re:Cap: AWS re:Invent 2019
It was July 27th when I realized how much I’m looking forward to my second re:Invent, arguably the greatest IT conference of our time. Cloud technologies change the way of doing business and everyday developer life and with AWS occupying roughly 48% of the cloud market share (according to the Andy Jassy’s keynote) all the new and existing features shape the whole industry. In this article I’m going to share my re:Invent 2019 experience, so you can better prepare yourself for the next one.
The conference takes place in Las Vegas, USA, this year it lasted a week from 1st to 6th December.
As I mentioned earlier, that was my second re:Invent and again I’m positively impressed by the level of organization. It’s not an easy task to feed, transport, check and keep safe 65000 people!
There are five main venues, in other words hotels hosting the event: Venetian, Mirage, Bellagio, Aria and MGM. I’ve seen Encore on the list, but there were no sessions there, so I’m not quite sure what was happening at that venue. For everyone’s convenience there were bus shuttles between the hotels but due to 24/7 heavy traffic in the city I took it only once. Las Vegas is such a vivid city, so if time allows walking is a must. Remembering last year commute experience this time I clustered sessions not only by type, but by venue as well. To manage time better I’ve done some walking time measurements and came up with the following:
Venetian <-> Mirage 15 minutes
Mirage <-> Bellagio 15 minutes
Bellagio <-> Aria 20 minutes
Aria <-> MGM 15 minutes
This is the minimum time you need to reach conference area from one venue to another, assuming you know all the shortcuts.
Considering that all the hotels are located on the same street — Strip — you can calculate for yourself that the longest route can take up to 50 minutes walking! Don’t let maps fool you, the distance between hotels might look very small just a few blocks away but that’s quite a distance! Also worth mentioning that you will need to navigate through the casinos to reach the conference area. There are specially dressed AWS employees who will guide you through this maze but if you decide to take a shortcut it’s very easy to lose the way (been there, done that).
There is twice a day meal provided — breakfast and lunch. Both will have vegetarian and meat options, as well as fruits, sweets and drinks. Food is served at each venue and waiters guide participants in the most effective way I’ve ever experienced. But there is a sad part also — a lot of food waste! I honestly can’t understand why people are taking too much if they are not able to finish it. Buffet is open and anyone can get more food anytime during the meal. Or if someone is in a hurry there’s also take away box option. I sincerely hope that all the leftovers are gone for good.
Surprisingly, but official re:Invent app is extremely laggy! Sometimes it didn’t open at all, loading of the schedule takes good 3 minutes and buttons react on the third touch only. What a disappointment!
Another very important part of the event started in 2018 is Pin Hunting. There were a lot of pins in 2018 and since it was just the beginning it was rather a chaotic activity, but I managed to collect 25.
In 2019 Amazon took a more serious approach, even posted the complete list of “must have” pins here. I was able to hunt all 11 official enamel-pins down (left side)! And probably all of the rest pins distributed on other events (right side). To collect all enamel-pins, you would need to stop by Reception Hall every morning as early as possible, complete Evaluations of past sessions in the app, participate in other pin-awarding activities (Ping-pong, marathon etc.) or have good colleagues around to support you. Also Pizza pin was very tricky — it was distributed randomly and most of the AWS employees didn’t have a clue about that. One day I spent around 2 hours going up and down Venetian asking everyone about the pin — all in vain. Next day I bumped into a girl with the Pizza pin on a shirt and she kindly agreed to give it to me. So kind of her!
According to the catalog in the app there were over 3923 results to choose from.
Some of them are not a real sessions but activities (like Mother’s room or Certification information), and if I filter them out there is roughly 3000 sessions, chalk talks, workshops and builders sessions to choose from. Although many of the sessions are available online shortly after, but the feeling of presence makes it a completely different experience. Overall during this week I’ve had 14 different sessions, mostly DevOps and Compute oriented. All of them were very well prepared and most of them taught me something new. My general advice would be to have no more than 3 sessions a day.
Number one and favorite session of the conference for me was definitely DOP-342 Amazon’s approach to building resilient services by Marc Brooker — I don’t have enough words to recommend this one to watch — just open the link straight away.
Other two notable ones are:
DOP-301 Amazon’s approach to running service oriented organisations — to understand Amazon work approach even better (video is currently unavailable, but audio podcast can be found)
ADM302 AWS re:Invent 2019: End-to-end machine learning using Spark and Amazon SageMaker — doing Machine learning the right way.
Even though re:Invent is mostly focused on sharing the knowledge and learning new things, fun is also here. It starts right from the very first day with Midnight Madness opening party. Many attendees tend to skip it due to jet lag and tiredness after long flights but I couldn’t let that happen to me, so I participated and left with this cute trophy:
Overall that is a great start to the event, don’t miss it!
The closing party happens on Thursday and it’s called re:Play. It occupies three massive tents featuring a lot of activities, food, drinks and great DJs. In 2018 headliner was one and only Skrillex, this year the lineup was generally unknown with Anderson Paak being in the lead. I must admit that guy did a great job making the crowd actively shaking their heads. But, hey, IT guys, we must accept the truth — we are terrible at parties! One of the tents had an awesome techno DJ set however people were just…standing still! I really can’t get my head around this. Are we too nerdy, too shy or just too old? Anyways, this event cannot be skipped by any means.
If you want to have a talk with the representatives from some of the industry-leading companies then Expo is a perfect place for you — there you can ask all your questions directly. Yes, some companies are represented by their marketing teams only, but that is rather an exception. This year I had a great talk with DataDog and Splunk, for example! You should definitely stop by the area of developers from AWS itself, here you can have all your problems heard (not necessarily solved though). And you will never leave this place empty handed:
You can check other activities here.
Outside of event
Las Vegas never sleeps! In fact, casinos are built in a way to avoid any natural light from being seen, so people keep on playing. And they do a lot! But, honestly, being in Vegas and not playing is a crime! So, don’t regret those 100–200$ lost, you also have a slim chance to win.
If you want to buy a gift or just love shopping there are two huge shopping outlets outside of the city center — South and North Premium Outlets. Assuming you want to buy for cheap spending another 30$ on Uber would be a waste, so feel free to take a convenient bus which will just cost you 8$ return ticket and take you directly there in some 20 minutes.
One of the World Wonder, Grand Canyon is about 1.5–2 hours drive from the city and definitely a must see despite of relatively high price.
Apart from this, just the city on its own is one huge attraction, roaming around and gazing at all the masterpiece hotels alone is a great way to spend the evening!
I love re:Invent! Its vibe, atmosphere and a lot of new things to learn. If you are ever given a chance to go there — don’t think twice, just go, no matter how long the flight is. Las Vegas is a big casino-city surrounded by desert, you will have a great time!