7 min read
December 11, 2020

How AWS re:Invented the Learning Conference and Why That Matters


Rahul Subramaniam

Head of Innovation, Rahul Subramaniam, takes a look back at the biggest cloud learning conference of the year and shares insight around using the new all-virtual format to your advantage.

I have been working in software development for nearly two decades, leading innovation teams into and through the rise of cloud adoption. One of the most pivotal and impactful ingredients of innovation is the process of learning. Cloud is growing rapidly, and increasingly so as we continue to bring AI and Machine Learning into the fold. Learning to innovate closes the gap between what we can imagine and what we can create. This is how we shape our world and our future.

At the forefront of cloud innovation is AWS - Amazon’s fast-growing web services subsidiary, which has positioned itself as a leader in cloud product development and cloud learning. Once a year, innovation and learning converge at the AWS re:Invent conference, and 2020’s iteration aims to be one for the records.

Massive in its own right, the typical AWS conference draws tens of thousands of people from all over the world. But, this year, as conferences and events adapt or die in the age of COVID, re:Invent will go all-virtual for the first time in eight years. Without the need to travel or pay a hefty entrance fee, I’m excited by the fact that this year’s offering could potentially reach millions.

Each year, re:Invent affords us an opportunity to hear from Amazon and AWS leadership and product teams, as well as the chance to hear from industry giants as they share how the cloud has fueled their ideas and changed the way they do business forever.

Why Big Tech Conferences Matter to Innovators

In past years, there’s been a lot of hustle and bustle around re:Invent. The in-person affair usually takes place in Las Vegas, one of America’s biggest party cities. The greatest benefit of the event has been the ability to build a rapport with the AWS teams. I get to connect with potential customers and to network with other technology leaders. These are the invaluable connections that sometimes happen during unplanned encounters and can even take up the bulk of my conference experience.

Losing the ability to bump into the right people at a condensed, in-person conference, I initially found it hard to get too excited about re:Invent this year. Last year, I joined AWS Principal Product Manager Kumar Venkateswar on the re:Invent stage to talk about the auto-generated Machine Learning models of SageMaker Autopilot. Interestingly, the session I co-hosted was one of the few that I actually experienced during the course of the conference. I spent the rest of my time meeting customers, having strategy conversations with Amazon group leads, and engaging in roadmap transparency meetings.

“Learning to innovate closes the gap between what we can imagine and what we can create. ”

But it’s the less structured interactions that are often key to building credibility and access, especially as a company on the bleeding edge of technology. The goal is to establish trust and make our presence known, which creates interest and curiosity. Without that support, our innovative ideas might not take off. A general discussion about problems and solutions with a few AWS AI team members has led to introductions across other AWS teams. We get to strengthen long-term partnerships with the product teams and leverage those partnerships to transform our own products and make sure that our vision aligns with how AWS plans to evolve - all by having conversations.

So with the busy conference halls removed and the after-session chatter reduced to a chatbox, is this year’s re:Invent worth attending? If you work in or around the cloud, if your business operates on the cloud, if you are curious about how to optimize your cloud efforts and grow your business without blowing your profit margins on IT, then re:Invent is still the hottest ticket online.

The Importance of Learning for Innovation

With re:invent going virtual, there will be limited opportunity to have those impromptu conversations and build personal connections. Save for the convenient in-session chat feature offers registered session goers the chance to interact with other attendees. But the genius of the all-access model is that it levels the playing field like never before.

Thanks to the power of video, Zoom, and social media, all attendees will have access to the same learning, from small business owners to enterprise-level engineers. There will be ample opportunities to hear from those helping to shape the future of computing and companies like NFL, Netflix, and Lego, who have grown with the cloud.

Technologists and engineers can expect to hear a lot about the paradigm shift in software and computing. Now that the conference has officially kicked off, it’s important to plan around the sessions that matter the most to you. For example, C-suite executives managing tech teams may recheck their IT investments based on re:Invent leadership sessions and customer stories. Lock into the content that suits you, and that meets you at your level of knowledge. With dozens of stories and insight sharing sessions on the schedule, there’s an opportunity to spark creative problem-solving and realign best practices.

What to Gain from the 2020 Virtual Event

Last week, AWS CEO Andy Jassy opened the conference with a keynote that incorporated a ton of information, including several new product announcements and success stories from Boom Supersonic, Intuit, Snap, and more. This week, Swami Sivasubramanian, Amazon’s VP of AI covered how Machine Learning is forever changing what cloud computing can do. We all got a front-row seat to the show and didn’t have to leave our homes to see it.

As we pass the midway point of re:invent, I’ll continue to keep my eye on the key sessions to see what disruptions we can expect to impact software development and deployment. In addition to the big keynotes are the leadership sessions that narrow in on more specific insights. I’m excited about David Brown’s session on scaling to meet unprecedented demand and AWS VP David McCann’s talk on migration and governance.

While there won’t be physical vendor booths this year, there is the chance to see how other companies are using AWS products and leveraging cloud computing technologies. We get to hear how Netflix tackles permissions using the multi-account management burden. Companies like LEGO and Zynga share how they utilized the cloud to shape their success and meet growth demands.  

The Hidden Value of re:Invent 2020

If history is any guide, we can expect AWS to continue releasing tons of products and features right through to the last day of re:Invent. With hundreds of videos broadcast over this time, we have a chance to attend more sessions than in any previous year. What’s more, video content lives forever. After the conference, the digital library of video sessions will eventually enable ongoing access to all the topics from re:Invent.

No longer are we beholden to attending the sessions we manage to squeeze into a tight schedule. The re:Invent session catalog allows attendees to choose their track and customize their experience based on availability, interest, expertise level, and dozens of other factors. With multiple time zones and rebroadcasts, you can quite easily catch sessions you miss. There is also a thriving cloud community across social media platforms. Cloud and innovation leaders and influencers have been stirring up buzz in anticipation of the event’s virtual launch and are continuing the conversation all month.

Whether you join to peek in and out of the big keynotes or choose to follow a curated community track to focus on learning, you will leave with more knowledge than you came with. Brimming with resources and information, re:Invent 2020 promises to set a new precedence for conferences to come.  


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