re:Invent is Amazon’s premier AWS cloud event set in Las Vegas. I recently attended along with thousands of cloud colleagues from around the world. I learned a ton while also figuring out the best way to navigate such a large conference. Tribock, our small consultancy, paid for the trip so I was eager to maximize my time there and bring back loads of new ideas for the company and our clients.

This was my first time attending an AWS event (although not my first large conference). To get the most out of it, I treated it like I was planning a multi-day hike. In this post, I’ll cover 9 practical “hiking” tips for getting the most out of your time at re:Invent next year. I’ll also highlight some ideas about how I maximized my experience with leaders, pros and colleagues to bring back great nuggets and insights for Tribock clients. Look for a future post about new cloud innovations I learned.

1- Set an intention for re:Invent 

My top priorities were to become more familiar with AWS offerings and to network with diverse small, medium and large companies and technologists in-person. In our business, when you try to be agnostic to cloud service providers (CSPs), it is really hard to get focused time on all of the particular service offerings for each provider. re:invent is a perfect and rare opportunity to do just that.

While remote work in the post-covid era is great, it’s also more difficult to collaborate across Teams/Slack when you’re online 98% of the time. Nothing beats being within actual eyesight of someone to build real connections. I took every opportunity to attend workshops and meet+greets to build my connections and learn from some of the best minds in the industry.

2 – Bookmark sessions as soon as you register

There were over 2,700 sessions at the conference, including chalk and lightning talks, theater sessions, and labs.  Bookmarking/”favoriting” sessions will help you plan your event and can be done before reservations open. 

Bookmarking also helps you physically group sessions together if you are concerned about getting between venues (and in Vegas, they are dispersed).  You want to be able to plan out sessions across hotels and conference centers. For example, you want to know the logistics of having a session at the Encore and how much time it’ll take to then get to Mandalay Bay and then back to the Wynn.  I bookmarked about 100 sessions before I started to whittle them down to a more respectable couple of dozen.

3 – Map out sessions

Just like in hiking, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the conference spaces the day before the start of the event. While signage and staff are great at providing the shortest path directions, there are often long queues.  Being able to quickly cover the distance between sessions played a big part in taking advantage of everything the conference has to offer.

After picking up my badge Sunday, I explored the venues where I had reservations, bookmarked sessions, and plotted out how I was going to get from one place to another.  A word of caution – don’t try to access the venue rooms before the conference –  most of them are “restricted” to speakers, AWS employees, and venue staff even though they don’t really tell you.  I was kicked out of all of the venues except the Venetian.  On the plus side, I had a good idea of how to start navigating on day one between the buildings and how to avoid casino crowds.

4 – Get ready to hike several miles a day

The amount of walking and standing for this event cannot be overstated.  I was easily clocking 20-25k steps each day.  Depending on the staff and venue layout at each session, you may not even be able to sit while waiting to get into a session.  I didn’t find shuttles to be as timely as I would like – I found that walking was a consistent and reliable mode of transportation. 

My advice is to wear new, but broken-in shoes and socks. As I mentioned previously, I treated the conference like I was planning a multi-day hike.  I purchased new lightweight trail shoes and broke them in for a week and a half before Vegas.  I also invested in really good hiking socks.  Next to my laptop, I would say these two items were the best investment I made for comfort and enjoyment of the conference.

5 – Reserve your place

Reserve a seat in sessions as soon as possible after they become available online. A buddy went to re:Invent in 2021 and warned me to reserve a seat pretty quickly.  I may have taken his warning a little too lightly. I took it to mean within the same day as it became available. That was a mistake.

I had a client meeting when reservations became available and didn’t get into the system until about 2 hours later.  Around one-third of my “favorites” were available.  Another third was available for the waitlist. The final third was booked so I interpreted as there was no chance of getting in; fortunately, this wasn’t the case as you can do a “walk-up” and also add yourself to the waitlist.

I recommend adding yourself to the waitlist.  Many of these sessions had a second or overflow session added.  I think many of the speakers would agree that the second sessions were better than the originals. Chalk talks, breakouts, and workshops only get better with practice and battle testing.

6 – Planning is great, but…

“Walking-up” to a session isn’t too bad if you get there between half an hour and one hour before the start of the session. I learned that it’s really fine if you didn’t reserve a seat for the most prized session. It looked like about half of the seats were reserved and walk-ups were available for many of the sessions I attended. Thanks to re:Invent for not turning people away from these.

7 – Ensure you have your badges & certs

Before the conference, ensure you have an active AWS certification. The certification desk will check your Credly account and as long as there is an active certificate you will get a sticker to go on your badge. This sticker gives you access to the Certification Lounge and the Appreciation Party. The party is nice, but the lounge is a godsend.  It is mostly quiet, has plenty of seating, provides coffee and fruit, and is a place to watch the keynote sessions away from the larger forums. There’s also training and a load of great swag. 

8 – Workshops are invaluable

While I planned out a ton before the event, I learned quickly that workshop sessions were the best use of my time. They are a fantastic introduction to new technologies, features, and provided access to experts. Another added bonus was being to chat 1:1 with other technologists, getting their input and help on cloud-related topics.

Every one of the workshops I attended were at capacity and while they are very popular, you could still get in by walking up.  They are fast-paced, innovative, and useful –  the leads and assistants were invaluable in helping you get past issues and mistakes. I found that something that generally takes 6 to 10 hours on your own only took 2 hours with the expert help in the workshops. Workshops are one of the highest values at the conference and great for new technologists getting into cloud and devops.

9 – Happy hours and after-hour parties are golden

The expo floor was great for swag, drinks, and snacks; however, my main purpose in going was to make connections with companies and ultimately garner an invite to their evening parties. 

The expo is like speed dating – you only have so long to find out about upcoming releases and features and provide your input.  At the evening parties, however, you can talk to SMEs and fellow customers to network, get insights and advice, and in general they are really nice ways to meet folks.

To sum it up

At re:Invent I networked with a ton of new colleagues in innovative technologies and learned about new services offered in the platform. All of these learnings were the result of good planning and figuring out where to invest my time and energy. Just like planning out a multi-day hike, I figured out my gear, created a map and ensured I had a good compass to navigate the event. Good luck in your adventures at re:Invent next year!

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