AWS re:Invent - Stacking The Odds In Your Favour

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So the hottest conference is hitting Las Vegas once again. AWS re:Invent is about to descend on the Entertainment Capital of the World, where the geeks will get to show off for a change. You have your ticket, you know the agenda — let the games begin.

Games? Going to re:Invent is not as simple as buying the ticket and showing up at the door. To make the most of it, you need to have a game plan, a clear set of tactics and strong will power. Think of it as a game of Monopoly. Location and timing is everything — after all, there will be around 50,000 attendees and 2,500 breakout sessions all competing for your time and attention.

Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Before you pass GO, what do you want to get out of AWS re:Invent 2019? Education on technical best practices covering topics such as cloud architecture, continuous deployment, security and identity, large-scale migrations? Certifications? Hands-on experience at day-long technical bootcamps, self-paced labs, two-hour workshops or hackathons? Once you have decided what you want, you need to set clear, actionable goals for yourself and your team. Here is a personal example from last year:

  1. Gain 1 new certification in the Big Data Specialty and attend technical workshops on Machine Learning.

  2. Locate at least 10 C-level personnel to discuss Well Architectured Reviews on their current applications hosted on AWS.

  3. Gather at least 45 (relevant!) business cards and give out 100.

  4. Identify at least 10 other AWS Partners to create partnerships with to deliver value added services.

As Co-Founder and CTO of OSO DevOps the best advice I can give is to use your time wisely. The most crucial resource when visiting AWS re:Invent is your time. You need to make the most of it. To do so, proper planning via the AWS Events app is essential. You need to set clear objectives to accomplish. Set your goals first for re:Invent, then decide if those goals are achievable with the sessions you have planned — attend the sessions which are levelled to your understanding.

The Game, The Tactics, The Winners, The Losers

To win at AWS re:Invent 2019, you need to be efficient. Download the AWS Events app and highlight the keynote speakers you want to find in your calendar, so you know who you want to learn from, and where they will be. Divide the rest of your day into side events, bootcamps and networking. Study the map of the venues, identify key access points, stage access points, restaurants and of course the toilets!

Try to attend as many side events, breakout sessions and workshops as possible. Smaller events mean it is easier to network and communicate with people, these may not be your key targets but can help with your overall goals and knowledge of AWS. Don’t just follow the crowds. Often a major speaker will appear on a smaller stage right after their big performance — note these down and roll along.

Identify The Key Players

To be a winning player you will have a clear game plan including who you want to meet, how are you going to approach them and where you plan to invest your (Monopoly) money…or time. Unfortunately that is not enough. You need to make a lasting impression, do your research on the key players and their organisations before the game begins. Find out their career history (on LinkedIn), and what their hobbies and interests are outside of business. Personality and relationships trump all. If someone trusts you, believes in your vision and skills, and is able to build a working relationship with you - why would they not pursue a conversation?

Know what the key players look like and where they are located on the monopoly board so you can identify them quickly. Contact them prior to the event via LinkedIn or Twitter, previous contact works as an excellent conversation opener.

Chance and Community Chest - aka your event badge and business cards, ensure they are named correctly. Have business cards sized correctly — most people hate carrying around oversized pieces of paper. And ALWAYS make notes at the time.

Use business cards to summarise your discussions on the back. You can use this information as your get out of jail free card - when you’re suffering from jetlag and 1000 emails to catch up on, trying to remember your conversation 2 hours later, let alone 2 weeks later will be a challenge.

Networking — Building Your Empire

So you are finally ready to start the game. You know where you will find key players, who they are and what you are going to talk about. BUT, you must remember time is key. Here are a few tips to make you more efficient:

  • Use social media: LinkedIn and Twitter are your best friends! Use the #reinvent hashtag to guarantee your posts gain valuable exposure. Those who follow the hashtag might just recognise your name or your company. Try to be helpful and don’t just promote yourself - content is king. Use social media to your advantage and arrange mini meetups in advance at the conference for like minded people.

  • Look the part: Thomas Fuller once said “Good clothes open all doors”. This doesn’t mean dress in a suit, but dress for a conference and not for sitting in front of 3 screens for the day!

  • Play the numbers game: If you are in a team, it makes no sense for you all to be stood in one place or at a demo stand. Depending on footfall, one or two of you should be enough on a stand, so split up to divide and conquer. Keynote speakers and the press are those in highest demand, chances are they will be discussing the hottest new AWS services so take your chance if presented.

  • Join the conversation and approach people: Okay the majority of us who attend re:Invent are geeks — talking to people doesn’t come naturally to all. Don’t be shy, you are guaranteed to have some similar interests, probably know things they don’t, and after all, it is all about AWS, so go and talk to them!

  • Find a hot spot and stop: This is my personal favourite. If done correctly it can be a lot more efficient to find a good location where interesting people often pass by rather than you wandering aimlessly. The hottest new restaurants are where I find my best contacts, key players are not going to wait in line to get a cheap hotdog!

  • Offer your services: One of the best ways to show commitment is to offer your help. When you meet people, find out how you can be of help to them. Is there anyone in your existing network you could introduce them to? Being a part of something greater will give you a sense of achievement, and a lot of self confidence. This will set you apart from the crowd and will help you to build long-lasting relationships instead of contacts.

Stop Everyone Passing GO!

Now, if you are one of the lucky ones who has real estate on the Monopoly board, use it wisely and be prepared! Your demo stand should appeal to all players - big demo screens with short and concise messaging. A way to collect leads on the stand, lanyards and clothes that make your team stand out, something interactive always helps too.

Players can be shy. You have to be engaging and active — don’t just stand there and wait for people to talk to you. Ask them questions about their business and interests. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say.

Game Over — You Win!

The AWS re:Invent conference has finished, but the fun doesn’t stop there. You have to strike when the iron is hot. Follow up with all those you have met — even the players that may not have seemed useful at the time. Building a network around the AWS community will serve you well in the future. Send friendly emails or LinkedIn messages, and try to include something personal to jog their memory back to what you discussed. And offer something. Something you have discovered since. Something you think they may like to know. Something you can share with them. And you’re much more likely to gain something (in the form of an email or message) back!