If you’re unfortunate enough to be attending re:Invent in person, you can find a lot of guides suggesting things that are not to be missed, survival tips to remember, and how to get “the best experience” from the show.
Most of them are molten garbage.
Instead, I’m going to give you the tips I give my friends who wonder what they’re in for because they haven’t been unlucky enough to be forced to attend in previous years.
Viva-ing in Las Vegas
Let’s start with the obvious: re:Invent is hosted in Las Vegas, which, in an unfortunately on-the-nose coincidence for AWS, is a city built almost entirely on exploiting people. That may strike you as a throwaway joke, but I assure you that it’s not.
All of the re:Invent venues double as casinos. Casinos make their money when you’re out on the gaming floors, not when you’re holed up in your room streaming Netflix. As a result, all the hotels I’m aware of have a couple of tiers of Wi-Fi access that round to “expensive” and “extremely expensive.” Don’t make the mistake that I did. Spring for the good Wi-Fi if you’re planning to spend any appreciable time in your room — which I suggest, because otherwise you will probably die of exhaustion.
If your employer has you sharing a room with a coworker, it’s time to find a new job, because that company is likely going to be a smoking crater by the time the HR lawsuits are finished.
I suggest staying at one of the re:Invent venues, because Las Vegas is a lot bigger than it looks on the map.
If you look at the venue map, you will find that it’s roughly as accurate as your company’s architecture diagrams of your AWS environment are. We’re going to politely call this map “deceptive.”
For example, The Venetian expo hall is across the street from the Wynn, where I stayed last year. One might think I could schedule meetings 15 minutes apart and get there with time to spare.
The joke was on me.
I walk fairly quickly, and when I didn’t get stopped to talk to someone, my best time from the expo hall entrance to my hotel room was just under 25 minutes. The Las Vegas Strip is massive.
If this is your first time in Las Vegas, you can also picture the hotel and casino layouts as being trapped inside of an AWS Managed NAT Gateway. Everything around you is extremely expensive, and it’s borderline impossible to figure out where the entrances and exits are. This is by design. Are you sure you don’t want to sit down for a few minutes at a slot machine to rest, and incidentally put a few bucks into it? (You absolutely do not.)
Care and feeding
It’s worth mentioning these three common re:Invent recommendations that don’t suck:
- Wear comfortable shoes; you’ll be walking a lot.
- Drink plenty of water, you’re in an arid desert.
- Apply chapstick regularly (see above).
The show itself: AWS re:Invent
It’s natural to try to want to take everything in. That is physically impossible. I tried one year to attend all the keynotes and nearly collapsed as a result. Instead, pick and choose what value you want from the show, and optimize your schedule for that.
I’m not a huge fan of waiting in line for 45 minutes to attend a session that will soon be posted on YouTube. Unless you’ve got a compelling reason to be there, I’d bias instead for the Chalk Talks. These are informal talks that aren’t recorded, and the experts often drop fascinating pearls of wisdom along the way.
While you’re planning out your schedule, it’s super easy to get caught up in the hype and assume all of AWS’s announcements are aimed at you and your workloads. Remember, service announcements and keynotes are both marketing events. Despite being a majority of your AWS bill (go and check, I’m rarely wrong on this one), EC2 gets remarkably little stage time most years.
Back when AWS Ground Station launched, I remember thinking for a good half-minute or so that I needed to sit down and author my company’s satellite strategy. Thankfully, I came to my senses. I leave you with two primary pieces of advice here:
The first is that while every service is for someone, no service is for everyone. The roundup of announcements that I’ll put together is only a summary. It is absolutely not your shopping list.
The second is to really think about what you want to get out of the show. For me, it’s about making connections with people. Consider it this way: If I go to a talk about S3, I’ll learn a fair bit about the service, for sure. However, if I get to know someone on the S3 team, or a Solutions Architect who focuses on storage? Well, that’s the kind of person I can ask questions to in three months when I’m back home and using S3 as a haunted database.
The Expo hall, or “partner education center,” is overwhelming. There are hundreds of booths, and those booths are historically overwhelmingly expensive compared to most events. These companies are not generally staffed by idiots; the leads they gather here are going to feed their entire Q1 2023 sales pipeline.
Do yourself a favor right now: Go log into the attendee portal and change your email address to include a
+reinvent2022 or similar plus-sign-denoted string in the username portion. Vendors will periodically scan your badge and email you as a result. This isn’t a bad thing at all — but the deluge has the potential to make your inbox unusable. Give them a tagged email address so you can filter those messages into a folder until you have time to go through them all.
I generally tend to ignore a lot of the swag options. Yes, stickers are fun and all, but I don’t really need that many T-shirts, pairs of socks, incredibly sketchy branded USB batteries carefully positioned to destroy my phone and burn my house down, or plastic lightsabers. Try to retain a sense of what your time is worth before you spend 45 minutes in line to spin a wheel for a chance to win an off-brand drone or whatnot.
Of course, you could just pay attention to the companies who are generously sponsoring my fabulous re:Quinnvent physical and virtual sideshow conference, which brings both meaning and snark to the firehose of corporate cloud announcements. Those sponsors are absolutely amazing, and you should definitely make it a point to tell them where you heard about them.
Should you find yourself with a free hour or so during re:Invent 2022, meet me on Wednesday@1PM at the Fortinet booth in the expo hall. That’s when my annual Expo Hall Nature Walk & Safari kick off. We’ll wander through the Expo hall as I explain in my inimitable style just what various companies do, in ways that have the potential to send their marketing teams into the depths of an existential crisis.
If you’re looking to get a few miles away from the hustle and bustle of the show on Wednesday night after 7PM, come to Atomic Liquors and drink on my dime. It’s a great little bar that got its name because people in the 1950s used to watch the nuclear tests from there. We don’t do atmospheric nuclear testing anymore, but we should be able to watch Finance receive the first AWS bills from the new service launches and explode in a similar fashion.
There’s a “pub crawl” on Tuesday night that’s a buy-out of a whole bunch of bars, each sponsored by a different company. While AWS’s target market is absolutely “a bunch of completely smashed engineers with signing authority,” you probably don’t want to make the mistake of drinking so much that you can’t function the following day.
If you’re the type of person who enjoys music that goes DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF, then the re:Play party is not to be missed. Bring your badge, or they will not let you in. Do not bring a bag larger than a small purse, or they will not let you in. Do not pretend to be with the band, or they will not let you in. Do not attempt a “Don’t you know who I am?! I’m COREY QUINN!” or they will absolutely not let you in.
The best part of re:Invent is free
There’s a lot of neat stuff at re:Invent, but all of it pales in comparison to the shining jewel of the experience: leaving re:Invent and going home.
In fact, re:Invent is one of the only AWS services to not charge you to leave. You are absolutely free to leave at any time. When you’ve had enough, just go on home. Relax. Pamper yourself.
Me, on the other hand? I’m going to be there for eight nights this year, in some psychotic version of Cloud Hanukkah. I hope you don’t have to go — but if you do, I hope to see you there.