All posts tagged tme


While I’m thinking about another TAC Tale, I’m quite busy working on slides for Cisco Live.  I figured this makes for another interesting “inside Cisco” post, since most people who have been to the show don’t know much about how it comes together.  A couple years back I asked a customer if I could schedule a meeting with him after Cisco Live, since I was working on slides.  “I thought the Cisco Live people made the slides and you just showed up and presented them!” he said.  Wow, I wish that was the case.  With hundreds of sessions I’m not sure how the CL team could accomplish that, but it would sure be nice for me.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

If you haven’t been, Cisco Live is a large trade show for network engineers which happens four times globally: in Europe, Australia, the US, and Mexico.  The US event is the largest, but Europe is rather large as well.  Australia and Mexico are smaller but still draw a good crowd.  The Europe and US shows move around.  The last two years Europe was in Barcelona, as it will be next year, but it was in Berlin two years before that.  The US show is in San Diego this year, was in Orlando last year, and was in Las Vegas for two years before that.  Australia is always in Melbourne, and Mexico is always in Cancun.  I went to Cisco Live US twice when I worked for a partner, and I’ve been to every event at least once since I’ve worked at Cisco as a TME.

The show has an number of attractions.  There is a large show floor with booths from Cisco and partners.  There are executive and celebrity keynotes.  The deepest content is delivered in sessions–labs, techtorials, and breakout sessions which can have between 20 and several hundred attendees.  The sessions are divided into different tracks:  collaboration, security, certification, routing and switching, etc., so attendees can focus on one or more areas.

Most CL sessions are delivered by technical marketing engineers like myself, who work in a business unit, day in and day out, with their given product.  As far as I know anyone in Cisco can submit a session, so some are delivered by people in sales, IT, CX (TAC or AS), and other organizations.  Some are even delivered by partners and customers.

Six months before a given event, a “call for papers” goes out.  I’m always amused that they pulled this term from academia, as the “papers” are mostly powerpoints and not exactly academic.  If you want to do a session, you need to figure out what you want to present and then write up an abstract, which contains not only the description, but also explains why the session is relevant to attendees, what they can hope to get out of it, and what the prerequisites are.  Each track has a group of technical experts who manage it, called “Session Group Managers”, or SGMs.  They come from anywhere in the business, but have the technical expertise to review the abstracts and sessions to ensure they are relevant and well-delivered.  For about a year, the SGM for the track I usually presented actually reported to me.  They have a tough job, because they receive a large number of applications for sessions, far more than the slots they have.  They look at the topic, quality of the abstract, quality of the speaker, available slots, and other factors in figuring out which sessions get the green light.

Once you have an approved session, you can start making slides.  Other than a standard template, there is not much guidance on how to build a deck for Cisco Live.  My old SGM liked to review each new presentation live, although some SGMs don’t.  Most of us end up making our slides quite close to the event, partly because we are busy, but also because we want to have the latest and most current info in our decks.  It’s actually hard to write up a session abstract six months before the event.  Things change rapidly in our industry, and often your original plan for a session gets derailed by changes in the product or organization.  More than once I’ve had a TME on my team presenting on a topic he is no longer working on!  One of my TMEs was presenting on Nexus switches several months after our team switched to Catalyst only.

At Cisco Live you may run into the “speaker ready room.”  It’s a space for speakers to work on slides, supplied by coffee and food, but there is also a small army of graphic design experts in there who will review the speakers’ slides one last time before they are presented. They won’t comment on your design choices, but simply review them to ensure they are consistent with the template formatting.  We’re required to submit our final deck 24 hours before our session, which gives the CL staff time to post the slides for the attendees.

Standing up in front  of a room full of engineers is never easy, especially when they are grading you.  If you rate in the top 10% of speakers, you win a “Distinguished Speaker” award.  If you score below 4.2 you need to take remedial speaker training.  If your score is low more than a couple times, the SGMs might ask you not to come back.  Customers pay a lot of money to come to CL and we don’t want them disappointed.  For a presenter, being scored, and the high stakes associated with the number you receive, makes a CL presentation even more stressful.  One thing I’ve had to accept is that some people just won’t like me.  I’ve won distinguished speaker before, but I’ve had some sessions with less-than-stellar comments too.

The stress aside, CL is one of the most rewarding things we do.  Most of the audience is friendly and wants to learn.It’s a fun event, and we make great contacts with others who are passionate about their field.  For my readers who are not Cisco TMEs (most I suspect), I hope you have a chance to experience Cisco Live at least once in your career.  Now you know the amount of work that goes into it.

Cisco Live Orlando has wrapped up, at least for me, and I can relax until Cisco Live Europe in January.  I never realized how much work goes into Cisco Live until I became a TME.  Building labs, working on slides, preparing demos, and arranging customer meetings is a months-long process and always a scramble at the end.  It’s a great show, and I can say that having attended as a customer.  It’s more fun and less work to be an attendee, but for technical marketing engineers, it’s still a blast and the highlight of the year.

Orlando had a special significance for me because it was at CL Orlando in 2007 that I decided I really wanted to be a TME.  I attended several breakouts and thought that I’d love to be up in front of the room, teaching folks how about technology.  The only problem:  I was terrified of public speaking.

It took years of trainings, including many as a Toastmaster, before I became comfortable in front of an audience.  That’s a story for another time.  It also took years before the right job opened up, and there were a couple near moves into technical marketing that didn’t work out.  I have to say, I’m glad I have this job and love (almost) every minute of it.

Still, getting up in front of a bunch of your (rather smart) peer network engineers and claiming some sort of expertise is nerve-wracking.  Wanting to do well in front of an audience can lead to frustration.  My main breakout session, BRKCRS-2451, Scripting Catalyst Switches, won me two distinguished speaker awards in a row.  This year, however, the scores are looking quite a bit lower.

It didn’t help that the start time was 8am.  I’m not a morning person, and 8am in Orlando was 5am for me.  The old neurons just weren’t firing for the first 30-45 minutes of the presentation, and in front of 400 people that just isn’t good.

A dose of humility is a good thing, though.  I know TMEs who would kill for my “disappointing” score, so it wasn’t that bad.  And the comments were quite helpful, in fact, and make clear what people are looking for and where they didn’t think I delivered.

I structured BRKCRS-2451 as a journey through developing a script on IOS XE.  The session begins with a demo of a fairly simple script, which pulls some data down from a switch and then formats it and sends it to a Webex Teams (formerly Spark) room.  Then, I break down the script starting with installing Python, and some of the tools needed, like Git and Virtual Environments.  Then I move on to YANG/NETCONF, talk about REST, and then wrap it up by showing how it all fits together to build the script I demoed.

It was a winning formula for a while, but I’m suspecting network engineers have up-leveled their programmability skills in the last year or so.  When I used to explain what GitHub was, network engineers usually were relieved to have it explained to them.  Now I think they all know.

I have a few ideas for making the session more relevant.  Still, it was a great experience talking to 400 people, meeting customers around the show floor and halls, and visiting some of my colleagues’ sessions.  Hopefully my attendees got something out of the session, and I look forward to the next Cisco Live.

Jesse, a recent commentor, asked why I haven’t been posting much lately.  In fact, my last post was August of 2017.  Well, there are several reasons I don’t post much these days.  In part, I’m not convinced anyone is reading.  It’s nice to see a comment now and again to realize it’s not just spambots looking at SZ.

The other major reason was a job change.  I moved to Cisco over two years ago, and I came in as an individual contributor (IC).  I liked to joke that I had never been so busy since…the last time I worked at Cisco.  However, as an IC, I had no idea how easy I had it.

Someone got the crazy idea to make me a manager.  So now, not only do I have the Principal Technical Marketing Engineer title, I also manage a team of 10 TMEs.  The team happens to be driving Software-Defined Access, currently Cisco’s flagship product.  So, the time for blogging is a bit limited.  I’m still working on programmability in my spare time, and I’m continuing to do Cisco Live sessions at least twice a year.  My hair is turning white and I don’t think it’s just my age.

That said, I cannot image a better job or place to be than this job at this time.  It’s an exciting company to work for, and an exciting time.  The team that reports to me includes some of the smartest and hardest working TMEs in Cisco.  These guys are legendary.  (For me “guys” is gender-neutral, for those of you who worry about such things.)  And my boss is considered by many to be one of the best who ever did the TME job.

A quick primer on exactly what a TME does, for those who don’t know:  We are (usually) attached to a business unit within Cisco, and we are really an interface between sales and engineering.  We also work directly with customers, but generally when sales pulls us in.  TMEs are technical (the “T” in “TME”) so they are expected to know their product/technology in detail.  They are, however marketers (the “M” in “TME”) so they need to be able to explain what their product does.

On the inbound side, we learn the requirements for products from sales and customers and communicate those requirements to engineering.  We work closely with Product Managers (PMs) to develop Product Requirement Documents (PRDs) and meet regularly with engineering to ensure that they are building their products in a way that satisfies marketing requirements.

On the outbound side, we develop collateral, which could be white papers, videos, slide decks, etc.  (We do not write the documentation you see on CCO, but we certainly review it.)  We present to our sales team in twice-a-year events, explaining the latest developments in our products and collecting their feedback on what we could do better.  We travel on site to meet with customers in support of sales, or else meet the customers here, at the Executive Briefing Center (EBC).  The most enjoyable part of the year, for most of us, is Cisco Live, our major trade show.

We have four CL events each year:  Europe, South America, Australia, and US.  The US event is the largest of all.  I generally attend both Europe (we were in Barcelona this year) and the US event (Orlando this time).  These events are a blast, but I never realized how much hard work goes into planning the event and developing the content.  It’s also stressful.  I’ve been fortunate to win distinguished speaker two events in a row, which means I was rated in the top 10%.  However, standing in front of an audience of hundreds is always a bit nerve-wracking, and getting ready requires a ton of preparation.  Still, it’s a great opportunity to meet with customers and have a good time.

The pace of work for TMEs is relentless.  I used to say TAC was relentless, because the second you close a case, you take another.  Well, with two SEVTs (sales events) and four Cisco Lives to prepare for, plus a constant and never-ending series of product/software releases…well, it never stops here either.

So that’s why the blogs have fallen away.  I do think I can find 10-15 minutes to post updates at least every week, so I’m going to try to do it.  I wouldn’t mind actually writing the series on programmability I started.  I’d like to clean up and revise the 10 years a CCIE series.  I also have another TAC tale to write up, one of my all-time favorites, so look for that soon.

And to Jesse:  thanks for getting me going!