By Maish Saidel-Keesing
I am no IT conference novice. I’ve attended several VMworld events over the years (last year, together with over 25,000 other IT professionals). But even though I’ve been in this business for quite a while — since the days when cloud was known as “virtualization” — I haven’t been to re:Invent before.
This year, I knew it was time.
Over the years, as virtualization evolved into cloud, my skills and knowledge evolved, too: from hardware to VMware to cloud (with VMware) and then open-source cloud (with OpenStack), then containers, Docker, and now, most recently, the major public cloud providers. My day job the past year has been focused solely around complex deployments in AWS. How could I miss re:invent 2017?
So, I’m headed there next month. Yet, despite all my years attending VMWorld, I know re:Invent is definitely a conference in its own class. It requires advanced preparation in order to make the best of it.
Navigating the re:Invent “Campus”
Vegas is a great place to attend a conference. The hotels there are some of the most extravagant in the world and there’s plenty of options for entertainment.
That said, since the event venues on the re:Invent “campus” are spread across the Strip, the “commute” time between the venues will be quite long, either with a shuttle or trodding on foot. For that reason, I’m planning on keeping to a single venue for each day. Hopping around between locations is going to take too long and will not be a good use of time.
Are the Sessions Worth it?
Sure, the sessions offer insights into trends and new innovations. (I’m interested most in Lambda and security.) But the sessions are recorded, and published after the show. For me, that means attending them in person is a lower priority. With so many events to choose from, I prefer to go to those that will not be recorded, but offer educational and networking opportunities.
I’m planning on participating in Hackathons, the Hands-on Labs or the Bootcamps, where you are afforded an firsthand, personal experience. Not only will you “learn by doing” hacking away at a solution — for example, trying to solve a cloud puzzle, or how to scale your solution as part of a lab — but it also will give you an opportunity to learn from those who are learning alongside you.
How to Be Seen or Heard in the Hallway Track
50,000 heads bobbing up and down in the hallways is a lot of traffic. In spite of the intensity and potential overwhelm of the crowds, informal and formal meetups in the halls are most beneficial. Hang around the hallways: chat with colleagues, have lunch with people you just met, or meet up with those you’ve met at other events (or online!)
I especially enjoy listening to (and joining) conversations at vendor booths. These are prime opportunities to meet new people and share your story with not only the vendor trying to help you, but also other like-minded professionals looking to solve a problem similar to yours. Spending your time only going from session to session, from activity to activity without actually soaking in the environment around you, would be a mistake. re:Invent attracts people from around the world: a diverse population of cultures, as well as professionals from various specialties. I plan to make full use of the hallway track throughout the event.
Leverage the Experts at the Expo
The AWS ecosystem is huge, and growing. AWS re:Invent 2017 is a great opportunity to meet third-party vendors. The Expo will be open most of Tuesday and all day Wednesday and Thursday. Looking at the sponsor list, the floor will be huge, so plan ahead. Know which vendors you want to visit and figure out where they will be before you start the day. Otherwise, it’s really easy to lose yourself in the crowd and the noise.
Allocate a good few hours throughout the week to go and walk the floor: see what solutions the vendors are offering and if they solve a problem or pain point you currently have with your AWS environment today. Some of the challenges I am looking to address are security and compliance in the cloud, and how to manage operations at scale in a public cloud deployment. The big players and well-known companies will be up front and center. But, make sure that you also visit the smaller booths on the outside, the startups who have not made a huge name for themselves…yet. (Cloudyn, for instance, took a tiny booth at VMworld a few years ago, and recently were acquired by Microsoft.)
Standing Out in the Crowd
An event such as AWS re:Invent is a great opportunity to extend your opportunities to meet new people (not only through Twitter, Facebook, and Slack) and create new opportunities for yourself. It’s also a great way to build your personal brand, another added benefit of attending the event.
Social media outlets (my favorite is Twitter) provide an extension of the in-person networking. Live tweeting breaking news or tips from the sessions will help position you as a cloud evangelist if you aren’t one already. Make sure to use the conference hashtag for every tweet: #reInvent.
I will be at re:Invent next month. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@maishsk). I’ll be more than happy to say hello.
Last, but not least. Be social and have a blast. It is Vegas after all.