Amazon Web Services’ re:Invent might just be one of the fastest-growing tech conferences in the world, increasing from 6,000 attendees at the inaugural event in 2012 to 32,000 at the 2016 show (held Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 in Las Vegas). With a finely tuned work-play balance, the event offers everything from boot camps and certification workshops to a Harley motorcycle ride and chicken wing-eating contest. (Be sure to check out full coverage of re:Invent in the March edition of Event Marketer by subscribing here). To get the inside scoop on how it all unfolds, we tapped Ariel Kelman, vp-worldwide marketing at AWS, for insights. Following is an excerpt from our conversation.
Event Marketer: How did Amazon Web Services (AWS) get started?
Ariel Kelman: When AWS started, the idea was pretty simple. Amazon had gone through an extensive overhaul of how its computer systems were built and we thought we had come up with something interesting to help our developers build technology a lot more quickly and a lot more efficiently. And we had this revelation that we’re not the only company in the world that has these problems. So, we started offering computing services to companies around the world.
EM: re:Invent attracts a mixed crowd of executives and developers. How do you cater to both?
AK: We find that between customers and partners, the goals overlap… Everyone needs the technical education. But the partners have a bunch of business-related things they want to learn about, and that’s why we added in a one-day partner summit before the main conference starts. It’s always a debate—do you do it together or do you do a separate partner conference? But we like having everyone together.
EM: Why does re:Invent place an emphasis on peer-to-peer education?
AK: If you think about the enterprise software and hardware industry over the last 30 years, it’s done a good job of building up a reputation for not necessarily being customer-focused and not necessarily telling customers the truth. We have a very different approach… But there are people who are new to us and they want to hear it from their peers. They want to say, ‘Hey this really works, how do you do it? Are these guys really as good as they seem?’ That peer education is super important. Then when you get up to our executives, they really want peer networking.
EM: Do you offer conference content to virtual attendees?
AK: We try to make all of the session content—hundreds of sessions—available on YouTube within about a week of the conference. [The virtual aspect] is valuable because if you want to learn about AWS, from intros to all of our services to industry focuses to architecture, everything is on there. You can go ramp up for free any time you want.
EM: What do you attribute to re:Invent’s rapid growth?
AK: First and foremost, it’s been the growth of our customers’ use of AWS. If you think of a large company where at first they’re investigating us and they’re experimenting, and they go all the way to saying we’re going to be all-in on AWS… they want to educate more and more people. So, I think a lot of it is the growth of our business, but it’s also that we’re giving people a valuable experience for their time and they’re recommending it to others.
EM: What do you want attendees to take away from re:Invent?
AK: Ultimately we want attendees to feel like they learned a lot and that they left feeling more confident to be able to run more of their applications, and feel more confident that they’re progressing their careers and achieving a high level of expertise in the technology. I think it’s also that they’re part of a community and that our community has very diverse types of people and roles, and types of companies. They tend to be very social, very helpful and proactive in trying to share best practices.
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