Your guide to the 2014 Amazon AWS re:Invent Conference

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I’ll be attending my 3rd Amazon AWS re:Invent conference this year (as a speaker this time!) so I thought I’d put together some of the tips and tricks I’ve found over the last two years.

Screenshot 2014-11-08 14.23.34

I’m going to take the view of the advanced AWS user. If you’re new to AWS congrats, everything will be new and great. If not then you’ll want to think about some of the points listed below. Overall re:Invent is a fantastic conference and it’s huge.  Amazon spares no expense. Rumor is they put up 6 figures to the Venetian to bump up their wifi capabilities in the first year to support a growing number of techies attending. The parties are pretty awesome and everyone on staff is amazingly helpful. The first year was great but sometimes painful… over packed rooms and all the good talks were mostly unavailable. The netflix talks had lines around the casinos and you had to wait in line a full hour earlier and miss a talk to get into some of the advanced sessions. bleh. Last year they took notice and expanded all of the rooms and I had no issues with waiting or missing a talk I really wanted to attend. I have no reason to believe this year will be different, should be plenty of space for all.

(Photo of one of the lines for a Cockcroft talk the first year)2012-11-28 16.16.03

Tips

One thing I’m not super excited about is the sheer number of simultaneous talks. At one point there are 19 simultaneous talks going on. That’s way too many IMO. You usually want to hit 2 or 3 that are happening at the same time  so it’s sort of a bummer. They should have fewer, higher caliber talks. Last year there was a good deal of “salesy” type talks where after 10 minutes you’re asking yourself why you just skipped that other talk you wanted to attend.  Generally avoid any 100 or 200 level talk from an enterprise vendor or large company. Tweets on those last year were pretty bad, more sales pitch than useful information, and I walked out of a couple myself to catch the rest of another talk. Example: “We utilized AWS to streamline our customer product delivery system, improve our response times and increase our sales output by 30% , we won’t tell you how, we’ll just boast about high level shit we did and how you can integrate with us now” :/

Tip1

If you’re there to learn some focused information attend as many 400 tracks as you can. Amazon actually puts on some good advanced topics such as the internals of EMR map/reduce, EBS performance deep dives, etc… If you’re looking to learn, that’ll get it done usually. There aren’t a lot of them, they usually sell out and are packed. Get there very early so you’re not sitting on the floor.

Tip2

Go New! Go to talks you know nothing about but may have heard or may have some interest in. If you already know the ins and outs of AWS then most talks will leave you wanting for more. You may walk away with one or two nuggets but with only 45 minutes, 20 mins of that is usually intro/setup and 25 mins for meat. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for deep inspection of topics. Instead let that 45 minutes be completely new. You’ll get exposed to more things and actually learn more in that 45 minutes. For the topics you have experience in, wait for the videos to come out to see if you missed anything. When in doubt, flip a dice (although with so many tracks you’ll need 3 dice)

Tip 3

Power!!! you’ll eventually need power to charge your laptop and phone. In a 2,000 seat room, the only power plugs are usually against just one of the walls, since most walls are moveable. You’ll want to get to a talk early to grab a power seat. They go fast. Better pro tip would be to bring a power strip with you so if it’s full you can unplug everyone, plug in your power strip, reconnect everyone and add yourself. You might even get a thank you that someone else can now plugin next to you 🙂

Tip 4

This annoys some people but is the only way you’re going to get to the next talk in time to get that sweet power… sit in the outside seats in your row. If you’re in the middle, after a talk it’s about 10 mins to empty out the talk so you’ll be waiting for some turtles ahead of you. If you’re on the outside you can break out right as the talk ends and get a nice spot in the next talk. Be somewhat courteous and make yourself small so people can get by easier.

Tip 5

Ready for dining? Public House  is the spot where the cloud gods hangout. Here you’ll find your Cockcroft, Vogels, and Berkholz’s of the cloud world. It’s a great spot for beers and people watching. You’ll get to interact with other techies and talk shop over some great craft brews. For breakfast, the best pancakes I’ve had in my life are at the Grand Lux Cafe . That’s where you’ll find me every morning 🙂 I usually gain a couple pounds just from breakfast but it’s worth it.

Tip 6

Get outside! The first year of the conference I realized on day 3 I hadn’t seen the outside world in 3 days straight. The Venetian has everything you need and more. Kind of scary actually… make it a point to stretch the legs and get some sun on your face.

Tip 7

Go to the parties! AWS spares no expense with their parties either. Deadmaus was pretty awesome last year, you could walk right up to the stage. They had laser limbo, mini helicopter landing games, old school arcade games and more. It was a good time, throw your anti-social caution to the wind and just go hang out for an hour.

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Tip 8

The shirts! I still wear my re:Invent shirt from 3 years ago. They last forever and are high quality. I wear my re:Invent shirts every week still. Make sure to get yours at the party.

Tip 9

Go to plenty of Netflix talks. They are some of the high scale AWS pioneers and have paved the way for you. Hear some of their problems/solutions and it will help you with your architecture. They also have valuable content. All of their talks are good, they’re all about the bass.

Tip 10

Vendor booths…. Lots of vendors to see and talk to at the conference. They all give shirts away so get there early if you want swag, they run out pretty fast. Most vendors were pretty knowledgeable and the companies sent their best reps out for this big conference. Be forewarned, if you let vendors scan your badge for a shirt you will be spammed for weeks afterwards. Fair trade I think.

Tip 11

Use twitter heavily. Follow the hashtag #reinvent to keep up to date on good talks, people trying to get together to discuss topics, and locations of beer meet-ups. If you’re looking to network that’s the best way to keep up with the pulse of the conference. I met a great engineer over twitter using the #reinvent hashtag who wanted to talk shop and have a beer at the public house. We gabbed for a few hours that night. Shout out to Martin Cozzi 🙂

Tip 12

Utilize AWS Solutions Architects. In the vendor area Amazon will have solution architects available for every service they have. Bring your problems and they will get on a whiteboard with you and get into the details. Wanna know the best Dynamo schema or write capacity heuristic? Wanna know if your EMR workflow is sound or stupid? Someone will literally sit with you and get you a solid solution. They’re there, free and they have their most senior people attending. Take advantage of that knowledge sharing.

Tip 13

Werner Vogels is cool as shit. You may not meet another C-level exec as cool as Vogels with an Amazon size market cap. He does his presentations in Nirvana shirts and converse. I was lucky enough to meet him at the party last year and he couldn’t have been more excited about the event and friendly to talk to. Don’t be afraid to go up and say hello. You might even catch a nugget of knowledge.

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Me and Vogels

Wrapping up

So that’s some tips off the top of my head for attending this year. If you want to see an advanced talk Mr Sean Berry and I are going to be representing CrowdStrike and doing a talk on how we do our blue/green deployment architecture.  APP307 – Leverage the Cloud with a Blue/Green Deployment Architecture We’ll be getting into the nitty, gritty of how we utilize a blue/green deployment model at scale with terabytes of daily data ingested. Kafka, zookeeper, load balancers and more!

Follow me on twitter for frequent updates and if you want to grab a beer while you’re there. I want to have some deep tech discussions while I’m there so let’s nerd out. https://twitter.com/jimplush

If I missed any good tips, leave a comment.


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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the advice! I’ll be buying a power strip to share and make friends. Pity I left my laptop converter at home! Maybe somebody needing the strip will have a converter!

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