Last week I attended Sharkfest 09 at Stanford CA and I had a wonderful time. It was great to talk to other network geeks like me to better understand this community and see how various tools can be used to illuminate the cloaked world that is your network.
Each day started with a keynote and then there were 3 tracks: Developer, Basic, and Advanced. The Developer track focused on parser development and capturing. For the most part I stuck to the Basic/Advanced tracks, but I did attend the Developer session on creating parsers (or dissectors as they call them). This gave me some insight into alternate ways protocol parsers can be architected. It was also great to hear from the master brain, chief Wireshark architect, Gerald Combs.
The SSL session by Sake Blok was interesting because it exposed the details of a protocol I've had little experience with. It's obvious this is a very important skill moving forward as the world moves to protect its information on the wire. He also provides some cases to explain where things might go wrong.
I found the case study sessions the most useful for me. I love to see how different people attack a problem and what features of a tool they use to get the important information. Especially enlightening were the presentations by Hansang Bae and Laura Chappell. In each case they tackled real world problems with real traces and provided details of how they troubleshoot network issues using a protocol analyzer. Laura was especially entertaining as she described her "Butt Ugly Color Filter" techniques and real world experiences with networking.
While there's no equivalent to being there in person, most of the presentations are available on http://www.cacetech.com/sharkfest.09/. Some of them include traces, which is great for learning on your own.
As I roamed beautiful Stanford, and roaming is what you do on such a vast campus, I thought about all the cool people I met and things I learned. I hope I will be there next year and encourage you to attend if you want to hone your networking skills. Whether you are a developer, beginner or advanced user there's always something to be learned.