Legos, fully-reclining gaming chairs, remote-controlled ball races, and massive crowds were some must-sees at re:Invent 2017
This past week I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, NV. This was not only my first time going to this event but was my first time visiting Vegas as well. So, while I was uttering the usual “oohs” and “ahhs” of a Vegas newbie, I also had quite a few “Whaaaaaaaaat?” and “Yeeeeeesssssss!” moments. In between running from the Expo to the line for the shuttle, this place felt like a party, and I’d like to share my top 5 moments from it.
5. First, there was the AWS Village and the Cloud Cafe. When I first read about this in the guide, I envisioned two or three booths with a few people in black polos with white lettering, sporting orange lanyards for their conference badge. (The standard Amazon employee uniform for the week) But in what would become a recurring theme for my first visit to re:Invent, my imagination was much, much smaller than that of the folks at Amazon. After meandering through an expo hall the size of a small moon, my aching feet suddenly landed a soft cushion of air. I looked down and saw that the carpet I was walking on had switched to a thick, squishy, padded white carpet. It was like … walking on a cloud. The walking surface that doubled as a pun was oh so welcome to my weary legs after a day of hoofing around Las Vegas. The AWS Village is a massive area covered in cloud-carpet, with VR stations, lounge couches, giant display screens for each specific area, plus plenty of cafe-style seating on a fabricated two-story patio structure. All decorated in Amazon Orange, of course.
A good look at the AWS Village, where AWS Elemental put on a VR demonstration. Photo credit: Elemental Technologies
4. 2017 re:Invent offered over 1,000 hands-on experiences to choose from-workshops, breakout sessions, hackathons and more. Wanting to maximize my experience at this event, I spent a lot of time reading workshop descriptions, weighing content vs. time I could be attending other events. And then I heard about the workshop to learn how to build an Alexa skill for the soon-to-be-released Echo Buttons. So on Tuesday evening, after weeks of careful planning and tweaking my schedule to perfection, I threw a wrench into my whole Wednesday. And it was entirely worth it. It’s not often that you get the chance to design and develop games for a device that hasn’t been released yet, and that was one of the perks of completing this workshop. (The other being a free pair of buttons to take home to test with). I can’t wait to see how this ties into the our 2018 Voicehacks content. This was really cool to get early access to developing for the Gadgets Skill API, and definitely the coolest piece of swag that I went home with.
A look at the architecture for the Alexa Game Engine API and its relationship to Gadgets
3. Next up is another workshop that I loved, called “Oh no! I got featured!” and was designed to give Alexa developers exposure to a lot of AWS services that can be helpful when trying to scale up your Alexa skill in the event of a massive uptick in users. When a two-hour course covers as much ground as this one did, it’s easy to create a flood of information, overwhelming attendees. But this struck a perfect balance between presenting new information and teaching you how to use that new information. In just a couple of hours, we built a skill, an API with API Gateway, tested it with Postman, created and wrote to Dynamo DB, built a test web page with S3, and created some custom alerts just in case our use of these services went through the roof overnight due to, as the workshop title suggested, we got featured. What made this one so cool was getting to dip our toes into so many AWS pools, gaining enough knowledge to dig deeper on our own time.
The “Oh no! I got featured” workshop was full to capacity, just like our brains after completing this run-the-gamut class.
2. Now, my favorite piece of Amazon tech to work with is Alexa Skillsl Kit (ASK). This has been accessible for developers since the summer of 2015 and is (in this developer’s opinion) the next evolutionary step in our interface with computers. From the command line to the mouse, then from there to the touch screen, we are now seeing the growth in popularity of Voice User Interface (VUI). Now you may be asking: if it became available in 2015, why are you discussing it in a post about the most exciting things from re:Invent 2017? And even if you weren’t asking, I’m going to answer it anyway. The second-coolest thing that I saw at this year’s event occured at the Alexa State of The Union. Byron Beede, SVP Product Management for Destiny at Activision, announced the creation of a skill that works alongside the game Destiny 2. During a short video demonstration, we saw how a player’s voice commands will work with in-game effects. To put into everyday terms, you can now speak to your Alexa-enabled device to perform certain tasks in the game. To someone like me who started gaming with a two-button controller, this is Back To The Future II-level stuff. Seeing the growth of VUI into some really outside-the-box implementation is both exciting and inspiring. You can read more about it here.
The next phase of Voice Integration into our daily lives: Alexa skills for gaming. Above, Byron Beede announced the release of the Ghost Skill, to conduct in-game actions through voice commands.
1. So what was the coolest thing I saw? With top-notch swag, gigantic Echo devices, over 1,000 workshops, live DJs, batting cages and the largest Lego great ball contraption that I’ve ever seen, it was tough to limit this list to just 5. But the coolest thing I saw, hands down, was Amazon’s commitment to inclusion. A series of sessions titled We Power Tech was running all week, there was one called She Powers Tech: Women Supporting Women in Tech, and a We Power Tech booth in the AWS Village, where you could connect with diversity experts to learn about how they are promoting inclusion in the workplace and how we could take this back to our companies. Every speaking event that I saw had speakers and guest speakers that were women and/or people of color. Since joining my company this year, one of the things that I take the most pride in is how Modev champions diversity and inclusion. I believe that we can change the makeup of the tech world, and seeing one of the leaders of our industry putting these ideas into practice as well as encouraging it in other spheres made my heart swell with hope for the culture and pride in my company. Because a party just isn’t a party unless everyone is invited.