First off, this post is not affiliated with AWS or the re:Invent conference. The content below contains opinions and some tips for navigating your first re:Invent conference. I believe that if you are building on AWS and want to elevate your experience, network and opportunities with the platform, re:Invent is something you need to attend and put on your calendar year over year. Let's get started and talk about attending your first re:Invent conference.
Congratulations are in order. It's a big deal to make your first re:Invent conference. Having been in the tech industry for several years, I can say without question that attending this event will not only be a blast but you will also gain a ton of experience. Pair those benefits with the amazing opportunity to network and connect with community members from around the world, and wow, it's such a great week.
It is also no small feat to carve out the 5 nights and 4 full days of your schedule including the travel required to make it there. I promise you though that if you make a plan about how to tackle the week, you will come away looking forward to next year's event as soon as you are wheels up from Harry Reid International Airport.
The AWS re:Invent Portal is your home for all key information regarding schedules, sessions, accommodations and timings. So please, whatever I write below, confirm on that portal before making final plans.
As this is my 3rd trip to re:Invent and my 2nd time bringing new attendees with me, I aim to give you some guidance based on the following topics:
- Arrival (timings)
- Accommodations (conference navigation)
- Building your schedule
- Evening activities
- General Tips
When attending your first re:Invent, I know from experience the question of "when should I get there?" comes up. Here's my take on arrival. Get there early in the afternoon on Sunday if your schedule allows it. I completely understand that if you are coming from an international location, you might be arriving on Saturday. That's 100% OK. What I'd try and avoid if possible is getting in late on Sunday night. Here's my opinion on it.
Sunday afternoon is a great opportunity to get your badge, check into your hotel and get your feet underneath you before the week. If the line at the airport is short, I'd even recommend checking into the conference from there so that you don't have to deal with finding a registration booth in one of the conference hotels. This might not be a big deal if you are staying at one of the main hotels, but if you are staying off of the list, checking in at the airport is a time saver.
Another thing I really enjoy doing is heading over to the Venetian and getting your initial swag. I'll mention the Venetian a few times throughout this as it's a hub for the conference. But to get your hoodie (which I'd expect is another swag item this year), the Venetian is where you grab that.
If this is your first time in Las Vegas in addition to re:Invent, a Sunday afternoon that is stress-free and full of time to explore will give you confidence as you make your way through the week. The Las Vegas Strip is huge. There are many people. And the hotels can be a bit overwhelming. I recommend using the afternoon to just get comfortable.
For reference, here is the link to the re:Invent campus layout.
There are many options on where to stay when attending your first re:Invent. Everyone has their preferences. You might be booking on price. You might be booking on proximity. You might also be booking on what your employer tells you. Here's my take on those things. And before reading, if you are looking for accommodations with great casino options, ignore my advice. I don't know much about gambling. :)
- Price is important. I'd rather spend my money somewhere else.
- Proximity also matters. You are going to want access to shuttles, trams or easy walking.
- Above all else, it's just a room. A place to lay your head after a long day.
Attending your first re:Invent can be overwhelming when it comes to getting around. I'd recommend for your first time, pick something that is a conference venue as well as a sleeping hotel. Now your week won't be a bust if you can't make this happen, but my opinion is that the conference is divided up into 2 halves. North and South. MGM and Mandalay Bay are on the south and the rest of the conference is up on the north end.
When staying at one of the conference hotels, you can orient days around rarely having to leave your hotel to make your sessions. I'll get into scheduling in a bit, but I find breaking up the conference into halves makes this possible.
The next thing I advise folks to do and something that should be done on Sunday. Find the shuttle location at your hotel. These are free and provided by AWS to get you to and from venues. If you orient around halves of the conference, you can walk to things that are in your half. But when you need to get down or up to the other half, the shuttle can be a way to go.
Lastly, use the tram, if it's convenient. In years past, AWS has paid for conference access to the Las Vegas monorail for the entire week. This tram is frequent, usually under-utilized and sort of a hidden gem of the conference.
My recommendation for where to stay is to shoot for the MGM Grand. It meets the criteria I laid out above.
- Sleeping and conference venue
- Shuttle access
- In the heart of the south half of the conference
- Tram access. Big bonus as the tram gets you to Caesars in no time and is accessible on the casino level of the hotel
So this portion of the article is probably where I think most people have the most confusion around. Schedule building? Why would you want to do that?
In my first year at re:Invent, I didn't really understand what this meant. But here's how I want you to think about sessions. There are reserved seats and walk-up seats in most sessions. Reserved seats guarantee you a spot in the session as long as you are there and checked in 10 minutes before the session starts. At this point, the session attendant will start letting the walk-ups into the session. First come, first serve. You will get into sessions as a walk-up, but for some, you need to be there an hour or more before to be early in the line. An hour standing in line is an hour wasted that could have been spent somewhere else.
It's for that point alone that you need to have your week as best you can plan when the calendar opens up on 10/10/2023. (10/10/23 is the start date by AWS, please check back to make sure). When the registration opens, you can begin reserving the sessions that you want. Remember, so are other conference attendees. You need to work quickly. The best way to work quickly is to plan ahead of time. Since this article is coming out on 9/24/2023, I'd start getting ready now for the date on 10/10.
Now for the topic of how you plan. I think these 2 approaches make a ton of sense.
- Schedule what you want to schedule and build in appropriate breaks and travel time. If this is you, you are committing to bouncing from venue to venue to make the sessions you want to check out.
- Schedule around location. For instance, one day stay in the south of the conference. The next visit to the north. It minimizes travel but might limit options. Look, there is plenty to check out at re:Invent but you do give up flexibility this way.
The next wrinkle in the mix is if you want to attend any of the keynotes. I recommend that you make at least two of them. Here is the list. Pick the two that you find an affinity toward attending and go for it. But know this, they will put a wrinkle in your schedule because you might want to be in the south end of the conference once a day, but that day starts at the Venetian because a keynote is going on. So plan accordingly.
Plan, plan and plan some more. It'll make the week go more smoothly.
I'm just going to touch on this briefly as there are so many options.
The days go by quickly and they are long. So I don't blame anyone for wanting a quiet dinner with friends or solo and then returning to your hotel.
However, if you still want more re:Invent, many vendors are running after-day events at places like Topgolf, restaurants and other activities. I don't have a list of what is out there, but check with your vendor of choice and just ask if you can get on a list. The worst-case scenario is that they say no and no big deal.
The last option is to check out some of the awesome places to eat with new friends. You will undoubtedly connect with others and nothing better to forge new friendships than over a meal.
You've made it through the 4 days of sessions, dinners, keynotes, shuttles and trams. Now what? Only the biggest closing event you can imagine. AWS hosts re:Play on Thursday evening at the Las Vegas fairgrounds usually starting at 7:30 PM. My timings might be off, but runs until 12:30 AM and is just a wonderful time to hang out, play games, eat some more and listen to some good music.
My opinion is that you plan to ride the tram. But a shuttle can work as well. If I recall, the tram ride from MGM is about 25 minutes or so which means leaving at 7:00 PM will get you there with time. It's then about a 10-minute walk to the gate.
Depending on how much energy you have, you'll need to gear up for this. Come hungry as there is plenty of food and drink.
If you fancy active-style games, there are usually things like climbing walls, obstacle courses and dodgeball.
If you like to hang out and chill, there are outdoor lounging areas with lanterns and heaters. There are also spots to sit and eat and hang out.
If music is your thing, there are normally two live stages. One plays a traditional band and the other hosts some amazing DJs with an EDM type experience.
Just be aware, the above is based upon my previous experiences. AWS might through some curveballs and shift things up this year, but one thing is for certain. Make plans to be there if you can afford to schedule-wise. It's an amazing time and will put a nice cap on your re:Invent experience. IT IS AMAZING.
Alright, so you've read this far. Thanks for that. I know there has been a lot of detail in this article. Please understand, that there are many ways to re:Invent. These are just my opinions formed from experiences and watching others navigate this fantastic week.
In no order.
- I talked a good bit about scheduling. Get your schedule on your calendar application. It'll help you with in-conference navigation
- Use the re:Invent application. It's great at helping you navigate and look into session details
- Be flexible. I know this goes against my plan, plan, plan statement above. But honestly, allow room for flex. And roll with the changes.
- Block time out for the expo. It's huge. Huge. I normally grab a 2 or 3-hour block on Wednesday or Thursday and forgo sessions. But you might want to look at just popping in and out while in the Venetian. That's another approach.
- Session planning - Mix up your session types.
- Breakouts - lecture-style sessions
- Workshops and Builder sessions - Building things at a table either solo or with others
- Chalk Talks - maybe my favorite but they are whiteboarding and interactive. Design and/or problem-solving type sessions
- Lightning talks - Small but powerful dev talks usually in the expo hall
- Eating and dining - take advantage of the free breakfast and lunches. The conference content areas will do this each day during the week. The food is great, quick and easy to access with many options
My hope in writing the above is that I gave you some insight into what the re:Invent looks like and how to give you an approach about how to plan for the conference. Honestly, once you visit once, you'll start to put your list of "how-tos", "must-haves" and "won't do agains". For a look back at re:Invent 2022, take a look at my re:View from last year.
I want to leave you with the following thoughts.
First and foremost, just plan to have a great time. Enjoy the conference. There is no right or wrong way to re:Invent. Only the way that fits you.
Next, branch out if you feel inclined. Just because you work in DevOps doesn't mean you can't take a breakout on ML or IoT. Find things you are interested in. You have no idea what creativity it'll spark in you.
Lastly, invest in you. You are probably traveling on your employer's expenses, but use the week to invest in yourself. By continually improving upon you, you will not only be a better employee, but you'll become a better version of yourself that benefits us all. End of the day, you matter and your growth matters.
Buckle up, re:Invent is an amazing ride. And if you are going to be in attendance this year, reach out, I'd love to meet you in person!