I’ve just got back from my first AWS re:invent, it was exciting and busy and I learned a whole lot. This post is about the experience, while my post on the key takeaways from the talks I attended focuses on what I learned
I arrived on Sunday night and was lucky enough to be travelling on the same flight as some fellow Xeros. On the Uber ride to the Park MGM they had some words of wisdom. Most importantly, buildings on The Strip appear to be deceptively close, when in actual fact they can be miles away.
They were absolutely right.
I got my first taste of how enormous the campus was on Day One. My plan was to follow the crowd to the MGM where I could catch a shuttle to the Venetian. The Venetian is the Hub of the Conference. It’s where you can find the Expo Hall, the Swag Desk, Certification Lounge and plenty of sessions. All of this was only a quick bus ride away.
What I hadn’t taken into account was the walking. Through the Park MGM, along the overpass, the MGM Casino, through the Conference Centre, and the traffic. All together this took around an hour and threw a spanner in the works of my day. Thankfully there is so much on offer I wasn’t stuck for things to do.
After picking up my Swag at Registration I made my way to the Certification Lounge. I recently sat my Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam and one of the nice perks is getting access to the Lounge. This is where you can chat to new friends, grab a snack and pick up some extra Swag.
With 65000 attendees trying to get between six venues re:Invent has helpful team members who can point you in the right direction. Not an easy task with so many people streaming through the venues but they were all incredibly friendly.
Always stop and ask for directions.
The Expo Hall opened on Monday when vendors of all kinds offered swag, sessions and at one booth Starbucks. 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. It was great to meet in person at last.
Each of the six venues offered breakfast and lunch on the main conference days. To say this process is a well oiled machine would be an understatement. Getting 65000 attendees, plus staff, and speakers fed in two hours or less takes some planning.
The Venetian was a particularly impressive sight. The queue would start at 10:45am in preparation for the doors to fly open at 11am. Staff would filter off small groups to buffet queues as they came across an exhibition hall the size of five rugby fields. It never felt chaotic or busy at all.
The first Hero event for the week was on Monday at the Skyfall Bar, 64 floors above the Strip. This was an opportunity to meet the other Heros, the team who had got us here, and a special guest or two.
We were awarded our shiny medallions, got the news we’d be sitting front row for the keynotes and were introduced to the Community Leader Diversity Grant recipients.
The Data Heroes announced this year were from all over the globe and represent different parts of the Data World. It was humbling meeting such talented folk, and my favourite moments were with this group reacting to all the exciting announcements.
Part of our Hero responsibilities for the week was to give a super speedy interview. We chatted about the programme and what we are doing to upskill our communities. I was grouped with my Data friends Rob and Goran. We chatted about our areas of expertise, did some shoutouts and it was over in a flash.
Things change quickly in the tech world, and they change even faster at re:Invent. To manage my schedule, drop a session or add something new as releases were made I used the app. It became a handy way to make sure I was on track and check in on the current bus schedule.
Keynotes were an exciting part of the re:Invent experience whether in person, from an overflow room or streamed. The Heroes had a great spot to take in all the action even though it made for an early start.
Learn by Doing
My favourite type of session was the hands-on, project based Builders Session with six people. Followed by the Workshop with a larger group.
I was lucky enough to grab a spot on How to tame unpredictable analytics workloads with Amazon Redshift. Where we used SageMaker to challenge our Redshift cluster and scale up for different workloads.
On the same day I was able to do more with Redshift in a workshop to Build a single query to analyze data across Amazon Redshift & Amazon S3. Getting hands on and asking questions of the Engineers building the services was one of my re:Invent highlights.
Meet and Greets
Restaurant Receptions were held on Tuesday night across Campus and there was something for everyone. Retro Gaming, DJs and 80s night were just some of the options to meet and network the night away.
My fellow Heroes and I joined the crowd at Taco Tuesday for Mexican and mingling. I met some lovely people and talked data over mimosas and quesadillas. Can’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 sessions being so popular I really liked having the option of grabbing a seat in the Overflow sessions. This wasn’t just any lecture hall though. Headphones were set up ‘Silent Disco’ style for six different sessions to go on in the same big room. I got to a few of these in the latter part of the week and found it a much more relaxed way to enjoy a session.
I found very quickly that I was trying to do too much. Back to back sessions, lots of walking, stopping to chat to someone on the way and trying to catch up with what I’d missed became tiring. If I was to do it again I’d aim for two Workshops or Builders Sessions a day and keep the rest flexible for anything that popped up.
While the Expo gets a lot of attention I enjoyed the more relaxed Quad in the Aria. There were vendors there too but on a much smaller scale if you wanted to have a conversation without the crowd.
Swag is such a big part of re:Invent there are blog posts dedicated to it. However, if you aren’t able to cram it all into your bag at the end of the week it becomes wasteful. It was great to see Donation bins dotted around campus for anyone who grabbed more than they should have.
Stream it Later
All keynotes were streamed for those who couldn’t get to all their top picks, and for those watching along from home. The recorded sessions are out now as well and I’ve made a playlist of the Data and Analytics sessions that I saved for later. Check it out here.
Sadly Workshops, Builders Sessions and Chalk Talks do not get recorded. Which makes it all the more important to prioritise hands-on learning.
Trying something new
For those who couldn’t make it to a hands-on session there were QuickLabs in a quiet room in the Venetian. This was a great way to fill in time, learn something new in a quiet spot and escape the crowds. If I go to another re:invent I’ll be doing more of these.
Even though the Builders Sessions and Workshops were not recorded the resources are now available on Github. This is an unofficial list by by Jennine Townsend of the Workshop resources as they become available.
There were lots of opportunities to volunteer and give back at re:Invent. My favourite was the Three Square BackPack for Kids initiative. Stations were set up right outside the Expo Hall where anyone who was passing by could stop in and help build a backpack. Such a great initiative and an opportunity to do something good while taking a bit of a break.
Walking, walking, walking
Out of all the advice I received in the lead up to re:Invent comfortable shoes was the most important. I usually struggle to get my 10,000 steps in but that was no problem during my week in Vegas. On the days I was out during the day and networking during the evening I topped 20,000. Comfortable shoes made all the difference.
Escaping the crowds
I spent my first couple of days at the very busy Venetian. My last days were spent at the Aria where it was much quieter and easier to get around. While all the exciting things like Keynotes and the Expo were held at the Venetian I would recommend checking out the other venues earlier on.
Year in the making
The organisers and team members who staffed the event did an incredible job. Getting a conference of this scale to run so smoothly is no small task. From the sessions, to the transport, events, and quirky activities it was seamlesss.
Now that I am back in New Zealand (and more rested) I’m excited to review my notes, teach a workshop or two and start watching all the sessions in my playlist. I had a great experience networking and learning over the week and am looking forward to my next re:Invent.