Tips for attending your first AWS re:Invent

Tips for your first AWS re:Invent

Hello! My name is Hiroko Nishimura, and I’m an AWS Community Hero (2020). I teach “Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers” courses at LinkedIn Learning, wrote “AWS for Non-Engineers” with Manning Publications, and founded AWS Newbies.

This blog post was written after AWS re:Invent 2019, and some things may have changed due to COVID ? While I won’t be attending 2021, which was something I was really looking forward to doing as the first on-site re:Invent after I became an AWS Hero, I’ll sit patiently waiting for the next one that I feel I can safely attend! For those of you attending, stay safe, and have so much fun!!!!

Tips for attending your first AWS re:Invent

I attended AWS re:Invent for the first time in 2019, and I had no idea what to expect, or how to pack. But having spent a whole week in Vegas last week, I now know what I should and shouldn’t pack for next time! Here are tips on what to pack and what to know for your first AWS re:Invent!

Selfie at check-in with my AWS re:Invent 2019 Hoodie!

Packing ?

  • Pack a small, lightweight backpack for daily use. It can even be a draw-string mesh bag! Something easy to pack away when you’re not using it, but very useful to keep both hands free and walk around crowded spaces.
  • You don’t need to pack enough shirts for the whole week, because you’ll get enough at the Expo Hall to last you a lifetime! (Ok, maybe not that many, but I promise you’ll find 1 or 2 that you’ll be ok with wearing in the later part of the week.)
  • Pack a light jacket! It’s a desert, so it gets a tad chilly in the morning or night. (Though for re:Invent 2019, they gave us a sweater!)
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes. No, not the kinda-ok Vans or fancy heels or dress shoes. WALKING SHOES. I wore my pair of usually-pretty-comfy Vans, and I really regretted not wearing legitimate walking shoes. I was walking 6~8 miles a day!
  • Compression cubes save the day! I finally bought some before this trip, and I was amazed at what they can do! It helps to compress the swag shirts, sweaters, and jackets they tend to give out for the trip home, too!
  • Pack a charging block for your phone! You’re going to be on the go for most of the week, so it’ll be rare for you to be next to an outlet that you can sit by for half an hour as your phone charges. Make sure you have a portable charger to keep your phone alive all day!
  • Pack a light, packable duffel bag, and make sure you have an extra luggage tag. You’ll definitely end up coming home with more things than you left the house with, and the last thing you want to do is to have to go purchase a new piece of luggage just so you can take the loot home. I went to AWS re:Invent with a backpack and a rolling luggage.. No checked bags… I returned from re:Invent with a duffel, backpack, and a checked-in rolling baggage ?
A duffel I received at the AWS Community Leaders event that came in handy when it was time to pack for home ?

I actually recorded a “Packing for AWS re:Invent 2019” video and uploaded it before I left, but there were definitely things I packed that I didn’t need, and things I wish I’d brought, but didn’t.

Pack With Me! AWS re:Invent 2019 (Carry-On Luggage)

Eating ?

  • You get fed lunch, and a lot of venues and events have food or snacks. Keep yourself fed, because it’s easy to miss meal times when you’re roaming the Expo Hall or going to panels. * This may have changed because of COVID-19!
  • Bring or buy snacks to munch on throughout the day. You’ll be walking… A LOT. There are also snacks all over the convention venues for free at certain times. I’d sneak in a bite or two whenever possible to keep your caloric intake positive.
  • Bring a light water bottle. There are not as many places to refill your bottle as you think there would be for convention centers so large. Remember to hydrate ? If you forget to take water back to the hotel, at mine, they were selling bottles of water for $4 each… Yikes. At re:Invent 2019, they gave us a water bottle, but I don’t know if that’s an annual thing.
  • I thought I would be spending A LOT on food over the week. In reality, yes. Food is expensive in Vegas, but you have so many opportunities to eat for free that I only had to pay for few meals. Coffee, however, is another story, and oh boy. The prices on those puppies are more than Disney World or New York City… So mentally prepare for that… ?
  • Recommendation: If you can, go off the Strip for food! There is Chinatown close by with delicious food, and I had amazing Japanese and Vietnamese food. The price is much more affordable, too!
Delicious Vietnamese food I had at District One

Update: Someone on Twitter told me that they’ve attended re:Invent for 3 years, and they’ve consistently given out sweaters and water bottles… So those two things may be something you can count on not having to pack!

Transportation ?

  • Free Shuttles are NOT available to all hotels! Only “campus venues” (aka: hotels where there are re:Invent events going on) have shuttle access. Make sure you check out the campus map beforehand to know where the closest shuttle is! I didn’t realize a hotel with a shuttle was right next to my own, so I spent a lot of money on Uber! You can find the Shuttle schedules and routes here: AWS re:Invent Travel Options.
  • Make sure you have a ride-share app downloaded just in case you are at a hotel without shuttles, or in case you want to go somewhere or come back late at night. Hopefully, you don’t have to use it very often, but it’s good to have at the palm of your hand.
  • As a rather small Asian woman, I felt completely safe walking around the strip alone during the day, but not at all at night, even in a small group. It’s not as well-lit as you would assume from somewhere with so much light, so err on the side of caution! Each hotel or venue is very well lit-up, but going from one venue to another is another story.

Other Stuff ?

  • Print business cards! I know, I know. You can just share your LinkedIn/Twitter/E-mail address! But there’s something nice when you are all in a rush, and you can just hand them a card with your contact information on it so they can get back to you later!
  • Be picky about the swag you accept! Chances are, no matter how choosey you are, once you get back to the hotel and go through your loot, or once you go home after the long week, you’ll wonder why you bothered taking that really ugly shirt home. Prevent waste and just don’t pick up things that you aren’t sure you’ll use or want!
  • Also be picky about what events you attend! It’s hard to say no when everyone’s going, or it’s a huge event like re:Play or Keynotes, but listen to your body! It’s an extremely overwhelming week, and it’s impossible to hit everything. I missed a few major events (like re:Play), but I don’t regret it one bit, because it allowed me to sleep, recharge, and get ready for the rest of the week!
  • Get AWS Certified! It doesn’t really matter what certification it is – as a matter of fact, go get your AWS Cloud Practitioner Certification – I can help with that! If you have any active certification, you get special swag and ability to go into the AWS Certification Lounge at most AWS events (including the Summits). This means you’ll have food, drinks, and place to chill for a while as you charge your phone and meet other attendees.
This year’s swag from the AWS Certification Lounge at re:Invent.

I said no to a lot of swag, but in all, I received 1 Eddie Bauer winter jacket, 2 thin sports jackets, 1 sweater, 2 t-shirts, 1 water bottle, 1 charging block, 2 pairs of socks, 1 stuffed animal, 1 duffel bag, 1 pull-string backpack, 1 collapsible straw, and 2 hot sauces. Along with some miscellaneous small things like pins and stickers and thin books.

A GitLab collapsible straw and sticker.

Totally unrelated to the topic at hand, but swags I wish companies had:

  • Nice notebooks
  • Nice backpacks
  • Luggage tags
  • Packable duffels
  • Reusable grocery bags (my mom and I actually still use the re:Invent 2019 swag bags every week for groceries)

Wishlist for AWS/re:Invent

  • Meet-for-Coffee/Meals App for people looking to meet people and just go out – as someone who didn’t know many people there, who isn’t coming as part of a company, and also coming for the first time… It was completely overwhelming, but at the same time, kind of isolating. It would’ve been great to have a place I can check into (though hashtags did show up on Twitter!) to see if anyone’s up to grabbing a quick meal or coffee nearby!
  • Closed Captioning for Keynotes
  • More social events that are not loud and boozy and in middle of the night – I’m not a loud or boozy kind of person, and my bed time is 9:30PM ?
  • Better signage for event venues (I spent over half an hour lost in the Venetian one morning….)
  • More water…. ?
  • Shuttles to all major hotels ?
Hiroko Nishimura
AWS Community Hero. Special Education teacher turned IT Engineer turned Technical Writer. Author "AWS for Non-Engineers" (Manning Publications). Technical Instructor "Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers" (LinkedIn Learning).

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