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The swag (and humans) of AWS re:Invent 2021 reviewed

Eric Pulsifer
Eric Pulsifer

AWS re:Invent 2021 swag review, plus our “being around humans again” report

The return of an in-person AWS re:Invent 2021 marked a return to the face-to-face (behind masks) connections many cloud learners have been craving . . . plus a chance to snag a bounty of sweet, sweet swag.


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In this post, we’ll offer a review of the re:Invent 2021 swag. Because what happens in Vegas stays in our bags as we haul back a carry-on crammed full of T-shirts, stickers, mugs, and assorted branded goodies. Plus, our review of humans! Or rather, our take on what’s it was like to be back at an in-person coneferece again after so long and how safe the event felt to the more cautious among us.

To help, we’re turning to some of the Gurus who were on the ground at re:Invent 2021 to talk about what they liked, what they didn’t like, and the feeling of being back at re:Invent live and in the flesh.

The good, the bad, and the swag

Photos courtesy of Mattias Andersson with additional support from Matt Kohn, Joey Hernandez, and Michelle Kozma.

The bad

Let’s start off the swag review with the bad — or a little bit of criticism.

After a year away from re:invent, ACG’s Scott Pletcher felt the swag this year left a little something to be desired. Namely: creativity.

“To be honest, the swag was a real disappointment this year (excluding present company). Lots of face-masks and sanitizers with the requisite pens and stickers. Where did the creativity go?”

Maybe companies were worried about investing in swag for fear the event might make the move to virtual at the last minute? Who knows?


Check out that snazzy “10 year jacket.” Also, silica gel! Folks who paid attention in English class may feel the quotes around “do not eat” could be read as implying an ironic “do not eat,” but the internet confirms you really shouldn’t eat it.

Michelle Kozma, Sr. Customer Success Manager, also reported seeing a lot of what you’d expect from the swag at a conference.

“It was a lot of similar stuff, but in different brand colors,” she said.


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The good

Regadless, Michelle said people seemed thrilled to get back into the swag-grabbing game. She also observed a few swag trends.

“Some companies were giving out reusable totes for people to carry all their swag in. I didn’t see any hats this year, but socks were everywhere,” she said. “Also, I was surpised given the amount of drinks that were handed out that no one had koozies.”

She also reporting noticing a lot of raffles, with companies raffling off everything from a Nintendo Switch to scooters to a Citizen watch.

ACG’s Mattias Andersson didn’t get to focus on swag (between focusing on the content and covering the biggest re:Invent announcements) but he also noticed some exciting giveaways.

“I was so busy with the event and meeting people (IN REAL LIFE!!!) that I barely noticed all the (still cool!) swag,” he said. “I did see that some companies were giving away Nintendo Switch consoles, drones, and VR goggles, though.”

Given sustainability was one of the big focuses of this year, Mattias felt these prizes were preferable to lower-quality swag that was destined to be trashed in the near future.

“The disposable-type stuff is probably better to skip offering,” he said. “Swag should be truly useful so it’s not just more consumer waste—and if that means more drawings for prizes instead of small kitsch, then so be it!”

The re:Invent 2021 hoodie, ACG’s “cloud happy” shirt, and a vintage ACG sticker. (Mattias had a few of these on hand and passed them out to folks at the show. Don’t tell the brand people!)
Call us biased, but we were pretty stoked about the ACG crew exclusive gear. We gave out a very limited number of these bomber jackets to some contest winners. But if you’d like one, just come work with us! (We’ll also give you money!)
Swag, swag, and ACG’s Matt Kohn and Mike McMahan posing for an AWS Certified photobooth pic.

The trends

Matt Kohn, Director of Brand Strategy, is a long-time swag creator (and lifelong swag fan). He said bomber jackets seemed to be a big trend this year as far as top-tier swag items, including the ones worn by ACG staff at the booth.

Speaking of… at the ACG booth, where Matt spent most of his days (chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool, when a —oh, sorry) Matt said A Cloud Guru’s “cloud happy” shirt was a hot item.

“We had people waiting in line for up to 30 minutes to get one,” he said. 


There are lots of great reasons to talk to Jeff Barr. Getting an amazing sticker is just one of them.
Some swag was exclusive, like the AWS Community Builder swag in the top left.
Pluralsight swag included a backpack, playing cards, and a wallet.

Other AWS re:Invent 2021 highlights

The humans of re:Invent 2021: What’s it like to be back at a conference?

Blurring the line between swag and stickers and humans: Matt, who carries around stickers of his own face (as one does), dropped a sticker at some point. He later discovered via the magic of Twitter that a Matt doppelgänger discovered it and posted a picture with it.

That small world conference moment was just icing on the cake that was a memorable time. Matt said overall the experience of being back in person at re:Invent was awesome.

“Being able to get together and meet people and hand out swag was such a good feeling,” said Matt. “After so long away from in-person events, it was energizing to be together in person again.”

Mattias (not to be confused with Matt) felt the same way.

“It was amazing to be back in-person! There is absolutely no way to replicate virtually the random amazing interactions that happen in-person. Whether it’s random chats in the hallway, at the booth, over lunch, waiting in line, in the cert lounge, at parties, or having people randomly come up to you at restaurants, the human connections we make are the true prize of AWS re:Invent,” Mattias said. “Also, I loved how people at re:Play were willing to join in with our silly-and-bad dancing in the silent disco and at the concert!”

Did AWS re:Invent 2021 feel safe?

Most people we talked to reported feeling safe, all things considered — even those who were a little uneasy about venturing out to such a big event.

AWS required people to produce proof of vaccination before getting their badges and masks were mandatory when not eating or drinking. But there were plenty of nude noses poking out of masks here and there.

Chatting with cloud learners

While most collected branded freebies, ACG’s Jess Alvarez gathered up good vibes from cloud learners (in between putting out regular updates from re:Invent), including talking to a learner who said, “Using A Cloud Guru was the best decision I’ve made. Your DynamoDB course was so great. I’ve been able to use my knowledge from that course in my current job.”

Jess also chatted with a woman from Accenture who recently received her AWS Cloud Practitioner certification and was excited to move on to the Solutions Architect – Associate certification. She was stopping by to thank ACG co-founder Ryan Kroonenburg for his course and for helping her get her certification which is pushing her forward in her career.

For so many at re:Invent, cloud has presented life-changing opportunities. Jess shared the following story that we couldn’t help but share.

“One of my favorite stories was from a gentleman who was previously a delivery driver at a local restaurant in his home town. He wanted to make a change and start making ‘real money.’ He talked to a friend of his and they pointed him to A Cloud Guru. He took the Cloud Fundamentals course and then dove right into AWS. He now has all three Associate AWS certifications and went from ‘making peanuts’ to ‘living that six-figures life.’ What an incredible journey! He was funny, hopeful, and nowhere near done growing.”

Mattias agreed that these sorts of interactions are a true highlight for ACG staff.

“There’s nothing like hearing from person after person about how ACG has contributed to their life-changing career advancement,” he said.

Jess said being at an in-person conference made her feel appreciative of interactions like that and just getting a chance to talk to (and nerd out with) so many cool cloud gurus.

“Their dedication and perseverance to achieve all that they do is inspiring, and I felt so proud of all of them,” she said. “I hope to see them on our Discord server soon.”

Nice plug, Jess! And perfect to wrap up a post about swag, which is really a plug in T-shirt form.

But along those lines, if you have some stories about how cloud learning has changed your life, please drop us a line on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Discord — wherever we are on the internet. We love hearing and sharing your stories to help inspire others to make the jump to level up their career with cloud.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the ACG and Pluralisght booths, and we hope to see you at re:Invent 2022. Until then: keep being awesome, cloud gurus!

Keep up with all things cloud

re:Invent may have walked off into the sunset, but you can look ahead and keep up with all things cloud by following ACG on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to A Cloud Guru on YouTube. And even when you’re away from the glitz, glamour, and hand sanitizer stations of a big cloud conference, you can connect with cloudy-minded people on the ACG Discord Community.

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