AWS re:Invent 2019 is over. It was huge but simple math tells me there’s at least a 95% chance* you weren’t able to attend even though you might have greatly benefited from doing so.
Fear not because in this post I’m going to show you how to put together a program of online material from re:Invent to work through in your own time, from the comfort of your own living room. You’ll miss out on a few things (which I’ll go into below), but you can still gain a lot of value. You may even be able to learn just as much as if you’d attended.
There are actually lots of positives to “re:Invent Home Edition”: no flight (14 hours for those of us in Australia), no cost, no time away from family, no queuing and trekking between hotels etc. Not to mention you can watch the videos at 2x speed, pause to think, go for a bathroom break, rewind, or just move on to the next one if you’re not getting anything.
I’d still recommend attending in person if you can, but this will make for a fairly good substitute.
* in a 2015 keynote AWS disclosed they had over 1 million active customers. That’s customers, not individuals and it’s safe to assume that number has grown since then. This year around 65 thousand people attended re:Invent.
Who should bother and why?
Personally, I’d recommend catching up on re:Invent at some level for everyone in the tech industry, regardless of whether or not you use AWS day-to-day. You might do more or less and focus on different areas depending on your role.
To summarise why:
- the cloud continues to change the way we build things and make things possible that were previously unimaginable
- tools and techniques are evolving rapidly and you need to dedicate time to learn to keep up
- AWS is the most popular and fully featured cloud provider and re:Invent is the main knowledge-sharing event of the year for AWS
- many of the concepts and techniques shared at re:Invent are not specific to AWS, they are generic and high-value learnings that will stay with you for a long time
- the things you learn can help save you and your organisation time and money, in many cases by orders of magnitude
- some of the most talented and knowledgeable engineers in the world take their time to share their knowledge about how they build things
- at the very least, this stuff is fascinating if you are interested in tech
Step 1: The keynotes
There were four executive keynotes in addition to the opening ceremony. I’d recommend Andy’s and Werner’s the most. The others were good too but don’t worry about them if you are short on time.
Keynote with Andy Jassy, CEO AWS
Andy’s talk was focused around what he sees as the key elements to a cloud transformation with many announcements and examples along the way.
Keynote with Dr. Werner Vogels, CTO Amazon.com
Werner’s is the most technical talk with lots of interesting insights into things like Nitro, Fargate, and Firecracker.
Monday Night Live with Peter DeSantis, VP, AWS Global Infrastructure and Customer Support
Peter spends most of his time looking at innovations that are helping with High Performance Computing (HPC) on AWS.
Global Partner Keynote with Doug Yeum, Head of Worldwide Channels & Alliances
Doug’s talk is focused around AWS Partners and includes a “fireside chat” with Andy Jassy.
Opening Ceremony with Dr. Matt Wood – VP, Artificial Intelligence
Matt introduces AWS Deep Composer. Only 15 minutes long.
Step 2: The announcements
You can quickly browse everything that was announced at re:Invent here.
There is a lot so if you are short on time, some of my personal favorite announcements were:
- The Amazon Builder’s Library – a collection of articles on Amazon’s engineering practices
- AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) Access Analyzer – a tool to help automatically check and verify access policies
- EC2 Image Builder – a tool to assist in automatically producing patched golden images
- Amazon CodeGuru – a tool that uses machine learning to produce automated code review comments
- EKS on Fargate – you can now run Kubernetes pods on Fargate using EKS
Those are my favourites because they are the most likely to be of use to me. They are not necessarily the most important or significant. If you do have time, take a browse through to see what other announcements might be particularly relevant to you. You can use this to guide which sessions you choose to watch below.
Step 3: The sessions
All sessions were recorded and are in the process of being uploaded to YouTube here. This is a treasure trove of information. Hundreds of sessions have been uploaded already however there are still lots to be uploaded.
There were over 3000 sessions so I can’t even begin to give you a comprehensive summary. What you can do is pick some of my recommendations below, follow a Hero Guide or browse the session catalogue yourself and make some picks. If you are relatively familiar with AWS already then I’d recommend keeping it to the 300 and 400 level sessions.
The Hero Guides are aimed at different demographics and areas of interest such as “getting started with AWS”, “enterprise transformation” or “machine learning”. If you don’t want to have to think about it, pick the guide that most sounds like it suits you.
Some of my personal favourites were:
- Five lessons from principal engineers on building reliable services
- Amazon’s approach to high-availability deployment
- AWS Fargate under the hood
- Serverless at scale: design patterns and optimizations
- Moving to event-driven architectures
Step 4: The workshops
Unfortunately, after a 40-minute walk from the Mirage to the MGM Grand, I missed out on a spot in the only workshop I had in my schedule (Building a scalable serverless application with AWS CDK) by just four positions in the queue. Those of us who missed out were provided with the URL to work through in our own time.
What do I miss out on by not attending?
I don’t want this guide to be taken the wrong way, there are plenty of pros to attending. Here are some to help make up your mind about whether or not to attend in person in the future.
Time and headspace
It’s great that all this content is available online. The reality for most of us though is that finding the time to ingest it can be difficult. It’s one of those things that’s really important but never urgent. Taking a full week out gives you a dedicated block of time to devote to learning. I found myself even watching recordings from previous re:Invents while queuing for sessions!
Monday Night Madness, re:Play and other extracurricular activities
AWS put on a host of activities outside of the main event that are pretty cool. Monday Night Madness really does what it says on the box with marching bands, roller skaters and more. re:Play is the Thursday night party that has a music festival vibe but also includes things like a giant bouncy castle and arcade machines. There are all sorts of other things like a charity fun run, a boardgames evening and more.
The Expo and The Quad give you a chance to talk to people from many of the “who’s who” in the tech world and pick up what can only be described as an unreasonable amount of swag along the way. Make sure to leave plenty of room in your luggage!
Random hallway conversations
I was there by myself and found myself talking to people from all different walks of life in the tech industry. Waiting in queues, taking the shuttles, dining in the dining halls all give you plenty of opportunities to meet people and compare notes. It was great to get a sense of what people are excited about.
You could list this as either a pro or a con. Personally, I love traveling and always take any opportunity I can to visit somewhere new. It’s definitely not for everyone though. If you’d like someone to take your money, I’m happy for you to send it directly to me to help recreate the experience of being there.
Attending AWS re:Invent is hugely worthwhile and an opportunity you should take if it comes your way. Failing that, it’s definitely possible to still gain a lot of value using the guide above.