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The Ultimate Guide to AWS re:Invent 2019

AWS re:Invent is taking place December, 2—6, 2019 in Las Vegas. Yet again, this promises to be the biggest cloud event of the year. Last year’s event was amazing. “Jam packed” doesn’t even begin to describe it — and yet, somehow this year is sure to be even better!

This guide will grow as we get closer to the show. Please check back regularly for updates! Ping me, if you spot a problem or if something is missing. @marknca

In the meantime, you can sign up with AWS to receive conference updates — including a notification when registration opens.

Index

Who Am I?

You might be wondering why you should read this guide. As we get closer to the show, there are going to be a ton of these guides published by everyone and their dog 🐶. And while I don’t have the insider canine view of the show, I have attended every single AWS re:Invent and have been writing this guide—with the feedback from the community—for years.

Have you attended AWS re:Invent?

There was no simple “yes” checkbox 😉

I’m very active in the AWS community. In fact I’m an AWS Community Hero, author for A Cloud Guru (I wrote “Mastering The Well-Architected Framework”), and repeat speaker (13 and counting!) at the event.

It’s my favourite conference by far and I write this guide to help you get the most out of the show and to share in the excitement!

Why Attend?

Yes, this is the biggest, craziest, most jam packed conference in cloud…but why should you attend? Jeff Barr has the best answer to that over on the official AWS re:Invent site.

Not Going? Livestream

If you can’t make it to AWS re:Invent 2019, you can view some of the content live. AWS is livestreaming the four keynotes. Keynotes are reserved seating this year, so even if you are on site, you may want to sign up for the livestream.

The livestream is a great way to participate remotely (in addition to following along on social media) or to fit in the keynotes if your schedule is cramped!

Code of Conduct

AWs re:Invent is all about learning and having a shared experience. The key to that is making sure that environment is inviting, safe, and supportive.

The AWS Community Codes of Conduct applies to both the physical and digital space surrounding AWS re:Invent…and to all other AWS events.

I would say that it’s all common sense + following the golden rule but with tens of thousands of people from around the world sharing the experience for the week, it’s best to call this out explicitly.

READ THE CODE OF CONDUCT AND LIVE BY IT.

If you encounter an issue or problem that runs counter to the code or if you in any way feel unsafe, please reach out for help. Amazon Security can be reached at [email protected] for live events. In addition, any one of the on-site staff or security can help resolve any issues.

No system is perfect but this is a great start at creating a safe, inclusive community at this fantastic event.

Get Your Badge

Badge pick up starts at 9am on Sunday, 01-Dec. This includes both the venues and the airport. Swag pickup is at the Venetian and it is strongly recommended that you pick up your swag (most likely a hoodie) on Sunday.

If you can’t on Sunday, get there as soon as you can on Monday to have the best chance of getting the size you want.

Mobile App

As with previous years, the AWS re:Invent 2019 mobile app is critical to a successful week. Available on iOS and Android, this app is the easiest way to stay up to date with what’s happening during the week.

Of critical importance is the new sessions added after the keynotes. Each year, AWS launches a host of new services and some of those new launches have dedicated breakout sessions. Seating in those sessions opens up after the announcements, the mobile app is your shortcut to find out about those sessions.

Daily Survival

AWS re:Invent can be a long week both physically and mentally. There is so much going on and so many new things to learn, it’s hard to keep pace. Here are a few tips and tricks in order to survive the week:

Let it go. Don’t worry if you don’t make every event in your planner. Most people over estimate how much then can fit into a day and then spend the whole day running around. Slow down a bit and take advantage of being at the show. If you’re having a fantastic conversation with a friend (old or new), enjoy it. You can catch up on content later.

Hydrate. Keep a water bottle on you at all times. It’s super easy to get dehydrated in Las Vegas. You’re going to be walking a lot and hydration is a must. Especially, if you’re consuming alcohol. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Keep on top of it and hydrate.

Lip balm. The air in the casinos is dry…super, arid & dry. It’s almost like you’re in the middle of a desert! Keep lip balm on you at all times and use it. Otherwise you’re lips are going to dry out and that’s always uncomfortable.

Eye drops. No, not eye drops to hide the late nights. I’m talking fake tears here. A lot of places in Las Vegas still allow smoking. Combined with the dry air and you may find your eyes quite irritated. A simple eye drop can help address that before it gets out of hand.

Protein bars. AWS re:Invent is so big, it’s hard to truly grasp the size of the show until you get there. All of those people need to eat and that means you are going to be waiting to get food. Keeping a stack of protein bars in your room is a huge help. Restock your backpack or messenger bag every morning so you don’t end up hangry.

Sneakers. Everyone regardless of preferred presentation needs to ditch the fashion sense and go practical for the week. You are going to be on your feet all day and walking at least 10Km (6.2mi) a day, probably a lot more. Good socks that don’t slip and sneakers with strong support are the only way you’re making it through. Also, bring some blister band-aids just in case.

Charger/battery. You might not make it back to your hotel room until it’s time to call it a day. You’ll barely make it through, will your phone? Carry a charger and/or a battery (or better yet, a two-in-one like the Anker PowerCore Fusion « that’s saved my bacon more than once) so you’re not scrambling for power as the day goes on. Also, remember that outlets are few and far between, please share them or carry a charger with multiple USB ports!

At a minimum, in your daily carry bag you should have:

  • A refillable water bottle (AWS re:Invent is providing one as part of their charity:water support)
  • Lip balm
  • Eye drops
  • Protein bars
  • Multi-port phone charger/battery

These few small items will make your week so much more enjoyable. If you forget any, the Venetian/Palazzo has a 24/7 Walgreens and there are other, similar stores around the strip.

Registration & Lodging

First up is registration. Registration is now open (it opened 21-May-2019). Official hotel blocks are tied to registration, that’s why it’s important to get registered early. These room blocks tend to disappear quickly and given the logistics of such a large show, staying on “campus” is critically important.

The venues this year are;

There is also a block of rooms at several properties. These are classified as “sleeping only”. You’ll get a deal on the rate for the conference but still need to be aware of travel time. That said, you’re still on campus which means easier logistics with shuttles and published walking routes.

The “sleeping only” properties for 2019 are;

There are all direct links for your reference and to explore the properties. In order to get the discounted rate, you’ll have to book via the AWS re:Invent registration portal.

You can see a handy map and breakdown of discounted room rates on the event’s “Flights & Hotels” page.

The challenge — as with last year — is that you will need to hop between venues throughout the week. The good news? These are all nice properties and it’s hard to go wrong.

Content in 2018 was divided among all of the seven main properties with breakouts from every track hosted in each location. The two big stand outs for events were the Quad—hosted at the Aria—and the Expo—hosted at The Venetian/Palazzo.

We’re expecting a similar setup this year but are still waiting on the specifics.

How To re:Invent

Jill Fagan and Annie Hancock are back this year with their show “How to re:Invent”. This series is a fantastic way to keep up with show planning. Annie and Jill interview key re:Invent guests, highlight the lighter side of the conference, and help us all get the most from AWS re:Invent.

Make sure you subscribe via YouTube and watch every episode!

Session Catalog

The Session Catalog is your ultimate guide to almost all of the learning content at AWS re:Invent. It’s live now and more session will be added over the next few months.

Leading up to reserved seating, you can use this tool to start planning your week. Login to the catalog (there’s a link in the top right) and you’ll be able to flag session that you are interested in. This will make a short list that’s easier to access when reserved seating opens up.

Click the star on the right to add this session to your short list

Last year there were 1,800+ unique sessions and well over 3,000 total once you included the repeats. I strongly recommend that you start looking through the catalog now, so that you can build up your ideal session list well ahead of the show. The catalog is getting updates every week as more and more sessions are added. Be sure to check back regularly.

AWS Hero Guides

For the 2nd year, a number of AWS Heroes have written guides to help you find sessions that might be of interest.

These guides are based on each Hero’s experience in the topic an at re:Invent. They are basically “insider views” on the session catalog.

This year, the following guides are up:

As an AWS Hero, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of these folks and having some fantastic conversations. This group of people knows their stuff. Their guides are a great way to get a handle on the massive session catalog and to get the most out of AWS re:Invent.

These guides are available as filters in the session catalog. On the bottom left, pick your hero and their guide will show up as the search result!

Easily flag and book sessions that are recommend by AWS Heroes using the filter on the bottom left

Reserved Seating

On Tuesday, 15-Oct-2019, “reserved seating” opened. Any sessions that you’ve flagged as “I’m interested in this” will be in a short list for easy access within your account.

Reserved seating opens on Tuesday, 15-Oct-2019

Please be aware that the catalog has a number of restrictions built in to help make your schedule work during the week. These can be frustrating but they are there to make sure that everyone has a positive re:Invent experience.

Namely, you can’t book overlapping sessions…this includes travel time between venues. You also cannot put yourself on overlapping waitlists. If you’re on the waitlist for a session at 8:00—9:00 on Thursday, that time slot is blocked from your calendar.

There is a mountain of amazing content and simply no way to see it all. Use the Hero Guides to help sort through and remember that you can’t see it all live. That’s what YouTube is for 😉.

Try to reserve seats in the sessions that mean the most to you (maybe one of my sessions…like SEC204-S, “Strong security made simple: Putting all the pieces together” 😉) and remember that there is a ton of other activities going on throughout the week.

Sessions will be posted to the AWS YouTube channel shortly after the conference wraps up, so if you miss a chance to attend live, you can always review the content later.

Charity Fun Run

Back again this year is the 4K/8K Charity Fun Run. It’s held in memory of Sam Blackman, CEO of Elemental and the proceed go to support Girls Who Code.

The cost if $45 for the 4K and $55 for the 8K. Thankfully, the run is held early in the morning so the Las Vegas heat ☀️ won’t be as bad. These runs usually sell out so if you’re interested make sure to add this to your registration.

AWS re:Invent Swag Master & A Cloud Guru instructor, Nick Triantafillou, rightfully-ish pointed out that Las Vegas mornings in December aren’t that warm. In fact—he pointed out—some people might think they are cold ❄️. I live in the Great White North so anything over -10° C is considered warm 😉.

But for Nick’s peace of mind, here is a chart of Las Vegas temperatures in December, 2018. Expect more of the same this year.

Las Vegas weather for early December, 2018

If you’re not running, please consider making a donation directly to Girls Who Code. They are a fantastic organization and deliver amazing content to as many young women as they can. Every dollar helps.

Bootcamps

A regularly occurring learning opportunity, this year there are at least 11 AWS-led and 3 partner-led bootcamps. These are hands-on half day (8am — 12 noon or 1pm — 5pm) of full day (9am — 5pm) camps for a cost of $225—600 depending on the camp.

If you’re interested in the subject, bootcamps are a fantastic way to deep dive on that one topic. They are a great way to make the final push for certification. Think of it as guided review so that you’re ready to write the exam…which is (conveniently enough) offered right on site!

Typically, AWS adds a few more unique camps closer to the event. Last year there was a Virtual Escape Room, a camp on data science, and one on time series forecasting with deep neural networks. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you know that you want to write an exam on site and need that final push, book now before these camps fill up. Space is limited.

Midnight Madness

The first big official event of the week is “Midnight Madness”. This will be the third year that the conference has kicked off with this pep rally style event. Thankfully, last year it was moved up in time and that new time holds true this year: 10:30pm to 12:15am on Sunday, the first of December.

I say thankfully because AWS re:Invent is a marathon and starting off with a late, late night (yes, I’m old, old) was not the best idea. This timing is far more reasonable.

Midnight Madness typically combined a party atmosphere with some announcements and the Tatonka wing eating challenge. Last year, the crowd set the Guinness World Record for largest chicken wing eating competition (397 participants!) and the team wants to break that record this year. Can we?

If you want to participate in the challenge, you’ll need to reserve a seat.

Air Band is coming back and expanding. This year it’s expanding beyond drumming to become the first full Air Band performance at Midnight Madness. They are keeping the song to be performed under wraps but might(?) have provided a hint… The song that will be performed is still a secret, even though we are under pressure… all will be revealed at Midnight Madness!

Seems like a solid lead but the team has been known to cleverly throw out a red herring or two. Stay tuned.

There is also an exclusive Amazing Race-style Scavenger Hunt happening during Midnight Madness. Details are scare but ten teams will compete for tickets to AWS re:Invent 2020.

I really like this event because it’s a big, loud kick off. The keynote-like sections of it are designed to be fun and the team always makes at least one very cool announcement.

Be sure to plan your travel so that you can attend. The line-up opens at 9pm at the Venetian.

Builders Fair

The Builders Fair is back and will be bigger than ever. This year, the re:Invent Builders Fair will feature over 70 projects from AWS and selected customers. Most of the 2019 AWS Summits have featured Builders Fairs on a smaller scale and the content has been fantastic.

The idea is similar to a school science fair but instead of an experiment, each station presents a complete project and the authors of the project are these to demo it and talk through the unique aspects of their efforts.

The fair is a fantastic way to see what people are building the AWS Cloud and it’s an inspiring way to spend some time during the show. The fair will spaced out between The Venetian, the MGM Grand, and the ARIA. Be sure to make time to swing by and check it out!

Hands-on Labs

The best way to learn anything is to actually use it, that’s the guiding principles of the hands-on labs at AWS re:Invent. There are over 100 labs in the catalog to choose from. Once you pick one, you can usually work through it in 30—60 minutes (depending on the lab).

Hands-on labs do not require registration, so you can walk-in when the mood strikes. However, given the popularity of these labs, I recommend giving yourself some flexibility in your schedule as you might not get in at the time you want.

In addition to the hands-on labs, there are “Spotlight Labs”. These are guided labs where an AWS instructor walks you through the lab as a group over 90 minutes. Think mini-bootcamp. You definitely need to reserve a seat ahead of time because these fill up very quickly.

Jams and Hackathons

Back again are the super popular Jams and Hackathons. AWS provides the access to the infrastructure and you and your team work to find the best solution or answer a specific set of questions.

Both of these formats provide gamified, hands-on experiences that are aimed at helping you learn how to build in the AWS Cloud.

Due to the high demand, a reserved seat is required.

The GameDay event is a simulation that challenges you and your team to keep an AWS workload running. Sounds simple enough…until you realize that the game throws a tons of real-world events and chaos your way. Can you keep your workload online and available?

Security Jam is a fun security-focused challenge that requires teams to work through a series of security challenges using AWS and APN services. The challenges are independent of each other which helps maximize the learning opportunity. This is a great way to truly understand the role security plays in your workloads.

Dev Chats

There are 19 dev chats hosted in the Developer Lounge (in the Expo at The Venetian) this year. These chats are given by community leaders and various AWS Heroes.

I had the good fortune to give a few dev chats at various AWS Summits around the world this year. These are among my favourite talks because the atmosphere is very casual and the conversations after the talks are fantastic.

These talks have a much more “meetup” vibe compared to the slightly more formal feeling of “regular” sessions. These session are listed under the code “DVC” in the session catalog (or use the “Dev Chats” filter).

As an added bonus, space in these talks is on a first come, first serve basis. There are no reserved seats here. This makes it a lot easier to just “pop in” if your schedule allows.

The Expo

Full disclaimer, I work for a long-time AWS re:Invent sponsor

Sponsors make events possible. The funds they bring in make an event of 40,000+ people a reasonable endeavour for AWS as hosts. That said, expo halls usually suck.

There’s the standard rush at the start of the week to grab all of the best snag and then…nothing. There’s usually a big drop off.

AWS re:Invent handles the expo a bit differently. In the expo (again at the Venetian), there is the AWS Village, the content theatre, the partner theatre, the developer lounge, and the builders fair.

These activities within the Expo mean that there’s a constant pulse of activity. This pulse means that the sponsors step up their game and usually staff their booths with people ready to have real conversations about the solutions they offer.

If you’re in the market for a product that addresses a particular problem, the Expo provides a great way to do some rapid fire research between competitors.

The Content Theatre is a relatively new re:Invent addition. It’s a full theatre setup that streams various other breakout sessions that are happening. This allows you to catch some talks that you might not have been able to get into or get over to see. It’s a really clever and useful idea.

The AWS Village is a massive space where AWS engineers and product leaders on-site to help guide you through the services within the AWS Cloud. Without fail, there is a massive crowd after the keynotes as new services are announced but don’t forget the existing services. If you have a specific question or just want to become more familiar with a particular service, this is spot.

My favourite place in the Expo—by far—is the Developer Lounge. This is hosts a ton of primarily community-driven talks. User group leaders, AWS Heroes, and other prominent community members give 30m talks on their latest projects and other cool things they’ve been looking into. It’s a very casual atmosphere and a great way to learn. There’s also a ton of stickers…so, so many stickers

The Quad

The Quad in the ARIA is the cool, hip expo. It hosts a Builders Fair as well as a Demo Theatre. There are usually a few surprises and themed sessions throughout the week.

As an example, last year there was a dedicated DevSecOps—ugh, I don’t like that term 🤨—day where a number of AWS engineers and APN partners explained how to tackle specific, real-world problems. I’m hoping they do something similar again this year.

Deepracer League

AWS has been hosting Deepracer events at most of the Summits this year. The winners of these events will be AWS re:Invent for the Championship cup race. A winner will be crowned at this live finale! Very cool 🤖🏎

Didn’t qualify? You can test your mettle and Deepracer model in the last qualifying event on-site at re:Invent. In addition to the races, there will be Deepracer workshops and tons of learning opportunities around the program.

Deepracer is a fun way to learn how to tune and practice with reinforcement learning.

Intersect

Not exactly part of AWS re:Invent but also not entirely separate, AWS is hosting a music festival starting on Friday night (6-Dec) and running through Saturday night (7-Dec).

This is the first time the Intersect Music Festival will be held and the initial line up looks fantastic. Hosted at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, AWS is describes the festival as, “…across multiple custom stages, rock, indie, R&B, hip-hop, dance, and country artists intersect in spaces built with their sound and culture in mind.”

The initial line-up announcement includes;

If you enjoy music, it is definitely worth considering staying on an extra night to two to check this out. Tickets are available now and have dropped in price to $169 USD and up.