With over 400 sponsors, 1,000+ breakout sessions & workshops, 6 different venues, and 5 days of scheduled activities, AWS re:Invent 2017 can be a daunting experience even for the most seasoned conference goer. Everyone has different reasons and goals for attending re:Invent; some go for the inevitable product launches by AWS, others go for their own education and AWS training, and many attend for the chance to meet with AWS partners, demo the latest cloud technologies, and pick up killer swag in the main Expo Hall. Due to the sheer scale of this show, I sat down with Alert Logic’s resident re:Invent expert (and Sr. Director of Technology Services), Ryan Holland, to gather inside information for anyone looking to maximize (and survive) their week in Las Vegas.

Q: Where is the best “off-the-beaten-path” dining?

A: The absolute best place that no one wants to tell you about is a very dive-y looking spot off the strip called Lotus of Siam. Looks like nothing from the outside, but they cook up some truly unreal Thai food. The chicken wonton soup, simple as it may sound, should not be skipped and if you’re in the mood to splurge, order the whole fish.  If going with a large group, prepare to wait (it’s worth it) and while you do, check out their extensive wine list.

Q: What are some tips for navigating the AWS pub-crawl circuit?

A: Every year the pub-crawls seem to get larger and more crowded. Personally, when it wasn’t something we were sponsoring, I navigated around them, so the only of advice I’d have for these is pick which one you plan to attend ahead of time, get their early and stay until you’re done.  The lines will get long quick and thus there is no circuit per-se, if you leave the one you’re in, it will be difficult to find space at a different one.

Q: What are some “not-to-be-missed” sessions/activities?

A: Outside the keynotes which sessions are not to be missed really depends on what technologies you find interesting.  I’m a cloud security nerd and a huge fan of Lambda, so sessions like “Using Lambda as a Security Team” sound very interesting to me, but I’d recommend finding breakouts that are covering topics that you find interesting first and foremost.  One key tip regarding sessions is AWS usually has a good slate of new services and features that are launched at re:Invent – the sessions that cover anything unreleased will not be posted to the catalog until after they are publicly announced, so be sure to check for new sessions daily.  One of the longest lines I think I’ve ever seen anywhere was the line for the Lambda breakout after it was announced. If one of the new sessions is of interest to you make sure to get there early, as once they’re posted, they will fill up fast!

Q: How do you manage your work/play balance and planning your schedule?

A: First piece of advice is to try and get outside a couple times a day. The first two re:Invent conferences I attended, I realized afterward that I hadn’t left the Venetian/Palazzo the entire time and that’s just not healthy.  Given how spread out the show is this year getting outside will be easier.  Second is to make sure not to stay out too late. It is easy in Vegas to lose track of time and have it suddenly be much later than you thought it was.  Lastly, keep in mind that it will take some time to get anywhere during re:Invent, even meetings in the same building can take some time to get to, so avoid back-to-back meetings.

Q: What are a few ways to life-hack your way through re:Invent?

A: Not sure if this counts as life-hacking but two things that help keep me going while spending a week in Vegas (with all that entails) are electrolyte water additives and a humidifier.  Invariably while at re:Invent, many of us will spend less time sleeping than we would otherwise, as well as having a couple (or more) adult beverages.  I use Lyte Show but there are a number of similar water additives that can help with dehydration.  On the humidifier, its well known that Vegas with all of the air conditioning and desert air is quite dry, but what most people don’t realize is most of the hotels have humidifiers you can request for your room.

Q: We all know that Wi-Fi & cellular signals can be less-than-ideal at these crowded conferences. Any tips?

A: Not specific to re:Invent Wi-Fi but more my general view about public hotspots is that you should not use them unless absolutely necessary – and if you must use them, then make sure to use a VPN client, including on your phone.  Most people will have a work VPN for their laptops, but often forget about doing the same on their phone.  If you don’t have a VPN client on your phone I’d suggest getting one and making sure its enabled before using any public Wi-Fi.

Q: Being a cloud “newbie”, who should I talk to & what should I make sure to check out?

A: AWS re:Invent is very focused on learning so it’s a great place for a “newbie” to get exposed to a lot of content in a short period of time.  The AWS booth will have AWS Security Architects staffing it to help answer questions. Also, I’d recommend attending some of the breakout sessions that are highlighted for new AWS users.  I recommend some of the 200 level sessions covering some of the foundational services such as EC2, IAM and S3.

Q: Where is the best cocktail in Vegas?

A: Not sure if it’s the best but there’s a unique and pretty good cocktail at the Chandelier bar in the Cosmopolitan.  I’m sure there’s a real name for the drink but I’ve always called it the “flower drink”.  It comes with a flower that you’re meant to chew up before you drink it and typically is made with Tequila but you can request Vodka instead (try both see which you like best, unless you’re on a “never again” plan when it comes to Tequila).  I recommend trying a sip before chewing the flower and after to see the difference.

Q: With 40,000+ people attending re:Invent, is the keynote really worth going to or should I just watch remotely?

A: You know I’ve been to every re:Invent and I have always watched it remotely.  Back when I worked at AWS part of putting the customer first meant that employees didn’t attend in person to make as many customer seats available as possible and I sort of got in the habit of watching the stream, so continued that last year.  That said, there’s something special about watching a keynote live in person, but at the end of the day it probably comes down to how late you stayed out the night before.

What do you think of Ryan’s advice and suggestions? Do you have any re:Invent warrior tips to share? Feel free to let us know in the comments below. Alert Logic will be running technical demos and security presentations at Booth #1222, so be sure to stop by and learn about our security-as-a-service solutions for AWS workloads. See you in Vegas!

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