How to Rock Re:Invent

9th June, 2015

One of my favorite sessions at SXSW was always the ‘How to Rawk SXSW’ panel. This usually took place the evening before the SXSW Interactive festivities kicked off and featured seasoned SXSW veterans discussing their tips, tricks and hacks to getting the most out of the conference (and Austin) during their time there. In fact, I liked it so much I thought I would try to take a similar approach for our very own AWS conference, Re:Invent.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend every re:Invent conference so far, all of which have taken place at The Venetian in Las Vegas. It’s the same venue this year, so here are some tips to get the most out of 2015 (you may know others, drop me a line):

Pre-game

I’ve been attending technical conferences for over a decade and through that time my event pre-game prep has varied from ‘none at all’, to what I can only describe as ‘military ops’. I’ve landed somewhere in the middle, and while my role at AWS means that my pre-game for re:invent is a little atypical (primarily since it starts mid-2014), for the event itself I follow some general pre-game steps:

  1. Get the agenda (bonus points if there is an app)
  2. Scour the agenda for the breakout sessions I absolutely, definitely do not want to miss
  3. Defer decisions on the times when I have some tough choices on which sessions to attend
  4. Choose a couple of breakout sessions out of left field which sound interesting
  5. Be sure to leave time to decompress through the day - it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Overall, I’ve found that having a working knowledge of the agenda is helpful, and having a rough plan sketched out while staying open to learning new things that I might hear about at the event serves me well.

There are a lot of parallel sessions at re:Invent, so you’ll have to get comfortable with missing something in Las Vegas. That’s OK. You’ll make good decisions most of the time, and if you chance on a session which isn’t for you, you can catch up since the vast majority of the sessions are available shortly after the event. The cost of failure is relatively low, so be open to experimentation.

Time and Space

Las Vegas hotels are big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big they are, and that means you’ll end up doing a lot of walking around - around the conference, but also around the hotel just to get to and from the event. Plan your time accordingly - it can easily take 20 minutes to get from a hotel room to the conference floor (longer if, like me, you get perpetually lost or are easily distracted by shiny things - there are lots of shiny things in Las Vegas).

The conference sessions, expo floor itself are relatively (relatively) self contained, but it can take some time to jump between breakout sessions. There are 15 minute breaks baked into the breakout session agenda so you don’t miss the start of the next session as you’re traveling between them.

Gear

Just as importantly, plan your gear. In 2014, I was working with:

  1. Herschel ‘Little America’ backpack, into which goes…
  2. 2013 13” MacBook Pro (my primary workhorse)
  3. 2011 15” MacBook Pro (hot backup; the day before a service launch is not a good time to experience laptop fail)
  4. iPhone - I use this almost continuously, which means I also need…
  5. PowerAll 12,000 mAh Power Bank (this thing can jump start a car 20 times on a full charge, and kept me going through a busy week)

This year I’ll probably swap from a backpack back to a messenger bag since it’s easier to access the gear within and just as easy to carry.

The Corridor

As much as the technical sessions are valuable, the attendees make re:Invent what it is for me, so be sure to take advantage of the various networking sessions.

Re:Invent has become something of an ‘everybody conference’, which probably means that the person who you follow on Twitter, who writes your favorite blog or who contributed that code to Netflix OSS at just the right time to save you two weeks of development, is there too.

Find that person.

Surprise Sessions

The keynotes usually contain announcements of new services and features, the majority of which are accompanied by a dedicated break out session for more of a deep dive. AWS keeps these sessions hidden to avoid spoiling the surprise of the keynote, so keep an eye on the agenda immediately after the keynotes to check in and learn more about any new services.

James

Go to James Hamilton’s session. Consider it mandatory and thank me later.

See you there

AWS Re:Invent 2015 is taking place at The Venetian in Las Vegas from 6th to the 9th October. Registration is now open. See you there.