Episode Summary

Tim Banks is back and joins Jesse and Amy for another run as they reflect on re:Invent. Which, in the words of Tim, “is a week long sales pitch in the desert” in combination with “the worst version of corporate Burning Man you could imagine.” So circle the Teslas down on the Las Vegas Strip and lets figure out if re:Invent is even worth your time. Now that the world is supposedly re:Turned to normal. Our three hosts break down the upcoming Re:Invent in the wake of the pandemic. Is it worth it? Will there be some virtual/IRL hybrid event? Amy, Tim and Jesse bat around the idea of how to make re:Invent more interesting and it ranges from muppets throwing shade, tech themed RPGs, and HEY! Listeners...@ us for what you think should be on the re:Invent bingo cards.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript


Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by LaunchDarkly. Take a look at what it takes to get your code into production. I’m going to just guess that it’s awful because it’s always awful. No one loves their deployment process. What if launching new features didn’t require you to do a full-on code and possibly infrastructure deploy? What if you could test on a small subset of users and then roll it back immediately if results aren’t what you expect? LaunchDarkly does exactly this. To learn more, visit launchdarkly.com and tell them Corey sent you, and watch for the wince.

Jesse: Hello, and welcome to AWS Morning Brief: Fridays From the Field. I’m Jesse DeRose.

Amy: I’m Amy Negrette.

Tim: I’m Tim Banks.

Jesse: This is the podcast within a podcast where we talk about all the ways that we’ve seen AWS used and abused in the wild, with a healthy dose of complaining about AWS for good measure. Today on the show, we are going to be talking about AWS re:Invent. Now, I know that most of you know what re:Invent is, but I just would love to set the playing field level for everybody really quick. Amy, Tim, what is AWS re:Invent.

Tim: AWS re:Invent is AWS’s week-long corporate conference. It’s not really a user conference; it’s certainly not, like, a community conference, but it’s a week-long sales pitch in the desert. It’s like the worst version of a corporate Burning Man you could ever imagine because they even have a concert.

Jesse: It is in Las Vegas. Now, I personally have mixed feelings about going to Las Vegas in general, but this adds so much to the conference in general because it’s not just in a single conference venue that’s centrally located near the hotels. Is it is across the strip—

Amy: It’s the entire strip.

Jesse: It’s the entire strip. So—

Amy: They block every hotel and they buy every piece of ad space.

Jesse: Yes. There is no escaping AWS re:Invent for the entire week that you’re there. And sometimes that’s a good thing because you do want to be involved in what’s going on, but other times, it is a lot.

Tim: So, I’m trying to figure out which LP that ‘buy the entire Las Vegas trip’ covers because it’s certainly not be frugal.

Amy: No. [laugh].

Jesse: No, not at all. But we do have new information. We decided to do this episode specifically because new information was just released about re:Invent for this year. Amy, what is that information? What do we know?

Amy: They’ve decided, in having to go virtual last year, due to some kind of horrible global crisis, to return in person to the world’s most densely packed tourist spot, Las Vegas, and host this huge event from November 29th to December 3rd—that’s right after Thanksgiving—and just, what do they say? Return to normal. Return to normal.

Tim: That way everybody can get exposed to COVID before they go home for the holidays.

Jesse: [laugh].well, you at least get one holiday in, if you celebrate or recognize Thanksgiving, and then you get to bring everything back after that.

Amy: Yeah, people bring enough things back from Vegas. I’m not sure we’d have to find more reasons. [laugh].

Tim: [laugh].

Jesse: I know that there’s that great marketing tactic of, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but—

Tim: That’s not what they say at the clinic.

Jesse: Nope. Mm-mm. Now, I will say, I know that almost every conference event was completely virtual last year due to the pandemic, and this year, a lot of conferences are still trying to straddle that line between what’s acceptable, can we do maybe smaller events in person, some kind of a hybrid online/in-person thing. I have mixed feelings on this. I appreciate that I can still attend AWS re:Invent from home this year digitally, I can still watch a lot of the main keynote events and a lot of the other information that is being shared, but I don’t know, it’s always hard because if you do a hybrid event, you’re automatically going to miss out on any of that in-person socializing and networking.

Tim: Well. So, I think it’s interesting. AWS re:Invent suffers from the same issue that pretty much all other conferences suffer from is that there’s not really value-add in the talks, at least for attending.

Jesse: Yeah.

Amy: If you’re going to be able to see those talks afterwards if the announcements are going to be publicized afterwards which, that is true in both cases, then what’s the point of spending the money, and the time, and the possible exposure to go watch them in person? So, then the other thing is, “Well, we want to go for some of the training seminars,” or some of these other things. Well, those are also offered online, often. Or, like, copies of them online. These are the same kinds of tutorials like that that you can have your TAM or SA run if you’re an AWS customer currently; that’s what they’re doing there.

The other thing is, too, those in-person sessions get filled up so quickly that there’s no guarantee [unintelligible 00:05:08] anyways. And that’s one of the complaints they’ve had about re:Invent in the past is that you can’t get into any of the sessions. And so, you couple all that along with most of the reason going being—if it’s not the talks and is not the sessions, it’s the hallway track. And then you got to kind of wonder, is the hallway track going to be valuable this year because if it’s hybrid, what percent of the people that you would normally 
talk to you are going to be there and what percentage aren’t? And so there’s a lot of calculus that’s got to go into it this year.

Jesse: I’ve always struggled with any vendor-sponsored event, all the talks feel either like a sales pitch, or they feel like a use case that just doesn’t fit for me. And that may just be where I’m at in my professional journey; there’s definitely reasons to go if you want to see some of these talks or see some of this information live, or be the first person to talk about it. Or even the people who are going to be the news sources for everybody else who want to be the first person to talk about, “Oh, we attended, and we saw these things and were live-tweeting the entire conference.” If that’s your shtick, I fully support that, but I always struggle going to any kind of vendor conference because I just feel like the value that I get from the talks, from training if I go to training, just doesn’t feel like enough for me, personally.

Amy: So, I’ve done some of the AWS-led training when Summit was in Chicago, a couple years ago, and I’ll be honest, you lose a lot in these large AWS-led trainings because these classes, it’s not going to be like the ones that you would sign up for even being hosted either by your company or by your local user group chapter where you will have at max 100 people. You have well over that. You have an entire conference room full of people, and they’re asking questions that are across the level of expertise for that topic. I went for one of the certification training seminars and straight-up 15 minutes was spent talking about what a region is. And given that’s page one of any training material, that was a waste of $300.

Jesse: Yeah.

Tim: I think you run into the problem because it is, in fact, I mean, let’s be honest, it’s a multi-day sales pitch. It’s not a user conference, it’s not user-generated content. It’s cherry-picked by the powers-that-be at AWS, the service groups. Is a big push for account executives to encourage high-level or high-spend accounts to participate in those so they get logo recognition. And so that becomes more of the issue than the actual cool user stories.

And that’s fine if you’re using it literally just a sales conference because it’s very compelling sales material, your account executive will go there and try and close deals, or close bigger deals, or sign EDPs or something like that, but from an engineering standpoint, from a technical standpoint, it’s remarkably uncompelling.

Jesse: Yeah, I think that’s one other thing to call out, which is, there is definitely this networking opportunity that we talked about from a hallway track perspective, but there’s also a networking and business opportunity to meet with your account manager, or your TAM, or your SA in person and have conversations about whatever things you want to talk about; about future architecture, or about closing an EDP—or I should say, about an EDP because the account manager will try to close that EDP with you—and then basically use that as next steps for what you want to do with AWS. But again, all of those things can be done without flying you to Las Vegas and being amongst all these other people.

Tim: I mean, let’s not take away, there’s a certain synergy that happens when you have face-to-face contact with folks, and a lot of these conversations you have in hallways are super, super organic. And so I think that’s indicative of conferences as a whole. One of the things that we learned in the pandemic is that, yeah, you can have talks where people just, like, look at a screen and watch talks, and a lot of conferences have done that. But that’s not why people want to go to the conference; they want to go to the conference to talk to people 
and see people. And if you want to have a conference where people talk to people and see people, and that’s the whole point of doing it, 
then the business model behind that looks dramatically different, and the content behind that looks dramatically different.

You just have a bunch of birds-of-feather sessions or a bunch of breakout sessions. You do a keynote at the beginning, you do a keynote at the end, and then you just let people mingle, and maybe you have some led topics, but you don’t generate content; you shut up and you let the people innovate.

Jesse: I also want to add to that. It is one thing to have a conference that is in one venue where everybody is going to be gathered in the same space, creating conversation, or creating easy opportunities—

Amy: Five miles worth of content isn’t exciting for you?

Jesse: Yeah. So, in Las Vegas because the entire conference is spread across the entire strip, you’re going to have opportunities to network across the entire strip basically, and sometimes that means you’re going to only spend time networking with the people who are in the same hotel as you at the time of the track that you are waiting for, or the time of the event that you are waiting for. It is unlikely that you are going to run all around the strip just to be able to network with everybody that you run into.

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Amy: The other issue I have, not just with re:Invent, but this is really any larger conference or conferences that rely on the kind of content where it is a person speaking at you and you don’t get to meet these people, is that without any level of Q&A or interactivity—and this is true especially for AWS-led events—is that it is no different than watching someone on video. You can go to these talks, and you can perhaps have conversations with people as they filter out of the room, but there’s no way you’re going to be able to talk to that person who was delivering that content, unless you can track them down amongst the sea of people in re:Invent or [unintelligible 00:12:16] in Las Vegas.

Tim: What typically has to happen is that after someone has given a compelling talk and you really want to talk to them, you have to go and talk to your account manager; your account manager will then set up a meeting that will happen at a later time where you’re going to all call in over Chime, and then you will quote-unquote, “Meet” that person virtually. And if that’s the case, you could have just stayed home and watched [laugh] the talk online, and then done the same thing.

Amy: Conferences need more Chime. That’s what [laugh] the problem is.

Jesse: [laugh]. I think my eye just started twitching a little bit as soon as you said that, Amy.

Amy: I’m glad. So, then why would people go? There’s the hallway track, but is that worth the heavy price tag of going to Vegas? A lot of us live in areas where there is either going to be an AWS Summit or there are AWS user groups. What do you get from going to a larger 
event such as re:Invent and having that level of communication that you can’t get from those smaller groups?

Tim: I mean, the importance of networking cannot be overstated. It is extremely important, whether it’s for laying groundwork for future deals, laying groundwork for future collaborations. I’ve been at conferences where a hallway track, just folks meeting up in the hallway and having a really organic discussion turned into a product within three months. So, those kinds of things are important. And, unfortunately or unfortunately, they do happen better quite often, when people are in-person and they’ve had a chance to talk, maybe even a couple of drinks or whatever.

So, I mean, people ink deals, they shake hands, they get, you know, a lot of work done when it comes to maintaining and managing relationships, and to some people, that is worth it. But I do think that you have to be very, kind of, eyes-open about going into this. It’s like, you’re not going to go in there to get a lot of technical insight, you’re not going to go in there to talk to a whole bunch of people unless you really have a relationship or establish some kind of rapport with them beforehand. Because just to go up and blindly like, “Hey, I’m going to grab you in the hallway, and this is who I am,” that’s not always great, especially nowadays, when people are, kind of, already averse to, you know, talking to strangers, sometimes.

Jesse: I’ve always struggled with talking to strangers in general at conferences because I’m predominantly introverted, so if I don’t have an open introduction to someone through a mutual third party or mutual friend, it’s just not going to happen. And I’ve gotten better at that over the years as I go to conferences, but it’s going to be especially tough now in cases where folks are not just averse to, I don’t want to say strangers, but averse to physical contact and adverse to people just, kind of, approaching them out of the blue. It’s tough. I want to be more mindful of that and I want to be better, but it’s hard, especially in cases where you’re in a crowd of hundreds of people or, you know, thousands of people across the strip, that it just gets overwhelming really quickly for some folks.

Amy: I do want to loop this round, if anything, just for a poll for Twitter. Do not close an EDP in Vegas. You’re probably not of the right mind [laugh] and have the right people to do that. Wait till you get back to work. Please. That’s just me. [laugh].

Jesse: I would also like to add—we talk about why people go; I think that there’s definitely a solid contingent of folks who attend re:Invent because it is the one time a year that the company sanctions them getting away from their family for a couple of days, getting away from, you know, the day-to-day routine of whatever work is going on for a couple days, and go to Vegas. Now, I know that the company is not going to sponsor them drinking every night, or gambling, or whatnot, but they’re likely going to be doing those things anyhow, so it is this company-sanctioned opportunity to just go experience, you know, something different; go take a vacation, basically, for a couple days.

Amy: Corporate Burning Man.

Tim: Corporate Burning Man, exactly. A vacation in Vegas.

Amy: I am not a fan of ever working in Vegas. If I’m on the clock, I cannot be in Vegas, not because I’m prone to excessive behavior when I’m on my own, but more that I cannot be productive in that much noise and that much flaky internet. It drives me absolutely batty, and I’m 
only going to be, as far as implementations, so productive in a crowd that large.

Tim: I will say this, especially in regards to Vegas, there are other places you can go, other places that need the money more. AWS wants to rent a city, rent a city that needed the money. Put that money where it could be to used, where it really makes a difference. I don’t know if Vegas is the right place for that, if I’m being honest, especially after all we’ve learned and dealt with in 2020. And so that’s why in 2021, yeah, no for me, continuing to have re:Invent in Vegas is very, very tone-deaf.

Jesse: I still think, Amy, you and I just need to—actually sorry, all three of us should attend and basically keep a running Waldorf and Statler commentary through the entire conference. I don’t know if we can get that little, you know, opera booth that’s kind of up and away from all the action, but if we can get something like that and do some sports commentary—ohh, maybe on the expo hall—

Amy: That would be great. That would be great if we don’t get banned. [laugh].

Tim: I think what would be even more fun is to give a MST3K—

Jesse: Ohhh.

Tim: —treatment of the keynotes afterwards, you know what I mean?

Jesse: Yeah.

Amy: Yes.

Jesse: I mean, Amy and I had also talked about playing some Dungeons and Dragons while we were there, and I feel like if we can find some, I’m going to say, tech-themed RPG—I realize that is a broad category, and everybody’s going to spam me afterwards for this, but—

Amy: I got that. Don’t worry about it.

Jesse: Yeah, I’m on board. I feel like anything that we can do to create a roleplaying game out of this conference, I’m down.

Tim: I’m still waiting for you to explain to the audience in general who Waldorf and Statler were?

Jesse: Oh, yes, that is fair. Okay. Waldorf and Statler are two characters from the old-school Muppets Show, which is amazing and delightful. It’s on Disney+; I highly recommend it. They are basically—

Amy: They’re two grumpy old muppets, and they have been roasting people since the 70s. That is—that’s all it is. [laugh].

Tim: All they do is they sit up in the upper booth and they throw shade, and I love it.

Amy: Yes. And they just show up in random parts in different movies. They’ll be, like, on a park bench, and there’ll be a serious moment, and then they’ll just start talking crap for no reason. And it’s great.

Jesse: They’re the best. They’re absolutely fantastic. I adore them. I hope to be them one day.

Amy: One day.

Tim: Really, both of them? I don’t, I don’t know how that’s going to work.

Jesse: I am hoping to clone myself. One of me is going to have fabulous hair and one of me is going to be balding. Probably the clone is going to be balding; sorry about it, future me. But—

Amy: [laugh].

Tim: Well, I mean, and have just a magnificent chin, right?

Jesse: Yes, yes, that’s the trade-off. Losing the hair up top but absolutely fantastic chin.

Tim: Here’s what I want to see. I want to see the listeners submit things that you think should be on the re:Invent bingo cards.

Amy: Ohh, yes.

Jesse: Yes.

Amy: I would love to see that.

Jesse: So, for those of you listening, you’ve got two options for submitting things that you’d like to be on the re:Invent bingo cards. The ideal option is going to lastweekinaws.com/QA. Fill out the form and let us know what you think should be on the bingo card. You can also respond to the social media post that will be posted for this content, and we can take a look at that as well. But that’ll be a little bit harder for us to follow because I’m unfortunately not like Corey. I can’t absorb all of Twitter in a day; it takes me a longer time to read all that content.

Jesse: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please go to lastweekinaws.com/review and give it a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you hated this podcast, please go to lastweekinaws.com/review. Give it a five-star rating on your podcast platform of choice and tell us what you think about AWS re:Invent.

Announcer: This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.
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