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For IT Professionals, Nothing Beats Learning From Peers

What do daring swordplay, gambling, and CIOs have in common? Aside from being a cheap menage a trois designed to grab your attention, the disjointed combination could be found in one place at this year's Comdex show in Las Vegas.

While skin-showing spectacles and gaming are nothing new for Sin City, the focus on attracting chief-information types was different -- part of Comdex's new tilt toward enterprise computing. In fact, hidden behind the content-free, big-name keynotes was the best part of Comdex 2003: a two-day "CIO Bootcamp" session attended by several hundred IT professionals.

Thanks to event leader Thorton May (who let me sit in to do the fly-on-the-wall bit), I was able to hear straight from the horses' mouths about the problems facing those who run enterprise networks. While in some cases the technologies have changed (like VoIP instead of DSL), the issues remain mostly the same from years past: Having to do more with fewer resources, having to convince business executives of the worthiness of new technological solutions. Having to puncture vendor promise balloons, all the while keeping an ever-expanding enterprise secure from multiple new threats, bugs and backdoors.

May, who has spent almost two decades running such workshops, probably never has to change this one powerful line: "This stuff is hard!" he said. "The job of the CIO, or any network administrator, is simply getting too big and too complex." That's especially true, he added, since building and running a network is a process "with some assembly required -- nothing ever works right out of the box."

The most powerful parts of the workshop, however, were the series of round-table type discussions, where attendees gathered in small groups and discussed what worked and what didn't. As good as May's presentations were, nothing beats a wide circle of experience when it comes to learning things that can help you get your job done better, faster, cheaper, or all of the above.

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