Part of my role as a wireless technical architect at CDW is keeping in touch with what’s going on in the wireless industry. This means attending industry conferences such as Aruba Atmosphere and Cisco Live, where I get to absorb technical content, hear what’s coming next, talk with our customers and partners, and frequently meet with vendors’ various business units to provide feedback.
These conferences are invaluable, but their enormity and the breadth of topics and products they cover means I often don’t get to see everything I want. Also, as expected, vendor-led conferences are going to be very focused on products from that vendor or their partners. It’s not likely that they’ll cover other solutions or approaches (even vendor-neutral ones) for the technology of the day, whether it’s IoT, BLE, Wi-Fi 6, etc. I certainly don’t expect any vendor to highlight their competition; it simply means that I focus on Cisco while at Cisco Live, Aruba while at Atmosphere and learn about other products through various other means.
In February, I discovered that a rich source of the “other means” is the Wireless LAN Professionals Conference (WLPC), which was held in Phoenix earlier this year.
This being my first WLPC, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I knew it would be a fruitful experience, based on recommendations from those who have attended in the past. The conference itself was broken down into two parts, the first being an optional three-day boot camp over the weekend, and the second being the main, three-day conference.
The Benefits of Networking Boot Camps
The boot camps covered a wide variety of topics, often with very deep dives, as well as some formal training sessions where you could work toward a certification at the end (Ekahau ECSE, CWNA, CWNP, etc.). Highly sought-after boot camps this year included Automation with Python, Ekahau Advanced Usage, Working with APIs and several others. I was surprised to find out that my first choice was already full when I tried to register, so if you don’t take anything else from this blog post, know that boot camp slots at this conference fill up fast.
Conference Talks, Deep Dives and Brief Snapshots
The main conference itself was broken into several different sections that I felt helped keep people engaged. Main talks were 55 minutes; what I considered the medium-length talks ran for 30 minutes; and “Ten Talks” lasted — you guessed it — 10 minutes each. The variety of talk lengths really gave the conference a rounded feel as it made getting up on stage accessible to nearly anyone.
The one-hour sessions usually consisted of folks from (though not directly representing) industry leaders talking about fundamental industry changes like Wi-Fi 6; 6GHz Wi-Fi; 802.11r, 802.11k or 802.11v; WPA3; and so on. The 30- and 10-minute sessions offered a nice variety of talks on everything from wireless approaches in unique situations to pitfalls, how-to guides and “here’s what I’m working on” presentations. I suspect many of the Ten Talks could have easily been expanded into 30 minutes had there been more time. This indicated to me that the time allocation in no way indicated lesser quality.
The short sessions were a great way to dip your toe into a topic, see perspectives from folks you may not normally interact with and get new faces out in front of the community. All these talks were also professionally recorded and can be viewed by anyone at the WLPC site.
Over the course of two days, attendees could also attend a set of hands-on, lab-style sessions, where they would spend two hours with an instructor, taking a deep dive into a single topic. Again, several great options were available: Topics included wireless penetration tests, WLAN Pi and spectrum analysis basics. For those who hadn’t attended the earlier boot camps, these sessions still gave the conference a hands-on and interactive aspect, and kept it from feeling like a passive experience.
Participating in the Wireless Community
All in all, I felt that the WLPC was a great use of my time. In addition to the favorable structure of the conference, the interaction between attendees and presenters alike was phenomenal. Often, I found myself talking shop with folks over breakfast or lunch and hearing about so many different perspectives and branches of the industry — it was illuminating.
The Wi-Fi community is a welcoming and helpful one. So often in the course of those conversations, a solution or suggestion would arise from someone in the group, a note would be jotted down and hopefully the recipient of the advice would be one step closer to their goal. Our community also has a big presence on Twitter, its social media platform of choice. Several times, I got to place a name and a face with a Twitter handle, allowing us to carry on more of a conversation later if needed.
Between having those random conversations, meeting new people and listening to talks that piqued my interest, I was inspired to explore a few new avenues and dust off a couple old ideas to take a new approach. If you are just coming into wireless, are picking it up alongside other skills or are a grizzled veteran, I think there is something for every skill level at the WLPC, and I encourage you to attend.