This year was the one. I finally got the chance to attend re:Invent after several years of big FOMO 🙂. In this blog post, I will share my experience with you, the lessons I learned, and my tips and tricks so that you too (and hopefully my future self) can get the best out of this amazing event in the following years.
In this article, I won't go through the usual stuff like staying hydrated, getting comfortable shoes, and so on. Those topics have been covered many times already. Instead, I will try to cover other aspects I have never been told but I wish I knew.
Time flies at re:Invent, and it's easy to lose track of time (It's Vegas after all!). Here are a few things you should know for you to better plan your days.
If you're coming from a distant timezone, be sure you take jet lag into consideration. Coming from Europe, it took me two days to fully recover. The first two days upon arrival, I woke up at around 2 am without being able to go back to sleep (YMMV, maybe it's just me being old 😆). Those days have been very tiring. If you can afford it, try to arrive early enough to fully adjust your biological clock before the beginning of the event.
As you have probably read elsewhere already, reserving sessions is important to make sure that you get a spot at talks you are interested in. But what nobody tells you is that there is a cut-off time for reserved seats. Usually, it's about 15 minutes before the start of the session. I once arrived about 10 min before the start, but it was already too late. They had me go to the end of the walk-up line even though I had reserved. I'd recommend arriving about 20-30 min early. They usually let people with reserved seats in about 10-15 min before the beginning.
If you did not get a chance to reserve and want to walk up, you should show up at least 30 min before the start. There are usually plenty of overflow seats but queues are FIFO. You want to be among the firsts in line.
Also, make sure you have reserved every session you want to attend. For some reason I can't explain yet, I had a bunch of reservable sessions on my calendar that I did not reserve properly and I had to go through the walk-up line. Take the time to plan your sessions well enough in advance.
Extra tip: I've noticed some sessions still had available seats even right before they started. Still, people were queuing in the walkup line. It's worth always double-checking on the AWS events app, just in case. Even if a session is full, save it in your favorites and check it from time to time. As people plan their days, they might unreserve some sessions and you might be able to grab them.
Time windows for food are short, in my opinion, and they are also early-ish. Breakfast usually starts at 6 am and ends at 8.30 or 9 am. Lunch starts at 11 am and ends at 1.30 pm.
Those schedules are usually also very strict. I once arrived at lunch near the end, and at 1.31 pm, they were already starting to take everything away (I am not exaggerating). Result: I was deprived of dessert 😞. Don't worry, once you've grabbed food and seated, you can finish your meal at ease.
The same goes for the snacks and coffee you can find everywhere in the venues. They are usually up until 11 am. Same story: I once wanted to pick something up but needed to go to the restroom first. When I can came out, it was all gone 🙂.
What about dinner? Dinner is not included in the event, so where should you eat? Well, there are free sponsored parties almost every day at re:Invent. They usually offer free food and drinks. Just make sure you reserve if needed. Otherwise, the Strip is full of restaurants of all kinds (Ask Paul, he knows all the good plans).
💡 Tip for AWS Community Builders: CBs have a private lounge where you can go get some rest, meet other builders, etc. (this year it was at the Buddy V Ristorante). I have not spent too much time there, but I've been told there was food all day long. So it might be a good backup solution if you need (free) food at any time.
The city and campus are huge. Here are my tips to help you move around.
If you have the chance to choose the hotel you will be staying at, or can influence your company to do so, select a hotel that is on or near the campus. It will be much easier to get to and from all the different venues. My hotel was located north of the Strip, a good 30-minute walk from the nearest venue (but conveniently just next to the re:Play ground, so it was not all bad 🙂). It made it a bit harder to get to and from the campus. If you count on getting breakfast at the venues, you might need to leave a bit earlier than expected if your accommodation is located farther away.
If you can't get a hotel close enough, or if you need to move up or down the Strip to go to places that are not covered by the shuttles, I highly recommend you use the DEUCE Bus. It runs every 10 to 15 minutes in both directions (North and South bounds) and covers most venues and important locations. It's very easy to use and much more affordable than Uber. I also found it to be much more convenient, as you can just hop on from the street (at dedicated stops), as opposed to rideshares for which you need to go to the pickup location, which is not always easy to find or reach. Flagging taxis is also illegal on the Strip.
For the bus, a 3-day pass costs $20. You can also get 24-hour passes for $8. Single rides are $4. You can buy them from the rideRTC app. It will give you a QR code you can scan when boarding the bus, next to the driver.
⚠️: This year, due to construction works, I observed high delays at some times, but hopefully, this won't be the case next year. The bus can also be quite packed at times and I've seen people being denied boarding.
As you know, free shuttles are going from one venue to the other. They are very convenient and I never had to wait. However, because of traffic jams, you never know how long it can take to reach your destination. If you want to make it to a session, make sure you leave early enough. Again, this year, it might have been because of the construction work, but you never know.
I wish I had thought about it earlier, but around the middle of the event, I started recording sessions. It's much easier than taking notes. You can listen back to it later if you want. I used my Android phone recording app which conveniently also creates a transcript.
Note that Keynotes and Breakout sessions are already video recorded and uploaded to the re:Invent YouTube channel a few days later, so you don't need to worry about those.
There are lots of sessions to see and you won't be able to see them all. I'd recommend that you choose those that are a bit out of your zone of comfort. For example, I put too much importance into serverless-related sessions, where I already have expertise. In the end, I did not learn a lot new and it almost felt like I lost my time. I should have focussed more on AI/ML where I know almost nothing, for example.
Also, as I mentioned in the previous section, some sessions are recorded. So, unless you want to meet and greet the speaker or have questions, I would favor non-recorded ones. You can always catch up later on YouTube.
I know it's tempting to grab every single T-shirt and pair of socks out there at the Expo. However, think about it: When will there be an opportunity to wear them? I usually don't. In the best-case scenario, I'd use them as PJs. So, I tried to refrain from the temptation to take everything I could find. If it's going to end up in a drawer, it's not worth it, and not sustainable. Be responsible. If you think you'll give it a good use, then sure, have fun!
Also, note that there are swag donation boxes next to the Expo entrance. If you can't refuse a swag that is given to you, or change your mind later, you can deposit them there. I am not sure what they do with them but they will probably go to some charity.
This one is more for sponsors that have a booth at the Expo. Serverless Guru had a booth for the first time this year. The whole team helped talk to people visiting us and interested in our services. What I loved the most was meeting people from all around the world. Surprisingly, some people did not or barely spoke English. Fortunately, we had an amazing international team speaking several languages: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Bosnian, and even Japanese. That really helped make an impact! 💪
Even if you don't have to attend people at a booth, it might be worth learning a few words in different languages to help start some conversations 😉.
Let's be honest, one of the best things about re:Invent is being able to meet all your virtual friends in person. Therefore it's very tempting to go have a few drinks together. There is usually a party almost every day (believe in serverless, Re:Play, etc). Go out for "one beer", and the next thing you know is that you wake up the next morning with a hangover. Days are busy at re:Invent. You want to be in good shape and full of energy for the next day to be able to attend all the sessions, visit the expo, etc.
It does not mean you can't party and have fun. What has worked for me is to take it easy on alcohol, and even if I had alcohol, alternate with water or softs. You'll thank me later 😉.
Pro tip: It does not have to be "boring". There are always some delicious alcohol-free cocktail alternatives.
There are so many people at re:Invent that you probably won't be able to meet with all the people you wish. I missed so many people. I was even able to see some of them from a distance without being able to interact with them.
If there are some people you absolutely want to meet, I'd recommend you use the appropriate tools for that and plan in advance. e.g. use Peer Talk, or just send them a DM/email and ask them to meet for 10 min somewhere you agree.
Some people I met greeted me with some sweets they brought from their home country. I thought it was such a great idea! It helps break the ice, know new cultures, and start conversations. I'll make sure I do it next year for sure!
You should know that the party takes place outside, at the Las Vegas Festival Ground. It can be very chilly and windy. Make sure you bring a jacket.
The different music tents can be very loud too. Please protect your hearing. You can find earplugs at the First Aid tent. I swear it won't ruin anything and you will still enjoy the music.
Last tip: The party starts at 7.30 pm and ends at midnight, but the bar closes at 11 pm. Make sure to grab that last drink before then 🍸.
If you have time, explore and enjoy Vegas. Do something fun with your teammates! It might be a long time before you see each other again. My team and I went for some kart racing 🏎. They kicked my ass, but it was a lot of fun! We ended the day with a nice dinner.
Re:Invent is an intense week. Take some time to get some rest when you're back home. If possible, avoid getting back to work immediately. Spend time with your family and chill.
Re:Invent is one of the most exciting events I attended. I am so grateful to Serverless Guru for making this unique opportunity possible 🙏. I hope I can be back next year, meet more of you, and put all these lessons learned into practice. If you happen to be there, let me know!