The Return of re:Invent with Pete Cheslock

Episode Summary

Pete Cheslock, Head of Growth and Community at AppMap, joins Corey on Screaming in the Cloud for their annual time-honored tradition of reflecting on and recapping re:Invent. Corey and Pete discuss how the conference has scaled since its inception and the changes they’ve seen as a result. Pete highlights the importance of storytelling throughout product launches, as well as the costs of sponsoring re:Invent and how this year was different in the Expo Hall. Pete and Corey also discuss how 2022’s conference seemed to neglect the most valuable part of re:Invent - creating opportunities and spaces for people to work and socialize together.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Pete

Pete is currently the Head of Growth And Community for AppMap, the open source dynamic runtime code analyzer. Pete also works with early stage startups, helping them navigate the complex world of early stage new product development.

Pete also fully acknowledges his profile pic is slightly out of date, but has been too lazy to update it to reflect current hair growth trends.



Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, 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: If you asked me to rank which cloud provider has the best developer experience, I'd be hard-pressed to choose a platform that isn't Google Cloud. Their developer experience is unparalleled and, in the early stages of building something great, that translates directly into velocity. Try it yourself with the Google for Startups Cloud Program over at It'll give you up to $100k a year for each of the first two years in Google Cloud credits for companies that range from bootstrapped all the way on up to Series A. Go build something, and then tell me about it. My thanks to Google Cloud for sponsoring this ridiculous podcast.

Corey: Cloud native just means you’ve got more components or microservices than anyone (even a mythical 10x engineer) can keep track of. With OpsLevel, you can build a catalog in minutes and forget needing that mythical 10x engineer. Now, you’ll have a 10x service catalog to accompany your 10x service count. Visit to learn how easy it is to build and manage your service catalog. Connect to your git provider and you’re off to the races with service import, repo ownership, tech docs, and more. 
Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn and this is probably my favorite recurring episode slash tradition, every year. I drag Pete Cheslock on who talks with me about his experience at re:Invent. Last year, Pete, you didn’t go. The year before, none of us went because it was all virtual, but it feels like we’re finally getting back into the swing of things. How are you, Pete?

Pete: I am doing great. It is always a pleasure. It was amazing to see other humans in person at a industry event. As weird as it sounds to say that, you know, it was great to be in Vegas [laugh], it was mostly great, just because there were other humans there too that I wanted to see.

Corey: Because this is going to confuse folks who haven’t been following our various adventures, these days, you are the Head of Growth and Community at AppMap. But you and I have been talking for years and you did a stint working at The Duckbill Group here with us as a cloud economist. Ah, I miss those days. It was fun working with you and being able to bother you every day as opposed to just on special occasions like this.

Pete: Yeah, I know. I got to slide into your Slack DMs in addition, and then when I didn’t get a response, I would slide into your Twitter DMs. It worked out perfectly. So yeah, it’s been a wild ride. I mean, I took an interlude from my startup journey by continually working at tech startups.

And yeah, I got to join onboard the Duckbill and have, you know, a really wonderful time cutting bills and diving into all of the amazing parts of people’s Amazon usage. But I am also equally broken in my brain, and continually said to myself, “Maybe I’ll do another startup.” [laugh].

Corey: Right. And it turns out that we’re not a startup. Everyone likes to think we are. It’s like, oh, okay—like Amazon, for example, has us historically in their startup division as far as how they—the buckets as they put different accounts into. And if you look at us through that lens, it’s yeah, we’re a specific kind of startups, specifically a failing startup—or failed—because to us growth is maybe we’ll hire one or two people next year, as opposed to, “Oh, yeah, we’re going to TEDx this place.” No, yeah, we’re building a lifestyle business very much by design.

Pete: I’d be very curious how many account managers actually Duckbill has kind of churned through because usually, you get to keep your account manager if you’re growing at a pretty incredible clip. And it’s kind of a bellwether for, like, how fast are we—are we growing so fast that we have kept our account manager for multiple years?

Corey: Your timing is apt. We’re a six-year-old company and I just met our fourth account manager last week.

Pete: [laugh].

Corey: No it’s, honestly, what happens with AWS account managers is the only way you get to keep them is if your spend trajectory on AWS matches their career trajectory inside of AWS. Because if you outpace them, they’ll give you to someone that they view as being more senior, whereas if they outpace you, they’re going to stop dealing with the small accounts and move on to the bigger ones. Honestly, at this point, I’ve mostly stopped dealing with my account managers. I had one that was just spectacular. It was sad to see him get promoted; good for him.

But I get tired of trying to explain the lunacy that is me to someone on the AWS side every year. It just doesn’t make sense because my accounts are super weird and when they try and suggest the usual things that work for 99.995% of AWS customers and things they care about, it falls to custard when it comes to me specifically. And that’s not on them; it’s because I’m weird and broken.

Pete: I’m remembering now one of the best account managers that I ever worked with at a startup, years and years ago. She was with us for a couple of years, pretty solidly. And then, you know, because careers are long and jobs are short, when I was at The Duckbill Group again, doing work, turns out she was the account manager on this other thing, you know? Which, like, looking at the company she was account manager for was like 500x [laugh] my previous company, so I was like, “Oh, yeah. You’re clearly moving up in the world because my company did not 500x.” So, sometimes you got to chase the ones who are.

Corey: So, let’s talk about re:Invent. This felt like the first re:Invent post-pandemic. And let’s be clear, I wound up getting Covid by the end, so I don’t recommend that to everyone. But let’s be clear, this was not a re:Invent were anyone officially accepted that Covid existed. I was one of the only people wearing masks to most of the events I was at. Great load of good that did me.

But it was big. It was the usual sixty-some-odd-thousand people that had been in previous years, as opposed to the hard cap of 30 or so that they had last year so it felt smaller and more accessible. Nope. Right back to bizarre numbers of people. But fewer sponsors than most years, so it felt like their budget was severely constrained. And they were trying to have not as many sponsors, but still an overwhelming crush of attendees. It felt odd, but definitely very large scale.

Pete: Yeah, I can echo that a hundred percent. I’m sure we’ve talked about this in previous ones, but I’ve had the pleasure—well, I don’t know, some might call it not a pleasure, but it’s been a pleasure to watch re:Invent grow over so many years. I went to the first re:Invent. A company I was at actually sponsored it. And remembering back to that first re:Invent, it was kind of quaint by comparison.

There were 4000 people at the first re:Invent, which again, it’s a big conference, especially when a lot of the conferences that I think I was really attending at the time were like, you know, 600, 1000, maybe tops. To go to a 4000-person event in Vegas especially, it’s again, in the same Expo Hall it’s been since that first one, it still felt big. But every person stayed in the Venetian. Pretty much everyone was in the same hotel, all of the attendees that year. All the talks were there.

There was, you know, a lot [laugh]—I mean, a lot less of everything that was there. And so, watching it grow over time, not only as a sponsor because I’ve actually been—kind of worked re:Invent as a, like, a booth person for many of these years for multiple different sponsors and had to coordinate that aspect of it, but then also a couple of times just being more, like, attendee, right, just someone who could go and kind of consume the content. This year was more on the side of being more of an attendee where I got to just kind of experience the Expo Hall. You know, I actually spent a lot of time in the Expo Hall because a big part of why I was there was—

Corey: To get t-shirts.

Pete: Yeah, we’ll get to—I was running low on not only t-shirts but socks. My socks were really worse for wear the last few years. I had to, like, re-up that, right [laugh]?

Corey: Yeah, you look around. It’s like, “Well, none of you people have, like, logoed pants? What’s the deal here? Like, I have to actually buy those myself. I don’t—I’m not here to spend money.”

Pete: Yeah, I know. So. And so yeah, this year, it felt—it was like Covid wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t in anyone’s mind. Just walking around—Vegas in general, obviously, it’s kind of in its own little bubble, but, you know, I’ve been to other events this year that were much more controlled and had a lot more cautious attendees and this was definitely not like that at all. It felt very much, like the last one I was at. The last one I was at was 2019 and it was a big huge event with probably 50,000-plus people. And this one felt like to me at least, attendee-wise, it definitely felt bigger than that one in a lot of ways.

Corey: I think that when all is said and done, it was a good event, but it wasn’t necessarily what a lot of folks were expecting. What was your take on the content and how the week played out?

Pete: Yeah, so I do, in many ways, kind of miss [laugh] the event of yore that was a little bit more of a targeted, focused event. And I understand that it will never be that kind of event anymore. Maybe they start splitting it off to be, you know, there’s—just felt much more like a builder event in previous years. The content in the keynotes, you know, the big keynotes and things like that would be far more, these big, iterative improvements to the cloud. That’s something that always felt kind of amazing to see. I mean, for years and years, it was like, “Who’s ready for another re:Invent price drop?” Right? It was all about, like, what’s the next big price drop going to be?

Corey: Was it though because I never was approaching with an eye toward, “Oh, great. What are they going to cut prices on now?” That feels like the least interesting things that ever came out of re:Invent, at least for me. It’s, what are they doing architecturally that lets me save money, yes. Or at least do something interesting architecturally, great. I didn’t see Lambda when it first came out, for example, as a cost opportunity, although, of course, it became one. I saw it as this is a neat capability that I’m looking forward to exploring.

Pete: Yeah, and I think that’s what was really cool about some of those early ones is these, like, big things would get released. Like, Lambda was a big thing that got released. There was just these larger types of services coming out. And I think it’s one of your quotes, right? Like, there’s a service for everyone, but every service isn’t for everyone.

Corey: Yeah.

Pete: And I feel like, you know, again, years ago, looking back, it felt like more of the services were more geared towards the operational, the early adopters of Amazon, a lot of those services was for those people. And it makes sense. They got to spread out further, they’ve got to have kind of a wider reach to grow into all of these different areas. And so, when they come out with things that, yeah, to me, I’m like, “This is ridiculous feature. Who would ever use this?” Like, there’s probably a dozen other people at different companies that are obscenely excited because they’re at some enterprise that has been ignored for years and now finally they’re getting the exact tooling that they need, right?

Corey: That made sense for a long time. I think that now, the idea that we’re going to go and see an Andy Jassy-era style feature drop of, “Here’s five new databases and a whole new compute platform and 17,000 more ways to run containers,” is not necessarily what is good for the platform, certainly not good for customers. I think that we’re seeing an era of consolidation where, okay, you have all these services to do a thing. How do I pick which one to use? How do I get onto a golden path that I can also deviate from without having to rebuild everything? That’s where customers seem to be. And it feels like AWS has been relatively slow to acknowledge or embrace that to me.

Pete: Yeah, a lot of the services, you know, are services they’re probably building for just their own internal purposes, as well. You know, I know, they are for a while very motivated to get off anything Oracle-related, so they started building these services that would help migrate, you know, away from Oracle because they were trying to do it themselves. But also, it’s like, there’s still—I mean, I talk with friends of mine who have worked at Amazon for many years and I’m always fascinated by how excited they are still to be there because they’re operating at a scale that just doesn’t exist anywhere else, right? It’s like, they’re off on their lone island that go into work somewhere else is almost going backwards because you’ve already solved problems at this lower level of scale. That’s obviously not what you want to be doing anymore.

And at the scale that they’re at for some of these services, even like the core services, the small improvements they’re making, they seem so simple and basic, like a tiny EBS improvement, you’re like, “Ugh, that’s so boring.” But at their level of scale for, like, something like an EBS, like one of those top five services, the impact of that tiny little change is probably even so amazingly impactful. Like it’s just so huge [laugh], you know, inside that scope of the business that is just—that’s what—if you really start pulling the thread, you’re like, “Wow, actually, that is a massive improvement.” It just doesn’t feel that way because it’s just oh, it’s just this tiny little thing [laugh]. It’s like, just almost—it’s too simple. It’s too simple to be complex, except at massive scale.

Corey: Exactly. The big problem I ran into is, I should have noticed it last year, but it was Adam Selipsky’s first re:Invent and I didn’t want to draw too many conclusions on it, but now we have enough dots to make a line—specifically two—where he is not going to do the Andy Jassy thing of getting on stage and reading off of a giant 200 item list of new feature and service announcements, which in AWS parlance, are invariably the same thing, and they wind up rolling all of that out. And me planning my content schedule for re:Quinnvent around that was a mistake. I had to cancel a last-minute rebuttal to his keynote because there was so little there of any substance that all would have been a half-hour-long personal attack and I try not to do that.

Pete: Mmm. Yeah, the online discussion, I feel like, around the keynote was really, like, lackluster. It was yeah, like you said, very devoid of… not value; it’s not really the right word, but just substance and heft to it. And maybe, look, we were just blessed with many, many years of these dense, really, really dense, full keynotes that were yeah, just massive feature drops, where here’s a thing and here’s a thing, and it was almost that, like, Apple-esque style kind of keynote where it was like, we’re just going to bombard you with so many amazing things that kind of is in a cohesive storyline. I think that’s the thing that they were always very good about in the past was having a cohesive story to tell about all of these crazy features.

All of these features that they were just coming out with at this incredible velocity, they could weave the story around it. And you felt like, yeah, keynote was whatever hour, two hours long, but it would go by—it always felt like it would go by quickly because they were just they had down kind of really tight messaging and kept your attention the whole way through because you were kind of like, “Well, what’s next? There’s always—there’s more. There’s got to be more.” And there would be, right? There would be that payoff.

Corey: I’m glad that they recognized that what got them here won’t get them there, but I do wish that they had done a better job of signaling that to us in more effective ways. Does that make any sense?

Pete: Yeah, that’s an interesting… it’s kind of an interesting thought exercise. I mean, you kind of mentioned before earlier, before we started recording, the CMO job is still available, it’s still open [laugh] at AWS. So, if this was a good way to attract a top-tier CMO, I’d almost feel like if you were that person to come in and be like, “Hey, this did not work. Here are the following reasons and here’s what you need to do to improve it.” Like, you might have a pretty solid shot of landing that role [laugh].

Corey: Yeah, I’m not trying to make people feel intentionally bad over it. This stuff is very hard, particularly at scale. The problem I had with his keynote was not in fact that he was a bad speaker, far from it. He was good a year ago, he’s clearly put work and energy into becoming better over the past year. From a technical analysis of how is Adam Selipsky as a public speaker, straight A’s as far as I’m concerned, and I spent a lot of time focusing on this stuff myself as a professional speaker myself. I have no problems with how he wound up delivering any of the content. My problem was with the content itself. It feels like he was let down by the content team.

Pete: Yeah, it definitely felt not as dense or as rich as we had come to expect in previous years. I don’t think it was that the content didn’t exist. It’s not like they didn’t build just as much, if not way, way more than they have in previous years. It just seemed to just not be part of the talk.

I don’t know. I always kind of wonder, too, is this just an audience thing? Which is, like, maybe I’m just not the audience for his talk, right? Was there someone else in that Expo Hall, someone else watching the stream, that was just kept on the edge of their seat hearing these stories? I don’t know. I’m really kind of curious. Like, you know, are we only representing this one slice of the pie, basically?

Corey: I think part of the problem is that re:Invent has grown so big, that it doesn’t know what it wants to be anymore. Is it a sales event? By the size of the Expo Hall, yeah, it kind of is. Is it a partner expo where they talk about how they’re going to milk various companies? Possibly. There’s certainly one of those going on.

There was an analyst summit that I attended for a number of days during re:Invent this year. They have a whole separate thing for press. The community has always been a thriving component of re:Invent, at least for me, and seeing those folks is always terrific. Is it supposed to be where they dump a whole bunch of features and roadmap information? Is it time for them to wind up having executive meetings with their customers? It tries to be all of those things and as a result, at this scale it feels like it is failing to be any of them, at least in an effective, cohesive way.

Pete: Yeah, and you really nailed each of the personas, like, of a re:Invent attendee. I’ve talked to many people who are considering going to re:Invent, and they’re, “I don’t really know if I want to go, but I really want to go to some sessions, and I really want to do this.” And I always have to kind of push back and say, “Look, if you’re only going there to attend talks,” like, just don’t bother, right? As everyone knows, the talks are all recorded, you can watch them later. I did have conversations with some engineer, principal engineer level software folks that were there and the prevailing consensus from chatting with those folks, kind of anecdotally, is that, like, they had actually a lot of struggles even getting into some of these sessions, which for anyone who has been to re:Invent in the last, I don’t know, four or five years, like, it’s still a challenge, right?

There’s—you got to register for a lot of these talks way far in advance, there’ll be a standby list, there’ll be a standby line. It’s a lot of a lot. And so, there’s not usually a ton of value there. And so, I always try to say, like, “If you’re going to re:Invent your, kind of, main purpose to go would be more for networking,” or just you’re going because of the human interaction that you hope to get out of it, right, the high bandwidth conversations that are really hard to do in other areas. And I think you’ve nailed a bunch of those, right? Like, an analyst briefing is really efficient if you can get all the analysts in a room versus doing one-off analyst meetings.

Meeting with big enterprises and hearing their thoughts and feelings and needs and requirements, you can get a lot of those conversations. And especially, too, if, like, talking to an enterprise and they got a dozen people all spread over the world, well you can get them all in one room, like, that’s pretty amazing in this world. And then on the sales side, I feel like granted, I spent most of my time in the Expo Hall, but that was probably the area that I think you said earlier which I really picked up on, which was the balance between sponsors and attendees felt out of whack. Like it felt like there were way more attendees than the sponsors that I would have kind of expect to see.

Now, there were a lot of sponsors on that Expo Hall and it took days. I mean, I was on the Expo Hall for days walking around and chatting with different companies and people. But one of the things that I saw that I have never seen before was a number of sponsorship booths, right—and these are booths that are, like, prebuilt, ten by ten-foot size or the smaller ones—that were blanks. They were like, you know, like, in a low-quality car where you have blank buttons that, like, if you paid more you get that feature. Walking around, there was a nonzero number of just straight-up empty booth, blank booths around which, I don’t know, like, that felt kind of telling. Like, did they not sell all their sponsorships? Has that ever happened? I don’t even know. But this was I felt like the first I’ve had—

Corey: Or did companies buy the sponsorship and then realize that it was so expensive to go on top of it, throwing bad money after good might not have made sense. Because again, when people—

Pete: Right.

Corey: —brought out these sponsorships, in many cases, it was in the very early days of the growing recession we’ve seen now. And they may have been more optimistic, their circumstances may certainly have changed. I do know that pricing for re:Invent sponsorships was lower this past year than it had been in previous years. In 2019, for example, they had two Expo Halls, one at the ARIA Quad and the other at the Venetian. They had just one this year, which made less running around on my part, but still.

Pete: Yeah, I do remember that, that they had so many sponsors. What I would say about the sponsors that there’s two parts of this that were actually interesting. One, you’re definitely right. As someone who has sponsored re:Invent before and has had to navigate that world, you are likely going to commit to the sponsorship as early as June, you know, could even be earlier than June depending on how big of a thing that you’re doing. But it’s early. It’s usually in the summertime that you’re—if you haven’t made a decision by the summertime, like, you could actually not get a booth, right?

And this was, I remember, the last one that I had sponsored was maybe 2018, 2019. And, like, you don’t want those last few booths. Like, they put you in the back and not a good way. But going there, were a lot of—I did notice a lot of booths that had pretty massive layoffs who still had the booths, you know, and again, large booths, large companies, which again, same thing. I kind of am like, “Wow, like, how many employees did that booth cost you, right?”

Because like [laugh], some of these booths are hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor. And then the other thing that I actually noticed, too, which I was honestly a little surprised by, with the exception of the Datadog booth; I love my friends at Datadog, they have the most amazingly aggressive booth BDRs who are always just, they’ll get you if you’re, like, hovering near them. And there’s always someone to talk to over there. Like, they staff it really, really well. But there were some other booths that I was actually really interested in talking to some of the people to learn about their technology, that I actually waited to talk to someone. Like, I waited for someone to talk to, and then finally I’m like, “You know what? I’m going to come back.”

And then I came back and waited again. So, it’s like, how many of these sponsors obviously spent a lot of money to go there, then months later, they start looking at the people that they have to support this, they’ve already had some layoffs and probably sent a much smaller audience there to actually, like, operate the booth.

Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by Honeycomb. When production is running slow, it’s hard to know where problems originate. Is it your application code, users, or the underlying systems? I’ve got five bucks on DNS, personally. Why scroll through endless dashboards while dealing with alert floods, going from tool to tool to tool that you employ, guessing at which puzzle pieces matter? Context switching and tool sprawl are slowly killing both your team and your business. You should care more about one of those than the other; which one is up to you. Drop the separate pillars and enter a world of getting one unified understanding of the one thing driving your business: production. With Honeycomb, you guess less and know more. Try it for free at Observability: it’s more than just hipster monitoring.

Corey: One bright light that I did enjoy and I always enjoy, though I’m not certain how actionable it is in the direct sense, was Peter DeSantis’ Monday Night Live keynote. It was great. I mean, the one criticism I had of it—on Twitter at the time, before that thing melted and exploded—was that it was a bit mislabeled because it really should have been what it turned into midway through of surprise computer science lecture with Professor DeSantis. And I was totally there for it. But it was fun just watching some of the deep magic that makes this all work be presented in a way that most of us normally don’t get to see.

Pete: Well, this was the first year they did not do their Midnight Madness over-the-top kind of thing. And I also I don’t recall that I saw them doing one of the other things I feel like is at night is they’re, like, giant wing-eating competition. Am I wrong? Did they do that this year and I just missed hearing about it?

Corey: They did not. Turns out that competitive Gluttony is not as compelling as it once was. But they also canceled their Midnight Madness event a month or two before re:Invent itself. What was super weird to me was that there was no event—community or otherwise—that sprung forth to seize that mantle. So, you had a whole bunch of people who were used to going for several hours that night to a big event with nothing to do.

And at 9 p.m. they started just dumping a whole bunch of service releases in their blog and RSS feeds and the rest, and it just felt very weird and discordant. Like, do they think that we have nothing better to do than sit here and read through this on a Sunday night where we would have otherwise been at a party? Well yeah, in my case, I’m super sad and of course, I had nothing better to do that night. But most people had things going on.

Pete: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I think also, if you—maybe it’s a little bit better now but I don’t know when you have to buy that many chicken wings in advance, but with supply chains being what they are and the cost of chicken wings, I mean, not that I track the cost of chicken wings, except I absolutely do every time I go to Costco, they’re up substantially. So, that was probably a contributing factor to the wing-eating contest: supply chain pain and suffering. But yeah, it’s really interesting that just even in what some of the sponsors kind of were doing this year over previous years, I doubt they did this in 2021—but maybe, I don’t know—but definitely not in 2019, something that I don’t recall to this level was the sponsors essentially booking out entire restaurants near the venue every single day of the conference.

And so again, if you were at this event like we were, and you at the end of the thing, were just like, I just want to sit and I’ve got a handful of friends, I want to sit and, like, have a drink, and just, like, chat and catch up and hear how the day went and everything else, finding a place to actually go to do that was very, very hard to do. And the thing that I noticed was—again, seemed like it was new this year; I don’t recall it in 2019 to this level is, there were a lot of the big sponsors that had just booked a whole restaurant, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, like, from open to close, fully booked it, which was honestly, brilliant.

Corey: Oh, yeah. If you bring 200, 300 people to an event, you’ve got to feed him somehow. And, “Hey, can we just rent out your restaurant for the entirety of this week?” Is not out of the question compared to what you’d even spend just reimbursing that sea of people to go and eat somewhere else.

Pete: Exactly. The reason—I’m approaching this from, like, a business perspective—if I had a large group of enterprise salespeople and they need a place to book meetings, well, it’s super compelling if I’m being courted by one of these salespeople and they’re like, “Hey, come and have breakfast. Come and grab a coffee.” You know, and there’s a place where you can sit down and quietly enjoy that meal or coffee while having a sale. Like, I’ll have that sales conversation and I’m going to be way more motivated to show up to it because you’re telling me it’s like, this is where we’re going to meet.

Versus some of my friends were trying to, like, coordinate a lunch or a coffee and it’s like, do we want to go to the Starbucks that has 500 people in line or do we want to walk four hotels, you know, down the street to find a bar that has video poker that no one will be sitting at and that we can just sit down and talk, right? It kind of felt like those were your two options.

Corey: One thing that MongoDB did is rented out the Sugarcane restaurant. And they did this a couple of years in a row and they wound up effectively making it available to community leaders, heroes, and whatnot, for meetings or just a place to sit down and catch your breath. And I think that was a brilliant approach. You’ve gone to the trouble of setting this thing up for meetings for your execs and whatnot. Why not broaden it out?

You can’t necessarily do it for everyone, for obvious reasons, but it was nice to just reach out to folks in your orbit and say, “Yeah, this is something available to you.” I thought that was genius. And I—

Pete: Oh yeah.

Corey: —wish I thought of doing something like that. Let’s be clear. I also wish I had rent-out-Sugarcane-for-a-week budget. But you know—

Pete: [laugh].

Corey: —we take what we can get.

Pete: Yeah. That’ll be a slight increase to the Spite Budget to support that move.

Corey: Just a skosh, yeah.

Pete: Yeah, the MongoDB, they were one that I do remember had done it similarly. I don’t know if they had done it, kind of, full-time before, but a friend of mine work there, had invited me over and said, “Hey, like, come by, let’s grab a drink. You know, we’ve got this hotel, you know, this restaurant kind of booked out.” And that was back in 2019. Really enjoyed it.

And yeah, I noticed it was like, you know, basically, they had this area available, again, a place to sit down, to open your laptop, to respond to some emails, making it available to community people should have been a no-brainer to, really, all of these other sponsors that may have times of less kind of attendance, right? So obviously, at any of the big meals, maybe that’s when you can’t make it available for all the people you want to, but there’s going to be off hours in between times that making that available and offering that up generates a supreme amount of goodwill, you know, in the community because you know, you’re just looking for a place to sit out and drink some water [laugh].

Corey: Yeah, that was one challenge that I saw across the board. There were very few places to just sit and work on something. And I’m not talking a lounge everywhere around every corner was needed necessarily or even advisable. No, the problem I’ve got was that I just wanted to sit down for two or three minutes and just type up an email quickly, or a tweet or something, and nope, you’re walking and moving the whole time.

Pete: Yeah. Now honestly, this would be a—this was a big missed opportunity for the Amazon event planning folks. There was a lot of unnecessary space usage that I understand why they had it. Here’s an area you could play Foursquare, here’s an area that had seesaws that you could sit on. Like, just, I don’t know, kitschy stuff like that, and it was kind of off to the side or whatever.

Those areas honestly, like, we’re kind of off to the side, they were a little bit quieter. Would have been a great spot to just, like, load up some chairs and couches and little coffee tables and just having places that people could sit down because what ended up happening—and I’m sure you saw it just like I did—is that any hallway that had somewhere that you could lean your back against had a line of people just sitting there on their laptops because again, a lot of us are at this event, but we’re also have jobs that we’re working at, too, and at some point during the day, you need to check in, you need to check some stuff out. It felt like a lack of that kind of casual space that you can just relax in. And when you add on top of all the restaurants nearby being essentially fully booked, it really, really leaves you hanging for any sort of area to sit and relax and just check a thing or talk to a person or anything like that.

Corey: Yeah, I can’t wait to see what lessons get learned from this and how it was a mapping to next year, across the board. Like, I have a laundry list of things that I’m going to do differently at re:Invent next year. I do every year. And sometimes it works out; sometimes it really doesn’t. And it’s a constant process of improvement.

I mean, one of the key breakthroughs for me was when I finally internalized the idea that, yeah, this isn’t going to be like most jobs where I get fired in the next six months, where when I’m planning to go to re:Invent this is not the last re:Invent I will be at in my current capacity, doing what I do professionally. And that was no small thing. Where oh, yeah. So, I’m already making plans, not just for next re:Invent, but laying the groundwork for the re:Invent after that.

Pete: Yeah, I mean, that’s smart way to do it. And especially, too, when you don’t consider yourself an analyst, even though you obviously are an analyst. Maybe you do consider yourself an analyst, but you’re [laugh] more, you know, you’re also the analyst who will go and actually use the product and start being like, “Why does this work the way it does?” But you’re kind of a little bit the re:Invent target audience in a lot of ways, right? You’re kind of equal parts on the analyst expert and user as well. It’s like you kind of touch in a bunch of those areas.

But yeah, I mean, I would say the one part that I definitely enjoyed was the nature walk that you did. And just seeing the amount of people that also enjoyed that and came by, it was kind of surreal to watch you in, like, full safari garb, basically meandering through the Expo Hall with this, like, trail of, like, backpacks [laugh] following you around. It was a lot of fun. And, you know, it’s like stuff like that, where people are looking for interesting takes on, kind of, the state of something that is its own organism. Like, the Expo Hall is kind of its own thing that is outside of the re:Invent control. It’s kind of whatever is made up by the people who are actually sponsoring it.

Corey: Yeah, it was neat to see it play out. I’m curious to see how it winds up continuing to evolve in future years. Like right now, the Nature Walk is a blast, but it was basically at the top and I had something like 50 people following me around at one point. And that is too big for the Expo Hall. And I’m not there to cause a problem for AWS. Truly, I’m not. So, I need to find ways to embrace that in ways that don’t kill the mojo or the energy but also don’t create problems for, you know, the company whose backup I am perched upon, yelling more or less ridiculous things.

Pete: [laugh]. I think it was particularly interested in how many people I’d be walking by and every once a while I would see, like, a friend of mine, someone actually working one of the booths and just be like, “What’s going on here?” Like, I know one of my friends even said, “Yeah, like, nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.” And you can almost see more people [laugh] just, like, connecting themselves onto this safari train moving their way through. Yeah, it’s a sight to see, that’s for sure [laugh].

Corey: Yeah, I’ll miss aspects of this. Again, nothing can ever stay the same, on some level. You’ve got to wind up continuing to evolve and grow or you wind up more or less just frozen in place[ and nothing great ever happens for you.

Pete: Yeah, I mean, again, Expo Hall has gone through these different iterations, and I—you know, when it does come to the event, as I kind of think back, I probably have spent most of my time actually in the Expo Hall, usually just related to the fact that, like, when you’re a sponsor, like, you’re just—that’s where you’re at. For better or worse, you’re going to be in there. And especially if you’re a sponsor, you want to check out what other sponsors are doing because you want to get ideas around things that you might want to try in later years. I mentioned Datadog before because Datadog to this day continues to have the best-designed booth ever, right? Like when it comes to a product that is highly demoable, I’ve been myself as a sponsor, it has always been a struggle to have a very effective demo setup.

And I actually remember, kind of, recommending to a startup that I was at years ago, I’m doing a demo setup that was very, very similar to how Datadog did it because it was brilliant, where you have this, like, octagon around a main area of tables, and having double-sided demo stations. A lot more people are doing this now, but again, as I walked by I was again reminded just how effective that setup is because not only do you have people that just they don’t want to talk, they just want to look, and they can kind of safely stand there and look, but you also have enough people staffing the booth for conversations that for, like me who actually might want to ask for questions, I don’t have to wait and I can get an answer and be taken care of right away, versus some other booths. This year, one of the areas that I actually really enjoyed—and I don’t even know the details of, like, how it all came about—but it looked like some sort of like Builder’s Expo. I don’t know if you remember walking by there, but there was a whole area of different people who had these little IoT or various powered things. One of them was, like, a marble sorting thing that was set up with a bunch of AWS services. I think there was like the Simple Beer Service V… four or five at this point. I had one of those iterations.

It was some sort of mixture between Amazon software services that were powering these, like, physical things that you can interact with. But what was interesting is like, I have no idea, like, how it was set up, and who—I’m assuming it was Amazon specific—but each of these little booths were like chocked up with information about who they were and what they built, which gave it a feel of, like, this was like a last-minute builder event thing. It didn’t feel like it was a highly produced thing. It had a much more casual feel to it, which honestly got me more interested to spend time there and check out the different booths.

Corey: It was really nice to be able to go and I feel like you got to see all of the booths and whatnot. I know in previous years, it feels like you go looking for specific companies and you never find them. And you thought, “Oh”—

Pete: [laugh].

Corey: —“They must not have been here.” You find out after the fact, oh no, just you were looking in the wrong direction because there was so much to see.

Pete: There were definitely still a couple of those. I had a list of a handful of booths I wanted to stop by, either to say hi to someone I knew who was going to be there or just to chat with them in general, there was a couple that I had to do a couple loops to really track them down. But yeah, I mean, it didn’t feel as overly huge as a previous one, or as previous ones. I don’t know, maybe it was like the way they designed it, the layout was maybe a little bit more efficient so that you could do loops through, like, an outer loop and an inner loop and actually see everything, or if it just was they just didn’t have enough sponsors to truly fill it out and maybe that’s why it felt like it was a little bit more approachable.

I mean, it was still massive. I mean, it was still completely over the top, and loud and shiny lights and flashing things and millions of people. But it is kind of funny that, like, if you do enough of these, you can start to say, “Oh well, I don’t know, it’s still felt… a little bit less [laugh] for some reason.”

Corey: Yeah, just a smidgen. Yeah. Pete, it is always a pleasure to get your take on re:Invent and see what you saw that I didn’t and vice versa. And same time next year, same place?

Pete: Yeah. I mean, like I said, one of my favorite parts of re:Invent is, you know, we always try to schedule, like, an end-of-event breakfast when we’re both just supremely exhausted. Most of us don’t even have a voice by the end. But just being able to, like, catch up and do our quick little recap and then obviously to be able to get on a podcast and talk about it is always a lot of fun. And yeah, thanks again for having me. This is—it’s always, it’s always a blast.

Corey: It really is. Pete Cheslock, Head of Growth and Community at AppMap. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice and then put something insulting about me in the next keynote because you probably work on that content team.

Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit to get started.

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

Get the Newsletter

Reach over 30,000 discerning engineers, managers, enthusiasts who actually care about the state of Amazon’s cloud ecosystems.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Sponsor Icon Footer

Sponsor an Episode

Get your message in front of people who care enough to keep current about the cloud phenomenon and its business impacts.