Screaming in the Cloud
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re:Inventing re:Invent with Pete Cheslock
Episode Summary

About Pete

Pete is a recovering system administrator who got his start with AWS services back in 2009 while at Sonian, the first cloud-based email archiving platform. As one of the earliest and largest users of AWS, Pete ran technical operations and brought DevOps theory into action. Pete has worked for other companies such as Dyn, Threat Stack, and CHAOSSEARCH, managing large scale AWS deployments. A frequent speaker at DevOps and Observability events, Pete brings a product mindset to SaaS operations. Outside of work he spends his free time smoking meats and tweeting about the results.


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Transcript

Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Cloud Economist Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of Cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.


Corey: Join me on April 22nd at 1 PM ET for a webcast on Cloud & Kubernetes Failures & Successes in a Multi-everything World. I'll be joined by Fairwinds President Kendall Miller and their Solution Architect, Ivan Fetch. We’ll discuss the importance of gaining visibility into this multi-everything cloud native world. For more info and to register visit www.fairwinds.com/corey. 


Corey: The apps on cloud summit is a new action packed, not a conference, happening May 11th through 13th online. Its for everyone who makes applications in the cloud run screaming. From IT leaders to DevOps pros to you folks, whoever you might be. Take a break from screaming into the cloudy void with me to learn from some of the best of people who actually know what they’re doing. Like Kelsey Hightower, AWS blogger John Meyer, and also me, because apparently they didn’t listen to me saying I had no idea what I was doing. Register now at turbonomic.com/screaming. Theres a “swag box” ready to ship for the first two thousand registrants, so you don’t want to miss this. Thanks for Turbonomic for sponsoring this ridiculous podcast.


Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. For the third year in a row, I am joined by—who is now my colleague, Pete Cheslock. Pete, thanks for coming back.


Pete: It’s great to be here yet again, although under different circumstances than our normal post re:Invent extravaganza.


Corey: Oh, yes. So, every year, for those who have not been following this show since its inception, Pete and I get together to more or less kibitz around what happened at re:Invent. We would have done this in December, but then they put up on their website, three more days happening in January, and where, we’ll wait until after that happens. And guess what happened? Nothing. They did some additional breakout sessions and that’s it. So honestly, it was a giant waste of everyone’s time, kind of like the, you know, sponsor expo hall at a digital event.

Pete: Yeah. Can we start on that topic?

Corey: Do you want to start on the digital event aspect or the crappy expo hall?


Pete: I want to start with the expo hall because I am a former sponsor of re:Invent, many, many times over. Again, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked in the cloud world, so I’ve been to pretty much all the re:Invents except for one—I’m not sure we’re going to count this year—but for almost all of those re:Invents, I was in the expo hall as part of a sponsor, whether it was the company I was working at, or whatever, but we were either part of that process of setting up a booth and shilling our wares to all these tech folks that are there, and the experience has been different: everything from, like, you build your own booth; here’s a square, just put whatever you want there, which I think was hilarious in the early days. To the nope, just give us a picture of what you want behind your booth. This year, though, it’s a weird digital thing. I guess they sent some VR things around there. I’m not sure if you heard of that. Some of the—

Corey: Oh, they did. Only for the Heroes, not for anything sponsor expo hall stuff. Now, let’s begin and say that I have a fair bit of sympathy—kind of—because 2020, weird year, pandemic is not something you generally plan for when scheduling events out years in advance. And there we have it, where it’s, suddenly there’s really no other option. Now, AWS absolutely dragged its feet embarrassingly long before announcing it would be digital-only. I think it was October, when they finally said, “All right,”—or damn near it—“All right, it’s going to be a virtual event.” To which the rest of the industry said, “No kidding.” But until they actually come out and say that you can’t bank on it.


Pete: How do you plan for that? I mean, I remember just a few years ago going through the process while I was still at ChaosSearch to set up a sponsorship for re:Invent. People start that process in March, April timeframe; they start thinking about, you know, the strategizing it; they start locking in their deposits because the sooner you get a deposit in the earlier, you can pick your booth location and that’s a big part. You want it to be not in the way far back that no one can find you. You want it to be somewhere near a good walkway. And so there’s a lot of planning that goes in, so pushing it back so late. I mean, I don’t know, do you think that they had this belief that they were going to do an in-person event?


Corey: My honest belief, to be very frank—and I say this in my capacity as gadfly, not in my capacity as self-appointed head of marketing for AWS—is that I think that they just were facing a whole bunch of cancellation fees, because when you book something like that, it’s expensive. They’re frugal, and I feel like for once, they were on the side of a contract that there was no winning move to get out of. And I feel like there was just some bitterness around that, they were hoping for a miracle and finally had to face reality. That’s my gut feeling. I have no inside track on that because although I call myself the head of AWS marketing, they don’t agree. Which is fine, though because, given their messaging or lack of same, I don’t need their agreement to be effective in the role.

Pete: Exactly. I mean, I think what’s most impressive to see is that they still provided an event that people attended; people watched the videos, they took part in, they did a bunch of different, kind of, vehicles and using things like Twitch and this VR thing for the expo hall, as a little silly as it is, at least they tried, right? They tried something new in this new world that we have been living in.


Corey: It was definitely an experience. Because we’re starting with the expo hall, though, I did a virtual walkthrough of the expo hall, and I made fun of things as I typically do in the real one, but it was hard to find, a bunch of people didn’t realize it existed, three weeks in, and what shocked me was the sheer level of enthusiastic outreach I got from some of the sponsor booths I visited, I got phone calls from vendors ask if they can help me with various solutions. “No, no. I was just there to make fun of you.” At which point it’s a very surreal conversation for an account rep to have when they don’t know who I am and what my nonsense looks like. But it was, they had so few leads coming in that they were just really focusing on every one that showed up. And I feel for them.

Pete: Yeah.


Corey: Problem is that they paid top dollar for these things, and got—I got to be honest with you—remarkably little. The minimum buy was something like 35 grand for a tiny little booth, and it went up to 125 plus a whole bunch of extras. And I’m looking at this in my own re:Quinnvent sponsorship nonsense that worked super well for sponsors, and I’m sitting here going, “I really need to start charging more. My God.”

Pete: Yeah. We just think about that for a second is that in normal re:Invent, your booth size is priced differently. If you want a small booth, like, 10 by 10 foot, you’ll pay a certain amount of money, a 20 by 20 booth is a lot more money. It makes sense. It’s a square footage situation here, but we’re talking about, like, computer bits, right? They’re like, yeah, well, you can get the small digital booth for 30,000 or the large, double-decker digital booth for 150.


Corey: Oh, yeah. One of my favorite personal experiences, remember, I talked to a company about sponsoring. Their initial position is usually always the same. “You’re a jerk. You made fun of us on Twitter, you roasted us, why on earth would we ever pay you for sponsorships?”

And my response was, “Look, let me level it with you here. I get up there and make fun of you, and no one in the world is going to stop doing business with you because I said something snarky and sarcastic, but they absolutely will hear of you for the first time.” And then the penny drops. And it goes one of two ways. It’s either, “You’re an ass. No.” Or it’s, “Oh, my god, you’re right. Have some money.”

And it’s really an interesting experience watching that transformation take place. I used to think that I was, I don’t know, somehow fooling people with this. I’m not. It has the benefit of being completely true.

Pete: Yeah, I mean, sometimes all news is good news. Anything that you say, you’re just going to make a joke about someone’s product and—or their marketing strategy because every marketing strategy is a little stupid from time-to-time—but you look at and you go, “Yeah, this is pretty stupid.” And then you say that to other people, and they’re like, “Oh, I’ve never heard that company. What do they do?” And at the very least, it’s that opportunity for them to go to the site and be like, “I don’t know what that company does. Let me go look at it.”

And sure, I may spend about five seconds on your site, but you’ve got that free impression; you’ve got that opportunity. Like, I hope your site is good enough to have a clear statement of what you are because I’m going to give you about five seconds, but still, just mentioning it, I’m going to be like, “Oh, who are they? Let me go check it out.”

Corey: Well, the expo hall was on the other side of that. They had these mini-sites built up. My personal favorite was in week three, I went to a vendor and clicked on their mini-site, and it 404’ed because they were hosting, like, some virtual drink-up the week before, and when it was done, they just packed up their booth and left. You spent an awful lot of money not to drive me to your website. I just don’t pretend to understand marketing, at least that’s what I thought. It turns out that no, just some companies are really bad at it.

Pete: Yeah. And—


Corey: What I do is not, oh, for everyone. I get that. But it makes an otherwise dry subject area kind of fun. At least to me.

Pete: Yeah, I’ve always—I’m a weird person. So, I enjoy re:Invent most mostly because—re:Invent is what you make of it. It’s always been that case, even the very first re:Invent, which feels quaint by comparison to some of the more recent ones, where I think there was maybe 4000 people, 6000 people the first one? I’d love to find the answer to that one. It was small, though. It was very small.

And moving on to the more recent years of re:Invent how, just, big they’ve gotten. I’ve always liked the expo hall. I’ve liked walking around. I mean, granted, being in this industry, oftentimes many of my friends are working the booths as well. Like, I will be working the booth for a while, people will come by, and my friends will be working in a booth and I’ll stop by and say hello, but mostly it’s a really great opportunity to just see what’s out there.

There is so much stuff. It’s hard to follow everything around. I mean just following—right, Corey?—following just the Amazon ecosystem as a full-time job. Following the surround sound, it’s nearly impossible.

So, I’ve always liked the expo hall. I like walking around. I like to see what people are saying. I like to see things that are—what are they doing? What problems are they solving? And it’s a great way to just get that, kind of, streamlined process, you get to see so much in such a short amount of time.


Corey: It’s absolutely one of my favorite parts of the show is walk around the expo hall. It’s a natural meeting place for people. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t go to too many sessions just due to the fact that there’s better uses of my time than standing in line for two hours to make sure I get a seat. So, it’s a natural gathering point; it’s a great way to catch up with people you only get to see once a year. And you get to see what the zeitgeist is, what people are talking about.


You can see whose booth is slammed and who’s not. And you can fool yourself into thinking it’s about the quality of their product rather than the quality of their swag. But it’s an experience. And on the one hand, I’m sad to miss it. On the other, I had so many more productive conversations this year.


There were so many aspects of it that I don’t miss, like the conference crud where you get the flu every time, because you have a lot of people in a small space. And there’s the sense of having to fit everything into one week. Instead, they’ve now expanded it to three weeks, which on the one hand, okay, I actually like the fact that can be a more measured pace. On the other, exactly who do they believe can get three full weeks off from work to sit around and watch videos in a browser?


Pete: Yeah. That was a big concern when I started looking at some of the re:Invent stuff. And even for us, we follow a lot of the Amazon ecosystem, I didn’t even get to take part of a lot of this Amazon re:Invent activities as much as I wanted to. Because we have clients that we want to service and make sure that their needs are met. So, just for us who spend so much time in this ecosystem, we really can only dedicate so many people to understanding what all these changes are and staying up on it.


Corey: I will say that the one thing that tips my entire assessment event over into the positive, and I want to see aspects of this going forward, is how accessible the whole thing became where we suddenly have a scenario where it’s not just restricted to people who, one, can drop two grand—or damn near it—on a ticket; two, can afford to travel to and stay within Las Vegas for a week, and three, can get the time off from work to do it. Suddenly, the only prerequisite was ‘has an internet connection.’


Pete: [laugh]. It’s so true. I mean, let’s not kid anyone out there. It’s a boondoggle. It is one hundred percent a boondoggle. It is a week in Vegas. And I know there’s a bunch of people out there that are like, “Aww, I hate going to re:Invent. I hate Vegas.” And yeah, I can understand that some people just don’t enjoy it. I’m a weird person. I actually like Vegas. I’m weird.

But people go and they enjoy it because even if you hate all of the noise, and the smoke, and the gambling, and the whatever, and you have to walk an hour to get any place, the people there, though, and the connections that you can make—I mean, I meet new people every year at re:Invent which, at an event that is so large, kind of feels counterintuitive. Like it’s so large, you almost feel lost in a sea of people, but yet somehow it’s like, I still run into people. I meet up with someone for coffee, and they may be back to back with meetings, “Oh, do you know this person?” I get to meet new Amazon folks. And I get to actually see a lot of friends, and again, maybe we’re all just missing that personal connections of conferences. But on the flip side, I really enjoyed not having to go to Vegas this year. Even without a pandemic, it was really nice to not have to spend a week and come home sick, and tired, and exhausted.


Corey: There’s something amazing about being able to do it at your own pace. Now again, because Amazon is willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time, which is used as an excuse to completely abdicate any actual marketing work, for the most part, it means that I instead had to guess what was going to happen going in. So, all right, I committed to doing a daily email roundup four days of the week; I committed to doing a bunch of live streams and such. And what I didn’t realize was it was going to be a stop-start thing where there would be a whole bunch of releases one day, and then there’d be nothing the following day. So, I was sort of left on some of those empty days of kind of holding the bag of, “Here’s something you might not have caught yesterday”—and I’m digging deep into the barrels—“There was a minor change to an SDK in a language no one has ever heard of.”


And the fun, nice thing is about AWS is that people just assume someone’s going to care about that. They won’t, but, “Oh, that one just must not be for me.” So, it was a little challenging from a content management perspective. I would absolutely want to see that done differently or at least telegraphed in advance next year.


Pete: So, this is an interesting topic where, obviously, the last 12 months has been interesting for the conference world. I know a lot of more local conferences are, kind of, already writing off the year. Maybe some are holding off to see if, maybe, the end of the year, we reach enough vaccines and things get better. But I mean, Amazon had re:Invent. It was small, then it expanded. Then they broke out these summits, right? They had these city regional summits, then they did like—


Corey: And having gone to a bunch of those summits, it turns out, they’re all basically kind of the same thing. And I went to my third one back in 2019 or so, that year, and it was, “Hey, that’s the same joke in all the keynotes. What’s the”—and then it’s like, “Oh, right. Most people are not, you know, nuts, and don’t travel around the world, like some sort of ridiculous groupie for a rock band going to all of the AWS summits.” I have problems. But it’s fun.


Pete: Yeah, again, as someone who has worked in a lot of these booths and had to go to them, it’s always a little painful when you’re at the Santa Clara Convention Center—which, you know, is in the middle of nowhere, there’s nothing around, there’s nothing to do—and there’s like a Bennigan’s, I think you can go get some dinner at when you’re done for the day. And you finish up and you’re chatting with folks, and then you’re like, “Oh, so you get to be at the Toronto one?” Be like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll be there. I’ll see you in a few weeks.” Like, [laugh] it’s just, it’s the saddest thing.

Corey: Yeah, it really is. Then they also expanded beyond summits, though into re:Inforce, which is security. And that was a summer event in 2019 and they were hoping to do in 2020 and canceled it. And supposedly, it’s going to be coming back; we don’t know when. I like the idea of being able to break out the security-focused stuff into its own event because the biggest problem I’ve always had with re:Invent is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be.


Is it a thing that’s for new product releases? Is it a chance to have a bunch of executive briefings between big customer execs and Amazon folks? It’s a vendor expo hall where people get to shill their wares? Is it a partner gathering so the partners can learn how things work? What’s going on there? And what is it about? And is it a big party? Is it just, effectively, a chance for a bunch of people to get on stage and talk about what they’re working on? And the answer to all that is, “Yes. And more.”


Pete: Yeah, exactly. There is an identity problem for re:Invent. I think they have been doing a decent enough job of trying to break things out, to make, kind of, that re:Invent knowledge transfer, a little bit more accessible with—they’re all free, too, these regional summits, these are free events people can just go to and consume a lot of this content and workshops and things like that. The breaking out of the security stuff, I think was great. Hilariously, I had not been working at a security company when that happened, but I had heard rumors that the sponsorships were all invite-only. There are so many security companies that Amazon was like, “We can’t take all of your money for this, so we’re going to invite you in to sponsor it.” Because that market is so thirsty for sales.


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Corey: What was also bizarre was that at re:Inforce’s expo hall, it was only security companies. And that was something I didn’t fully understand until you just said that. Because I was annoyed that, well, there’s no monitoring companies here or anything else. Does it not occur to folks that may be people who care about AWS security might also have other needs in the cloud computing space? There aren’t too many people who have blinders on that restrict them specifically to security and only security. “Oh, it does monitoring, too? I’m not interested.”

Pete: [laugh]. I think that’s got to be a hard challenge as a security vendor if you’re at an event—and I’ve never been to RSA, and RSA must be just the exact same way—but how many different companies there do, like, threat detection or, like, sims—

Corey: Most of them. It’s the same product with different logos on, as you walk up and down the halls. There are occasionally unique and interesting things, but they’re few and far between.

Pete: Yeah, exactly. So, I’m most curious to see where Amazon goes with re:Invent because I think what this year is giving them is an opportunity to maybe find a better identity for what do they want re:Invent to be. And look, if the answer is we want it to be a big celebration of everyone who uses this, whose job is impacted by it, who makes money off of it, who et cetera, et cetera, then great. Then that’s the event. But there are going to be people, like there might be partner network people, well, we don’t really want to go to the party, but we want to get all the updates because our businesses are fully dependent on this. So, then maybe, do they break that up? So, I don’t know, do they start breaking re:Invent out into more focused things like they did with security? Would it take away from the overall feeling? I don’t know.

Corey: It’s a weird problem, and I don’t know how to solve it because without understanding what the event is intended to be, is really hard to guide it. They get on stage and they say, “Re:Invent is really—it’s not a sales conference. It’s not a release confer—it’s an education conference.” Which is shorthand for we have absolutely no idea what this is.

Pete: It’s so true. I mean, the early re:Invents, we’re, “All right. Let’s hear the latest price cuts for Amazon. Tell us how much cheaper S3 is and tell us how much cheaper EC2 is.” It was like clockwork.

That was what it was about. And it was about new software releases. Weirdly enough, though, the software announcements they did back then were all things that you could get then. They were like, “Hey, we’re announcing these new instances, available today.” They almost didn’t have to say available today because like, of course. Why would you announce it if you can’t get it?

Corey: Right, it seems like half the releases that there are big headlines, was, “Available in preview.” And you know what that means. They’re setting it up for them to just get dragged whenever they pull a Timestream. And, “Yes, we’re announcing it in private preview. It will be available soon.”


Then two years go by. And it’s pretty clear when you see that kind of delay that something happened. And credit we’re due, because they’re Amazon, I prefer that they get it right before launching it rather than launching something that isn’t great, and then we’re stuck with it forever. But if you’re still that early on, don’t announce it. Announce things that aren’t vapor.

Pete: Yeah. And I’d like to think there’s a strategy to it, but there probably isn’t, it’s probably just more of a, “Well, this is a great way for us to identify other customers who might also want to use this and maybe they want to be part of the preview.” And I don’t know, it’s a little frustrating, I will say. But things come out, and you’re like, “I really want to use that.” And it’s like, “Yeah, no. That’s not for you.”

Corey: Yeah. And that’s the challenge, too I think, from a marketing perspective. They do so many different releases of what’s coming out, how they’re going to be talking to satellites in orbit, or talking to manufacturing floors, or whatever it is that they’re talking about, that every company, no matter who they are or what they do, look at that and think, “Huh. That’s not what we do, therefore, AWS is not for me.” And AWS, as a company, is basically an alien organism, compared to going down the path of any other company that can’t really walk and chew gum at the same time.

I don’t know, if Apple, for example, starts doing a big push into filling potholes as a primary function, I’d look at that and think, “Oh, okay. They’re pretty clearly not focused on the Mac, on some respect.” I mean, look, what they did to their laptops for years with the Thunderbolt, the touch bar, the crappy keyboards, et cetera. It’s, yeah, it’s clear that they can’t focus on the iPhone and the Mac at the same time effectively. Or they just hate their customers.


Don’t email me. But what I don’t see is any ability of companies other than Amazon, to be able to focus and execute across this many different things. It’s hard to contextualize. So, it’s very easy for the messaging takeaway to be, “It’s not for me.”

Pete: Yeah. And maybe that ties into the re:Invent identity problem because you’ve got Andy Jassy on stage talking about, look out for whatever this new service that’s going to ruin your Amazon bill. It’s like warehouse logistics stuff, which, yeah, cool. I’m sure that that solves a big problem in the industry, but I’m a DevOps engineer, and I want to hear more about EKS, right? And I have to sit through learning about this predictive, whatever for my warehouse that I don’t have. Does that just become too off-putting, and do I just then zone out and, kind of, ignore all these other interesting things that could be happening?


Corey: It’s unclear. And that’s the biggest problem, I think, that they’re failing to educate people on. Specifically, every service is for someone. No service is for everyone. And that is a difficult thing to hold on to.


We’ve long since passed the point where anyone can hold all the services in their head, we’ve gotten to a point where even I don’t always pick up a fake service someone slips in to see if I know if it exists or not. It’s expanded too far too quickly and where, that’s fine. But the messaging strategy has to change, the marketing strategy has to change, your entire go-to-market has to change.


Pete: Yeah. Amazon is really good at running things. I mean, that’s what they’re good at. It’s operationalizing software, and they continue to find things that people don’t want to run anymore. I don’t blame them.


I don’t want to run things. I’m a cloud economist. I look at bills. I don’t want to run Elasticsearch anymore. I don’t want to deal with Cassandra and get paged at 2 a.m. like, I really want someone else to deal with that stuff. And just think about all of the other verticals, all the other businesses that exist out there with the same people who are having the same complaints, just insert different words. Like, “Oh, I really hate my business intelligence solution. I really hate these Excel spreadsheets that are always locked. There must be a better way.” Right? And it turns out Amazon’s like, “Yeah I got you.”


Corey: Yeah, the idea that Amazon is equally good across all of these different offerings is a bit of a red herring. There are things that they excel at, and they’re things that they struggle at. And I often shorthand that to the infrastructure pieces, the plumbing, they’re phenomenal at. Anything that requires a user interface, or is SaaS, they are hilariously bad at—Honeycode—and most things are somewhere on the spectrum between those two points. And there are exceptions in both directions, but by and large, the more it looks like a big computer rented by the hour, the better the offering is. Would you agree or disagree with that?


Pete: Yeah, I definitely agree. I think the thing that was most surprising in the recent Kinesis outage was just how intertwined Amazon services are internally—AWS services—and how internally, the engineers at AWS are building on top of AWS. It’s a weird Russian nesting doll issue, where it’s just turtles on turtles. And it’s fascinating, and I wonder if the services which are most used internally, as well become those services that are the most stable, the most well-supported, most features coming in? Does Amazon build for Amazon first, and therefore, put a lot of effort into those things that further supports their business and maybe grows revenue? Maybe.


If they’re building for the customer, and they consider themselves a big customer, then theoretically, they’re building as well for some of those features. But of course, they build for everyone; they build for the startup that has two EC2 servers, and then they build for the federal government who wants to beam some bits using Ground Station. Like, who else is going to use that service?


Corey: Yeah. It feels like there’s like five companies out there that might need it, and the rest of us are, “Yeah, I don’t currently have any satellites in orbit this quarter that I need to speak to, so it’s probably not for me.” I will say that every time I meet someone who’s about to go to AWS as an employee, they’re super excited because they’re going to see how it works internally and come out understanding of this Google-like system that is decades ahead of anything else on how they run their stuff operationally. And then a few months go by, and I catch up with them again, and they look haunted. There is no enthusiasm for it at all. Their voice shakes; they tremble a bit; frequently, they’ve developed the drinking problem. And they don’t ever talk about it, but what I’ve managed to piece together is there’s no magic secret sauce. It’s the same nonsense that you would see anywhere else, but they excel at the operational aspects of all of it. And that’s what makes it work.

Pete: I think what actually happens is they find the truth of the m1.medium and the first EC2 instance, and they’re so horrified that those are still running, that they can just not come back from the brink.

Corey: I didn’t know it was a Raspberry Pi.


Pete: [laugh]. I think you are totally right. I mean, every place, largely, is the same. It’s just, it’s got its own history that has framed how everything is. And if you’re on the inside, and especially if you’ve been at Amazon for many years, you’re financially incentivized to love that place.


I mean, if I had a lot of stock grants that were granted many years ago, and the stock continues to climb, like yeah, this is the best place I’ve ever been like, “What are you talking about?” As they look around and everything is on fire, or who knows what.


Corey: As they walk past the conference room filled with people crying? Yeah.


Pete: You know, it’s… I don’t know, what is it? Stockholm Syndrome? Is that the term? You just accept it, and you get used to it, and you get comfortable with it. And yeah, in rare scenarios, there’s folks that I know that have been there for a long time, and they’re there—I hate to say they’re there for the mission. They’re not. They’re there because of the challenge; because technically what they get to work on is cutting edge.

I don’t know if that’s the case for every new service and feature. If you were someone who was working on making QuickSite graphs look better versus, like, the Nitro Hypervisor, maybe depending on who you are, one of those is more thrilling than the others. I don’t really know. But obviously, there seems to be two types of Amazon employee: one who sticks around for their year, gets that bonus, or at least doesn’t get the clawback they need; and the others who stick around for many, many, many years, right? It’s, I think, a different company, depending on who you are.


Corey: That is increasingly the vibe I’m getting from feedback I’ve gotten to blog posts, people yelling at me, people saying that, oh, my assessment of how compensation works at Amazon is either spot on or completely inaccurate. And both of those groups are being fully sincere when they say it. But that’s a conversation for another time.


Pete, thank you for joining me. We will do a second episode in the very near future talking about the actual releases of re:Invent 2020, but thank you for joining me. For those who are unfamiliar with your amazing work. Where can they find you?


Pete: You can find me at @petecheslock on Twitter; it’s probably the best place. It is a mixture of smoked meats and technology hot takes.

Corey: Thank you. As always, it’s a pleasure. Pete Cheslock, cloud economist at the Duckbill Group.

Pete: That’s me.


Corey: I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, also at the Duckbill Group, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with a comment telling me that I really don’t understand Amazon’s marketing approach, and that no, I don’t really run AWS marketing.


Announcer: This has been this week’s episode of Screaming in the Cloud. You can also find more Corey at screaminginthecloud.com, or wherever fine snark is sold.


This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.
Episode Show Notes and Transcript
About Pete

Pete is a recovering system administrator who got his start with AWS services back in 2009 while at Sonian, the first cloud-based email archiving platform. As one of the earliest and largest users of AWS, Pete ran technical operations and brought DevOps theory into action. Pete has worked for other companies such as Dyn, Threat Stack, and CHAOSSEARCH, managing large scale AWS deployments. A frequent speaker at DevOps and Observability events, Pete brings a product mindset to SaaS operations. Outside of work he spends his free time smoking meats and tweeting about the results.


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Transcript

Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Cloud Economist Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of Cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.


Corey: Join me on April 22nd at 1 PM ET for a webcast on Cloud & Kubernetes Failures & Successes in a Multi-everything World. I'll be joined by Fairwinds President Kendall Miller and their Solution Architect, Ivan Fetch. We’ll discuss the importance of gaining visibility into this multi-everything cloud native world. For more info and to register visit www.fairwinds.com/corey. 


Corey: The apps on cloud summit is a new action packed, not a conference, happening May 11th through 13th online. Its for everyone who makes applications in the cloud run screaming. From IT leaders to DevOps pros to you folks, whoever you might be. Take a break from screaming into the cloudy void with me to learn from some of the best of people who actually know what they’re doing. Like Kelsey Hightower, AWS blogger John Meyer, and also me, because apparently they didn’t listen to me saying I had no idea what I was doing. Register now at turbonomic.com/screaming. Theres a “swag box” ready to ship for the first two thousand registrants, so you don’t want to miss this. Thanks for Turbonomic for sponsoring this ridiculous podcast.


Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. For the third year in a row, I am joined by—who is now my colleague, Pete Cheslock. Pete, thanks for coming back.


Pete: It’s great to be here yet again, although under different circumstances than our normal post re:Invent extravaganza.


Corey: Oh, yes. So, every year, for those who have not been following this show since its inception, Pete and I get together to more or less kibitz around what happened at re:Invent. We would have done this in December, but then they put up on their website, three more days happening in January, and where, we’ll wait until after that happens. And guess what happened? Nothing. They did some additional breakout sessions and that’s it. So honestly, it was a giant waste of everyone’s time, kind of like the, you know, sponsor expo hall at a digital event.

Pete: Yeah. Can we start on that topic?

Corey: Do you want to start on the digital event aspect or the crappy expo hall?


Pete: I want to start with the expo hall because I am a former sponsor of re:Invent, many, many times over. Again, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked in the cloud world, so I’ve been to pretty much all the re:Invents except for one—I’m not sure we’re going to count this year—but for almost all of those re:Invents, I was in the expo hall as part of a sponsor, whether it was the company I was working at, or whatever, but we were either part of that process of setting up a booth and shilling our wares to all these tech folks that are there, and the experience has been different: everything from, like, you build your own booth; here’s a square, just put whatever you want there, which I think was hilarious in the early days. To the nope, just give us a picture of what you want behind your booth. This year, though, it’s a weird digital thing. I guess they sent some VR things around there. I’m not sure if you heard of that. Some of the—

Corey: Oh, they did. Only for the Heroes, not for anything sponsor expo hall stuff. Now, let’s begin and say that I have a fair bit of sympathy—kind of—because 2020, weird year, pandemic is not something you generally plan for when scheduling events out years in advance. And there we have it, where it’s, suddenly there’s really no other option. Now, AWS absolutely dragged its feet embarrassingly long before announcing it would be digital-only. I think it was October, when they finally said, “All right,”—or damn near it—“All right, it’s going to be a virtual event.” To which the rest of the industry said, “No kidding.” But until they actually come out and say that you can’t bank on it.


Pete: How do you plan for that? I mean, I remember just a few years ago going through the process while I was still at ChaosSearch to set up a sponsorship for re:Invent. People start that process in March, April timeframe; they start thinking about, you know, the strategizing it; they start locking in their deposits because the sooner you get a deposit in the earlier, you can pick your booth location and that’s a big part. You want it to be not in the way far back that no one can find you. You want it to be somewhere near a good walkway. And so there’s a lot of planning that goes in, so pushing it back so late. I mean, I don’t know, do you think that they had this belief that they were going to do an in-person event?


Corey: My honest belief, to be very frank—and I say this in my capacity as gadfly, not in my capacity as self-appointed head of marketing for AWS—is that I think that they just were facing a whole bunch of cancellation fees, because when you book something like that, it’s expensive. They’re frugal, and I feel like for once, they were on the side of a contract that there was no winning move to get out of. And I feel like there was just some bitterness around that, they were hoping for a miracle and finally had to face reality. That’s my gut feeling. I have no inside track on that because although I call myself the head of AWS marketing, they don’t agree. Which is fine, though because, given their messaging or lack of same, I don’t need their agreement to be effective in the role.

Pete: Exactly. I mean, I think what’s most impressive to see is that they still provided an event that people attended; people watched the videos, they took part in, they did a bunch of different, kind of, vehicles and using things like Twitch and this VR thing for the expo hall, as a little silly as it is, at least they tried, right? They tried something new in this new world that we have been living in.


Corey: It was definitely an experience. Because we’re starting with the expo hall, though, I did a virtual walkthrough of the expo hall, and I made fun of things as I typically do in the real one, but it was hard to find, a bunch of people didn’t realize it existed, three weeks in, and what shocked me was the sheer level of enthusiastic outreach I got from some of the sponsor booths I visited, I got phone calls from vendors ask if they can help me with various solutions. “No, no. I was just there to make fun of you.” At which point it’s a very surreal conversation for an account rep to have when they don’t know who I am and what my nonsense looks like. But it was, they had so few leads coming in that they were just really focusing on every one that showed up. And I feel for them.

Pete: Yeah.


Corey: Problem is that they paid top dollar for these things, and got—I got to be honest with you—remarkably little. The minimum buy was something like 35 grand for a tiny little booth, and it went up to 125 plus a whole bunch of extras. And I’m looking at this in my own re:Quinnvent sponsorship nonsense that worked super well for sponsors, and I’m sitting here going, “I really need to start charging more. My God.”

Pete: Yeah. We just think about that for a second is that in normal re:Invent, your booth size is priced differently. If you want a small booth, like, 10 by 10 foot, you’ll pay a certain amount of money, a 20 by 20 booth is a lot more money. It makes sense. It’s a square footage situation here, but we’re talking about, like, computer bits, right? They’re like, yeah, well, you can get the small digital booth for 30,000 or the large, double-decker digital booth for 150.


Corey: Oh, yeah. One of my favorite personal experiences, remember, I talked to a company about sponsoring. Their initial position is usually always the same. “You’re a jerk. You made fun of us on Twitter, you roasted us, why on earth would we ever pay you for sponsorships?”

And my response was, “Look, let me level it with you here. I get up there and make fun of you, and no one in the world is going to stop doing business with you because I said something snarky and sarcastic, but they absolutely will hear of you for the first time.” And then the penny drops. And it goes one of two ways. It’s either, “You’re an ass. No.” Or it’s, “Oh, my god, you’re right. Have some money.”

And it’s really an interesting experience watching that transformation take place. I used to think that I was, I don’t know, somehow fooling people with this. I’m not. It has the benefit of being completely true.

Pete: Yeah, I mean, sometimes all news is good news. Anything that you say, you’re just going to make a joke about someone’s product and—or their marketing strategy because every marketing strategy is a little stupid from time-to-time—but you look at and you go, “Yeah, this is pretty stupid.” And then you say that to other people, and they’re like, “Oh, I’ve never heard that company. What do they do?” And at the very least, it’s that opportunity for them to go to the site and be like, “I don’t know what that company does. Let me go look at it.”

And sure, I may spend about five seconds on your site, but you’ve got that free impression; you’ve got that opportunity. Like, I hope your site is good enough to have a clear statement of what you are because I’m going to give you about five seconds, but still, just mentioning it, I’m going to be like, “Oh, who are they? Let me go check it out.”

Corey: Well, the expo hall was on the other side of that. They had these mini-sites built up. My personal favorite was in week three, I went to a vendor and clicked on their mini-site, and it 404’ed because they were hosting, like, some virtual drink-up the week before, and when it was done, they just packed up their booth and left. You spent an awful lot of money not to drive me to your website. I just don’t pretend to understand marketing, at least that’s what I thought. It turns out that no, just some companies are really bad at it.

Pete: Yeah. And—


Corey: What I do is not, oh, for everyone. I get that. But it makes an otherwise dry subject area kind of fun. At least to me.

Pete: Yeah, I’ve always—I’m a weird person. So, I enjoy re:Invent most mostly because—re:Invent is what you make of it. It’s always been that case, even the very first re:Invent, which feels quaint by comparison to some of the more recent ones, where I think there was maybe 4000 people, 6000 people the first one? I’d love to find the answer to that one. It was small, though. It was very small.

And moving on to the more recent years of re:Invent how, just, big they’ve gotten. I’ve always liked the expo hall. I’ve liked walking around. I mean, granted, being in this industry, oftentimes many of my friends are working the booths as well. Like, I will be working the booth for a while, people will come by, and my friends will be working in a booth and I’ll stop by and say hello, but mostly it’s a really great opportunity to just see what’s out there.

There is so much stuff. It’s hard to follow everything around. I mean just following—right, Corey?—following just the Amazon ecosystem as a full-time job. Following the surround sound, it’s nearly impossible.

So, I’ve always liked the expo hall. I like walking around. I like to see what people are saying. I like to see things that are—what are they doing? What problems are they solving? And it’s a great way to just get that, kind of, streamlined process, you get to see so much in such a short amount of time.


Corey: It’s absolutely one of my favorite parts of the show is walk around the expo hall. It’s a natural meeting place for people. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t go to too many sessions just due to the fact that there’s better uses of my time than standing in line for two hours to make sure I get a seat. So, it’s a natural gathering point; it’s a great way to catch up with people you only get to see once a year. And you get to see what the zeitgeist is, what people are talking about.


You can see whose booth is slammed and who’s not. And you can fool yourself into thinking it’s about the quality of their product rather than the quality of their swag. But it’s an experience. And on the one hand, I’m sad to miss it. On the other, I had so many more productive conversations this year.


There were so many aspects of it that I don’t miss, like the conference crud where you get the flu every time, because you have a lot of people in a small space. And there’s the sense of having to fit everything into one week. Instead, they’ve now expanded it to three weeks, which on the one hand, okay, I actually like the fact that can be a more measured pace. On the other, exactly who do they believe can get three full weeks off from work to sit around and watch videos in a browser?


Pete: Yeah. That was a big concern when I started looking at some of the re:Invent stuff. And even for us, we follow a lot of the Amazon ecosystem, I didn’t even get to take part of a lot of this Amazon re:Invent activities as much as I wanted to. Because we have clients that we want to service and make sure that their needs are met. So, just for us who spend so much time in this ecosystem, we really can only dedicate so many people to understanding what all these changes are and staying up on it.


Corey: I will say that the one thing that tips my entire assessment event over into the positive, and I want to see aspects of this going forward, is how accessible the whole thing became where we suddenly have a scenario where it’s not just restricted to people who, one, can drop two grand—or damn near it—on a ticket; two, can afford to travel to and stay within Las Vegas for a week, and three, can get the time off from work to do it. Suddenly, the only prerequisite was ‘has an internet connection.’


Pete: [laugh]. It’s so true. I mean, let’s not kid anyone out there. It’s a boondoggle. It is one hundred percent a boondoggle. It is a week in Vegas. And I know there’s a bunch of people out there that are like, “Aww, I hate going to re:Invent. I hate Vegas.” And yeah, I can understand that some people just don’t enjoy it. I’m a weird person. I actually like Vegas. I’m weird.

But people go and they enjoy it because even if you hate all of the noise, and the smoke, and the gambling, and the whatever, and you have to walk an hour to get any place, the people there, though, and the connections that you can make—I mean, I meet new people every year at re:Invent which, at an event that is so large, kind of feels counterintuitive. Like it’s so large, you almost feel lost in a sea of people, but yet somehow it’s like, I still run into people. I meet up with someone for coffee, and they may be back to back with meetings, “Oh, do you know this person?” I get to meet new Amazon folks. And I get to actually see a lot of friends, and again, maybe we’re all just missing that personal connections of conferences. But on the flip side, I really enjoyed not having to go to Vegas this year. Even without a pandemic, it was really nice to not have to spend a week and come home sick, and tired, and exhausted.


Corey: There’s something amazing about being able to do it at your own pace. Now again, because Amazon is willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time, which is used as an excuse to completely abdicate any actual marketing work, for the most part, it means that I instead had to guess what was going to happen going in. So, all right, I committed to doing a daily email roundup four days of the week; I committed to doing a bunch of live streams and such. And what I didn’t realize was it was going to be a stop-start thing where there would be a whole bunch of releases one day, and then there’d be nothing the following day. So, I was sort of left on some of those empty days of kind of holding the bag of, “Here’s something you might not have caught yesterday”—and I’m digging deep into the barrels—“There was a minor change to an SDK in a language no one has ever heard of.”


And the fun, nice thing is about AWS is that people just assume someone’s going to care about that. They won’t, but, “Oh, that one just must not be for me.” So, it was a little challenging from a content management perspective. I would absolutely want to see that done differently or at least telegraphed in advance next year.


Pete: So, this is an interesting topic where, obviously, the last 12 months has been interesting for the conference world. I know a lot of more local conferences are, kind of, already writing off the year. Maybe some are holding off to see if, maybe, the end of the year, we reach enough vaccines and things get better. But I mean, Amazon had re:Invent. It was small, then it expanded. Then they broke out these summits, right? They had these city regional summits, then they did like—


Corey: And having gone to a bunch of those summits, it turns out, they’re all basically kind of the same thing. And I went to my third one back in 2019 or so, that year, and it was, “Hey, that’s the same joke in all the keynotes. What’s the”—and then it’s like, “Oh, right. Most people are not, you know, nuts, and don’t travel around the world, like some sort of ridiculous groupie for a rock band going to all of the AWS summits.” I have problems. But it’s fun.


Pete: Yeah, again, as someone who has worked in a lot of these booths and had to go to them, it’s always a little painful when you’re at the Santa Clara Convention Center—which, you know, is in the middle of nowhere, there’s nothing around, there’s nothing to do—and there’s like a Bennigan’s, I think you can go get some dinner at when you’re done for the day. And you finish up and you’re chatting with folks, and then you’re like, “Oh, so you get to be at the Toronto one?” Be like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll be there. I’ll see you in a few weeks.” Like, [laugh] it’s just, it’s the saddest thing.

Corey: Yeah, it really is. Then they also expanded beyond summits, though into re:Inforce, which is security. And that was a summer event in 2019 and they were hoping to do in 2020 and canceled it. And supposedly, it’s going to be coming back; we don’t know when. I like the idea of being able to break out the security-focused stuff into its own event because the biggest problem I’ve always had with re:Invent is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be.


Is it a thing that’s for new product releases? Is it a chance to have a bunch of executive briefings between big customer execs and Amazon folks? It’s a vendor expo hall where people get to shill their wares? Is it a partner gathering so the partners can learn how things work? What’s going on there? And what is it about? And is it a big party? Is it just, effectively, a chance for a bunch of people to get on stage and talk about what they’re working on? And the answer to all that is, “Yes. And more.”


Pete: Yeah, exactly. There is an identity problem for re:Invent. I think they have been doing a decent enough job of trying to break things out, to make, kind of, that re:Invent knowledge transfer, a little bit more accessible with—they’re all free, too, these regional summits, these are free events people can just go to and consume a lot of this content and workshops and things like that. The breaking out of the security stuff, I think was great. Hilariously, I had not been working at a security company when that happened, but I had heard rumors that the sponsorships were all invite-only. There are so many security companies that Amazon was like, “We can’t take all of your money for this, so we’re going to invite you in to sponsor it.” Because that market is so thirsty for sales.


Corey: This episode is sponsored by ExtraHop. ExtraHop provides threat detection and response for the Enterprise (not the starship). On-prem security doesn’t translate well to cloud or multi-cloud environments, and that’s not even counting IoT. ExtraHop automatically discovers everything inside the perimeter, including your cloud workloads and IoT devices, detects these threats up to 35 percent faster, and helps you act immediately. Ask for a free trial of detection and response for AWS today at extrahop.com/trial.

Corey: What was also bizarre was that at re:Inforce’s expo hall, it was only security companies. And that was something I didn’t fully understand until you just said that. Because I was annoyed that, well, there’s no monitoring companies here or anything else. Does it not occur to folks that may be people who care about AWS security might also have other needs in the cloud computing space? There aren’t too many people who have blinders on that restrict them specifically to security and only security. “Oh, it does monitoring, too? I’m not interested.”

Pete: [laugh]. I think that’s got to be a hard challenge as a security vendor if you’re at an event—and I’ve never been to RSA, and RSA must be just the exact same way—but how many different companies there do, like, threat detection or, like, sims—

Corey: Most of them. It’s the same product with different logos on, as you walk up and down the halls. There are occasionally unique and interesting things, but they’re few and far between.

Pete: Yeah, exactly. So, I’m most curious to see where Amazon goes with re:Invent because I think what this year is giving them is an opportunity to maybe find a better identity for what do they want re:Invent to be. And look, if the answer is we want it to be a big celebration of everyone who uses this, whose job is impacted by it, who makes money off of it, who et cetera, et cetera, then great. Then that’s the event. But there are going to be people, like there might be partner network people, well, we don’t really want to go to the party, but we want to get all the updates because our businesses are fully dependent on this. So, then maybe, do they break that up? So, I don’t know, do they start breaking re:Invent out into more focused things like they did with security? Would it take away from the overall feeling? I don’t know.

Corey: It’s a weird problem, and I don’t know how to solve it because without understanding what the event is intended to be, is really hard to guide it. They get on stage and they say, “Re:Invent is really—it’s not a sales conference. It’s not a release confer—it’s an education conference.” Which is shorthand for we have absolutely no idea what this is.

Pete: It’s so true. I mean, the early re:Invents, we’re, “All right. Let’s hear the latest price cuts for Amazon. Tell us how much cheaper S3 is and tell us how much cheaper EC2 is.” It was like clockwork.

That was what it was about. And it was about new software releases. Weirdly enough, though, the software announcements they did back then were all things that you could get then. They were like, “Hey, we’re announcing these new instances, available today.” They almost didn’t have to say available today because like, of course. Why would you announce it if you can’t get it?

Corey: Right, it seems like half the releases that there are big headlines, was, “Available in preview.” And you know what that means. They’re setting it up for them to just get dragged whenever they pull a Timestream. And, “Yes, we’re announcing it in private preview. It will be available soon.”


Then two years go by. And it’s pretty clear when you see that kind of delay that something happened. And credit we’re due, because they’re Amazon, I prefer that they get it right before launching it rather than launching something that isn’t great, and then we’re stuck with it forever. But if you’re still that early on, don’t announce it. Announce things that aren’t vapor.

Pete: Yeah. And I’d like to think there’s a strategy to it, but there probably isn’t, it’s probably just more of a, “Well, this is a great way for us to identify other customers who might also want to use this and maybe they want to be part of the preview.” And I don’t know, it’s a little frustrating, I will say. But things come out, and you’re like, “I really want to use that.” And it’s like, “Yeah, no. That’s not for you.”

Corey: Yeah. And that’s the challenge, too I think, from a marketing perspective. They do so many different releases of what’s coming out, how they’re going to be talking to satellites in orbit, or talking to manufacturing floors, or whatever it is that they’re talking about, that every company, no matter who they are or what they do, look at that and think, “Huh. That’s not what we do, therefore, AWS is not for me.” And AWS, as a company, is basically an alien organism, compared to going down the path of any other company that can’t really walk and chew gum at the same time.

I don’t know, if Apple, for example, starts doing a big push into filling potholes as a primary function, I’d look at that and think, “Oh, okay. They’re pretty clearly not focused on the Mac, on some respect.” I mean, look, what they did to their laptops for years with the Thunderbolt, the touch bar, the crappy keyboards, et cetera. It’s, yeah, it’s clear that they can’t focus on the iPhone and the Mac at the same time effectively. Or they just hate their customers.


Don’t email me. But what I don’t see is any ability of companies other than Amazon, to be able to focus and execute across this many different things. It’s hard to contextualize. So, it’s very easy for the messaging takeaway to be, “It’s not for me.”

Pete: Yeah. And maybe that ties into the re:Invent identity problem because you’ve got Andy Jassy on stage talking about, look out for whatever this new service that’s going to ruin your Amazon bill. It’s like warehouse logistics stuff, which, yeah, cool. I’m sure that that solves a big problem in the industry, but I’m a DevOps engineer, and I want to hear more about EKS, right? And I have to sit through learning about this predictive, whatever for my warehouse that I don’t have. Does that just become too off-putting, and do I just then zone out and, kind of, ignore all these other interesting things that could be happening?


Corey: It’s unclear. And that’s the biggest problem, I think, that they’re failing to educate people on. Specifically, every service is for someone. No service is for everyone. And that is a difficult thing to hold on to.


We’ve long since passed the point where anyone can hold all the services in their head, we’ve gotten to a point where even I don’t always pick up a fake service someone slips in to see if I know if it exists or not. It’s expanded too far too quickly and where, that’s fine. But the messaging strategy has to change, the marketing strategy has to change, your entire go-to-market has to change.


Pete: Yeah. Amazon is really good at running things. I mean, that’s what they’re good at. It’s operationalizing software, and they continue to find things that people don’t want to run anymore. I don’t blame them.


I don’t want to run things. I’m a cloud economist. I look at bills. I don’t want to run Elasticsearch anymore. I don’t want to deal with Cassandra and get paged at 2 a.m. like, I really want someone else to deal with that stuff. And just think about all of the other verticals, all the other businesses that exist out there with the same people who are having the same complaints, just insert different words. Like, “Oh, I really hate my business intelligence solution. I really hate these Excel spreadsheets that are always locked. There must be a better way.” Right? And it turns out Amazon’s like, “Yeah I got you.”


Corey: Yeah, the idea that Amazon is equally good across all of these different offerings is a bit of a red herring. There are things that they excel at, and they’re things that they struggle at. And I often shorthand that to the infrastructure pieces, the plumbing, they’re phenomenal at. Anything that requires a user interface, or is SaaS, they are hilariously bad at—Honeycode—and most things are somewhere on the spectrum between those two points. And there are exceptions in both directions, but by and large, the more it looks like a big computer rented by the hour, the better the offering is. Would you agree or disagree with that?


Pete: Yeah, I definitely agree. I think the thing that was most surprising in the recent Kinesis outage was just how intertwined Amazon services are internally—AWS services—and how internally, the engineers at AWS are building on top of AWS. It’s a weird Russian nesting doll issue, where it’s just turtles on turtles. And it’s fascinating, and I wonder if the services which are most used internally, as well become those services that are the most stable, the most well-supported, most features coming in? Does Amazon build for Amazon first, and therefore, put a lot of effort into those things that further supports their business and maybe grows revenue? Maybe.


If they’re building for the customer, and they consider themselves a big customer, then theoretically, they’re building as well for some of those features. But of course, they build for everyone; they build for the startup that has two EC2 servers, and then they build for the federal government who wants to beam some bits using Ground Station. Like, who else is going to use that service?


Corey: Yeah. It feels like there’s like five companies out there that might need it, and the rest of us are, “Yeah, I don’t currently have any satellites in orbit this quarter that I need to speak to, so it’s probably not for me.” I will say that every time I meet someone who’s about to go to AWS as an employee, they’re super excited because they’re going to see how it works internally and come out understanding of this Google-like system that is decades ahead of anything else on how they run their stuff operationally. And then a few months go by, and I catch up with them again, and they look haunted. There is no enthusiasm for it at all. Their voice shakes; they tremble a bit; frequently, they’ve developed the drinking problem. And they don’t ever talk about it, but what I’ve managed to piece together is there’s no magic secret sauce. It’s the same nonsense that you would see anywhere else, but they excel at the operational aspects of all of it. And that’s what makes it work.

Pete: I think what actually happens is they find the truth of the m1.medium and the first EC2 instance, and they’re so horrified that those are still running, that they can just not come back from the brink.

Corey: I didn’t know it was a Raspberry Pi.


Pete: [laugh]. I think you are totally right. I mean, every place, largely, is the same. It’s just, it’s got its own history that has framed how everything is. And if you’re on the inside, and especially if you’ve been at Amazon for many years, you’re financially incentivized to love that place.


I mean, if I had a lot of stock grants that were granted many years ago, and the stock continues to climb, like yeah, this is the best place I’ve ever been like, “What are you talking about?” As they look around and everything is on fire, or who knows what.


Corey: As they walk past the conference room filled with people crying? Yeah.


Pete: You know, it’s… I don’t know, what is it? Stockholm Syndrome? Is that the term? You just accept it, and you get used to it, and you get comfortable with it. And yeah, in rare scenarios, there’s folks that I know that have been there for a long time, and they’re there—I hate to say they’re there for the mission. They’re not. They’re there because of the challenge; because technically what they get to work on is cutting edge.

I don’t know if that’s the case for every new service and feature. If you were someone who was working on making QuickSite graphs look better versus, like, the Nitro Hypervisor, maybe depending on who you are, one of those is more thrilling than the others. I don’t really know. But obviously, there seems to be two types of Amazon employee: one who sticks around for their year, gets that bonus, or at least doesn’t get the clawback they need; and the others who stick around for many, many, many years, right? It’s, I think, a different company, depending on who you are.


Corey: That is increasingly the vibe I’m getting from feedback I’ve gotten to blog posts, people yelling at me, people saying that, oh, my assessment of how compensation works at Amazon is either spot on or completely inaccurate. And both of those groups are being fully sincere when they say it. But that’s a conversation for another time.


Pete, thank you for joining me. We will do a second episode in the very near future talking about the actual releases of re:Invent 2020, but thank you for joining me. For those who are unfamiliar with your amazing work. Where can they find you?


Pete: You can find me at @petecheslock on Twitter; it’s probably the best place. It is a mixture of smoked meats and technology hot takes.

Corey: Thank you. As always, it’s a pleasure. Pete Cheslock, cloud economist at the Duckbill Group.

Pete: That’s me.


Corey: I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, also at the Duckbill Group, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with a comment telling me that I really don’t understand Amazon’s marketing approach, and that no, I don’t really run AWS marketing.


Announcer: This has been this week’s episode of Screaming in the Cloud. You can also find more Corey at screaminginthecloud.com, or wherever fine snark is sold.


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