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My AWS re:Invent Experience as a Woman in Tech

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of representing Okera as an exhibiting sponsor of AWS re:Invent. This was the company’s second year at the show, but my first — in fact, it was my first time ever attending a trade show.

I had very little idea what to expect, though others on the team who’d been to re:Invent last year warned me to prepare for long days and lots of talking, and to bring comfortable shoes, a water bottle, and Chapstick. (All excellent advice, I can now attest to.) I had been to Las Vegas before, but never quite like this.

AWS re:Invent is…well, enormous could sound like an overstatement, but even Okera team members who attended last year’s event said this one felt bigger than before. Over 65,000 people descended onto Las Vegas from December 2-6 for the leading global customer and partner conference for the cloud computing community. It was five long, action-packed days of keynote announcements, breakout sessions, hands-on learning, the APN Partner Expo, and fun after-hours events, all capped off on Thursday night with re:Play, “the best party at the intersection of music and technology”, in the words of AWS themselves.

Included with Okera’s sponsorship were a few full conference passes, so I was able to see and experience all aspects of re:Invent, not just the expo hall.

THE EXPO

The week definitely started off with a bang on Monday afternoon, with the Welcome Reception in the expo hall from 4-7 PM. This year there were two different locations – the main one in The Venetian, and The Quad at the Aria Hotel, which was smaller with a focus on AI/ML, IoT, and robotics.

Since I had a hand in the design, I was immensely proud that our “what happens in the data lake” T-shirts were so popular; that first night alone, we gave out over 700 of them. (I was feeling it in my knees and back for the rest of the conference, but it was worth it.) They were by far the coolest shirts on the show floor, if I do say so myself – although the sentiment was also echoed by many attendees throughout the week.

While the first night was kind of a madhouse, without as much time for real discussions perhaps as we would have liked, traffic to the booth stayed steady throughout the week. Whenever I was back at the booth for a little while, I was able to listen in on the team having some really good conversations and doing demos for people who were interested in evaluating our data lake access control and governance solutions.

THE SESSIONS

No matter your industry, job title and/or specialization, or where your company is in its cloud journey, AWS had content designed for you. At any given moment, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of sessions taking place in venues at four different hotels across the Las Vegas Strip.

There were multiple styles of sessions:

  • Leadership sessions (in Identity, or Security, or Management and Governance, to name a few I checked out), where key people from various departments with AWS would discuss big ideas in the space and new AWS product launches.

  • Customer-led sessions, where enterprises like BMS and Netflix discussed their experiences using AWS services and other APN partner companies to innovate faster and solve their business challenges.

  • Chalk Talks, which were held discussion-style, with AWS solutions architects on hand to whiteboard your problem.

  • A few I didn’t attend, like Bootcamps and Hackathons, that came with instructions to bring your laptop and where the intended goal was to set something up within your AWS account during the session.

 

This year’s announcements showed a focus on security, with the launch of Amazon Detective for identifying the source of potential security issues or suspicious activity, and the new AWS Security Hub to give a holistic view of high-priority security alerts and compliance status across AWS accounts from both AWS services and third-party tools. Certain new features like Amazon S3 Access Points and IAM Access Analyzer indicate that AWS is aware of the problems surrounding data access management, but their current approach, reflected in these new features, is more centered around simplifying S3 bucket access. They still do not provide a complete solution for data access control, nor anything for consent management or regulatory compliance like what Okera provides.

THE NETWORKING

At an event like this, which brings together so many different people from all over the globe, the opportunities for networking are huge. AWS offered several industry-specific lounges – such as healthcare and life sciences, retail, or financial services – across the re:Invent campus. These were places to interact with speakers after sessions, connect and catch up with peers, as well as catch the occasional lightning talk from AWS experts.

The most valuable opportunity of the week, however, I only found by chance while scrolling through the session catalog: the “Women in Identity, Security, and Privacy Gathering,” co-sponsored by the groups Women in Identity and Women in Security and Privacy.

From the moment I set foot in the re:Invent registration line to pick up my badge at McCarran Airport, I couldn’t help but notice the massive gender imbalance in the queue of would-be conference attendees. People far more qualified than I am have already written plenty on the subject of women in tech, so I won’t get too far down that rabbit hole right now. But I will say, as someone who’s just starting out in her career and never really thought she’d be working in tech, I got a little excited when I found this event in the catalog. More than just some generic “Women in Tech” meeting, it sat so neatly at the intersection of everything Okera does. I had to check it out.

I overheard someone say this was the first time these groups were doing a meetup at re:Invent, almost like a test to see if there was the critical mass needed to continue doing this – well, I’d say it was a definite success. They had wine, beer, some nice appetizers and desserts, and even a bracelet-making craft project. Everyone I met was so welcoming and friendly, despite the bit of imposter syndrome that crept in once I was actually in a ballroom full of accomplished women in this field.

We heard a few lightning talks, and then I ended up having a really nice discussion with an AWS director of product management about the necessary role of storytelling in the Big Data industry, to connect the dots between all the various identity and security-related features of a data platform. It was unexpectedly gratifying, and when I finally left the event, that pesky imposter syndrome was all but gone.

IN CONCLUSION

While I did get home late Friday night and slept for almost 12 hours straight (I may have also picked up a nasty cold on my way out of town), I was very glad to have had the opportunity to attend the conference.

AWS re:Invent has something for everyone. Attendees can get a lot out of the session content and opportunities for networking, while vendors appreciate the high-quality traffic to their booths and opportunities to connect with prospects and customers. And, of course, you’re in Las Vegas – besides the official conference events, there’s plenty of opportunity to have a little fun at the end of a long day. The Okera team had some fun team bonding dinners, and I got to meet some of our remote sales team for the first time on this trip. It was definitely a long week, but worth it in every way.

Though next time, I’ll be taking the advice of a new friend and loading up on vitamin C several days in advance.