‘Tis the Season….for Conferences

Amazon Web Services Conferences re:Invent

A Recap from an automation nerd and biz whiz from 2021 AWS re:Invent Conference

Authored by Alissa Strasser and Jesse Adams

Timid to commit to an all-week industry conference on the tail end of COVID’s Delta variant and wearisome of the unknown Omicron variant, 10 Acuity employees braved the first in-person industry conference in almost 2 years. That’s right, we traversed the skies and joined 28,000 other folks to learn, connect, and stay healthy, required to mask up and show documented proof of our jabs, at Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) re:Invent in Las Vegas, Nevada from November 29-December 3, 2021.

In this blog, we offer two different perspectives in the sections that follow: (1) a veteran AWS expert having survived 3 AWS events in the past; and, (2) a business-minded chick somewhat new to cloud computing and first-timer to AWS re:Invent. Each author reflects on their unbiased thoughts, lowlights, and highlights from their experiences at AWS re:Invent.

Perspective 1: The Automation Nerd, Jesse Adams

I honestly was not looking forward to going to re:Invent again, especially in the middle of the pandemic. The fact that they were requiring everyone to wear masks and show proof of vaccination did make me feel slightly better. The last time I attended was in 2017. I’ll just say that I am much less introverted than I used to be. After gaining so much experience speaking in front of groups of others and networking as an IT professional, I find the scene to be a lot easier to navigate and much less stressful, in general. I had such a fantastic experience, and I can’t wait to hopefully get to go back next year with another group from Acuity.

One of my biggest goals this time around was to get a new certification while I was there. Acuity put on our first DeepRacer league this last year and we had some AWS employees visiting us and providing support. One of the employees asked me how many AWS certs I had. When I said that I had three her immediate reaction was “That’s it?!” Without thinking, I promised that I would get another certification before or at re:Invent. I’m glad that I did! While I didn’t have much time to prep, I scheduled my AWS Database Specialty exam for the first day of the conference, knowing due to lack of sleep and other bad decisions my body would slowly degrade over the course of the week’s festivities. Thankfully I passed and I learned SO much along the way. It also was a nice preparation for the amazing announcements that would follow in the data/AI/ML space during the rest of the week.

With the certification out of the way, it was time to hit the Expo! Every time I dropped in over the course of the week, I would discover something new and fun. I stumbled onto the AWS BugBust event a couple of days late but still participated and had a blast. I contributed 96 bug fixes to open-source software, finishing 108th out of 613, and was part of the Guinness Book of World Records for “The largest code debugging / bug fixing competition.” I also stumbled upon a database scavenger hunt and scored a sweet AWS Databases hoodie, which was more meaningful since I just got the related cert. I also got to meet the AWS Jam crew and “Slammed my Jam” at re:Invent. I’m planning on bringing a fun AWS Jam event internally to Acuity in 2022. I’m so excited!

The most fun, by far, was being able to hang out with my Acuity colleagues. I’ve been a remote engineer for a long time, well before the pandemic. Any chance I get to hang out with my co-workers is always absolute gold. We kicked off the celebration the first night at Bacchanal Buffet where I got to catch up with everyone while I polished off three full plates of crab legs. Getting a certification makes you hungry! The following night, I remember following Obi on what seemed like a never-ending journey until we (including Alissa and Matt) finally found the random Sushi place. We had quite an interesting spread of conversations that night.

Unfortunately, a government tech challenge that I was responsible for decided to drop on the Thursday of re:Invent. I ended up being stuck in my hotel from 5 AM to 1:30 PM that day. Thankfully the hotel room was wonderful. I ended up missing the big night out with the entire crew the night before as I had to prep as well. Completely exhausted and beat, I still made sure I went out for the last hurrah – re:Play 2021. We were able to have a final night of fun as a group before everyone flew back. I also got to knock off a bucket list item I didn’t even know I had. I got to experience a Zedd set live with Jessica, who is now forever one of my best DJ buddies. Who knew the Acuity crew were such dancers?

Perspective 2: The Biz Whiz, Alissa Strasser

Would you turn down a free trip to Las Vegas if you were forced to learn new things and connect with cool people? If so, we need to talk. Sure, a tech conference can be intimidating, but AWS catered to every known persona, role, and knowledge/expertise level within the IT industry… and delivered. Let me tell you more.

Desperate to find a friendly, recognizable face in the sea of masked professionals on Day 1, the feeling of social exhaustion and sensory overload quickly surfaced. But after spending at least 21 months in what may seem like solitary confinement, working from home with only a snoring dog and lawn mowers in the background to keep you company, this in-person experience quickly became a welcomed reprieve. It was like an injection of mental agility, measured endurance, and occasional hotel room respites, meant to revive any socially inept nerd. Hint to AWS re:Invent conference newbies: schedule your week out with varying degrees of learning and social activity… and inactivity. Even as an extrovert, it can be overwhelming.

Having the opportunity to attend this conference, I felt accountable for becoming more knowledgeable in AWS. What’s the best thing to do to prove your knowledge in this industry? That’s right, get a certification! Leveraging the free AWS Partner Network (APN) training offering given to AWS partners, I forced myself to complete the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Accelerator, a 4-week program (highly recommended), and passed the exam on Day 1 of the conference. The proctors checking me into the exam room said I was the 3rd female they’d seen all day; it was 3 pm. (Ladies, it’s time to represent!) I’ll admit, the additional swag given to AWS-certified professionals might have been commensurate to the training and study time I expended over the previous weeks.

The sessions were also high quality as well. I’ve managed conferences and events and designed a multitude of learning sessions in the past and have a high appreciation for AWS’ thoughtfulness in their week-long catalog of varying chalk talks, breakout sessions, presentations, and workshops. Of note, two sessions have left me pondering even a week after the fact. Thank you to Gregor Hohpe, Rebecca Allyn, Denise Reese and Steven Ferguson for offering their insights and experiences for the benefit of the broader IT community.

The most profound impact a weeklong conference with work colleagues can have, if done right, is the team cohesion and team building that can emerge. AWS provided some opportunities, like their awesome(!) re:Play event, but Acuity leadership made it special for our team. The output: friendships and memories were created (just see what Obi can do with horseradish and $20). Acuity truly hires incredible people – not just for their expertise and knowledge – but also for their authenticity and character.

The Closing

All-in-all, AWS did an incredible job organizing a safe, engaging, fun, and inclusive event designed to capitalize on the eagerness and energy of their attendees. Can’t wait for next year, and Acuity providing another opportunity for another group to experience AWS re:Invent in 2022!