Before diving too deep into preparing you for re:Invent 2015 , the link above will take you to an entry I wrote recapping the 2014 AWS re:Invent conference. If this is your first time at the conference, make sure you check out that blog for a little more context around the event and what you can expect, but that entry doesn’t even doesn’t even begin to address what you need to survive the madness of re:Invent 2015.
In the three years I’ve attended AWS re:Invent, it has been an inspiring, exhausting and sleep deprived mix of great official information, client interaction, stranger interaction, and food all in a fair like atmosphere. The three events I’ve attended so far have always ended up being the highlight of my year from both a technical and business standpoint, and as the population and focus of the conference have continued to morph over the years, the event has become more and more valuable.
I’ve read several blogs about surviving re:Invent and they all have some great, if generic, advice about surviving the week...so why not add my opinion? Here’s my advice on you how you can get the most out of, and survive, AWS re:Invent 2015:
Bring a bag, not a backpack. No, really I mean it. Seating is tight in practically every conference room and if you decide to bring a backpack, plan to get evil glances when it blocks the aisle in sessions or takes up a seat. You may even lose track of it when it’s on your back and accidentally hit someone in the lunch line or clobber a table full of food on the expo floor. Even when empty, backpacks are unwieldy and heavy and won’t work. I recommend a good laptop bag, or my personal favorite, an army engineering bag. (The pictured model can be found here Vintage M-51 Engineers Field Bag.) The slimmer profile that can be kept under your arm, or on your lap will just work better. Trust me.
Technology: Whatever bag you do end up bringing should include most of your technology that you use daily, plus some. For the types of people who attend re:Invent, myself included, that entails quite a few pieces. Mine usually has my small laptop, a pen from my room (cause I love those tiny stainless steel hotel pens, feel free to send me yours) a journal for notes and drawings, multiple types of USB power adapters, and several batteries. Charging stations, even when plentiful, are packed all the time. Plan to double the battery power you think you need and you should be okay.
Train for The Walking: Every blog you read on preparing for any event will say bring comfortable shoes. We all get the comfortable shoe thing, standing for hours on end makes for hard days on your feet, but shoes are not enough. Train for the walking. Walking is the best way to get around the conference, hotel, and The Strip. It is often faster to walk The Strip than take a cab and more fun too. (Yes, Uber is in Vegas now, but any guess to the pricing modifier for the week?) Even if you are staying in the Venetian, the main hall is about a mile away from conference rooms. Last year I averaged 27,000 steps a day (I was in the Palazzo)....that’s about 16 miles. My busiest day I took 41,000 steps, if you’re staying off-site (which I am this year) it’ll be more. Good shoes don’t even begin to cover the stress on your feet, train like you’re training for a marathon and enjoy the exercise.
Food! Breakfast, lunch, and dinner: If you know me, you know important food is to me. Eat the provided breakfast and lunch in the expo center if possible-- it’s not the food (which ranges from ok to surprisingly good) but the networking that’s important here. I recommend picking a table and striking up conversation. I’ve met Gartner analysts, independent developers, newbies, corporate CEOs, a Google Glass developer wearing glass early on, a watch developer (wearing a prototype ), and the developer of one the best video games of all time who now freelance from his home over the bay (literally) in Fiji. Heck you might even meet me. The exposure to what people know, don’t know, what they are doing, and how they are doing it is worth a half dozen moderated sessions.
Education, education, education: The spectacle of a large conference can be overwhelming. Everything people see about these conferences tends to mask the real reason we go to these “shows”: The education. As exhausting as all of the fun stuff is, as exhausting as all of the activity is, the most exhausting thing is the education. Be prepared to be brain dead by the time 5 p.m. rolls around. To truly take advantage of the mind numbing potential out there, have a plan, stick to the plan, build in breaks, and go to both keynotes.
- First, you need to decide whether you want to follow a track or jump around. I would recommend first time attendees or those new to cloud sales, business, and technical folks find a track and try to stick to it. Of course no plan survives contact with the enemy, be prepared to switch sessions with no notice. All sessions are first come first serve, and trust me they will fill up. Make sure you have a second or third option, including just taking a break if your session is full. Even if you choose to focus on a track, say architecture, follow the 80/ 20 rule, mix in a few sessions just for you. I always try to take in a gaming session or one of the spotlight sessions. “SPOT309 Inspiring Innovations in the Cloud @ NASA/JPL and Beyond” has really caught my eye this year. If you’re going to jump around (I tend to do this) you have to plan even deeper, sessions from different tracks will conflict, having that second choice picked out or that third is even more important.
- A break or two during the day is important, stepping away for an hour, going to the architect lounge, having a coffee with a partner, or a session speaker/AWS engineer, will do more to save your head than a nap.
- Keynotes can be cliché, but they are very important. The story that AWS wants to tell will be laid out in the first Keynote. It will be full of success stories, impressive achievements, high profile speakers, and the big, broad, headline announcements. The second Keynote is generally the more technical one, with big technical announcements that may not have as broad an impact across the business, won’t grab as many headlines, but in truth are more relevant to the average AWS user and their partners. The first day Keynote announcements make headlines, the second day Keynotes change the way solutions are created.
- APN partners should go to the Partner Day. An entire year’s worth of APN updates and announcements can be covered in that session. Where AWS is taking the APN programs, what is import to AWS, how they’re going to update partner programs all in a 25 slide deck. Totally worth the extra day to get this insight.
In the end, just have fun and be prepared. I hope this provided some insight into your 3 or 4 days at re:Invent. I know I didn’t actually give you the secret on surviving on 2 hours sleep, this week of the year it just seems to happen. If this is your first re:Invent be prepared to be amazed, if it’s your fourth, well you know the drill. Let me know how you survive, what you are looking forward to or dreading, and most importantly what you thought afterwards (that can wait till you’re rested).
I can be reached in the comment section below, or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m @eholler on twitter and I will be live tweeting (maybe even running the Periscope) but be warned, it’s my personal account so you’ll get cloud mixed with food trucks and Star Trek on that feed.
And of course, connect with me, Eric Holler, on LinkedIn.