Here’s a list of my favorite networking-focused events ranked with number 1 being the best. “Best” means a conference or event that either had a ton of relevant networking content for me personally or that helped me directly in my career (for example, I’ve never been focused on storage at all – therefore you won’t see those events that on my list).
So if you’re in the networking field like me, check out these events and feel free to disagree in the comments or on the socials 🙂
ONUG would be higher on the list if I was writing this in 2014, but in recent days I feel this event has become a little too marketing-oriented for me. However, years ago when I was in the throws of configuring VLANs and racking gear, ONUG was a great place to learn about very timely technology and how to solve actual problems I was facing in my day-to-day job as a VAR engineer. I liked how they weren’t just presentations that ended up being long sales-pitches, even though many of the presentations were delivered by vendors.
Events are held each spring and fall, and you can still find that kind of great content along with blogs, webinars, and podcasts on pure tech as well as content that speaks to industry trends and analysis.
6. AWS re:Invent
AWS re:Invent is only about 10 years old, but it’s become one of the biggest tech conferences out there. I was reluctant to attend at first because I wasn’t heavily into cloud at the time. However, as I started working with AWS I found that there was a lot to learn about cloud networking.
AWS re:Invent actually turned out to be a great event for me to meet people from across the technology spectrum and connect the dots between what I do in networking and what’s going on in the cloud world.
I’m warning you now – Sharkfest gets into the weeds. The presentations are all about packet analysis and troubleshooting network problems using Wireshark and analyzing traffic byte by byte. There was a time when Wireshark was my last resort with troubleshooting, but one day it dawned on me that when the problem wasn’t immediately obvious, it was actually better to start with a pcap rather than treating it as an act of troubleshooting desperation.
Once that happened, I started watching a ton of the Sharkfest video content on their YouTube channel selecting videos that were just so specific and relevant I had to bookmark the page.
I’ve never attended a Sharkfest, but I love their content very much and would like to attend one day if the opportunity arises. If you’re a practicing network engineer in the trenches, visit the Sharkfest website and YouTube channel and just start browsing presentation titles.
4. WLPC (Wireless LAN Professionals)
I’ve never attended any of the WLAN Professionals events in person, and I’ve only sort of flirted with the very outer edges of the wireless community. I was pretty deep into wireless for maybe 4 or 5 years, though, and in that time I consumed a ton of WLAN Pros content.
Even if you’re not specifically a wireless engineer, you’re going to learn so much from these incredibly practical, relevant, technical, and timely presentations most of which can be found on the WLAN Pros YouTube channel. Honestly, there’s literally no fluff at all, so you won’t be wasting your time checking this out.
So this is a tough one. NANOG is almost exclusively service provider focused, so unless you’re configuring global BGP routing or really really into undersea cables, this event may not be for you. But even if you’re not a service provider engineer, there’s just so much serious networking talent at this event and in the various presentations that you won’t leave empty handed.
NANOG also seems to have a lot of the same crowd attending event-to-event including some very big names in the industry, so the people networking is really awesome and better than most other events.
2. Cisco Live
Cisco Live is the biggest and most well-known event in networking, and the likelihood is you’re already aware of it. If you have an opportunity to attend a Cisco Live in person, do it. If you can’t attend, watch the on demand library of Cisco Live sessions. There’s so so so much technical content you can use for learning, research, and even to prepare for that next deployment.
Personally, the main sessions like the keynotes and other large gatherings aren’t very important to me, but you may find it interesting to hear about the direction Cisco is taking in the coming year. Like NANOG, one of the main benefits of Cisco Live, assuming you can attend in person, is the people networking. It really is an incredible opportunity to make connections that could very easily lead to job opportunities and career advancement.
1. Networking Field Day
Not exactly a conference, Networking Field Day is one of the events under the Tech Field Day umbrella of events, and for me this is the best networking-focused event to watch, and if possible, attend as a delegate. When I’m researching a new technology, many of blog posts and YouTube videos I come across are presentations from NFD or blogs by delegates.
For me this was a life-changing event because I got extremely timely technical info about the very latest networking technologies coming from both startups and the biggest names in the business. Also, NFD presentations have always felt like they were a couple years ahead of the rest of the networking industry which means if you’re watching these YouTube videos, you’re being exposed to some of the very latest emerging tech there is.
NFD gave me a great opportunity to learn about specific networking technologies that I rarely used in my dayjob. Sure, I could have labbed those things up on my own whenever I wanted to, but attending NFD forced the issue. This was a big deal because it made me a more well-rounded network engineer and architect without having to deploy every single technology in existence.
Becoming part of the NFD community also allowed me to make a ton of new friendships with great people who also happened to be great engineers. Sometimes just sitting in the room listening to other delegates speak was like sitting in a technical class, and it was something I valued very much. Since NFD is a very public and well-regarded event, the traffic to my blog and social media jumped up and new career opportunities started popping up regularly.
One of the real beauties of NFD is that the presenters know (most of the time) that the delegates are there for deep, hard-hitting technical content without any marketing fluff. It forces vendors to cut to the chase, keep it real, and just present their technology for what it is. That’s a big deal to me.
NFD isn’t an event you can just attend in person if you’re not an actual delegate, so I encourage you to watch the videos on YouTube and participate via social media during the livestreams. And if you’re interested in becoming a delegate, I promise that it will change your life.
I know left out a bunch of conferences, but I wanted to stick to a list of events that impacted me the most. Also not on this list are the local NOGs and meetups which I’ve attended only occasionally. I’ve enjoyed them, but to be honest they’re usually very small and not local to me. I don’t prioritize them because it’s such a hassle to attend for only a few hours since it usually means flying somewhere or driving for many hours. If they were more convenient to me I’d definitely attend more.
Though I’m sure you’ve heard of at least one if not several of these events, I hope I was able to help introduce you to something new that will help you on your own journey in networking.