Gratitude. That’s the simple yet powerful word that comes to mind when I look back on re:Invent 2023. This article is an expression of my gratitude to those who made not only re:Invent something more for me this year, but have jolted my career in a way I didn’t know was possible.
This year started with a blast to my system. My father, who was my best friend in life passed away after a long bout with cancer. I was there for his last month and spent time with him while he was with us. I can’t say I enjoyed the time, but we took the time together talking, sharing and trying in general to do whatever I could to make things easier for him. Growing up watching my father run his own Geology Consulting Practice gives me a unique perspective now as a father. His schedule allowed plenty of flexibility to attend my golf matches, soccer games and occasional theatre productions which left a lasting impression on me. Those 20 or so days of my life have reshaped my trajectory forever.
This was early in January and he ended up passing on 1/12/23. About that same time, I took a chance and signed up for the AWS Community Builders program. If you aren’t familiar with this, I’ll quickly summarize it as a place for those who love building in AWS that can be around a diverse yet commonly focused community. I had only been writing for a few months so I did not expect to be accepted into the program on my first submission. Considering the funk I was in during February, receiving the acceptance letter was just the boost of encouragement I needed to again change the trajectory of my year. Two big bumps in a matter of 60 days.
Now you might be wondering, what does any of this have to do with re:Invent which took place in November/December? The short answer is EVERYTHING. And here’s why
Not a Recap
This was my 3rd re:Invent in person and my 5th if you count attending virtually. My previous experiences at re:Invent wrapped around the following activities.
My previous visits to Las Vegas centered around trying to learn as much as I possibly could, I sacrificed socializing and nighttime activities to gain as much knowledge as possible. But, if I’m putting things in perspective. I didn’t know anyone at the conference so I didn’t have that many other options. Sure, you can network at the event and meet people but things happen so fast it’s hard to truly build a bond with someone that week if there’s nothing previously to build upon.
I tell you everything that I’ve shared up to this point to paint the picture that the community that has embraced me over the past 10 months helped change my re:Invent experience forever in addition to my life. It’s hard to build meaningful relationships in a few days, but it’s completely possible to build meaningful relationships in 10 months. And then when you have the chance to meet in person, it only deepens the bond that’s been created.
Complete pontification, but in a world where everything is digital and we are giving away our skills and thoughts to AI, you can’t fake it in person. In-person conferences and meetups allow you to truly lean into relationships. And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times. Software is a team sport and the technology business is a human business.
My encouragement to anyone who is out there reading this thinking about becoming a part of a community of any kind is this. There’s no time like the present and you ARE GOOD ENOUGH to join. Any community has individuals at many different levels in their journey and your story, your diversity, and your passion will improve that community. It’s just up to you to take that step.
I’m not encouraging you to do anything I haven’t done. I did it this time last year and it forever changed me.
The re:Invent Part
I love the buzz of the week. Multiple casinos, rails, buses, party cars, the whole thing. I did a breakdown each night while I was out there, so I won’t recap the whole thing. However, if you want to look back, here are the links to the articles.
Hands down, Werner’s is always my favorite. My advice to any new attendee is to try and do as many of them as you can in person. I get it, it’s a lot. Especially with a previous evening of partying and eating. But YOLO right? Another strategy is to plan the 1 or 2 that you have to make and get to bed early the night before. I promise you, Vegas will be there the next night waiting for you to burn some of your energy and dollars on it.
I always want to write from a place of authenticity and not blind fandom. I’m a tremendous believer in the power of the cloud and even more specifically in building upon the AWS cloud. My career is where it is because I’ve embraced it. However, I still like to maintain some objectivity when looking at new releases as well as changes in direction. This year is no different but it is the first year I’ve done it in public.
The below “Not my favorites” are just my opinions. They might change as services mature but where I am in my journey is that I prefer the deepening of features vs the release of new ones. When building large systems with a provider, every time something new comes out, you end up with two versions of the thing running. One with workarounds to cover gaps and one without the workarounds as the feature is deepened. And you might never get back and make that legacy code whole.
That’s why I love seeing platforms evolve without impacting me as a customer. I can opt in without having significantly different versions of code in production. It’s not easy, but as a builder, it’s highly appreciated.
Now instead of trying to recap everything, I want to give you my 2 things that were released and weren’t my favorite and two things that were.
Not my favorites
There were two things I disliked the most this year about the flurry of announcements.
I very much appreciated Werner’s words that were essentially, “there is plenty to do with plain old traditional AI/ML that can move the world forward”. I have no doubt that GenAI will matter to us as a society in the future, but the value doesn’t follow the hype across the board. The science and tech have a long way to go and the announcements felt half-baked in a lot of ways.
And as much as I enjoyed this Taylor Swift moment proof, I struggle with giving the power to people who aren’t technical. Understanding the how and why still matters to embrace GenAI at this point. For those who know me know that I’m a little old-fashioned on some of the AI pieces.
I love AWS for its simplicity and laser-focused commitment to building rock-solid and highly scalable platform components. Do I want them to spend resources on higher-level features like this? My answer at the moment is, I’m not sure.
The thing I enjoyed the least this year was the talk of Serverless. Hold on? Don’t I write a lot of Serverless articles? Didn’t AWS release more Serverless stuff this year?
Yes and Yes. However, I didn’t find the things released to be truly Serverless. Things like DynamoDB, SQS, Lambda, SNS, EventBridge, Step Functions and in the external space Momento are Serverless. OpenSearch, ElasticCache and RedShift Serverless are not quite Serverless. I have run these in production and can tell you that they come with challenges not faced by the services listed in the preceding sentence.
How can I make that distinction? To compare something to a term, one must have a definition. My friends over at Momento have been sharing this litmus test that I think accurately defines the pattern.
To be Serverless, the component must meet these benchmarks. It must be:
- Nothing to provision, nothing to manage
- Usage-based pricing with no minimums
- Ready with a single API call
- No planned downtime
- No instances
I 100% BelieveInServerless and I know for a fact having built many systems with the pattern that it’s a fantastic way to go for many solutions. My future casting self though says that if AWS continues to try and split the definition into true Serverless and faux Serverless, the following will happen. More outside entities will build these components for sale on the AWS rock-solid infrastructure because builders are going to expect it.
I gave you two things I didn’t like. Now for the two things I did like.
Step Function HTTPS Endpoints
Here’s the announcement. I love this release honestly. And here’s why.
I use Lambda for making these types of requests all too often. Any Lambda code I can get rid of saves me cost, complexity and just something else to maintain. Now, I’m waiting for the ability to sign requests with a v4 signature as AWS requires for certain services but this capability is a huge step forward.
You might be noticing a theme. As a builder who relies on AWS for many production workloads, I value the deepening of capabilities at this point more than the buzz of the new releases. I’ve spent a lot of time coding around almost finished components and it creates some challenges for larger teams. It can also slow adoption which can slow innovation.
Rust AWS SDK GA
What I’m most excited about is that for the past few years, this SDK has been in preview. In addition, many side projects were rolled out on GitHub to fill in the gaps. My preference is always to stay close to AWS, especially on the things they ship. And it’s great to see them committed to the Rust ecosystem. It’s quickly becoming one of my go-to languages even though I’m still pretty terrible at it. It challenges me and it rewards me. Kind of like golf. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.
I had the best time this year if you can’t tell from my nightly posts, not-a-recap and the various Tweets and LinkedIn shares. I also had the pleasure of going with 2 first-timers who traveled out from different cities.
I appreciate all of the conversations and people that I had the opportunity to meet IRL for the first time and engage in all kinds of conversations. I of course can’t list everyone but if we connected live, you surely know who you are. And I’m thankful for the time we got to share.
But I did spend a lot of my time with two friends who I’m excited to continue to get to know and continue growing with. Andres Moreno and Allen Helton. We shared some amazing evenings and had wonderful conversations and it seemed like every time I turned around, there you were. Thanks for making the week even that much better.
I’ll leave you with this. No one gets to where they want to go alone. Everyone needs help. And sometimes you are the helper and sometimes you are the help-e. Enjoy the ride and play your part and everything will work out alright.
Thanks for reading and happy building!