AWS re:Invent 2018 Experiences

thoughts from a conference veteran who has attended every AWS re:Invent

There are a number of great guides to AWS re:Invent with excellent recommendations on how to prepare, what to bring, and how to get the most out of your time. This is not that. In this article, I am going to focus only on specific things that I recommend every attendee experience at least once while at AWS re:Invent.

You may not want to do these things every day (if available) or even every year when you return to re:Invent, but I recommend arranging your first year schedule to fit as many as you can so you don’t go home missing out.

You are taking a week off and making a long trip to Las Vegas. Don’t leave without having seen some of the impressive, large scale, in-person experiences the Amazon team has organized.

1. Attend a Live AWS re:Invent Keynote

Attending a keynote in person is one of the best ways to get a feel for the excitement, energy, and shear scale of this movement.

You could go to a satellite location and watch the keynote on a screen with fellow attendees, but there’s something special about being in the big room live.

Tip: Get in line early to get a decent seat and enjoy the live DJ. There are giant screens that show the speakers and presentation material so you won’t miss out on content wherever you sit.

Tip: It takes a while for the entire crowd to get out of the keynote space, so don’t schedule a session or important lunch meeting right after.

Tip: Werner Vogel’s keynote is slotted for 2 hours instead of the 2.5 hours for Andy Jassy’s, but I’m not sure if Werner has ever ended a re:Invent keynote on schedule, so sit back and enjoy the information and enthusiasm.

Tip: If new product/service/feature announcements are what excite you, then make sure you hit the Andy Jassy keynote.

Veterans… often watch the streamed keynote on their phone or laptop while getting ready in their hotel room, or eating breakfast at a cafe. But you flew halfway around the world to be here, so you should go the last mile (perhaps literally) to get the live AWS re:Invent keynote experience at least once.

2. Attend the AWS re:Play Party

You must attend AWS re:Play.

I think it’s safe to say that you’ve never seen a party on this scale (with the exception of perhaps EDC).

I can tell you there’s plenty of food and drink. Free things. Games. Sports. Art. Unusual experiences. And a concert with music by a couple top artists selected by Werner, himself.

But I can’t describe the experience or, again, the sheer scale of this colossal event. A lot of money goes into making this happen. You should take advantage of the chance to be there.

Tip: Explore the entire space to see all that is available. This can take an hour, or more if you get stuck doing something fun.

Veterans… have all sorts of reactions to re:Play from looking forward to drinking and dancing in the mass of people in front of the music stage, to getting involved in the activities and sports, to tracking down AWS celebrities and saying hi, to hanging out with friends in a corner, to skipping the party because they need sleep by this time of the week.

Veterans… ignore all the rumors about the super-secret feature performer Werner has selected for the re:Play party, or start a few rumors themselves. Metallica is the perennial favorite rumor, though Daft Punk seems to be picking up steam in recent years.

3. Walk through the AWS re:Invent Expo

The AWS re:Invent Expo is another mind-boggling experience in scale. You could spend hours here wandering the aisles, talking to vendors, and collecting free stuff that you then have to figure out how to get home.

Tip: If you let a vendor scan your badge (e.g., to get a T-shirt) do be aware that you will be receiving emails and phone calls from them for a long time, and some of them don’t have a way to unsubscribe, and some of them let other companies email or call you as well. You might want to change your conference registration email to one that you can identify and filter after the conference. I use Twilio to create a special phone number dedicated to re:Invent with a whisper message so I know who’s calling.

Tip: The welcome reception is the worst and best time to visit the Expo. The crowd can be intimidating, it’s hard to get time with popular vendors and the AWS employees at the AWS “Village” during the reception, but there is a ton of free food at stations everywhere, and a lot of buzz and excitement. This is a good time to meet other attendees who may share your interests.

Veterans… find out in advance which vendors are giving out special VIP pub crawl or party passes at their Expo booths.

Veterans… pack a collapsible duffel to lug the free stuff home after the conference.

4. Give Product Feedback To (and Get Advice From) AWS Employees

If you have been using AWS for a while, then you have some ideas where services could be improved to meet your needs better, e.g., new features, integrations, performance, or pricing. You also have questions about how to better accomplish specific tasks.

You can always tweet an #awswishlist that will likely be seen by AWS, but at re:Invent you can sometimes meet the folks responsible for the products in person and chat face to face.

Tip: Folks wearing the yellow lanyards are AWS employees and they love hearing from customers.

Tip: Swing by the AWS dedicated area in the Expo and find the station with the service you are interested in. These will often be staffed by AWS folks who are product managers or development managers for that service. Whoever is there will love to hear about your experience and might be able to offer insights and guidance.

Tip: Look through the AWS re:Invent session catalog. Find a session with a speaker who is involved with your service of interest. Register for and attend their talk. Approach them after their session to chat about your experience. For popular speakers, be considerate of other attendees who also want to give quick feedback.

Veterans… work through their AWS account managers well in advance of re:Invent to schedule meetings with the product groups they need to talk to (depending on your yearly spend amount, I assume).

5. Eat a Free Breakfast or Lunch Provided by Amazon - At The Venetian

The AWS re:Invent conference dining at the main Sands Expo center in The Venetian is hosted in a vast underground space, with buffet and dining tables as far as the eye can see.

There are hundreds of event employees orchestrating the movement of thousands of attendees and boatloads of food, connecting the two efficiently and at scale. This is almost a Las Vegas spectacle in itself.

Free conference meals are available at other re:Invent venues, but The Venetian is the largest and most impressive, and worth checking out at least once. The food is pretty good, too.

Tip: If you are planning to eat with a friend, meet up outside the entrance, as it is hard to find another person who has already entered the dining expanse. If you must find each other inside, there are parking garage style letters/numbers on the columns (giving you a clue as to the space’s original purpose).

Tip: Get done with breakfast at The Venetian early on Wednesday, then get in line for the AWS Keynote which should be nearby that day.

Veterans… may partake in the free conference food, or may branch out and eat at the many excellent restaurants that are easily accessible inside the hotels/casinos hosting AWS re:Invent.

Not On My Required List

There are a number of other big, widely promoted events that you might enjoy, but which I don’t think are necessarily important to experience. Here are a couple:

Midnight Madness: This happens Sunday night. Last year was the first. Hopefully, Amazon learns from some of the issues last year and improves things like the audio. Though it was a decent event, it didn’t match the spectacle of the re:Play party and doesn’t have the seating of the Keynotes, so save your energy if you have to choose. Then again, it could be a good place to meet other attendees before the week gets started if you plan to stay up late anyway. And if we can hear and understand the content, then it will probably be pretty good as long as you’re ok standing for a couple hours.

Pub Crawl: If you like waiting in lines, drinking, meeting people, and yelling into each other’s faces in a series of dark, loud, crowded bars, then this might be the event for you. I’ve moved towards spending this evening in a quiet dinner with friends outside of the chaos, or catching up/storing up on sleep. You need to pace yourself this week and the re:Play party is coming Thursday.

Optional: Hackathon / Jam / Gameday

There are a number of different hackathons, jams, and gamedays to choose from. These events are a fun way to spend a day learning through hands-on experience with others.

Tip: There is limited attendance to each of these events and registration fills up quickly. Get your name in early.

Tip: Different hackathons require different time commitments. The non-profit hackathon fills up a very full Tuesday, but you get to use AWS technology to benefit a good cause.

Bonus: Participating in the non-profit hackathon includes an invitation to a private mixer event Monday evening. Do attend this if you are able.