What we learned from the AWS Summit 2018
The annual AWS Summit was hosted at the Excel in London on the Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th so a great opportunity to learn more about AWS. I haven’t attended an AWS Summit event before however, i’d heard good reviews from colleagues who had attended previously. I also watched videos from previous events to check it was appropriate and ultimately not a sales event.
Choosing and booking onto sessions
Given the ever growing number of services AWS provide it wasn’t surprising to find that there was a wide range of sessions on offer during both days. To make the most of my time there i decided to stay over the night before which in hindsight was a good choice as registration opened at 08:00.
To make booking onto sessions easier AWS provided a specific Summit app which was useful as it allowed you to review each session and then add it to your agenda. One criticism though was that you couldn’t register for the events via the app, you needed to browse to the website and then register there. Hopefully they will address this next year and allow registrations to be performed via the app.
Prior to reviewing the list of sessions at the AWS Summit I already had in mind areas of interest where I wanted to learn more. These were specifically, Building Alexa skills, Machine Learning/AI, Blockchain, AWS certification and finding out how the start-ups attending were using AWS.
Building Alexa skills
Voice assistances such as Alexa, Siri, Hey Google and Cortana have gained popularity over the past couple of years and now a wide range of services exist but are there any real-world use cases? Instead of reading more glossy marketing materials I decided to look at building a service myself to answer that question.
Two Alexa workshop sessions were on offer during the Summit, the beginner session in the morning and the advanced session in the afternoon. The workshop was led by Andrea Muttoni, a Technical Evangelist and Solutions Architect at AWS.
A few photos from the Alexa workshop below.
— Marysia Chance (@mawiltshire) May 9, 2018
We started off the morning session with an overview of the Alexa service and the key features, this gave the attendees a good idea for the context given there was a mixed audience (developers, senior IT execs, sales). Following the overview we quickly moved into getting our environments configured which consisted off accessing the Amazon Developer account and the AWS Console.
Andrea was an excellent engaging presenter and by the end of the morning session most of the room had a functioning Alexa service (lots of pizza related questions for Alexa!).
During the afternoon session we recapped on what we had reviewed during the morning and then started to expand on the Lambda functions by adding in custom responses and also reviewed integrations with 3rd party APIs. The latter part of the afternoon was an opportunity to showcase our skills and ask any other questions.
It was great to see hands on how to build Alexa Skills as it allowed you to appreciate the various use cases for this type of customer interaction. There is a huge opportunity here for organisations to engage with their customers in an entirely new way, this is also true for the definition of the associated requirements. One of the key highlights i took away from this was that requirements should be described as a conversation not a case of writing lots of intents in a spreadsheet and handing it over to a developer. I’ll cover this approach in a separate post.
AWS Summit Keynote
The second day of the Summit had another busy agenda with the first session being the Keynote with Gavin Jackson (Managing Director, AWS UK & Ireland) and Dr. Werner Vogels (Chief Technology Officer) in the auditorium. There was an impressive turnout with around 4,000 people in attendance and no empty seats in sight.
Gavin Jackson started off proceedings with an overview of the AWS business including a comparison against other competitors (Google, Microsoft) in terms of marketshare and provided an overview of how the business had performed. I was surprised to see the market share which AWS had accumulated and even more impressed that the business continues to grow faster year to year.
Gavin Jackson invited Peter Vik from Jaguar Landrover to give an overview on how they have used AWS to transform their business in terms of agility and also cost reduction. It was interesting to learn how they are planning to use AWS and specifically Alexa embedded services in vehicles to help drive innovation. I think its a great idea that those skills enabled on your device within the home could be used on the move whilst in a car.
Werner Vogels soon after took to the stage and it was apparent from the reception he received that he is well regarded by AWS partners and customers. If you haven’t seen Werner Vogels present i’d recommend taking a look on YouTube, he is vibrant passionate individual who keeps the audience engaged. Thankfully he didn’t disappoint. He covered off a number of new service announcements and also gave real world examples of how small organisations through to large bluechips have used AWS services. It didn’t come across like a sales pitch, more an opportunity to say ‘You can all build this stuff’. This was reaffirmed by the parting slide which was aptly named ‘BUILD ON’.
Machine Learning and AI
Once the keynote had finished I had a couple of hours until the next session, I took the opportunity to listen to Lightning talks on Blockchain and hear about the start-ups which had built products/services on AWS.
During the late afternoon i attended AWS Machine Learning Language Services with Julien Simon, Principle Technical Evangelist, AI and Machine Learning. I was particularly interested in this session as it followed on with the theme of voice interaction from the previous day looking at Alexa.
I enjoyed this session as it covered a broad range of language services with real examples. Julien showed how we could use Amazon Polly to read text and also how to manipulate the style of the voice to make it more ‘human’. I was genuinely impressed on how life like the Amazon Polly output was and could see real use-cases for this type of service.
Content translation was also a key feature during the session with examples of how easy and quickly it is to translate content to a broad range of languages. I can’t comment on the quality of the translation as unfortunately i’m limited to English only. Perhaps i should get Amazon Polly to teach me a new language!
It was my first AWS Summit and i was genuinely impressed with the experience as a whole. Admittedly, I was a little concerned it would be a two day sales pitch but AWS found the right balance of promoting their services, partners and customers with real world scenarios which you could relate to.
The subject of Amazon Lambda was a common occurrence throughout the sessions as it seems AWS really want customers to embed this within their services. I can see the benefits of serverless for only paying for each request and no overheads for server management, but I can also see the counter view which questions how much control do you want to hand to AWS. This decision will differ per organisation depending on their resources and the platforms they are building.
Similar to Amazon Lambda, Machine Learning was mentioned throughout both days with AWS stating at the keynote that they want to provide the capabilities for developers so that applications and services are ‘smarter’. I believe we will see an increase in more intelligent applications and services emerging over the next 12 months as organisations look to differentiate their offerings.
I decided to invest in AWS training and certification a number of weeks prior to the Summit enrolling on the AWS Solutions Architect Associate course led by Ryan Kroonenburg, A Cloud Guru. A week later on from the Summit I asked myself, ‘Was this still the right track?’ Absolutely. Attending has reinforced my decision to invest in the AWS ecosystem now and for the future.
Over the coming months we will looking at Yellow Mango achieving partner status and more importantly looking at how we can help our own clients to innovate using AWS.