A Fox's Guide to re:Invent

Amazon Web Service's re:Invent is just around the corner.  So, it seems like now might be a good time to get my thoughts out there on how to navigate and survive this conference.  Let's start off by saying that this is going to be an intense conference.  It just gets bigger and bigger every year.  Last year, more than 30000 people were in attendance.  This year, it's so big that the conference is spread out across five hotels on the Las Vegas strip.  The sheer size of the conference and the number of people there might make it a little difficult to get real value out of it, but with a little planning, you will most certainly draw out enough value to justify the cost of your ticket and travel.  Here are my suggestions and the general game plan I'm using this year:

Understand Yourself

We are all different, and we learn in different ways.  I really feel that re:Invent understands it.  re:Invent is, at its heart, a learning conference and AWS shows that with the multiple ways to absorb information at the conference.  

If you are a visual or auditory learner, I hear there will be over 1000 breakout sessions at re:Invent 2017.  These will provide a great chance to hear AWS professionals and partners share their wealth of information.

If you are a hands-on learner, re:Invent has you covered, too.  Check out the hands-on lab while you are onsite.  There will be hands-on labs for almost ever service AWS has to offer.  Each one will guide you through understanding of the services and technology.

Perhaps, you're a hybrid or interactive learner.  Check out the bootcamps at re:Invent.  I've taken Advanced Networking and Alexa Development workshops (to name a couple) in the past and I was blown away at just how intense they were.  It was solid learning of some pretty advanced stuff.  The long time frame as well as the fact that the instructors were awesome really provided for a great combination to allow attendees to really absorb that advanced material.  Of course, this isn't exactly fair to bring up now.  It's pretty late and most, if not all, of those bootcamps have sold out.  I'm in the same boat, too, since I registered for the conference much later than I normally do.  We're not out of luck, though.  The Hack-a-thons and Game Days will provide a great opportunity to work with AWS professionals as well as other peers out in the industry to learn.  

Plan, Plan, Plan

I went to re:Invent 2015 and re:Invent 2016.  I found both of those conferences to be very busy and full of a lot of activity.  They required a decent amount of planning ahead of time.  This is even more true for re:Invent 2017.  This one is going to be spread over 5 hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, from the Encore down to the MGM Grand.  That's at least a 2 mile swing from one end of the conference to the other.  Logistics are going to be a very important part of planning this year.  Amazon is giving us a little help by grouping topics to specific hotels.  So, Containers, Alexa, and Serverless topics will be found at the Aria for instance.  Check out the re:Invent campus map to help get an idea of what topics are going to be offered at a specific location.  Give yourself plenty of time to be able to go from hotel to hotel if you need to switch.

Remember to plan out your entire day, too.  For instance, the re:Play party is an amazing event, and you'll certainly want to go.  If you're spending your time over at the MGM Grand for Mobile topics, remember that.  Also, the pub crawl this year will be at both the Venetian as well as the MGM Grand.  Check out the re:Invent website to see what venues will part of the pub crawl at each location.

Remember to schedule time for the exhibit hall, too.  There will certainly be a chance to walk the exhibit hall floor during the welcome reception.  It's going to be pretty crowded, though.  I suggest that you use that as a chance to walk about and really scout the location and get and idea of which vendors you will want to talk to later.  Then, later in the week, when you've planned your time to hit the exhibit hall, you'll be faster and more efficient.  There will be more than 300 vendors in attendance.  It takes time to even walk past them all, vastly more time to talk to people.  This has always been one of the more important parts of my trip to re:Invent.  It helps me learn about new solutions and vendors that I might not be aware of.  I've easily added a 15-20% chance to my tech stacks each time I've visited re:Invent from all of the new vendors I've met.  Plus, it's a chance to get the swag I know my kids will be expecting upon my return home.

Plan right now to the Nth degree.  Plan to stash a bottle of water, some snacks, and maybe even a Red Bull or two in your backpacks to keep you hydrated and energized out there.  It's a very exhausting conference.

Entertainment

You won't get bored at re:Invent.  I promise you this.  There will be enough for you to attend during the day that boredom can't exist.  Hack-a-thons, exihibit halls, and hands-on labs, oh my!

As fas as the nightlight goes, you happen to somehow forget that you're in Las Vegas, re:Invent still has you covered.  Look at re:Invent's play page to get more information on the nighttime activities like the Welcome Reception and Pub Crawl.  You don't want to miss the re:Play party, too.  Trust me.  It's off the hook.

If you still need more entertainment, I suggest you check out reinventparties.com, this year's brand new one-stop re:Invent party guide.  Register early for the after parties.  You never know when they will sell out and go to a waitlist.

Finally, for those who feel the need to break from the conference, my go-to site as of late for looking for entertainment in Las Vegas is vegas.com.  It looks like Reba will be performing with Brooks and Dunn during our time in Vegas.  Lionel Ritchie has a show, too.  There's also your standard fare of Vegas entertainment from magic shows to more Cirque du Soliel shows than any single city should ever have.

Food

Quite simply, while you're at re:Invent, you won't have to worry about food much if you play your cards right.  First of all, the conference provides breakfast and lunch.  I was blown away at re:Invents past about how efficiently the conference handled the process of feeding everyone.  In the past, I heard that there were box lunches you could grab in case you had a session over the lunch hour.  I've honestly never looked into this, so I can't verify this.

As far as the evening goes, the meals are essentially taken care of, too.  Tuesday night, there will be the welcome reception, and Wednesday night has the Pub Crawl, and there's the re:Play party Thursday night, of course.  There are also a ton of afterparties put on by various companies, too.  All of these events will have passed appetizers and small food stations everywhere.  They are full of such activity that at the end of each night, when the realization that I haven't had dinner yet hits me, I end up not being concerned.  The grazing that happens all night long with the socializing and such really adds up and has left me totally full.

Leverage Who You Know

So, my account managers have always been very important people to me, and I make it a point to stay on their friendly sides.  re:Invent is another time when this can show you just how important that is.  Be sure to call up your account manager several times before and see if they've heard of anything special for the conference.  In the past, it's resulted in an invitation to an after party.  Other times, it's gotten me in a good place where I can do some solid networking.  You never know what can happen if you don't ask.  At the very least, see if you can arrange a quick meeting with your account manager to shake hands.  If your account manager is as good as any of mine have been in the past, they've been incredibly helpful and maybe even pulled your fat out of the fire.  That at least warrants a handshake.

Be Flexible

Helmuth von Moltke, a 19th-century head of the Prussian army observed that "no battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy".  It's going to be a big conference with a lot of people.  Even the best laid plans are going to come apart when we get there.  So, please try to keep an open mind while out there and always have a Plan B ready.  I'm sure those Plan B's will still provide you a lot of value.

You're going to get as much out of this conference as you want.  It will require some effort, but that value is there.  

So, that's what I've got to share with you.  I'm super excited for it this year, and I hope that you have a great conference, too.  Feel free to ping me on Twitter (@FoxInATX) while you're out there.  Maybe we'll get a chance to have a good talk about CloudFormation or Elastic File System...or just have a beer (or three) together.


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