AWS re:invent 2019 was my first AWS event, and it was exciting, busy, and lots of fun.
I arrived on Sunday night and was fortunate enough to travel on the same flight as some fellow Xeros. During the Uber ride to the Park MGM, they shared some wisdom. On The Strip, buildings appear deceptively close, but in fact, they may be miles away.
They were 100% right.
On the first day, I was struck by the size of the campus. The plan was to follow the crowd to the MGM where I could catch a shuttle to the Venetian. The Venetian serves as the conference’s hub where you will find the Expo Hall, the Swag Desk, the Certification Lounge, and plenty of sessions. All of this was just a short bus ride away.
My mistake was not factoring in the walking. The Park MGM, the overpass, the MGM Casino, the Conference Centre, and the traffic. It took me an hour to do all of this, which threw a wrench in the works of my day. Fortunately, there is a great deal on offer, so I had no trouble finding things to do.
I went to the Certification Lounge after picking up my swag at registration. I recently passed my Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam and got access to the lounge as one of the perks. You can chat with new friends, grab a snack, and pick up some extra swag here.
In order to help 65000 participants move between six venues, re:Invent has helpful staff members available to point you in the right direction. The venues were incredibly crowded, but everyone was so friendly.
If you need directions, stop and ask.
During the first day of the Expo hall, swag and sessions were offered by all types of vendors, including Starbucks at one booth. Well played. This is where I bumped into lots of people I’ve met on Twitter and Slack over the last year. I didn’t pick up any swag but did talk Redshift with Lars from Intermix.io.
Each of the six venues served breakfast and lunch on the main conference days. To say this process runs smoothly is an understatement. In order to feed 65000 attendees, plus staff and speakers, it takes some planning.
The Venetian was particularly impressive. Queues would begin at 10:45am in preparation for the doors to fly open at 11am. In an exhibition hall as large as five rugby fields, staff would funnel small groups into buffet queues. I never felt rushed or chaotic.
The first Hero event of the week took place on Monday night at the Skyfall Bar, 64 floors above the Strip. It was a great opportunity to meet our fellow Heroes, the people who got us here, and a few special guests.
We were given our shiny medallions, told we’d be sitting in the front row for the keynotes, and met the Community Leader Diversity Grant recipients.
The Data Heroes announced this year come from all over the globe. I enjoyed meeting such talented people, and my favourite moments were when this group reacted to all the exciting announcements.
One of our Hero duties for the week was to conduct a super speedy interview. During our conversation, we talked about the programme and how we are upskilling our communities. My Data friends, Goran and Rob, and I were in the same group. The meeting was over in a flash as we discussed our areas of expertise and did some shoutouts.
At re:Invent, things change even faster than they do in the tech world. As releases were made, I used the app to manage my schedule, delete sessions, and add anything new. By using it, I could keep track of the current bus schedule and make sure I was on track.
Keynotes, whether in person, from an overflow room, or streamed, were an exciting part of the re:Invent experience. Even though it was an early start, the Heroes had a great spot to watch all the action.
Learn by doing
I was lucky enough to get a spot on the “How to tame unpredictable analytics workloads with Amazon Redshift” Builders Session. We used SageMaker to scale up our Redshift cluster for different workloads and test our cluster.
The same day, I participated in a workshop on how to “Build a single query to analyse data across Amazon Redshift & Amazon S3”. I enjoyed talking to the engineers who built the services and getting hands-on experience.
Meet and greets
Restaurant receptions were held across campus on Tuesday night and there was something for everyone. Retro gaming, DJs, and an 80s party were just some of the options to meet and network the night away.
I joined the crowd at Taco Tuesday for Mexican food and mingling. Over mimosas and quesadillas, I met some great people and talked about data. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The new releases are what everyone gets most excited about at re:Invent. Notable announcements for the data world:
- Unload from Redshift in Parquet format
- Machine Learning Embark programme for ML training
- Redshift RA3 nodes for independent compute and storage
- Query any data source with Amazon Athena
With the sessions being so popular, it was nice to have the option to attend overflow sessions. However, this wasn’t just any lecture hall. Six different sessions were conducted in the same large room with headphones set up ‘Silent Disco’ style. Later in the week, I enjoyed a few of these. It was a much more relaxed way of enjoying a session.
I realised very quickly that I was trying to do too much. The back-to-back sessions, the walking, stopping to chat with someone on the way and catching up on what I’d missed got tiring. My advice is to plan for two workshops per day and keep the rest open for anything that arises.
Although the Expo gets a lot of attention, I enjoyed the more relaxed Quad at the Aria. Vendors were present too, but on a much smaller scale if you wanted to have a conversation without the crowd.
re:Invent is so big on swag that there are blog posts dedicated to it. At the end of the week, if you are not able to cram it all into your bag, it is wasteful. The donation bins dotted around campus were a great idea for anyone who grabbed more than they should have.
Stream it later
Recordings of the keynotes and sessions are now available online for those who could not attend every talk, and for those who watched online. Workshops, Builders Sessions, and Chalk Talks do not get recorded. Which makes it more important to place an emphasis on hands-on learning.
Trying something new
Those who couldn’t attend a hands-on session could participate in QuickLabs in a quiet room in the Venetian. It was a great way to fill in time, learn something new, and get out of the crowds. I will do more of these if I go to another re:invent.
Despite the fact that the Builders Sessions and workshops were not recorded, the resources are now available on Github. This is an unofficial list by Jennine Townsend of the Workshop resources as they become available.
Volunteering and giving back was part of the re:Invent experience. One of my favourites was Three Square Backpack for Kids. Anyone passing by the Expo Hall could stop in and build a backpack at the stations that were set up outside the hall. A great initiative, a chance to do good and take a bit of a break at the same time.
Walk, walk, walk
The most important advice I received in the lead up to re:Invent comfortable shoes. Usually, I have trouble getting in my 10,000 steps, but not during my week in Vegas. On the days when I was out during the day and networking in the evening, I reached 20,000. A comfortable pair of shoes made all the difference.
Escaping the crowds
My first two days were spent at the very busy Venetian. My last days were spent at the Aria, which was quieter and easier to get around. All the exciting things like Keynotes and the Expo were held at the Venetian, but I recommend checking out the other venues early on.
Year in the making
The event organisers and staff did a fantastic job. An event of this magnitude is no easy feat. Everything was seamless, from sessions to transport, to events, to the quirky activities.
After returning to New Zealand (and feeling more rested), I’m looking forward to reviewing my notes, teaching a workshop or two, and watching all the sessions from my playlist. I had a great time networking and learning over the week and I’m looking forward to my next re:Invent.
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels