AWS re:Invent 2018

Phew! What a week (25th-30th November, 2018) that was – AWS re:Invent is finally over and AWS and its leaders (Andy Jassy, CEO AWS and Werner Vogels, CTO were busy changing the world again one announcement at a time. The key announcements are listed here and analysed here but my key takeaways are:

  • AWS doubles down on Hybrid Cloud and it’s VMware partnership with the announcement of outposts
  • AI – There were announcements on Amazon Personalise, Amazon Forecast, a machine learning Marketplace, a new chip, and some updates to existing tools like SageMaker.
  • Storage – A new version of the Glacier Deep Archive
  • AWS made their first major plays into Blockchain world this year with Amazon Quantum Ledger Database and Amazon Managed Blockchain.
  • There were a host of IoT announcements including IoT SiteWise, IoT Events, IoT Things Graph, IoT Greengrass Connectors
  • Serverless – There were a raft of announcements including Firecracker, an open source virtual machine monitor for spinning up MicroVMs, Ruby support for Lambda and and AWS toolkit for popular integrated development environments (IDEs)
  • Amazon is literally reaching for the stars with Amazon Ground Station

So, they are the key bits; but you can find those all over the internet. So I thought it would be more useful to paint a picture of what it is actually like to attend Re:Invent for those who haven’t been lucky enough to visit yet.

The weather during re:Invent is mostly sunny and chilly. This time of the year, it was between 4-17 degrees Centigrade. Pretty great if you ask me – a couple of layers should be enough (your mileage may vary though). It can get a bit cool when you are walking to the event at 7 am in the morning considering the sessions start at 8 am with the breakfast being served at 6.30 am.

Now, how do you make the most of such a vast event? It depends! You can start by asking what are you there for? (and this answer can be different from what you tell your manager)

It can be just be a simple paid holiday, an opportunity to collect fancy socks and geeky t-shirts to last a lifetime or it can be to load up on all the learning you can get from the various sessions and discussions. The choice isn’t really a choose one of the following options – it’s a full a la carte menu.

If it is just a paid holiday you had in mind, you know what to do. The casinos, hotels and Vegas are built around attracting you and taking your money. All the vices are fully catered for in the sin city.

If socks, t-shirts and fun is your thing, hang out at the expo (so big that you won’t be able to see the end of it from the entrance) and play games & quizzes. The swag available just from AWS is mind boggling. Thousands of different t-shirts, pin, stickers, Echo’s, Alexa enabled speakers with fire alarms and even the DeepRacer car is up for grabs just by participation.

Pro-tip: if you participate in treasure hunts or other competitions, try to do them first thing in the morning when the doors open – this increases your chances of winning a more valuable item like an Echo Show as compared to just a humble Tee.

You would expect long queues when approximately 50,000 participants gather for an event but even something as simple at collecting your welcome pack had been thought through, with a place to try on different hoodies and figure out your size before reaching the counter. Hence no discussions required about the size and a very quick turnaround for every person at the swag counter.

Tip: Treasure hunts in the morning increases your chances to win the devices from AWS swag counter.

If you are really into learning new stuff and want to make it the most productive time of the year, attend sessions, labs or the famous jams. Here are some tips:

  • Use the app and not the website to figure out the sessions which interest you. Use the filters to filter by the level (200 – starter, 300 – intermediate, 400 – expert), location, industry, role etc. The app and the website are at completely different ends of the usability scale.
  • 25% of all seats at the sessions are walk-ins. So, if you can’t pre-register, just queue up.
  • Use the overflow sessions: the popular sessions are seamlessly streamed live in a hall where multiple sessions are streamed together. Everyone puts on a pair of headphones while the video is projected on different screens. The best part is that if you don’t like a session, get up and sit on another chair and just flick a switch on the headphones to tune in to the other audio feed. No guilt of disturbing the speaker amid their sessions. Pretty smart! The only downside is that you can’t ask a question which is ok for most of the people.
  • YouTube it: Subscribe to the Amazon Web Services channel which gets the videos within 24 hours of it being presented. So, if you can’t watch it live, don’t fret. I prefer this because I can pause and repeat if required, lab the scenario, or just fast forward to the sections which matter to me.
  • Avoid going back and forth between resorts: They seem to be close, but they are massive themselves. What worked for me was to do be in say Aria till lunch and head over to Venetian post that.
  • Be open to speak to people while queuing: Considering how much time is spent queuing for sessions and other things, might as well start a conversation. Trust me, the person next to you is also bored with all the queuing. No re:Invent experience would be complete without spending time in the expo. It’s huge, and incredibly well done. So why do so many thousands of vendors pay so much to set up a stall?

Mindshare – they want you to know they exist, the reason why they exist and would like you to know them better.

Your data – they want you! (your name, email, company name, phone number etc.) and if you need a free t-shirt, socks or want to win something big via a raffle or even if it is a small pin for your lanyard, they want to scan your access badge first.

BTW, the only company that didn’t scan our badges and had no major swag to give away was – Netflix. They had a simple booth with real engineers if you wanted to chat about geeky stuff. Why didn’t they ask for our data? They already have all of us as customers ?

Attend the parties, they are a lot of fun. Just take part and forget about winning. Make a memory – the memory of eating chicken wings till you puke or playing archery tag lasts much longer than just watching it from the fringes. It’s also a better story to tell your children if you choose to break the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mantra.

Certifications are pretty huge at re:Invent and very well managed. My personal experience has been amazing in this regard. I had booked an AWS SA Pro certification for Monday evening after nearly 48 hours without sleep – so full marks for bravery and none for planning. I wanted to use the practice exam which somehow didn’t work on the MacBook. I asked the staff if they could help. They could have said no and continued with their work, but they let me use their spare laptops. I say laptops because I tried two of them and somehow, they didn’t connect to the wi-fi. I appreciated their effort and told them it was okay, but they weren’t deterred. In the end, they did let me take the practice test on 1 of the 2 machines dedicated for spot registration for certifications. I did fail the practice test miserably (sad) but cleared the actual Solution Architect Professional exam (happy) – a deal I would be happy to take.

All in this year’s event was an amazing success and I can’t wait to start using some of the products & services we saw released. And wear a brand new colourful pair of socks to work everyday. Well done AWS and partners! And thank you AirWalk Consulting for this opportunity.