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Lots of things make this conference amazing. A list of things that come to mind:
Chalk talks got a much more prominent place this year, and they are awesome. How often do you get the chance to ask an AWS network expert on how exactly advanced VPC design should be done? These sessions were often guided by a handful of slides to set the topic and then were open to any and all questions.
Deep learning summit
I signed up for this on a whim, not knowing much of what to expect. This turned out to be one of the most interesting sessions: 4 hours of talks by some of the world’s smartest AI/Deep Learning/Robotics experts from places like CalTech and MIT explaining in-depth what they are working on, which problems they are facing and what is around the corner. The last session in this summit was done by a manager of a VC fund that specializes in these fields. Special praise for his self-intro: “I’m the dumbest person on this stage, but I have lots of money to make up for it”. The good thing about this last session was that it brought all the theory (much of which was far too advanced to grasp in detail) back down to a real level: he talked about what kind of ventures they are funding and why, and what kind of problems they would like to see solved.
Obviously re:invent wouldn’t be re:invent if it didn’t have tons of new services introduced. The specific tech that is interesting is different for everyone and there’s tons of info out there on the web, so I’ll keep this short to my personal favorites:
This one goes in both categories. Some of the food was really good, but things like breakfast were..well.. up for improvement. Special mention for the military style precision with which food was organized in the Venetian food hall. A hall that could probably hold 20.000 people where no matter how many people walked in at the same time, you always have food without queueing. Very impressive.
The AWS Benelux party
Since last year some of the companies from the benelux region (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg) decided to throw a party just open for people from the region. This is a very nice place to talk about AWS (and many other things of course) with people from the same geographic area.
Unfortunately a lot of things were very frustrating as well, some of them causing me to lose almost a full day of schedule on Wednesday. A list:
The mobile app
From uncashed schedules to long loading times to schedules appearing empty out of the blue, on to an annoying full screen ad every time you activate the app. Worst for me was that in order to even try to sign up for a session you had to sign out of any other sessions you had scheduled for that slot. If it then turned out your new session was full, you had just successfully screwed yourself out of both sessions. For a conference of this size and AWS being the company they are they need to do a lot better next year.
The full sessions for non-fanboys/girls
Unless you bought your tickets on the day they became available and signed up immediately for the sessions you wanted, there was no way to get into them. I have a busy life and customers to deal with, so many of the sessions I wanted to get into were full already. They tried to counter that by reserving 25% of seats for each session for walk ups, but for the popular sessions people easily got in line 3 hours before their session.
Further to the point above, there were lines for absolutely everything, leading to much frustration. I’ll just leave it at that.
The spread out venues
The conference was spread out across many venues along the Las Vegas strip. This made it so that you could’ve just run back and forward between sessions, but you had to choose sessions based on the venue they were in. Even changing venues once a day meant 30 minutes best case scenario and up to one and a half hours worst case scenario spent on transiting. Again, I expect better.
Global Partner Summit
This year was the first year the global partner summit was open for everyone, not just partners. This was a bad choice in my opinion. As a partner we work hard all year for our partnership (and we’re very happy to do that) but by removing the exclusivity from these sessions the dynamic changes, and it also sends a message with regards to appreciation for the work we do.
In addition, the GPS welcome party was a failure: thousands of people (most of whom were not partners) in a line meant that I wasn’t able to enter the venue until 7:15 pm (with a scheduled time for the whole reception from 6pm-8pm). When I finally got inside, the venue turned out to be a night club with the music volume turned up to 11. I didn’t come to party, I came to talk to other partners and have meaningful conversations.
A lot of good content was provided. Some of my personal favorite sessions:
Advanced VPC sessions
A lot of the consulting and engineering services we provide for AWS require a deep understanding of one of the most complicated and advanced parts of AWS: the networking that underpins it all. I saw several sessions on advanced VPC topics that really helped me understand things better.
Deep Learning Summit
I covered this earlier in the blog post, but I want to touch quickly on some of the topics discussed. One of the speakers showed research they have done where they fed a ton of images along with spoken descriptions of them into a machine learning environment. Without ever teaching the algorithm how to recognize words it managed to make surprisingly accurate guesses which part of the audio discussed which part of the image (eg. Everytime the sound for the word face comes by, there’s a face in the picture).
Another speaker showed their journey to get a robot to complete the pacific crest trail (leading from the border of mexico along the west coast to the border of Canada) faster then the fastest human had done so far. This provides interesting challenges.
A third speaker showed how they trained a machine learning algorithm using images and recordings of the accompanying sounds. After a while the algorithm was able to point out which parts of the image caused which sounds (eg. everytime you hear water flowing, there’s water in the picture).
The open guide to AWS is a community-driven effort to curate AWS documentation. The current docs are already impressive and the community behind this is really friendly. More help is always welcome, you can join their slack here: https://og-aws-slack.lexikon.io/
Midnight madness talk with Andy Jessy
This was a very informal session with AWS CEO Andy Jassy on the Sunday night. It was very interesting for the entrepreneur side of me to listen to someone in his position explain how AWS got started (1 EC2 availability zone in one region with one OS and one instance size) and give some tips on what they do to be so successful (they write a press release and and FAQ at the very start of a new project to make sure everything in the project serves the right mission).
Mechanical Turk loading of data into AI
One of the services I never paid much attention to is Mechanical Turk. This session showed how to use Mechanical Turk to collect training data for a Machine Learning algorithm to be trained. Provided you set up he units of work correctly you can get lots of training data very fast. One of the best tips: remember the people executing the tasks are human beings and treat them fairly. The Mechanical Turk community will blacklist your work quickly if you treat them unfairly.
Just like last year, the conference was a great experience overall. I learned a lot, met a lot of new people, discussed a lot of AWS things and just in generally had a good time. I would be happy if I could avoid some of the frustration but overall for a conference this size it was worth the time and investment.
Now, I’m happy this was my last travel for the year, time to spend some time with the family!