensive way to get a great show experience without much cash.


Add: Cisco Empowered Women’s Network for $200-$250

Come Sunday for the Cisco EWN event, and then stay for the WoS and DevNet Zone!


Add: A Social Pass to the Explorer Pass

The Social Pass gets you into the party (aka Customer Appreciation Event) on Wednesday night with Bruno Mars in concert. Yep.


Attend DevNet as a Conference unto Itself

I’ll close this section with a suggestion that I tried at CLUS San Diego in 2015. Buy the explorer pass for not a lot, and then spend most of your time at the DevNet Zone, with a little time at the World of Solutions (WoS). In particular:

  • The DevNet Zone has more to do than you can fit in the week all by itself
  • You can go to the WoS while the main conference sessions are being held, so the WoS is less crowded, and it’s easier to see demos and talk to vendors
  • It’s inexpensive

One day, I imagine that DevNet may be its own conference. But for now, it’s an inexpensive and great conference all by itself.

You can check out all the details at this link, but if you’ve never heard of it, another great resource is to check out this blog post from Hank Preston of DevNet. It describes a track, that is, a suggested series of sessions at the DevNet Zone. It can give you a good idea of how you might proceed if you’re new with network programmability.


Advice Related to the Conference Center and Local Hotels

The Place: The Mandalay Bay Hotel and Conference Center

Las Vegas has many of the world’s largest hotels. And that means you should think big and think long when planning your trip. Many hotels are huge, and walking distances are surprisingly long compared to what you might guess from a map. For instance:

  • CLUS, with over 20,000 attendees most likely, can be hosted in one huge hotel’s conference center.
  • The CLUS keynotes are held in a 12,000-seat arena that regularly hosts concerts with major artists.

For perspective, I clocked my steps from walking out of my hotel room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, to the breakfast table in the Mandalay Bay conference center. It was appx. ¾ of a mile. A typical day was 5-6 miles of walking to/from/at the conference when staying at the closest hotel. You will walk a lot. Be ready!

Staying at the Mandalay Bay or The Delano

The Mandalay Bay hotel and the Delano hotel both connect to the same casino and conference center, and both are equal distance walks to CLUS. For those, you’ll just log those 5-6 miles per day if you follow my habits. Some suggestions:

If you want breakfast, walk out of your hotel room no later than 40 minutes before the first session. That gives time for what will likely total 1 mile or a little more walking, plus grabbing food from the buffet. (FYI, it’s usually cereal, fruit, and other easy-to-grab and eat, and usually good for the fact that they’re feeding a small-sized town each meal time.)

If you want a good seat at the first session, leave 20 minutes earlier.

Check the size of the room (usually listed on the app). Larger rooms may not mean more space, in fact, larger rooms may mean that they gave it the room due to large demand.

Here’s a nice map, useful no matter where you stay.

Staying at Luxor

The Luxor is another monster-big hotel, but older and less expensive. It also connects to the Mandalay Bay Casino (which then connects to the conference center) by a mall. I’d call it another ½ mile one-way from your hotel room door at the Luxor to the casino at Mandalay Bay, just to compare walking from a Mandalay Bay hotel room vs. a Luxor hotel room. Some options:

Tram: There is a tram from the Luxor to the Mandalay that can save you steps, but probably will cost you a few minutes unless you catch it right as it leaves.

Indoor Walk through Mall: You can stay indoors for the entire walk – a big plus in the Vegas heat!

Mall has Hangout Places: You may walk through The mall often anyway, because it has lots of restaurants/bars for informal hang-out time anyway, so staying at the Luxor is a reasonable compromise.

Staying at Excalibur

Excalibur is the next hotel down the strip on the same side of the street. It also connects with indoor passageways through to the Luxor, and it also connects to the same free tram that ends at the Mandalay Bay. It’s not on the list of hotels for the show, but in case you end up there:

  • Better chance that the tram is useful from this hotel. It’s another .5 to .75 mile walk one-way beyond the Luxor. I’d check the tram schedule.
  • Note that the tram normally does not run until the tourists are awake, so it’s not a good AM commute option.

Staying at the MGM Grand

By some measurements, the MGM Grand is the world’s largest hotel, with over 6,000 hotel rooms. It consumes a large Las Vegas block. If I were staying there for CLUS, I’d suggest:

Make use of the CLUS shuttle buses. CLUS will run shuttle buses to/from all the hotels on the conference hotel list (at least those far enough away to need a shuttle service). Do not look at the map and think that the MGM is close.

Plan to stay at CLUS all day. If staying at the Mandalay of Delano, you could check back in your room here or there. MGM and a few other show hotels are just too far to be worth the trip back and forth. Have a plan of what to bring, and plan to stay all day.

It’s a huge hotel, nice, and a great option is you plan to do Vegas at night! If you expect to wrap up your time at the show in the late afternoon or early evening, and head out to do Vegas, the MGM is the better starting point vs. all the hotels I’ve mentioned. The Mandalay Bay is on the South end of the strip, and truly, the end of the strip, while the MGM Grand is roughly 1 mile more towards the center. MGM is on the longer (small fee) tram that runs down the length of the strip. The MGM itself has many amenities, and of course you’re now a shorter walk to the main part of the Vegas strip.


Say Hi if You’re There!

I’ll be there from the Saturday before the show up until Friday the week of the show. Send me a tweet if you want to stop for a cuppa coffee in the breakfast room! (@WendellOdom)





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By certskills April 24, 2017 14:53
Write a comment


  1. Jeffrey Wiley May 5, 08:12

    Would be nice to see a map of the MGM like you have of the Mandalay. Great article. This will be my first event and can’t wait to go.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Kevin Nelson May 5, 15:46

    Great write up Wendell. I stayed at the Excalibur last year and for giggles wore a pedometer the whole time. The walk from my room to the morning feed was right at 1.2 miles each way and I logged over 35 miles for the whole conference. None of that put me off because I’m staying there this year as well. In the Vegas summer heat, never underestimate the importance of indoor walkways.

    Reply to this comment
    • certskills Author May 5, 16:05

      Wow, 35 miles – quite a lot!
      I used to exercise in the morning before the show. Now I exercise more the weeks ahead of time to be ready for the show!

      Reply to this comment
  3. Evan Mintzer May 26, 19:21

    Another event for 1st timers is the New to CiscoLive session on Sunday at 4pm (right before the tweetup). Find out more about this in the session scheduled.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Celso Ibrahim April 1, 17:50

    Dear Wendell, I know this is not the right channel for my question, but I would like to thank you for your work, since I got your CCNA Routing and Switching 200-125 Official Cert Guide Library and just got my CCNA R&S.
    Now I am planning to go for CCNA Data Center and I notice you wrote 2 books for the old tests and since I really liked your books I am wondering if you have any plan to have a new version of CCNA Data Center books.
    Thanks a lot,

    Reply to this comment
    • certskills Author April 3, 11:02

      Hi Celso,
      Thanks for the note! No problem to reach out at some random post. I do sometimes take a few weeks to answer on the blog, but looks like you just posted your question a few days ago.

      To your question, I wrote one edition of the DCICN Cert Guide, but then had to let it go to other authors for the edition after that. If you look here you’ll see the current CCNA Data Center books from Cisco Press. When it was time to create the current editions, I was engaged writing other products, and had to let the DCICN book go to other authors.

      As for a subsequent edition for a future version of the certifications, I wouldn’t be able to comment – I pretty much can’t talk about future products, yes/no/maybe, just because I’m always done writing by the time Cisco would announce a certification change. But nothing you can buy today.

      Thanks for asking!

      Reply to this comment
  5. Steve Kostyk May 5, 17:11

    Wendall is a Cisco Icon! He know what’s good!

    Reply to this comment
    • certskills Author May 16, 10:01

      Steve! You’re too funny. See you at the show – maybe we can manage to get a ticket to hang out in the luxury suites at the party again this year. 🙂

      Reply to this comment
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