How to Make Sure Your Next AWS Summit Is Not a Waste of Time
How to Make Sure Your Next AWS Summit Is Not a Waste of Time

By John Fahl, IOD Expert

Tech conventions are about showcasing what’s new, claiming victories, and bringing the industry together.

AWS Summits are no different. Sure, they are a “diet” version of the “big kahuna” re:Invent which takes place in the late fall, but attracting 15k nerds and enthusiasts, as AWS did to the July summit in NYC last week, is no small feat.

I could write about the keynote and the new features announced, but there is much more to the AWS Summit than a news flash. These global events are more than the DJ, the flashing lights, and getting see Dr. Werner Vogel get on stage in a Fortnite t-shirt.

For me, one n3rd on the ground, it’s much more.

Networking

Ironically, thousands of people come together to … sit by themselves staring at their laptops and phones. Waiting for the expo to start, I watched so many people gather in the halls simply to stick close to their co-workers or catch up on work.

What a waste of time.

The Summit is a perfect opportunity to meet new people, to start up a conversation with other engineers at a booth whose company or product you’re both interested in. It’s an opportunity to get to chat about how to implement a technology, with the company who supports it!

I’ve made good connections over the years at Mongo, Redis, and Elasticsearch just by visiting their booths and striking up a conversation. Those connections helped me resolve issues. Keep in mind, most people at the booths are sales, but they are always happy to connect you to engineers. The engineers are there to generate leads, too!

Bridging connections is also a big part of the convention. I’ve worked with some of the companies who attend the Summits, such as 2nd Watch. If it takes two minutes of my time — to make a connection between a colleague and a company I support — and it helps both parties, it’s always the right thing to do. Likewise, because I stay in touch with folks year over year, even if they move companies, sometimes I bump into someone I know who is able to make a relevant connection for me.

A worthy mention is being the job opportunist: I didn’t spend this particular Summit looking for potential employment opportunities, but I have in the past. What better way to position yourself as an expert than to strike up a conversation with a company and tell them how you’ve implemented their technology? Or talk to a cloud consulting company about an effort migrating workloads to AWS? You’d be amazed how fast a 10-minute conversation can turn into, “You should talk to our VP of Engineering!”

Very fast.  

It’s much easier to shoot the breeze at a convention than in an interview.

Don’t go to an AWS Summit just to sit on your laptop! Save that for the train ride home.

Finding Burgeoning Tech

It’s easy to find the Datadogs, the VMWares, and the Citrixes of any tech convention. They have giant booths, and often swag and prizes for raffling. However, if you’re interested in what’s really coming down the pipe, spend your time in the 100s section of the expo. Yes, I’m talking about the little kiosk booths with barely enough space for a laptop.

This is where you are going to see “the cool stuff.” Also, you are certainly going to talk to one of the primary engineers. Most (but not all) of these companies are tiny and trying to break through so you’ll get to see their best effort from their sharpest folks. I remember seeing Sysdig last year in a tiny booth. This year, Sysdig had a main booth and a horde of people.

Also, the 100s-booth companies want to talk to you about their cool tech and aren’t as interested in generating sales. They are sponsoring the event for various other reasons, like getting beta users and early adopters. It’s really easy to skip over them because of their lack of displays and primed marketing. Trust me when I tell you this is where the real “meat” of the engineering offering is at the Summit.

Giving Thanks

This event is about marketing. It really is. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell the vendors thanks for their support or their products. Having worked on the SaaS and product delivery side of the house, nothing feels better than hearing people use your tech, and especially if they love it!

I make a point to ALWAYS visit the vendors I like or have worked with in the past. Many times I don’t know the people I’m meeting and thanking, but I tell them thanks anyway, shake their hand and if they open up the dialog, I’ll tell them what I’ve done with their products. [This is a great way to strike up everything in the networking portion of this blog]. This tactic is great to immediately push past the sales effort. They will know that you know the product and that you’re a fan, so your conversation shifts right to casual.

This convention I thanked N2WS, 2nd Watch, Data Dog, CloudCheckr, MongoDB, RedisLabs, CloudEndure, Elasticsearch, VMWare, NetApp, Splunk, and of course, a few of the peeps at the AWS Dev Lab.

I got to stop and chat with Todd Bernard from CloudCheckr (below), who gives great seminars. I’ve helped him with some of the related content.

Being an Ambassador

It’s amazing how many people treat this like a day off. I spent the day representing two different efforts, one as a writer for IOD and also as an engineer for the company I work for. No matter what, when you meet with a competitor, don’t throw them shade, be cool about it.

I love laughing with the Chef guys even though they are competition for Puppet, where I currently work. Sometimes, I’ve even had to take the high road when someone makes an off comment about my company. (Hey, it’s printed on my badge!) You never know who is watching or listening. You’re a professional: show that you can act professional even in tough situations..

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This advice also plays into the networking. Being a good ambassador will always open more doors than it will shut for you.

Don’t Forget SWAG!

I will say I’m not a level 20 ninja where I loot any and everything that is available, coming away from the summit with 10 bags, 30 t-shirts, and enough gizmos to pass as a street vendor. But I do clean up. If you enjoy the n3rdy stuff like me, then you need to hunt early. Don’t wait a few hours for the expo to die down because much of the swag will be gone.

Most vendors will have raffles that they hold much later in the day. It’s a great way for them to get a group back to the booth, and most won’t stick around or show up. If you’re into winning the slightly cooler toys like speakers, drones, and helicopters, you’ll have to time your raffle route. Keep in mind, the raffle times are often nestled right before or after breakouts and presentations. Plan accordingly!

Summary

I know the keynotes are cool. The break out sessions and presentations can show you interesting ways to solve your problems, or give you new ideas. Just remember the keynote is not the only benefit of the Summit. It’s more about people and the connections you make, and of course, getting some cool shit, too. If we end up at a future AWS Summit together, make sure to say hi!

John Fahl, IOD Expert
John is a Devops Manager and fantasy fiction writer, living in Philadelphia, PA. After serving in the Navy, he's built his portfolio working for major defense contractors, the federal government, and reputable start-ups.
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