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The Ultimate Guide to re:Invent 2020

Mark Nunnikhoven
Mark Nunnikhoven

This guide will grow as we get closer to the show. Please check back regularly for updates! Ping me, @marknca if you spot a problem or if something is missing.

For the last few years, I’ve had a blast writing the “Ultimate Guide” (or some variation thereof) to AWS re:Invent. This is the biggest conference in cloud and it’s typically sets the tone for the next few months of cloud innovation.

It’s always jam packed with new services, great conversations, and so much more. Guides from previous years (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015) have helped hundreds of thousands of builders get the most out of a crazy week in Las Vegas.

Like everything in 2020, this year’s AWS re:Invent will be different. But unlike everything else about this year, there could be a massive upside because AWS re:Invent 2020 is free and entirely virtual.

That means anyone from anywhere in the world can participate and we can connect in new ways to help each other build better.

This Guide

This year’s guide will obviously—at least I hope it’s obvious 😉—be very different. No longer will you need tips on where to stay, how to get coffee in a reasonable amount of time, or how not to run yourself ragged moving from building to building.

Some things about the guide will stay the same;

  • It will be updated regularly as more information becomes available (in fact the first version was published in July 2020 over on my own site)
  • The index is the key. There’s a ton of information in the guide and the index is the best way to navigate it all

When I look back at the 2019 guide, about 34% of it was related to something physical. I’m hopeful that the re:Invent team will be replacing some of those missing experience with new, digital ones.

Regardless, we’ll cover it all here in the guide.

The Index

When & Where

AWS re:Invent runs from Monday, 30-Nov until Friday, 18-Dec, 2020. Yes, three weeks of re:Invent.

It’s an entirely virtual event with—from the looks of things—streams planned for several time zones but centered around pacific time (currently UTC-8).

How Much?

$0.00 USD.

Why Attend

Usually, I would say attend this event for the networking, hands on learning opportunities, and to experience the energy of the community. For a virtual event, that’s going to change.

AWS hasn’t publicly announced the format for the event but we know that the number of sessions has been dramatically reduced (mainly because of a lack of repeats) and that physical events like the re:Play party won’t be happening.

So why attend?

All of the content for AWS re:Invent will be hosted on the event platform until “the end of January 2021” (from the FAQ under “Know the topics”). After that, the session content will be moved to the AWS YouTube channel.

Registered and attending the event will not only provide earlier access to the session content, but the ability to engage with other attendees and activities. Things like game days, jams, and training will all be held through the event platform. More on these below.

Remember, unlike a physical event, you don’t have to be all-in for a virtual one. There’s no reason you can’t sign up, take in a few sessions, and get a feel for it you are in a position to get more out of it vs. consuming that content later on.

AWS re:Invent is always a very social conference. That component is either going to continue via the event platform (TBD) or on social media (mainly Twitter).

Code of Conduct

AWS re:Invent is all about learning and having a shared experience. That can only happen in an environment that is safe, inviting, and supportive.

The AWS Community Codes of Conduct applies to every AWS event…even the virtual ones.

In an ideal world, the guidance here would be to follow your common sense and the golden rule but given the world-wide reach and the fact that it’s 2020, let’s call this out explicitly.

READ THE CODE OF CONDUCT AND LIVE BY IT.

Any issues or problems that run counter to the code can be reported to Amazon Security at aws-events-security-concerns@amazon.com . No system is perfect but this is solid foundation on which we can build a safe, inclusive community.

Registration

This has to be my favourite part of this years guide. Usually, this section contains a twisting, convoluted sequence of steps to maximize your opportunities while at the event.

This year, my advice is simple: register.

It’s free and open now.

During registration, you’ll get asked the typical AWS questions as well as have the opportunity to customers your event experience by picking up to 3 tracks.

Available tracks for AWS re:Invent content

These track selections are used to customize the event interface. They don’t restrict your access to content in any way. They simple help the system decide what to show you first.

Who Am I?

You’re probably wondering why you should read this guide. Every year there’s a mountain of these published by anyone and any company remotely linked to the cloud. Who am I to write this?

Well, given how far you’ve gotten into the guide already, this isn’t a super important question but I do like to share so here it is…

I’m an AWS Community Hero, an author for A Cloud Guru, and a repeat speaker at the event (15 talks and counting).

I’ve been to every re:Invent since the beginning and every it’s a blast. I write this guide to help figure out how I’m going to get the most out of the show and I love that it helps you do the same.

Live vs. On-demand

One of the main outstanding questions about AWS re:Invent is just how much of the event will be live vs. on-demand.

We know that the five keynotes will be live streamed and then re-broadcast for different time zones. We’re still waiting to hear if the Leadership Sessions and other breakouts will be only on-demand or broadcast live as well.

That answer will change how you approach each day of the three week event.

Daily Survival

Regardless of if the event is 100% live or a combination of live and on-demand, you are going to need a strategy to wade through the massive amount of content heading your way.

We’ve all been attending a lot of virtual events and meetings over the past few months and here are a few tips that I’ve found to work for me or that the community has said works for them. The first set of tips is around you and your health;

  • Start the day with a fitness routine. If that’s a workout, a run, a walk, anything that gets your body moving. This 15 minute beginner flexibility routine is a great way to kick off the day (that’s just solid advice regardless of what you’re doing in the day!)
  • Set an alarm to get up to move and stretch every thirty minutes. Better still, stand, stretch, and move while watching sessions.
  • Hydrate. Lots of water throughout the day. You’re at home, that should make it easier.
  • Take a walk in the middle of the day. Getting out of your environment and getting your heart rate up is not only going to be good for your body but it’ll help your process what you’ve learned so far and get your ready for more.

To help tackle the waves of content;

  • Plan out your day. If the content is predominantly on-demand, choose a theme for the morning and consume content based on that theme. Pick another for the afternoon. Live content will be more schedule dependent.
  • Take notes as you go. Not being in a conference room or hall pays off big here. Setup a good note taking system and make sure to record key terms and ideas so you can circle back later on.
  • Note the timestamps of key moments in a session. This will save you a ton of time later on when you’re remember that heard something about that thing during one of those sessions 🤣
  • Don’t stress about missing anything, most content will be available on-demand.

Agenda & Time Zones

The official AWS re:Invent agenda has also been published. This gives us a simple overview of the show and also a look at how AWS is extending the reach of the show globally.

The three weeks are structured across three time zones. Pacific time (PT) is the base time zone for the show, honouring its Las Vegas roots. Live sessions and premieres will occur in pacific time first and then will be rebroadcast to the other time zones.

Those other time zones are Singapore standard time (SGT) and Greenwich mean time (GMT) to cover EU attendees. This is a reasonable spread in order to “follow the sun”.

Each week the timing shifts slightly but it is consistent within the week.

To kick off each week, there is a “AWS Late Night” session on Monday at 8:00—9:10pm pacific time. AWS hasn’t specified what these sessions will include but given they are tagged as “play”, I’m hoping for a “Midnight Madness” vibe from previous years.

Week 1 (Monday, 30-Nov to Thursday, 3-Dec) appears to run from 8:00am to 4:00pm pacific time (with the exception for Monday’s AWS Late Night session).

Week 2 (Monday, 7-Dec to Thursday, 10-Dec) is scheduled for 7:15am to 3:30pm pacific time.

Week 3 (Monday, 14-Dec to Thursday, 17-Dec) closes out the show with each day starting at 7:15am and wrapping at 3:30pm pacific time.

Will there be events and special sessions outside of these times? Probably. The agenda currently lists the keynotes, leadership sessions, and broadcast sessions (regularly talks). AWS re:Invent always has a ton of other activities and just because it’s moved online, I don’t expect that to stop.

Keynotes

The keynote line up as been announced and it shows us the first change in content strategy for 2020.

AWS re:Invent keynotes & their schedules

There are 5 major keynotes this year. The “classic” keynotes remain with the following schedule;

  • Andy Jassy going live, Tuesday 01-Dec from 08:00—11:00am PST
  • the AWS Partner keynote live, Thursday, 03-Dec from 08:00—09:45am PST
  • Peter DeSantis delivering the infrastructure keynote live on Thursday, 10-Dec from 08:00—09:00am PST
  • Dr. Werner Vogels closing the keynote line up live on Tuesday, 15-Dec from 08:00—09:30am PST

The new keynote is the Machine Learning Keynote, VP Amazon AI (live on Tuesday, 08-Dec from 08:00—09:30am PST). Swami Sivasubramanian from AWS will be delivering this keynote covering all of the latest in machine learning in the AWS Cloud.

Now, nothing is the “same” for this year but in previous years, the pattern has been;

  • Andy Jassy covers the state of the AWS business (high level), features some big name customers, and launches some cool new services (typically higher level services)
  • The partner keynote looks at the state of the AWS Partner Network (APN). This keynote features some new services/features/programs for partners, partner success stories, and any new services that are specific to partners (usually AWS Marketplace announcements)
  • The new “Machine Learning Keynote” is pretty self-explanatory. Given the splashiness of machine learning/AI services, I don’t expect many new launches in this session but more success stories and some feature improvements. Maybe one or two launches just to keep things exciting. This seems to have grown out of the Machine Learning Summit in 2018 and the excellent leadership sessions last year
  • “Monday/Tuesday Night Live” appears to have gotten a more realistic (given the virtual nature) but more boring name of “Infrastructure Keynote.” This one is always one of my favourites because it’s a change to peek behind the AWS curtain and get into some amazing details on what powers the AWS Cloud. These are typically one or two service announcements that could be related to anything
  • Dr. Vogels always brings the show home with a keynote focused on how we need to re-adjust our approach to delivering solutions to the world. Part inspiration/part launching pad, we’ll probably see some new service launches here too. Typically these launches are lower level building blocks or ones centered around builder experience

The keynotes are always exciting. This year, we’ll be able to tune in live but also catch the repeats for various time zones. Expect (again, I’m just guessing based on previous experiences) for these to be among the first sessions up on YouTube shortly after the last repeat.

Here’s a quick way to add these sessions to your calendar;

Be sure to make sure you get the time zones right! Remember, that these are repeats offered for these keynotes. The calendar links above are for the live session timings, you’ll have to add the alternative re-broadcasts if you’re interested in those.

Leadership Sessions

AWS has also announced an expanded “ leadership sessions ” series. These were introduced over the last few large events (re:Invent and re:Inforce) and they are excellent. Think of them as mini-keynotes with a very specific scope.

Leadership Sessions are available for most tracks

Each of these sessions is given by someone at AWS with direct responsibility or a deep involvement in the subject matter. These sessions typically contain new service/feature announcements that aren’t big enough for the main stage keynotes but are still worth calling out.

You should definitely have these sessions on your itinerary as they are a great starting place to figure out what you want to dive deeper into. Use them as a bit of an index or table of contents for further exploration at AWS re:Invent 2020 and beyond.

AWS Hero Guides

In what has now become an annual AWS re:Invent effort, a number of the AWS Hero community have written session guides to help you find sessions that might be of interest to you.

This year, myself, ACG’s own Kesha Williams, and others have contributed guides on a variety of topics;

At some point in the near future, the guides will be live in the session catalog. This will allow you to filter the sessions according to the AWS Hero’s guide and quickly add them to you calendar.

The goal here is simple, let an expert help you sort through the 500+ sessions based on their perspective and experience.

Session Catalog

The Session Catalog and reserved seating were always a challenge in years past. The catalog fills up over the summer but there always was a gap between when reserved seating opened and when the catalog was actually complete.

The good news? With a virtual event, reserved seating should be a thing of the past.

The catalog is now live. A lot of the sessions have been added but there are always some late additions as we get closer to the event.

Here’s a peak at the AWS Hero Guides and the current state of the session catalog.

The session guide continues to lack in a few areas. As I mentioned in the video, I believe that a lot of this is in the queue to be resolved. While we’re waiting, Ken Robbins has a much easier way to see what’s going on up at CloudPegboard.

Remember though, the official platform is the single source of truth but Ken’s tool will make it a lot easier to see what’s going on. Search using that and then check in the official catalog to verify.

Remember, if you find a session that looks interesting, share it! Tag @acloudguru, @marknca, or @awsreinvent so that others can check it out too.

Sponsors

The event sponsors will all have activities planned throughout the three weeks of the event. Some of these activities are going to take place on the event platform but I imagine we should see a wide variety of stuff from the sponsors outside of the show as well.

Full disclosure: A Cloud Guru, who have been kind enough to host this post and where I teach two courses (Mastering The AWS Well-Architected Framework and AWS Business Essentials) and my full time employer Trend Micro are both sponsors

Training & Certification

One of the things I am personally going to miss the most about re:Invent going virtual is the Monday morning exam crowd—you know who you are! For years, a core group of folks have met for the first exam sitting of the week, usually to try out a new beta exam.

But this year’s event won’t be devoid of training and certification.

AWS certifications can be sat remotely and the hands-on labs will continue online. No word yet on any new or updated exams for re:Invent and this late in the game, I don’t expect any.

The exam readiness sessions will return this year. These are very popular “cram” sessions to help you with last push towards certification.

On top of that, there is the new “AWS Certified Global Challenge” program. This challenge sets out a recommended activity and study path leading up to you earning the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification.

These group efforts working towards a shared goal can be very successful. It’s that shared sense of purpose, a bit of guilt if you don’t hold up your end, and a great support network that make is a lot easier to reach your goal.

AWS DeepRacer

AWS DeepRacer, DeepLens, and DeepComposer are all super fun gadgets that are designed to help teach you a different aspect of machine learning. And while each has inspired some cool projects, it’s only DeepRacer that has sparked friendly global competition.

Typically, we see Gurus and builders like Scott testing their DeepRacer models against others on a physical track at AWS Summits around the world. This year, that moved to the Virtual Circuit online. Not quite as fun as watching the results in the physical world but still a blast.

AWS re:Invent will host the championships of the Virtual Circuit in addition to having multiple opportunities to race during the event…even if it’s your first time with AWS DeepRacer.

If you haven’t already tried building a machine learning model for DeepRacer, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. It’s fun in it’s own right but also a fantastic way to learn how to build reinforcement models, a concept you can apply to a wide variety of other problems.

Jams & GameDays

James and GameDays are one of the most popular events every single year. Each of these session types provide hands-on learning opportunities centered around real-world scenarios.

AWS re:Invent is almost here (three days or less!) and we still have no indication as to how registration for any of the “Hands-on Content” (that’s the catalog filter for Jams & GameDays will work. “Add To Calendar” doesn’t register you and AWS hasn’t mentioned when registration will open.

If you’re looking to get a spot, I strongly recommend you log in to the session catalog on Monday morning and stay tuned to @awsreinvent on Twitter for any news.

Hopefully capacity won’t be an issue with a virtual event, but you never know.

The Jams are a series of challenges, typically with an AWS APN Partner, designed to highlight a specific aspect of building in the AWS Cloud. Each challenge is scored and there is usually an increasing level of difficulty. This friendly competitive structure makes for a very fun activity.

The Jams sort into four categories; security, modernization & DevOps, data and analytics, and the general Jam Lounge.

With the session catalog now available, we can see the following jams listed (search term: jam);

  • AWS Security Jam – Presented by Datadog, Splunk, & Trend Micro (2 sessions)
  • AWS Modernization and DevOps Jam – Presented by Datadog, NetApp, & VMware (2 sessions)
  • AWS Data and Analytics Jam – Presented by Intel & Tableau (2 sessions)

You can add these to your calendar now but it doesn’t appear that you can actually register for these events yet. No word from AWS on when/how that happens.

The GameDays are a little more involved. Instead of being a series of challenges, a GameDay is a larger activity where teams—it’s usually teams and hopefully still will be—tackle one big problem together.

This open-ended approach allows for more exploration as you work to solve the problem at hand.

Again, now that the catalog is open, we can see (search term: gameday);

  • AWS GameDay – Financial Services (AMER, EMEA, APAC)
  • AWS GameDay, presented by New Relic – Unicorn Polo League (AMER, EMEA, APAC)

Give the time commitment (5 hours) for the gamedays, there is a session for each event time zone. Again, you can add these to your calendar now but it’s doesn’t appear that this actually registers you for the event.

If you get the opportunity to participate in these events, take it! Details on how to registration hopefully coming soon.

Builders’ Fair

The Builders’ Fair is back and it is one of the events that has changed the most from other years. In a physical re:Invent, this activity is very much like a science fair.

Teams have a small area where they present their project, provide key data points about it, and explain the project to passersby.

I’m glad this event has survived the transition to a virtual re:Invent, though the format will be different—probably all video but hopefully with chat too—these projects usually deserve attention.

Judging by the projects announced so far, that’s very true this year.

Be sure to stop by the fair in the event platform when you have a chance. Not only will it give you an opportunity to recognize this work, it’ll also inspire you to tackle some “out of the box” projects yourself!

We Power Tech

We Power Tech is the name of AWS’ inclusion, diversity, and equity (ID&E) program. This is a critically important initiative to help not only expand our community but to make sure that it is a supportive and inclusive place.

During the event, there is a dedicated track for We Power Tech that highlights the “innovation at the interaction of ID&E”. There is also a specific We Power Tech Lounge that will feature 15 minute lightning talks and live chats.

Play

Sadly, the famous AWS re:Play party won’t be happening this year. It was very much an in-person experience and it can’t be replicated online.

The re:Invent team has stepped up thought with a number of “Play” events throughout the three week event.

As mentioned in the Agenda & Time Zones section, each Monday night there will be an AWS Late Night session.

The first of these (Monday, 30-Nov at 8:00pm pacific time) will have teh first official launch of AWS re:Invent, music, and the team is also teasing a new world record attempt. For the past couple of years, the Midnight Madness event has attempted (and succeeded) in breaking a Guinness World Record.

It’s a fun tradition and I’m excited to see what that record will be this year!

AWS Late Night week two (Monday, December 7, at 8:00PM pacific time) brings our first big name musical act. Brandi Carlile will be performing live. Brandi is a personal favourite of mine and she’s been putting on some fantastic live streams over the past few months. This one is not to be missed!

…oh and Andy Jassy will make an appearance that night as well 😉.

In addition to these weekly session, during the event we’ll also see;

  • the AWS Trivia Bowl
  • the Cable Detective game
  • several cooking demos
  • various DJ sets
  • movement break with Melissa Nkomo from Kunye

Speechless will also be hosting a six part improve workshop. The first session starts on Tuesday, 1-Dec at 11:00am pacific time.

The event will also featuring a series called, “AWS Fishbowl”. This one is designed to give everyone a glimpse of Amazon’s culture. The first session will feature author Eva Chen and radio & podcast host Guy Raz talking about their latest books. That airs on Wednesday, 2-Dec at 8:00am pacific time.

Give Back

Every year AWS has a few initiatives during the week to help support important causes. While a lot has change this year with a virtual re:Invent, this support effort is still going strong.

This year, AWS is promoting three main initiatives.

The first is Fill it Forward and “charity:water. . Both of these initiatives promote efforts to provide access to clean water for children and families globally.

During the show, you can use the Fill it Forward app and track how often you refill your re-usable water bottle. Each time you do, not only will you be helping yourself hydrate, AWS will make a $1 donation to charity:water.

The second initiative is to support Fred Hutch Obliteride. This charity helps fuel research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Details will be available when re:Invent starts on 30-Nov but from all appearances the more we—the builder community—run, walk, bike, skate, or whatever, the the larger a donation will be made to help the core goal of curing cancer faster and work to halt COVID-19.

The third initiative focuses on Three Square Food Bank local to Las Vegas, Nevada. Unlike the other two charity efforts, this isn’t a call out to the re:Invent audience. Typically there is a local tie-in for AWS re:Invent but since we’re not attending in person this year. AWS is making a direct donation to the food bank.

If I may be so bold, in addition to participating in the first two activities, if you can, making a donation to your local food bank is always a great idea…especially now.

AWS on Air

In addition to the AWS on Air twitter handle, the AWS on Air section of the event website contains some great information about events during the conference.

We now know that Robert Zhu and Nick Walsh will be doing post-keynote analysis. That should be happening somewhere on the re:Invent platform or on Twitch.

Every Thursday at 11:00am pacific, “AWS Community Voices” will highlight community leaders for a live discussion with Q&A.

This Is My Architecture will be broadcasting during the show. Highlighting new sessions under the hashtag #thisismyarchitecture.

We’ll also see new shows, like “All in the Field: AWS Agriculture Live” where hosts Karen Hildebrand and Matt Wolff discuss the latest in AgTech under the hashtag #allinthefield.

Erin McGill and Tim Mattison take a look at “side projects” and early use cases specific to IoT in “IoT All The Things: Special Projects Edition.” You can track that under the hashtag #alltheexperiments. This is a continuiation of an idea they started in the summer.

We’ll also see the Certification Quiz Show to help you practice for those all important certification exams. AWS Industry Live to take a deeper dive into specific verticals. And “Voice of the Customer” to highlight some success stories through one-on-one interviews.

Twitter

AWS re:Invent is usually a very social show. Both in person and online. This year, I expect social media to be much busier than previous years…and that’s saying a lot.

There’s no “official” hashtag yet here’s a few of the hashtags, accounts, and lists that you will want to follow;

I expect the keynotes to be a very active time on Twitter. Lot’s of people reacting to the announcements and providing quick analysis. The rest of the event is going to be very interesting.

Depending on whether or not sessions are livestreamed vs. on-demand, we’ll see a different pattern of social media usage. There are usually good discussions before and after a session in the hallway, I’m hoping that the event platform provides a way to do this but if not, using the session code on Twitter might work.

More To Come…

Usually we know a lot more about AWS re:Invent by now. Nothing about 2020 has been “usual”. I’m excited for the new format and know that the team will make the most of it.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to participate in some new experiences and old favourites—like AWS Hero Guides, Hackthons, Twitch streams, etc.—will make an appearance too.

Stay tuned, this post will be updated regularly with more information as it becomes available.

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