Steven Natera


AWS re:Invent 2018 Recap - The Minority Perspective

Let’s talk about my first time at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, my mistakes, and the horrendous lack of diversity and inclusion at this conference.

Sponsored by the tech lords

I went to AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas this year. As I went about my daily routine, I figured it would be a good idea to write a review of the tech conference from my perspective. Here are some of the mistakes I made that you can avoid the next time you’re headed to one of these events. For a thorough survival guide view the The Ultimate Guide to AWS re:Invent 2018.

Download the AWS re:Invent app. For some reason I dropped the ball on this one. I did not download the app until Sunday night. The app is where the session catalog is located, as well as the WiFi password! Always read your emails for important information.

Go to talks in the larger rooms. I found some of the best talks in rooms that held a couple hundred people. Those sessions were the best for drop-in sessions after the smaller room sessions were filled to capacity.

Sign up for everything that is remotely interesting. Sometimes I did not get into a session and had no alternative sessions to jump into at that time slot. After this happened, I spent each night, on the app, adding a bunch of sessions to my schedule to make sure I had options for the day.

Book a hotel near the events. The events are hosted in a number of hotels on the Las Vegas strip. The hotels with the most events are the Venetian, Aria, Bellagio, and MGM. I stood at Park MGM which is connected to the Aria, so I minimized some of my walking distances. However most of the talks I was interested in were at the Venetian which meant I would be using the shuttle system a bit.

Always use AWS shuttles between venues. Although the strip is highly connected, on the first day I did not know of this fact so it took me 1 hour to get to a session. After this I learned the AWS shuttles are the best way to get to and from events in different hotels.

Get to the sessions interesting sessions 1 hour early. I learned this one by reading the signs which read “queuing starts 1 hr prior to session start time.” At that moment I learned why I arrived 15 mins early there was a line that curved around the bend for the session.

Stack up on snacks. I was hungry fairly often, especially because I was dashing between sessions. There are ton of snacks around the venues, primarily around the breakfast and lunch times.

Watch the Keynotes in full. I ducked out of the second keynote 10 minutes before it ended and they announced managed Kafka. Always stay to the end or you might miss something.

After product reveals signup for sessions. I noticed that after the product announcements there were new sessions in the catalog labeled [NEW-LAUNCH]. I got into a few, but to be honest, it was a shitty experience to have to ditch my whole schedule and scramble to a new session.

Use your company email. Whenever you get your badge scanned a B2B company jumps for joy because they got your email for a lifetime. Be smart and use your work email unlike me who used their personal email.

Go to the Expo. I did not spend enough time at the expo because it was massively overwhelming. But I managed to go for a few hours and get free swag. Here I learned about chaos engineering which is freaking awesome!

Tweet about it. I found this was a cool way to meet other people at the events. You can also increase your follower count as #awsreinvent will be trending.

Thank you for reading! Just kidding. You honestly thought I was going write a tech article on one of the largest tech events of the year, for one of the richest companies in the world, without sharing a few cold, hard truths on diversity and inclusion 🙃?

Diversity in tech

Diversity sucks. What I love about these large tech conferences is that they exacerbate every stereotype, every privilege, and every shortcoming that exists in the technology industry. Every aspect in which the tech industry could do better is highlighted, clear as day, at these events.

In 2017 there were approximately 43,000 people at re:Invent and this year they expected an even larger crowd according to the Amazon new blog. Guess how many people of color I saw at this event. I found maybe one for every finger on my left hand. Maybe AWS had a secret events list just for minorities and I did not get the invitation. Conference wide that number could be 2% but even at that rate those numbers are abysmal. (I don’t have any data to support this claim.)

Ok but let’s be optimistic. Well Amazon is not the only company responsible for the diversity in tech problem so we can’t pin it on them. But this is their conference, so surely they made sure their panel of speakers diverse because they prize diversity and inclusion. You woulda thought thats what happened.

I saw zero people of color on stage. Oh, I saw one woman! But she didn’t even give the presentation on the topic. She came from behind the stage to answer questions because I think she was in charge of the service. If that was the case, WHY DIDN’T SHE PRESENT FROM THE JUMP!?

These are the things that annoy me about the tech overlords. Amazon, you are one of the richest companies on the planet, maybe even in history, with the richest man in the world at the helm of your universe conquering death star, and you’re telling me that you could not afford to put one of your best, brightest, most overpaid, employees to solve the representation problem at your tech conference!? If you’re really customer obsessed fix the diversity problem at your conference.

Inclusion sucks. But wait theres more! You know this recap would not be complete without someone doing the most to exclude the minorities by saying something prejudice that perpetuates the alienation we feel on the daily.

There was a re:Invent sponsored pub crawl within the various casinos. My coworker, who is black, and I were lost and confused so we decided to ask questions to other conference participates. Mind you, we both had our badges visible and we had branded AWS bags with out things. Clearly, we belonged at this conferences. Right?

We saw a group of people (all white obviously) walking by that had AWS badges like ours. We asked the group for directions to the pub crawl, and I kid you not, the brogrammer of the group looked at us laughed, walked away, and said it was a private event. As common as these things are, anger is never really the first response, instead we were shocked that such an interaction even occurred. Did you know the conference has a code of conduct? Let’s look at the behavior section.

1. You will behave in a way as to create a safe and supportive environment for all event participants.

Thanks for creating an unsupportive environment for us, you dick.

2. You will not engage in disruptive speech or behavior or otherwise interfere with the event or other individuals’ participation in the event.

Because of your comments and behavior, you interfered with us participating in the pub crawl event, you dick.

3. You will not engage in any form of harassing, offensive, discriminatory, or threatening speech or behavior, including (but not limited to) relating to race, gender, gender identity and expression, national origin, religion, disability, marital status, age, sexual orientation, military or veteran status, or other protected category.

Thanks for offending us, you dick.

4. You will comply with the instructions of event and venue staff.

Thanks for violating the code of conduct, you dick.

5. You will comply with all applicable laws.

Not sure if you broke a law but you’re still a dick.

And there you have it folks, even in our precious tech bubble, full of all its free snacks, high salaries, ping-pong tables, innovative disruption, and feel good talks about unlimited paid time off, even in 2018, there are some groups of people that just live a different experience within the tech world. Message to the brogrammer, we still made the pub crawl, you dick.

Dec 2, 2018

👋🏽Hi! I’m Steven Natera. Follow me on Twitter @StevenNatera. I’m actively involved in the open source community, specifically GatsbyJS. I like writing about code, startups, React and Kubernetes. If you‘re a hacker or maker join the Dope Technophiles newsletter where we share the dope shit we’re building.

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