I’m all stressed out getting ready for re:Invent, Nov 28th through Dec 2nd this year, in Vegas. I’m attending, and may even be speaking if certain pieces fall into place. I’ve seen this movie before.
At Sun, it was Java One. At Google, I/O. Every big tech company has one. They define the rhythm of the year, and I’m wondering if they’re a good idea.
Big! · Most readers here have probably been to one or more, but for those who haven’t, here’s how it goes. First of all, “big” is relative. Google and Apple favor San Francisco’s Moscone West, a nice welcoming light-filled venue which maxes out at 5,500 heads. At the other end of the spectrum, I see that Salesforce claimed 120K for Dreamforce.
I can’t find a public announcement about re:Invent’s headcount, but I see that Cloudability claimed it grew from 5,700 attendees in 2012 to 18,600 last year. I can testify that the Venetian was full.
But last year I was talking to a Vegas local and said I was at a big show, around twenty thousand people, and he laughed: “That’s nuthin. You wanna big conference? That’d be World of Concrete, the cement guys.”
What happens? · There are keynotes, ten thousand and up in the big room to hear about the big releases. There are hundreds of sessions, some deep tech, some marketing fluff. There is hallway after hallway of meeting rooms, where customers and partners and integrators gather over ice-water to talk details. Finally, there’s the trade show with the big host booth at the center and then endless ankle-grinding aisles of stands full of optimistic eyes hoping you’re a prospect.
Me, I dislike keynotes (oration not conversation) and don’t get to most sessions; I like the face time, in meeting rooms and on the show floor, with customers who are actually in the trenches trying to get work done. Even the boring ones are interesting, and several times every day I’m amazed by what I learn.
You can’t repeat Bill Joy’s old lesson too many times: “Wherever you work, most of the smart people are somewhere else.” A lot of ’em are at these gatherings.
It’s efficient · The fact is that big tech companies build new stuff year round, and do Marketing and Biz-Dev and Evangelism and so on to get the word out. But it’s hard to drink from more than one river at a time. So it’s sort of sensible to have a designated week for each vendor when they own the news cycle; everyone can focus in and take away whatever piece of the big picture matters to them.
Forcing function · At every BigTechCo I’ve known, the insiders have a dream: Their stuff is in the keynote. A lot of them get happy, but then also hearts are broken. Because those companies got big by, among other things, being fussy about what they release, and learning to say “no”. Last year I got a No for something I wanted to launch at re:Invent and I was crushed.
Practically speaking, it means that dev and marketing and messaging teams put the pedal to metal for a few weeks and just Do What It Takes To Ship. At one level I’d be happier if this biz dropped the big damn shows and we stayed home already, instead of trooping to San Fran or Vegas and standing in lines. And everyone shipped products when the products were ready.
But on the other hand, shipping is about as much fun as you can have in this biz. I’m tired all the time, but we’ve got a finish line in sight and bright hopes for what we’re building, and some things that were yellow or red are now green. I’m smiling.
But don’t expect much from me the week after.