AWS Re:Invent 2018 – Recap

On November 2018 I was on my first AWS Re:Invent convention in Vegas. This was an amazing experience, which I highly recommend to anyone working with AWS (don’t we all?).

The sheer size of the convention (50K people!), the volume of sessions and products and above all, the amazing diversity of occupations and fields people came from was mind blowing.

Following is a short recap of the lessons I learned my first time in AWS Re:Invent – from registration to what not to miss (and what you can feel free to miss) in the event, and how to survive it.

Question 1: How much does it costs?

The registration fee is $1,800, and staying in a nice hotel for 6 nights was ~$800. In addition, you have 6 days of not getting any work done, plus flights .

Question 2: Is it worth it?

For me, as a DevOps/Developer with our entire fleet hosted on AWS – Totally. But I must say that the most valuable things I learned at Re:Invent was not so much the AWS services tutorials/announcements, but the sessions where professionals from around the world shared their experiences with moving/building/expanding to AWS infrastructure. If you want to convince your supervisor why it’s good, AWS even have a ready justification letter 🙂

Question 3: OK, I’m in. Should I register in advance to sessions? How? Where?

So, registration to sessions is really the weak side of the Re:Invent convention. The website looks like a relic from the 1990’s, searching is very hard and unintuitive, the calendar option only appeared a week after the registration was opened – seriously, terrible.

After you got over you shock that this is the entry point to what is the largest developers convention I know, few tips:

  • Most big sessions are held more than once, so can find them on other days/venues
  • A lot of sessions are broadcasted live in different venues (and even in the same venue) – So if you couldn’t find a seat, you still have a chance to see it.
  • The system won’t let you schedule 2 sessions less the 30 minutes apart if they are in different venues – take that into consideration.
  • Registration to sessions ends fast. I had all my desired sessions opened in different tabs, and the moment the registration opened I clicked “Register” on each one of them – and still didn’t get a seat in some.
  • New sessions and additional screenings are added all the time during the convention, and people replace and free their seats. Keep your “favourite” lists and check daily if something interesting has opened up.
  • Sessions level – anything lower than 300 is very basic. Only go if it’s something totally new for you / you’re new to AWS
  • Session types:
    • Workshops – vary significantly in their value: Some of them a really good, but in most of them you’re just following a github-hosted tutorial and have 2 AWS personal going around and assisting you with technical issues. I must say most of the workshops weren’t very valuable to me
    • Chalk-talk – Most chalk talks I’ve been at had 2 very experienced engineers, sharing their experiences on various topics. These were some of my best sessions.

Question 4: What to see?

Re:Invent really has a lot of extracurricular activities (Bar crawl, races, 4k runs, the expo, and so forth). I admit I haven’t attended to most of them – I arrived late Sunday night and had a 10 hours time diff to get over, so most nights I was in a zombie state, and I’m not very good networker. If you are (and you’re not jet-legged to death) – go!

The Expo: I guess you’ve heard all the urban legends of the wonderful land of expo, where swag is abundant and freely given. Well, it’s true, a lot of things are freely given, but you will have to stand in line for hours for some tech-labeled-socks. For the really valuable things, you’d have to compete with people, register to listen to some sales pitch you’re not interested at, and generally waste your time. My recommendation – skip it. If you have a free hour at the Venetian, go have a look – but trust me, no need to plan your schedule around it.

The Quad, however, is waaaay more interesting. You get a chance to play and build robotic legos and other things!

re:Play Party: I’ve only been to one, but I must say it wasn’t that impressive. I mean, go – it’s already paid for in your ticket, but let’s say I didn’t have any remorse for leaving early….

Question 5: What to wear? Where to eat? How to get around?

Unless you’re presenting something – snickers, jeans, and a t-shirt. Get a light jacket for the over-conditioned lecture halls and the rides between places, but most of the time the temperature is really office-like. (You’ll spend most of your time indoors anyway)

The food halls are enormous, but the food is really good – they always have gluten free choices, btw! – and food and drinks are abundant , to the point where you get snack when getting off the shuttles. I haven’t been to any of the breakfasts, only lunches, but I guess the standard is the same. Basically, you’ll only have to eat dinner on your own expense.

Getting around the venues is extremely easy with the shuttles. Before I arrived I heard from a lot of people that in previous years the shuttles were really bad, and that I should base my mobility on Uber – but at least this year I can attest that the shuttles were rapid, fast and convenient.

General Tips

  • DO NOT buy coffee at Starbucks. They have (good) coffee/tea/soda stands everywhere around the lecture halls. Save your money and time (the queues are infinite)
  • Constantly fill you water bottle (They have refill stands everywhere)
  • Carry a lip balm on your person. Vegas is dry as hell.
  • There are electricity outlets literally everywhere, and the wifi was surpassingly good.