Re:Invent, like many large conferences, has a very curious dichotomy. For some -- it's the best time of the year. The place where a huge chunk of business gets done. A chance to learn, network, party, sell, buy. Or float from casino to casino, surviving on fast food and comped drinks while you eek away the hours at a slot machine. Or found a company. BTS was founded, quite literally, on a Monday morning in an off-strip hotel room, before the founders went off to hit the show floor. It really is what you make of it.
Kathie has already put together a fantastic guide on what to bring to re:Invent, so I wanted to put together a quick guide to help you maximize what you might be able to get out of re:Invent, depending on what you're looking for. Time to choose your own adventure.
I want to...
...Find A New Job
Re:Invent seems like the perfect place for job and applicant seekers. But we need to caveat this pretty much immediately. Sponsors of the conference are not permitted by the rules to recruit at re:Invent. So what is a prospective hiring manager or applicant to do?
For applicants: Walking up to a vendor booth, striking up a conversation, and casually dropping a "you looking for folks?" will generally elicit a lukewarm response. Remember, vendors specifically are limited by the above rules, and for good reason. Wouldn't want to turn the entire conference into a headhunting pissing match between companies. What you really want to do is find out if there is somebody specific in attendance who might be hiring for a team. Say, a director of infrastructure. For smaller companies this might be the CTO/CEO. Titles mean very little at a conference, and if the company is looking to grow badly enough, you will absolutely be able to figure out a time to chat. Be transparent about what you're trying to do, but also you're trying to play the game. Maybe this is one of those "Hey, I'd love to learn more about your company, is there a chance we can chat... [over drinks/lunch/etc]." Once the conversation has moved away from the booth, then pretty much anything will become fair game. I've seen entire teams do their first round of interviews in the cafeteria area of re:Invent over lunch. (As a point of fact: that entire team happened to not be gainfully employed at the time, and the company that was doing the recruiting has since gone out of business). Once you have the meeting, make the best of it. You might be sitting on the plane back home with an already scheduled time for your second round, if not an offer.
...Find New Employees
For hiring managers: Don't push the limits of the rules. There are cases where recruiting is very much appropriate, but please don't sabotage yourself by trying to aggressively poach folks. If you're interested in hiring somebody, make sure you hard-schedule time with them. As in, either you commit to meet with them in Vegas, or the calendar invites are out. Vegas is a wild place, re:Invent doubly so, and the chances of you remembering the wonderful engineer you talked to on Monday by the time that Re:Play rolls around on Thursday are fairly slim.
If you're going to re:Invent to learn, I hope you already locked down the sessions that you're going to. If you haven't, it may already be too late, considering we're 6 days away from conference opening. However, there's probably still capacity for you to take certification tests and other such events. But if you're going there for the sessions... ...Why go there for the sessions? It's crowded and noisy, and the sessions are streamed anyway. And while the Wifi is pretty solid at the event, did you really fly across the country to stare at your screen for six hours a day?
Breakout sessions. Chalk Talks. Workshops. Builder Labs. These are all opportunities to go hands-on with the tech, talk to your peers, trade war stories, and learn some new tech. The hands-on bits are probably where most of the learning is going to happen. Focus on the interactive sessions, rather than the non-interactive.
Lunch. Lunch is a wonderful time of day, and re:Invent lunches are consistently quite good. But this is also an opportunity to sit down at a table, strike up a conversation, maybe learn something, or just listen to a team talk about their internal challenges. Everything the author learned about migrating legacy MIPS systems to AWS, the author learned in an impromptu technical session while eating lunch with a team that supported nuclear facilities.
...Grow My Business
Are you a vendor with a booth? Cover your ears for a second and step away from the screen, I am not going to be nice. If you have a booth, realize that most of your business leads will not be coming from it. It's a great marketing tool in terms of name recognition. But what's going to lead you to more business, contacts, or anything of that sort is pure, hard, unabashed networking. And while people are going to do it at your booth, sure, the bulk of it will happen at the out-of-conference events happening around the strip. If you are not a sponsor, congratulations you don't have the overhead of event management (probably, unless you're still hosting an event), which means you have more time to focus on finding and talking to people. Good luck, there's a lot of need out there.
If you've noticed a theme, is because there is one. The biggest value that re:Invent can bring to anybody is exactly what they put into it in terms of networking. If you're willing to meet and talk with people, listen to their stories, and be ready to tell your own, your re:Invent journey will be a massive success.
However, I did want to note one thing in the networking category that folks may have missed during their re:Invent emails: PeerTalk. If you signed up for the conference, you probably got your email with the invitation to this wonderful calendaring system already. What it allows you to do is send meeting invite requests to everybody else who has signed up for the system and will be attending the conference. (Sidenote, if you want to talk to the BTS founders, we're on there and we'll be there - hit us up!). This is an opportunity to meet with your peers, whether they be executives or engineers, and talk about specific questions or problems that you may face.
Outside of lunch, specific conference sessions, and on-site events, the off-site corporate events are what you want to go to network. Conferenceparties.com is a fantastic resource, but don't just treat these events as a party. If you're there to network, network. That is the primary purpose of those events. The fancy nightclub DJ or band is just the show dressing.
Summing it up.
The quick takeaway is that the biggest way to maximize your returns at re:Invent is really simple. Network, network, and network again. The support structures are all there, it's up to you to utilize them.
If you're one of the 70,000+ folks headed to re:Invent this year, we're looking forward to meeting you there. DM us on LinkedIn if you'd like to get together!