My First Time at AWS re:Invent
It was my first ever time at AWS re:Invent this year – 2022 – attending in-person at Las Vegas.
I found it a bittersweet experience, with way more downs than ups. The sheer scope of everything can be intimidating at times. Still, I had a nice time networking with sponsors and other individuals there; I even snapped a photo with “Tom Cruise” at the Expo there. All that said – I honestly don’t know if I’ll be back at AWS re:Invent next year .
To its credit, the annual event had its highlights certainly, and though I found the party and social scene to be sorely lacking and ungratifying overall – it was one of the most crowded events that I have ever attended, tech-related or even otherwise.
So, a bit of background here – I entered stage as a first-time attendee at AWS re:Invent this year, which occurred live and in-person, at a smattering of venues spread out across the eponymous campus in Las Vegas.
In case the event information on the linked site (above) is eventually taken down or archived, I am including the event conferences dates and location here, purely for reference purposes:
|Event||Host||Time||Days of Week||Location|
|re:Invent||Amazon – AWS||NOV. 28 – DEC. 2, 2022||Monday - Friday||LAS VEGAS, NV|
That’s all well, but now let’s fast-forward to the million-dollar question – what exactly is re:Invent?
What Is It?
Pray tell, what exactly is re:Invent?
Well, to summarize and distill the essence of the answer to the one big question – posted and available for public viewership and intended for general consumption, on the FAQs page for the event:
AWS re:Invent is an annual, week-long learning conference hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS) for the global cloud computing community.
The in-person event features keynote announcements, training and certification opportunities, access to 1,500+ technical sessions, the Expo, after-hours events, and so much more.
Also to clarify, in case it’s not clear – Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a subsidiary of Amazon, and is a cloud service provider which serves millions of clients and customers, providing a platform for cloud computing.
It is, additionally, a lucrative platform – in fact, close to 75% of Amazon’s operating profit comes from Amazon Web Services (AWS) alone. AWS also helps fuel over a million organizations and businesses, including ones such as Twitter and Netflix (source).
My current organization, in particular – The College Board – invests heavily in AWS. We invest a lot of cloud-native resources in AWS, and utilize a lot of services offered on the platform. I have even created some projects that leverage services and tools on, or deploy to, an AWS account or environment.
Switching back to the topic at hand – AWS uses re:Invent as a platform to announce new up-and-coming AWS features and services. However, for the vast majority of the attendees and sponsors – we rely on re:Invent as a learning and networking opportunity, to learn about new offerings from AWS and any worthwhile community-driven or open-source projects, and of course, to connect with (other) individuals, sponsors, and organizations.
That’s all well, but who should actually attend re:Invent?
When it comes to the question of the type of audience that AWS re:Invent is intended for, or more specifically who should attend re:Invent:
The event is ideal for developers and engineers, system administrators, systems architects, IT executives, and technical decision makers.
As a software developer, attending a tech event like re:Invent was especially lucrative, and I had hoped and expected to upskill myself to a degree – when it came to all things AWS – and garner a certain modicum of knowledge from it.
I had never before attended a (large) tech conference such as this before, not even virtually or online.
Apparently, it was necessary for re:Invent to go completely virtual on 2020 – two years ago. This made a whole lot of sense really, since the majority of the world was in the midst (and throes) of the ongoing COVID Pandemic at around that time.
In fact, 2020 was technically the first full year that COVID had to spread, so the world was truly introduced (and exposed) to COVID-19 at around that time.
So yes, it appears re:Invent in 2020 took place completely online.
According to sources, re:Invent 2021 transitioned back to in-person – with vaccination and mask requirements – in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I perceive these safeguards and guidelines as a perfectly normal (and justified) reaction to COVID.
In fact – I also attended PyCon in-person earlier this year, and everyone (including me) was required to wear facial masks for the entirety of the conference – in all the talks and lectures, and especially in the hallways and meeting areas of the Salt Palace Convention Center.
The only place we were allowed to take off our masks was during lunch or breaktime, which made sense as – normally – people cannot consume drink or food with masks on. And yes, to summarize and clarify, this mandated requirement was indeed a mighty inconvenience, but honestly a necessary measure and precaution in these uncertain times – speaking of the period (inclusive) of 2020-2022. Indeed, I can now truly ascertain the benefits of it – I did not catch COVID (or any other illness) while I was in Utah, attending PyCon, earlier this year.
Some sources claim there were fewer attendees for re:Invent last year, 2021 – around 25,000 people, or close to half the amount of usual attendees – at least based on numbers from the pre-pandemic era. I suppose this makes sense, as the world as a whole was still recovering from the COVID Pandemic at around that time, and a lot of people still (such as me) opted not to attend the event in-person that year at all.
That’s not even taking into account the registration costs for individual attendees – attending the full conference in person costs $1799; but you can view a lot of the events live and virtually for free.
Me attending AWS re:Invent this year, turned out to be something of a fluke and a “happy accident”, and in all honesty – it wasn’t something I had really planned on doing. The idea (to attend) was brought up, I promptly accepted, ended up going – and I wouldn’t change a thing in these regards.
That taken into account, it most decidedly turned out to be a cool experience that I was able to attend re:Invent in person this year, 2022. Certainly not life-altering or earth-shattering, and speaking rather candidly – it was rather devastating and mentally-exhausting in many respects.
But, the real question here is:
Would I attend such an event again? Was it truly worth it?
Read on to learn the answer to that and more.
In fact, I should pin the above question and address it in the conclusion section, summarizing in a couple sentences. In all honesty, that would be a worthwhile goal or a key takeaway from this altogether brief article that I have cobbled together in my free time, once setting aside the sufficient and altogether necessary time required to reflect on my time in Vegas attending the tech event.
But anyways, I digress here. And by the way, this article is still a work-in-progress for now. So expect full-stops and potholes in the road ahead. This is all part of my re:Invent Somewhat Personal Journal Experience™️.
How It Happened
In early October of this year (2022), my manager originally posted a message on Teams:
[10/5 12:33 PM] anyone interested in going to aws:reinvent. budget is limited
I replied with something, to the effect of:
Yes, please – sign me up! I’d love to attend, as I’m rather bored and also it’s nearing the end of the year so things are winding down, and so I believe this would an interesting and/or cool experience for me to attend a tech event this year 😊.
OK, so maybe that’s not exactly how I replied. However, long story short, I did willingly cast my name in the ballot, so the declaration of intent was clear and spelled out for all.
To expand a little bit on my thought process at this stage, though I’d never attended an event such as this before, I had watched a few tech-related re:Invent videos from years past, so I knew at a high level that such a tech event existed. However, I had never attended this conference before, so I really had no idea what to expect or any clue of how to prepare for it.
Still, as I mentioned before – my organization was really big into AWS, and I also had a preference for deploying and managing infrastructure in AWS when it came to all things cloud. I also really preferred the user interface (UI) and the overall user experience when it came to navigating the AWS console and its myriad offerings, at least when I compared it against a competing cloud provider such as Microsoft Azure for example.
In any case, I was excited about attending AWS re:Invent, since I have interfaced a lot (and frequently) with Amazon Web Services in a professional setting, and I was pretty glad at the opportunity to attend an event where I got to learn new things and also socialize with other attendees there – sort of like knocking out two birds with one stone, if you will.
The idea of looking a gift horse in the mouth, or even concerning myself with financial matters and logistics such as booking, travel, stay, and other fees, didn’t even cross my mind. I was still wrapped up in excitement and anticipation over attending an official tech/learning event hosted by AWS.
It was still up in the air whether I would be green-lighted to attend or not, however I was – at a minimum – happy and glad that my organization was in the midst of making plans to send a few of us to the learning event in-person this year.
Shortly thereafter, my skip-level manager replied in a group chat, with my manager and me:
[11/4 1:25 PM] Important! @Nag, Ritvik - Just heard, you are approved to travel for AWS Reinvent. Congrats!
I was rather elated at that point, and struggled to contain my excitement; however, I hadn’t booked or finalized anything yet. I was still busy with work-related things, as well as coursework for some graduate-level classes I was attending part-time, during after-work hours. Hence, I understandably put off the event registration and logistical matter of booking travel and a place to stay, for a little longer than I should have.
As I was the new kid on the block when it came to AWS re:Invent and – more generally – when it came to getting my company to financially sponsor me for an event that involved travel and booking a hotel, I was also mighty unclear on the (organization-approved) method or approach to book airfare or handle travel-related expenses.
I wasted a lot more time than intended, as I was still trying to figure it out, and piece together the various parts of the puzzle. I needed a guiding hand to direct me on the next steps to take; towards that end, I contacted individuals within my organization who likely would be able to nudge me in the right direction.
I had initially reached out to my manager, who mentioned looking into something called a corporate P-Card. I only much later found out what a P-Card was – that the P stands for Purchasing, and that it’s a corporate-issued card for employees and used to make payments on behalf of their employer, for instance.
I wasn’t on the surest of footing in terms of the process of applying for a P-Card, and additionally I got the impression it was completely outside of my domain of expertise. This was way out of my depth, and I was starting to tread uncharted waters, without knowing how deep the well went; I also had no idea on how to go about acquiring such a corporate card. This also seemed rather like overkill to me – after all, did I really need to jump through so many (corporate) hoops to simply record any expenses, when the time came to make the altogether necessary transactions? And wouldn’t a personal credit card be much easier, after all? The answers to such burning questions were left largely unanswered, however I could feel a lot of doubt and uncertainty bubbling up and accumulating within me.
However, largely and as a whole, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief, as I later learned I did not need to apply for a P-Card in my scenario; since P-Cards were ideal for employees who were traveling more frequently (generally twice at least) in a given year, and I really did not satisfy the stipulations of this criteria in my current scenario.
I also got led around the block for what felt an inordinate amount of time, as I was essentially bounced back and forth against the wall for a while. Although I had reached out to my manager, I did not glean the necessary details I needed to make an informed decision. My manager, in turn, directed me to a point of contact who, again, had their hands tied as they were not part of the department that oversaw or managed travel and expenditures. To their credit, this person was able to point me in the right direction, to an individual who was able to field a now-burgeoning list of questions that I had.
Thus, I eventually – like the lone sprinter bursting through bureaucratic red tape of a finish line, with arms outstretched high over their head, a wide smile gracing their bright and enthusiastic face – wound up checking with a person in our organization who oversaw travel/expenses, on the process of booking everything (flight, stay, registration, etc.) for the event, as this was my first exposure to travel- and expense- related events, especially when it came to signing up for a learning conference my company was sponsoring me to attend.
My questions were received in a candid and friendly manner. While I did not get an influx of new information in the form of relentless, frothing tidal waves that threatened to overwhelm me and upend the foundations of my understanding, there were certainly enough sentences and takeaways that let me satiated, to the point where I could put my foot down and unequivocally state I had enough to go on – kind of like sipping a glass of fresh-squeezed OJ to slake a dry and parched throat. It was just enough load to not run the risk of tipping over the boat, so to say.
The answer that I got more or less, gave me a few key points and clarifications:
- I could pay for everything with a personal credit card.
- If I was going to be traveling more than twice a year, I could consider applying for a corporate card, but this was not a hard and fast rule and certainly not a cornerstone for recording booking and payments in any sense.
- All travel (and hotel) should be booked through Concur – our company travel site.
- There was, additionally, a help section on the site that featured travel and expense resources for me to look through if I required additional clarification, or a refresher on the Concur training I’d gotten out the way when I initially joined more than a year ago – and yes, my memory was certainly rusty at this point, so it was indeed worth it to skim through so I could round out my expertise and cement my understanding of such an undertaking, especially in the (likely) case I found myself in the same shoes in the future.
- If one is attending a conference where they have a room block set up, booking can be done directly through that if the rate is better.
- To be honest, I did not make use of this one nugget of information when doing the (last-minute) booking on our travel portal for the first time. I might keep this in mind for next time, as I did note on the main events site for re:Invent that hotel blocks for better rates certainly appears to be a thing. The good news is that hotel blocks for the event are offered, as AWS potentially has a partnership or agreement with the nearby hotel venues; however, at the time that I booked it, such blocks might very well have been sold out by then.
A week later – on November 11th – I proceeded to book my round-trip flight + hotel on our company travel portal on Concur, to and from the destination site (Las Vegas), after signing in with our company SSO.
I will attach more details when time allows. These are the vagaries and sketched outlines of the travel information:
- The cheapest flight was with a connecting flight to LAS from Denver, CO – for about 1 and a half hours of layover.
- The company suggested airlines is United, so I booked this one exclusively.
- The cheapest hotel rates was for a 3-star hotel about a 10-minute Uber drive from the venues for re:Invent.
- The hotel rates for ones closer by (such as Wynn) was much higher at about 5000$, which I was pretty sure my company would not cover the costs for.
The weeks leading up to re:Invent was hectic and busy time for me, as I was actually taking some time off in the prior weeks. More specifically, I joined my family on a road trip down to Florida for the Thanksgiving week, so I had to take some time off from work here and there.
Thus, this lead to me booking the actual registration (conference pass) for re:Invent as an individual attendee much later than originally anticipated. In all honesty, it was a week or two after I booked all the hotel/airfare via the company travel portal.
The costs for the individual conference pass for the event (i.e. registration) totaled to exactly $1,799. In case anyone wonders, that is definitely a pretty significant drop in the bucket. And I’d attended PyCon earlier in the year too, and the registration costs for that was only about $300 or so – of course this was all out-of-pocket for me, as this was a personal decision to attend the event. So yeah, definitely costliest fees for a tech conference event that I’ve ever seen, but hey, it is what it is 🤷♂️.
And well, also, it helps if your company reimburses you for it – which thankfully mine does 👍.
The Meat and Potatoes
Let’s now get into the nitty-gritty, and delve into the “meat and potatoes” as a colleague at work likes to call it.
When (and in which city) did the live and in-person event for re:Invent take place?
The event conferences times and location:
|Time||Days of Week||Location||My Stay Duration|
|NOV. 28 – DEC. 2, 2022||Monday - Friday||LAS VEGAS, NV||NOV. 27 - DEC. 3, 2022|
Where (specifically) did the event take place?
Well, the event – which included the talks, labs, and breakout sessions – was spread out across a couple different venues, which were essentially giant “casino hotels” that could house thousands of people.
|The Venetian||5||Yes indeed, I hung out here most of the time 🥳.|
|Caesar’s Forum||1||There’s a walkway connecting to it inside the Venetian, 2nd level.|
|Encore||–||I never got a chance to visit this venue during my time there.|
|MGM Grand||1||Only got a chance to visit here once; there was a cool DeepRacer room with a demo and racing game here.|
|Mandalay Bay||1||I attended a session with someone I met here once.|
How many people attended re:Invent 2022?
At least 50,000 individuals attended re:Invent in-person in Las Vegas this year, by some counts.
From others at the event, I also heard (first-hand) some other numbers thrown around – by some estimations it might have been closer to 80,000 attendees for the tech learning event.
These are still pretty big numbers, so I think we can safely estimate the head-count for AWS re:Invent 2022 as being somewhere in the ballpark range of 50,000 - 110,000 attendees.
Based on my personal experience wandering the wide, spacious, and seemingly endless hallways of some of the more popular venues such as The Venetian, I can confirm that this estimation of the amount of individuals seems to be accurate; to be honest, there were certainly a lot of people there, easily numbering in the thousands alone, at least from what I could tell.
How It Went Down
TODO. In progress.
Conclusion + Wrap-up
TODO. In progress.
I learned that there are a following tips or key takeways of what not to do at (a tech conference such as) AWS re:Invent, especially when you are attending it for the very first time.
What not to do or attempt:
Talk to – or attempt to pick up – girls (or members of the opposite sex) in a social setting. Examples:
- In any of the (mostly official) re:Invent- and company- sponsored parties
- At any of the grand, communal sit-down areas for included breakfast / lunch hosted at the various hotel venues
- At the Expo, where so many companies showcase their products
- And yes, this is no joke. I made the mistake of aimlessly walking around and chatting with the sponsors there for way too long, rather than asking about potential career openings or looking for networking opportunities via LinkedIn or similar.
Make friends with – or strike up conversations with – random strangers, or attempt to expand your social circle.
- Just don’t. Ideally, find a group, and come to re:Invent with said group. I learned way too late, and learned the hard way, that re:Invent is not the place to socialize or meet friends. It is purely a tech networking event, intended to connect with people on social/professional sites such as LinkedIn.
For the duration of the stay, turn on profile discovery on a (previously deleted) dating app such as Tinder, in an (admittedly desperate) attempt to find / connect with locals in the area.
- Ouch. This made me remember why I had uninstalled Tinder and removed my profile from being discovered and/or broadcast to other locals in the area to even begin with. This has to be the single worst app and user experience, in the history of ever.
Book hotels and flight only a few weeks before (or leading up to) the event.
Book early on, so that you can get good rates, and also ideally book a hotel within walkable distance of the venues.
- Examples: Treasure Island, Wynn, Venetian
Forget (conveniently) to register for any events on the AWS Events app, or attempt to register on the same day of the events.
- I made this mistake as a first-time attendee, since I wasn’t even aware that I needed to register for events to attend them. Turns out, it was a pretty significant mistake to make. If you try to register for events on the day of the events, most of the times it won’t let you as the events (breakout sessions, talks, labs, etc.) will be full already; you can still walk-up, but it’s not guaranteed and also it wastes a lot of time.
- Lessons learned: Don’t do this. Register for events early on, and plan your schedule in advance, so that you are guaranteed to attend the events you are interested in.
I will likely add to the list above, depending on what things I think of, that I should have or shouldn’t have attended at re:Invent.
Honestly, my thoughts are a jumble right now, so sorting them out and sifting through them might take a great deal more time than I had originally intended.
Now, moving on to the big question:
Would I attend such an event again? Was it truly worth it?
Short answer, I would respond with a, maybe and yes, respectively.
Let’s proceed to break it down:
I would attend AWS re:Invent again, given the following condition is met:
- I have (and/or have previously connected with) at least one person to attend re:Invent with. Examples:
- A close friend
- A girlfriend
- A colleague
- A group of people (from work or otherwise) that I personally know and/or have exchanged contact information with before attending the event.
Was it truly worth it?
I skipped out on most of the Keynotes, as I was either walking to a next event, in a quiet study area trying to get things done, talking with someone at lunch, or a hundred other things; however, I heard the Keynotes in particular are always recorded, so they are available to be watched using streaming services such as YouTube.
I struggled more than I should have, with connecting to other people and with picking up girls at AWS re:Invent this year. Honestly, it was a lost cause on both of those fronts. However, those are part of the lessons learned, and something to avoid attempting the next time.
Long story short, always either come with a group, or with your girlfriend, or a close personal friend, or a friend at work. Trust me, trust me, trust me. This is the absolute best advice I can give, especially in the context of a “message in a bottle” contained within a time capsule and sent to my past self. Just don’t talk to strangers at the event, expecting anything in return. It is a literal lost cause, and you will hate yourself for doing it.
However, in the grand scope of things, and now that I’ve had sufficient time to think about AWS re:Invent and reflect on my one week in Vegas, I can decidedly say that it was worth it as a first-time experience, if nothing else.
Yes, it was worth it. Worth the hardships, and the struggles, and the mental pain and anguish, and even worth spending an entire day bedridden due to a fever and headache as a result of COVID / Flu.
It was worth it, because I got a chance to visit Las Vegas the first time in a long, long time. It was kind of like homecoming in a sense, even though I rarely ever stepped foot in the outdoors of Las Vegas, and never got to go to any of the famed magic shows, casinos, or any of the myriad other attractions.
It was worth it, because I got to meet one or two cool people there, both from different parts and corners of the world. One person in particular – I am glad that our paths crossed, if only at least once.
It was worth it, because I got to check out the buzz and experience firsthand what AWS re:Invent was all about. I went in person, and attending some really cool talks and breakout sessions. I attended at least one Keynote where there was a speaker (Dr. Werner Vogel), and I thought that talk was kind of cool and interesting, even if I only understood half of what the talk was about. But still, it was an interesting experience to go to the various venues there, and literally spend hours walking around inside the casino hotels such as the Venetian (spoiler: it’s really huge!).
It was worth it, because I got to go to the DeepRacer room, where I got to play a cool arcade/racing game, where I drove around and completed laps in a virtual race car, and where I also got to face off and compete against an AI to see which of us could finish first (spoiler: it was me – yay!). And I got to see some cool things on display such as the Amazon Electric-powered Delivery Van, and got to snap some photos of it with me included in it.
It was worth it, because I got to attend the Expo, and meet all the different sponsors from the various companies, and just got an opportunity to level-set and just have casual conversations, as well as networking opportunities, with them. I even connected with a handful of people on LinkedIn that I chatted with. Someone even snapped a photo of with me with “Tom Cruise” – that I promptly posted on LinkedIn.
But yes, overall, it was worth it. And I do not regret going to AWS re:Invent for the first time this year, 2022 – even though I regretted a lot of things I did do at the event, once there.
It was a most decidedly bittersweet experience for me, but I am glad I got the opportunity to attend in-person at a tech networking event such as this, even if it will be my only time ever attending it in-person. It was a good experience for me, and now I can actually say that I attended AWS re:Invent in-person at least once in my life. And yes, I can say that my company sponsored me attending the event in Las Vegas this year; because it will be true 😄.
Signing off, I have had a great time with collecting and organizing my thoughts in my Personal Journal here, and I am glad to post this on my personal website / blog. I do not regret anything I have written or posted here, as I try to bring forth my truest self possible. And this helps me remember, how it actually went down.
Thanks all, and happy holidays.
Fa-la-la to all, and merry holidays 🎊, from the time and place of: December 2022, hailing from the “sufficiently cold enough” Northern Virginia area.
Article last updated: Dec. 25, 2022
- Ritvik N.