AWS re:Invent Recap and Reflections

Adrienne Shulman
4 min readMar 3, 2022

I started working with AWS and my first cloud transformation in 2018, but 2021 was my first re:Invent. Here’s a slightly edited version of my recap & reflections that I shared with my team internally.

Conference Summary

November 29 — December 1, Venetian, Las Vegas, NV

Goals (achieved 3 of the 4 goals I set for myself):

  • Relationship building with colleagues from different teams (Cornerstone sent ~30 people this year, most of whom work in different departments or teams)
  • Stay current on emerging technology trends
  • Explore Data & Analytics track to help Cornerstone become more data driven (note: As VP of IT at my company, I’m responsible for Enterprise Analytics and unlocking value from our data is one of my top goals)
  • Network and meet people with expertise in: a.) Corp IT cloud migration, b.) getting value from a datalake, c.) SaaS Lead to Cash domain/M&A, d.) women/non-binary tech leaders

Favorite Sessions:

  • Cloud trends in 2022: 6 ways to advance cloud modernization (sponsored by Cloudreach) ENT219-S
  • Data-driven enterprise: Going from vision to value ENT204
  • Self-service analytics for everyone with ML-powered Amazon QuickSight Q BSI201
  • Adam Selipsky Keynote KYN002

Highlights:

  • Of course all the Cornerstone social events, seeing old colleagues and friends for the first time in 2 years, and meeting new people for the first time.
  • The Data & Analytics sessions, I left feeling more confident in what we need to do to unlock more value from our data.

Common Themes

Culture. Every single session I attended stressed the importance of people and culture for a successful digital transformation. The ideal culture is explained but very few went into details for how to actually create it. Computers are easy, people are complex.

Disagree and commit. This came up often in sessions & conversations — the importance of quickly getting people to agree to work together to execute and make forward progress, instead of endless debates about what is correct. Too much debate about the perfect solution leads to getting nothing done.

The blending of roles. IT needs more business skills and business folks need more tech skills. This was being predicted as a “in the future…” for last several years, but future is here now.

Org effectiveness and breaking down silos. What got you here won’t get you there. Traditional hierarchies get in the way of innovation.

Data is growing exponentially. The rate of growth will only keep increasing, and the sad truth that most companies struggle with data. Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

Diversity. The lack of diversity in tech really stands out in such a large crowd (~20,000 people, which is apparently only about a quarter of the size of the last one!). Werner Vogel, CTO of Amazon, comments.

Learnings/Curiosities/Observations

Amazon uses the concept of “two way doors” which is similar to what we’ve been calling “safe to fail experiments” — the idea is to look for 2 way doors (decisions) that you can walk back through if you make a mistake. With 2 way doors, you just need 70% of the information you need to start moving because you can always come back. This helps companies move fast and innovate.

DQ: digital quotient. Leadership today requires all leaders to be somewhat technical. Leaders should be measured on their DQ in addition to their IQ/EQ.

“Good strategy without execution is hallucination” (see above on how to execute: disagree & commit, break down silos etc)

The expo was huuuge — filled with literally hundreds and hundreds of companies selling tools and technology, but none selling a culture change.

After the Conference/Next Steps

Invite AWS CxOs to Present to our ELT. My favorite session was ENT204: Data Driven Enterprise: Going from vision to value today, presented by 2 CxOs who talked about what it actually takes to create a data driven organization — using culture, organization and mechanisms. Not surprisingly, specific technology was not discussed. The session was excellent though mostly confirming fundamentals I am already familiar with. This would be an excellent session to bring to our ELT. It’s one thing for Tech folks to understand data, but the more we can increase data literacy and get to a common vision across the whole company, the faster we can unlock value from data.

Build & Execute Data Strategy:

  1. Clarity. Find out board level goals and expectations on analytics.
  2. Unlock Value. Get fly wheel spinning with current data team and early adopters — continuing to add to data lake and driving adoption of dashboards.
  3. Influence. Organize a Data Community of Practice to get early adopters and evangelists together to maximize collective input and increase data literacy throughout the company. Schedule a free 2 day Data Driven Everything (D2E) workshop with AWS in Q1.

Explore next gen data lake technologies, including Lake Formation, and other AWS services for Data Lake governance and security.

Ask AWS about the session on digital transformation roadmaps that I missed: Build transformation roadmaps with the AWS Transformation Guide ENT305-R1

Schedule a meeting with AWS Account team and our CxOs to present our cloud roadmap and understand board level goals and priorities.

If you’re lucky enough to work for a company that sends you to a tech conference, one of the best things you can do when you return home is to write up a short recap summarizing your experience and share it widely. Companies send employees to conferences for a number of reasons including skill development, gaining insight into emerging technologies, and sometimes just as a perk for employee retention. By sharing your reflections, not only do you spread knowledge and ideas throughout your company, but you’re also showing your company that you take learning seriously and they are more likely to send you to another one.

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Adrienne Shulman

Founder and Executive Principal at Tenger Ways, helping organizations adopt DevOps, Agile and Modern Technology Practices.