A Newbie's Guide: Prepping for Citrix Synergy 2018

As I prepare for attending Citrix Synergy 2018,  I thought I would talk a bit about my preparation for Synergy, what I'm looking forward to, and what I think you'll want to look for–with special attention to those who may not have attended before.

The Top 3 Things To Remember to Prepare for Synergy

The three things most important for getting the most out of Synergy in my mind are: Preparation, Sessions and Connections.

Prepare In Advance… But Don’t Over-Prepare.

Booking Travel

Citrix Synergy 2018 takes place in Anaheim, California. If you haven’t booked your flights, now would be a good time...but please read the whole article before you do that!

If your company is paying: Book the conference hotels if you still can.

If you are paying: You'll save a lot of money at some of the other hotels within either walking or Uber distance. For example, though I’m a huge Marriott guy, I saved a ton of money booking the Clarion hotel next door.

The reality about your hotel room is, you’ll just be sleeping there. The overwhelming majority of your time will be spent at the event or at sponsored dinners and parties. So, don’t sweat the hotel too much!

Also, Rideshares work great. I would not bother renting a car.

I will arrive Sunday, May 6th because I’m pretty hard-core…I don’t recommend coming that early unless you have a reason, but you should make sure you are there by 4:30PM on Monday… for the CUGC Pre-Game at the Marquis Ballroom! This will be a great opportunity to meet a few of us ‘old pros’ and get tips for the rest of the week in person! But, if you can’t get in until the evening or Tuesday morning, no big deal. But I definitely recommend getting yourself checked in at least an hour before the 9AM keynote if at all possible. Check-in lines can get a little long if you arrive right when most others do.

As far as when to actually leave, most of us will leave Friday morning, hopefully not horribly hungover from the ending party on Thursday evening. My advice? Plan ahead for that. If you are someone who is planning to throw back a few beverages the night before, give yourself some extra time and book a flight later in the day Friday… or… stick around and enjoy Disneyland!

Packing List

I will be putting together a packing list at my website, so be on the lookout at https://ctxpro.com/SynergyTips for an updated list!

But the main thing to remember for those that are new: you probably won’t want to be carrying around a laptop all week. That said, a tablet or other way of taking notes and writing down people’s information (if you aren’t good at doing so in your phone) is a good idea.

The second most critical thing is to layer. Anaheim in May is fairly warm, but every conference (ever) has the rooms very cold to deal with temperature variances. So, you need to be more prepared for cold than warm! I find that a sport coat is often not a bad idea, but may not lend itself well if you are far away from your hotel room or won’t have a chance to change clothing between events. For me, I have some specific reasons I’ll be sticking to polo shirts all week and making sure I have a fleece or sport coat with me just in case. My advice? Find a balance. Bring a fleece and get yourself a CUGC T-Shirt!

Prepare Your Body

This may sound like an odd one, but trust me on this. While Synergy is a tech conference, you will be moving a LOT. Your diet will be varied. If you drink alcoholic beverages… you’ll find yourself drinking a lot more at this event. So let’s break it down:

Walking and Standing

Though not as bad as in years past (lookin' at you, Orlando and Vegas!), you can still expect to do a fair amount of walking between events, hotel rooms, breakout sessions and sometimes just a long walk to actually get to your rideshare or party down the street. You may also find yourself standing a lot more than you typically do.

My advice? In the two weeks prior to Synergy, set some alarms on your phone to remind you through your normal day to get up and walk around or stand. Take the stairs, walk to work, take the long way on purpose. Why? This is a great way to find out two things:

  • Are you physically ready to walk at least 5 miles over the course of a day? Because some of you might do that or more crossing back and forth between breakouts, etc.
  • Will your SHOES handle it? This was one of the mistakes I made at my second Synergy. I only brought dress shoes, thinking they would be comfortable enough. I was wrong. Same rule for new shoes- break them in BEFORE you go to Synergy. You’ll probably find a good pair of loafers with arch supports work well. Ladies: heels are probably not a fantastic idea for the week.

Diet

The truth is, there’s no real way to prepare, but know that while a lot of times the food is very good, there may not be the variety you are used to… or in some cases more than you are used to. Here’s what to do:

  • Bring a Water Bottle. Obviously, you need to empty it before you can fly with it, but a good water bottle is important. You may be tempted to over-indulge in certain things; it happens to us all. So, you need something a little more than soda to get you by. So, hydration is key.
  • I know this sounds strange, but I’ve found there is a huge difference in how I’m surviving by Thursday or so based on whether I bring vitamins with me or not. I’ll split up doses between morning and evening and in my case I will sometimes double what I normally would take.

Prepare Your Liver

As I mentioned, if you are someone who drinks a little on occasion… you may find yourself drinking a lot more than you are used to. The world’s oldest social lubricant is typically in use! Synergy is a week long party and is a lot of fun as people get to know each other more. It seems the more we learn, the more we want to play. Well, plan on a lot of both at Synergy.

So, this sounds like a strange ritual, but the week before Synergy (if you are drinking at all and I haven’t decided for this year, for the record), make sure to have some whisky each night (replace with whatever you’re into) ramping up to the point where you can predict the line between feeling good and just being an idiot. It is a good thing to have someone with you so they can help you gauge if you are representing yourself as you intend to, if you are concerned about such things. Fortunately, however, even if you do go a little overboard, in all of my years attending Citrix events I have rarely seen much backlash for a night of overindulgence. There’s very little judgement unless you do something *to* someone you shouldn’t. So find your line early.

Pro Tip:  Keep in mind that at events at the Expo Hall you’ll typically have lighter beer and wine, and not much variety all week in that regards. But, if you want more variety, make friends with folks at the Solutions Expo and find out when their companies are having parties…get on the list. They typically will be at restaurants and venues outside of the event itself and will usually have access to a greater selection…and an expense account. The other side of this is just how much I have learned over the years, from being able to spend some good one-on-one time with vendors in this scenario. It is strange, but this is actually one of the finest ways to learn what products will be beneficial to you, and I really advise you taking advantage when you can.

Mind the Clock

The primary thing to keep in mind is that you may be at it longer than you normally would. It is not uncommon for folks to start an 8AM session, go all day with drinks starting around 4PM, only to find that they are getting back to their hotel room at 3AM just to do it all over again the next day. This is part of the experience for many of us. There’s not a lot you can really do to prepare for it except to get plenty of rest the week before Synergy!

That all being said, I actually do encourage staying out late. Get the most you can out of this experience! Some of the most valuable memories, experiences and even advice have come out of late night discussions over cigars and whisky.

Don’t Stress

The schedule is a guideline, not a requirement. Go with the flow and have a good time with it. You’ll figure out quickly if you are the kind of person who gets more out of attending sessions or networking with others. Find a balance that works for you!

Attend Sessions

One thing I recommend for anyone, regardless of their experience, is to first look at their specific recommended path for sessions at https://www.citrixsynergy.com/learn/paths-to-success.html. From there, you can look at the vast catalog of sessions and mark the ones you are interested in attending. You can review those you’ve marked at https://citrix.g2planet.com/citrixsynergy2018/myevent_agenda.php. Or, I often find that the Synergy phone app is a better way to manage sessions and see the schedule.

Citrix Synergy sessions are really about those who deploy the technology. Many of the sessions are conducted by people who don’t even work for Citrix, but they have passion and tips to share with you. It is worth taking an hour or so and looking over the entire catalog and trying to attend as many as you can. You’ll find a lot of sessions are longer than others, and some repeat. It may take some finesse to get it just right…but don’t be shocked if you change your mind while you are there. It’s okay! Just make sure you attend a lot of breakouts!

Labs

One great thing about Synergy is having access to a lot of technical experts, but also the technology itself. The days before the event and nearly every day after have a wide array of instructor-led or self-paced labs for you to experiment with something new, learn something or just generally have fun in a playground you can’t hurt. Many of these labs are unique to Citrix Synergy, so definitely make sure you take advantage!

Super Sessions

Something a little different in recent years was the addition of outside keynote speakers talking about something other than Citrix. In the announcement at https://www.citrixsynergy.com/learn/keynotes/super-sessions.html you'll find that Synergy 2018 will feature former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice and author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side). I'm looking forward to hearing more about their perspectives on business and technology. In years past I’ve been seriously impacted by these sessions and I’m glad Citrix is doing it again!

Lunch Table Tech Chats and Key Topics

One of my ongoing favorite things about Synergy is a chance to connect with others about a specific topic at lunch. Here’s how it works: grab lunch at the line, then find one of the Lunch Table Tech Chat tables to sit at. Each table will be marked with a discussion topic that will be happening and a leader will facilitate discussion about everyone's experiences, questions and even offer tips and tricks. In fact, I’m so excited about the tech talks this year I decided to lead a table each day. Find me at the Application Delivery and Cloud Networking table if you like, or find another table with one of these topics: https://www.citrixsynergy.com/learn/content-areas.html

Key Topics

I’ll be updating my website and Twitter (@TheXenMaster and/or @TheCitrixCoach) regularly with the sessions I’m looking forward to attending, and giving notes. That said, my advice? Don’t go to sessions you are already familiar with or you have friends attending. Go with sessions where you can take something valuable home with you. Learn a new skill or perspective. Learn how others have enabled their users to be successful. Some of the most valuable sessions I have attended in the past were those that didn’t seem as ‘flashy’ and weren’t as popular but had fantastic content. Go with your heart, as the saying goes!

Connect

The whole reason for Synergy’s existence is to connect. Find others in your industry. Ask questions. Share what you have done. It is what makes this conference great. But here are some more quick tips on getting connected with others:

I said this already, but I’ll say it again: make sure you register for and then attend the CUGC Kickoff party! https://www.mycugc.org/page/pregame2018

Use the Mobile App. It will have up-to-the-minute announcements and keep you going, but it will also allow you to grab other attendee’s names and contact information rapidly, which is key.

Request a meeting with me or anyone else: https://citrix.g2planet.com/citrixsynergy2018/myevent_meeting_request.php

Another critical component of Synergy is connecting with technology partners. I highly advise setting aside time every day to visit vendors in the Solutions Expo - https://www.citrixsynergy.com/exhibit/solutions-expo.html
Also, make sure you leave some room in your luggage. Almost all of them will be handing out SWAG to help you remember them by. Everything from pens to stressballs to useful items like spare batteries and more. It is always fascinating to see what new stuff I’ll be bringing home each year. And…I always bring too much.

Set Goals to Connect

This is an odd thing to advise I know, but I did this last year and it was great. I set out to meet at least 100 new people and find out several key things about them (more than just where they were from and what they do). This year… my goal is to connect and follow up with at least 250 of you!

Why do I do this? Because like many of you I am a little bit shy (believe it or not) and I have to remind myself that I am here to connect. So, having something to push me helps. I have to remind myself, most of us at this conference are in the same kind of situation…we work with the technology and feel a certain passion towards it, but we feel alone at times. Setting a purposeful goal to connect or learn something, whatever it is, helps us go in with a mindset of not leaving the conference without being better for having attended.

And that’s really the key to Citrix Synergy: Connecting with those who use this technology to make the world a better place in which to work.

I’ve gone on long enough for this time, but as I mentioned, I’ll have more tips on my website at https://ctxpro.com/SynergyTips, updated every year I’m going! Thanks for taking the time and make sure to come find me at Synergy! I love connecting with folks!

-DJ Eshelman

CTA and CUGC Leader, Nashville

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