Wednesday, July 14, 2021

My take on "How to re:Invent"

It's back. AWS is taking over Las Vegas for a week filled with information, sales pitches, and corporate-friendly activities. And while COVID and the possibility of a “fourth wave” hang over the conference, I decided to sign up. Having been to re:Invent once, I now consider myself an expert on how to survive the week. Here are five of my suggestions.

#1: Wear comfortable shoes.
OK, everybody says this, but it bears repeating: you're going to do a lot of walking. It might take ten minutes to navigate from the front door of a hotel to the meeting rooms, following a labyrinthine path through the casino. To give you some numbers: my watch recorded 87,000 steps, or 44.6 miles, over the five days of the conference. That may be higher than average: I often walked between venues rather than find my way to the shuttle buses. But even if you “only” walk 30 miles, you'll still be thankful for doing it in a pair of running shoes.
#2: Stay in a “venue” hotel.
These are the hotels that host sessions and other sponsored content, as opposed to the “sleeping” hotels that just have rooms for attendees. There are several reasons to stay at a venue hotel, but in my opinion the most important is that it cuts down on the amount of walking that you have to do. Of my 87,000 steps, I estimate that 10,000 or more were taken up in walking from my room at the Park MGM to the Aria so that I could pick up a shuttle bus.
#3: Attend workshops, not sessions.
There are some great sessions at re:Invent, conducted by people who are intimately familiar with the service. If you have specific questions it's worth attending one of the “deep dives” and then walking up to the speaker afterward to ask those questions.

But, all of these sessions will be recorded, and you can watch them at your leisure. So if you don't have specific questions there's no reason to attend in-person. What you can't do after December 3rd is learn with an AWS instructor by your side (well, not for free anyway). Unfortunately, space for these workshops is limited, so sign up early for the ones you want (that said, scheduling at re:Invent is extremely fluid; at least half the sessions I attended were marked as full but then had spots open up an hour before they started).

#4: Fly out on Saturday.
If you're not from the United States, you may not realize that re:Invent takes place during the week after the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving is a time when people return home to visit family and friends, and then all of them get on a plane the following Sunday to return home. It's historically the busiest travel day of the year, and US airports are crowded and frantic with people who only fly on that weekend. Plus, airlines charge the highest rates of the year, because they know people will pay. Even if you have TSA/Pre, it's not fun.

If you're willing to fly out a day early, you avoid the crowds. Plus, you can save significantly on the airfare (right now, it would save me over $300, or nearly 50%). Against that, you'll be paying for an extra night in Vegas. For me, with the conference rate for the hotel, the numbers worked.

#5: Get out of Vegas.
For some people, Vegas is a destination: they love the lights, the noise, and the constant activity. For me, it's overwhelming. Fortunately, you can find thousands of square miles of absolute desolation just outside city limits.

Last time, I rented a motorcycle for a day and explored nearby attractions: Valley of Fire, Hoover Dam, and Red Rock Canyon. This year, I'm planning to take three days and explore southern Utah and northern Arizona. If you're not a motorcyclist, Vegas also has plenty of rental cars, including exotics. And at the far end of the scale, you can spend a day in a high-performance driving class at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Well, that's it. Now it's time to cross my fingers and hope the US COVID situation remains under control.

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