How I Get the Most Out of #AWS re:Invent 2018

I am not an expert, and I only went to re:Invent for the first time last year, but I have been to a quite a number of conferences over the years.

So here come my thoughts about making the most of the crazy week in Vegas.


The (regular) sessions

Contrary to what you might think, going to sessions where you have a speaker (or speakers) up on stage going through a slide deck, or a panel of speakers talking about a subject - is where you should be, is not a good use of your time.

There are currently 2358 sessions and activities listed on the portal (a good portion of them are repeats - but hell that is a lot of content)sessions

Almost all of the sessions (I will get back this in a few minutes) are recorded and therefore can be consumed after the event - in the car, on the bus or train - or even in the air during your travels.

Here is a podcast feed (http://aws-reinvent-audio.s3-website.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/2017/2017.html) for all 2017 sessions for your listening pleasure.

That is why you can spend your time better elsewhere.

The Builder / Chalk Talk / Workshop sessions

Here is where I would spend my time. The cost of re:Invent (if you paid the full price) is $1,800 for 4.5 days (Friday is a short day). These are the sessions that will not be recorded and where I will probably get the most benefit
(and here are some of my interests). The value I receive is from doing things that I learn from, not by being a passive listener, but by actively participating in a discussion or an activity.

Chalk talks

This is similar to getting a design session and time with an AWS expert in their field and diving deep into a specific subject. Most of the sessions are level 300/400 - which meant they are advanced and highly technical. The rooms are small - usually no more than 50-100 people and the participants there are usually people that are looking for a very specific answers about the journey they have embarked on - or are about to.

ARC210-R - SaaS Jumpstart: A Primer for Launching Your SaaS Journey
ARC213-R - Architecting for the Cloud
ARC216 - SaaS Operations: The Foundation of SaaS Agility
ARC301 - Cost Optimization Tooling
ARC306 - Breaking up the Monolith
ARC310-R - From One to Many: Diving Deeper into Evolving VPC Design
ARC317-R - Reliability of the Cloud: How AWS Achieves High Availability
ARC325 - SaaS Analytics and Metrics: Capturing and Surfacing the Data That's Fundamental to Your Success
ARC326-R1 - Migrating Single-Tenant Applications to Multi-Tenant SaaS
ARC408 - Under the Hood of Amazon Route 53

Builder Sessions

Looking for some personal time with an SA on a specific topic, and even better - you get to build the solution at hand with the guidance from the expert on-hand. Pure learning experience.

ANT402-R - Securing Your Amazon Elasticsearch Service Domain
ARC415-R - Building Multi-Region Persistence with MySQL


Again - a hands-on learning experience - 2-3 hours of sitting down on a specific topic getting my hands dirty...

ARC404 - Designing for Operability: Getting the Last Nines in Five-Nines Availability
ARC315-R1 - Hands-On: Building a Multi-Region Active-Active Solution
ARC327-R1 - Hands-on SaaS: Constructing a Multi-Tenant Solution on AWS
ARC403 - Resiliency Testing: Verify That Your System Is as Reliable as You Think
CMP403-R1 - Running Amazon EKS Workloads on Amazon EC2 Spot Instances
DEV303-R2 - Instrumenting Kubernetes for Observability Using AWS X-Ray and Amazon CloudWatch
DEV306-R - Monitoring for Operational Outcomes and Application Insights: Best Practices
GPSWS402 - Continuous Compliance for Modern Application Pipelines
GPSWS407 - Automated Solution for Deploying AWS Landing Zone
NET410 - Workshop: Deep Dive on Container Networking at Scale on Amazon EKS, Amazon ECS, & Amazon EC2
SEC331-R1 - Find All the Threats: AWS Threat Detection and Remediation
SEC337-R - Build a Vulnerability Management Program Using AWS for AWS


Want to geek out and build something, play a game or solve a whodunnit quest? This is where I will get my game on.  Some are for fun, some are for fame, and others just for plain doing some good.

Giving back

Being at re:Invent is something that is fun, and usually something that can involve consumption of many things. Food, alcohol, entertainment and even your hard earned cash. Me being me - I prioritize giving back to others  as part of my daily life. Spending a week at a conference only receiving is not something I am comfortable with.
So as a result I will be spending some of my time  here https://reinvent.awsevents.com/play/giving-back
The BackPack for Kids program provides bags of nutritious, single-serving, ready-to-eat food items each Friday to children who might otherwise go without during weekends and long breaks from school. Come by the Venetian Sands Foyer to get involved and help put together a backpack or two! Learn more about Three Square here.


Event though the keynotes can be consumed from a live stream - there is something about sitting in a room (or a huge hall) with a boatload of people - where Andy Jassy goes up on stage and bombards you with all the new features that are coming (some that will only be available sometime in the future). But still it is quite mesmerizing and if you have not been in one of these keynotes - I would suggest you go. It is quite an experience.

The Certification Lounge

As Corey Quinn just wrote a few days ago
it's a $100 lounge pass with a very odd entrance questionnaire
If you have an AWS certification - go to the lounge - it is a place to get away from the other 49,000 others in the hallways and the constant buzz around you.

The Expo

Do not under any circumstances miss going to the Expo floor. To really make proper use of the floor - I would say you will need a good 6-8 hours of your schedule (don't do it one shot though). Go to the vendors, especially the smaller ones that don't have the huge booths. Look at your competition, speak to people, make yourself known. Yes you will be bombarded after the show with sales calls - but all it takes is a simple "Sorry not interested anymore" and most vendors will leave you be.

Social media

I don't think I could get by without following what is going on in Twitter.
I have a search column dedicated for re:Invent (already for the past month)


I will also be checking the og-aws Slack channel to co-ordinate snark about the announcements and on-goings at the event and also some face to face meetings with some of the people that I only have met through their avatars.

(And as always the great set of posts at the Guide of Guides is invaluable.)

See you all in 2 weeks!


Events as a Service (EaaS)

Most vendors that perceive themselves as a market leader will have a major annual event (some will even have multiple events in different geographical locations).

Here are few of these major events that come to mind:

And every year we come around to the registration and scheduling of sessions to these events, and they almost always suck... 

(I am going to use re:invent as the victim here - but I am sure that the experience is probably the same with most conferences) 

There are more than enough things that one could find wrong with the way things go at a conference - and I am not diminishing the problems one little bit.

I would like us all to view it in a different perspective.

The companies that hold these events - are tech companies. They are great at selling technology, great at creating some amazing technology. An of course they also have people that are in charge of events and marketing - but it is not their core business. 

I do not underestimate the impact a good event can have on your product - or how a bad event can damage a company's brand - that is why companies like these spend many millions of dollars on events like this. But again that is not what they are trying to sell,  they are not trying to sell an event. They are not event planners, this is something we seem to forget from time to time especially when things are not optimal (another polite way of saying that they suck).

They outsource the events to an external company.

The signs, the transport, the advertising, the venue, website, the on-site services, scanners, the food - and yes - even the mobile app. All of these do not belong to any one of these companies they are all provided as part of the service that another company sells to these market leaders.

It does not make sense for any of the large vendors to bring up an event all by themselves. For an event that is sometimes no more than 5 days in a year - they will not maintain all the dedicated resources (physical, human and virtual) for just one event. 

So it make sense to outsource it all. And they do.

There are a few vendors out there that are capable of bringing up events on this scale - such as Cvent or Lanyon and if you ask me - they do a pretty good job.

There are always things that can be improved. The app could be better (this year there are significant improvements in the re:Invent app experience 😃 ) The registration could be better, the directing of human traffic at the conference could better, the list could go on and on.

Is IS the job of the tech vendor marketing teams to demand from these event companies to improve from one event to another and get better from year to year. To make sure the food is better, improve registration, make sure that the (also human) traffic flows. 

If I look at this from a technology perspective - it is a classic case of consuming something aaS (As a Service). AWS provides us with infrastructure, and they maintain software. but they do not employ all the people that put the chips on the motherboards of every server in their datacenters. They do have people that provide input into the design of the servers - in order for them to operate more efficiently, and in turn provide a better service to their customers (you and me). 

I would not expect them to have chip designers or assembly plants on the payroll to allow them to run their business. They outsource / contract that work from a 3rd party. 

They contract / outsource their event management. All the big companies do - it makes perfect financial sense. 

Does that mean we should stop bitching about the food, the lines, the app? Hell no! By providing constructive criticism (or complaining) we make things better, because that is what we the customer demand. And these event management companies - will hopefully improve.

Some food (pun intended) for thought - when you are your next conference. 


The #AWS Visio Stencils

It seems like only yesterday, but it was actually almost 10 years ago when I gave something awesome to the VMware community - the first version of the VMware stencils.

The reason I did this was because at the time - there was no decent set of VMware stencils out there - so I took the initiative and created a set. And I subsequently set out to update them over the years.
I have a small confession. The VMware Visio stencils have been the biggest driver of traffic to my blog over the years. Even till this day - I have a minimum of 5000 monthly views (and this on a post that is more than 5 years old).

And I already hear you say - there is already a number of architectural Visio icon sets available - and even an official one from AWS - you can find them here. (I assume that the graphics are going to be updated just before / after re:Invent - with the new design that they have released a few weeks ago, in the meantime - only the current one is available)

There are other tools that have online graphics as well. LucidChart, Cacoo, Creately, draw.io, Cloudcraft (the only vendor who has original graphics - the rest are all the standard AWS icons). 
If you are following some of the AWS community work - will probably have heard of Jerry Hargrove (better know as @awsgeek). He actually works at Lucidchart and is famous for his unbelievable sketch notes on AWS and their products. Not only are they beautiful, clear and sometimes even really funny, they are also very informative and extremely useful.

Jerry was also recently awarded the honor of AWS community Hero.
I mean really - these are a real work of art!!


So without further ado I present to you version 1.0 of the AWS Community Visio Stencils.
Jerry was kind enough to allow me to use his graphics and provide the AWS community with a set of graphics - that (in my opinion) are not only more appealing to the eye - but are just plain fun!!

40 icons of AWS services.
  • API Gateway
  • AppStream
  • Athena
  • Cloudfront
  • CloudTrail
  • CloudWatch
  • Code Build
  • Code Pipeline
  • Comprehend
  • Directory Service
  • EBS
  • EC2
  • EFS
  • Elastic Beanstalk
  • ElasticCache
  • ELB
  • GuardDuty
  • IAM
  • Kinesis
  • KMS
  • Lambda
  • Lambda Edge
  • Machine Learning
  • Neptune
  • RDS
  • Redshift
  • Rekognition
  • Route53
  • S3
  • SES
  • SNS
  • SQS
  • Step Functions
  • Storage Gateway
  • VMware on AWS
  • VPC
  • VPC Endpoint
  • WAF
  • WorkSpaces
  • xRay
All of the graphics are from Jerry's artwork.
Each of the Icons is resizable
If you so please, the blue background can be removed.
You can modify the text on each icon.
Each icon has 9 possible anchor points.
All yours to use for free, to modify, and diagram to your hearts content.

And yes - this is only the beginning...  There are over another 200 graphics and icons that I will be taking out of these sketches and converting them into usable icons for your diagramming pleasure.

v1.0 is available for download here

I would love to hear your feedback!

Update Dec. 13, 2018

Today I have released version 1.1 of the Stencils. Here is what changed.

  1. New AWS Product icon - DynamoDB
  2. I decided to add a few additional stencils

    a. People


    b. Icons

    c. Shapes and Banners


Enjoy!! There is still more to come.

v1.0 is available for download here
v1.1 is available for download here: