Last week I visited AWS Summit Berlin 2018 and I really enjoyed it even though some presentations were very AWS marketing heavy. I guess that is fair given that it is a free event.
I learned that this year it was the first time that they scheduled it for two full days. Hence the sessions were a good mix of more high-level presentations and some technical deep-dives. I enjoyed both kinds of presentations.
You also had the opportunity to talk to lots of AWS employees and partners which probably was useful for those coming with very concrete topics. For me, I only took the time to learn what some of those companies are doing which definitely was time well spent as well.
If you asked me my three main takeaways here is what I’d like to call out.
1. Don’t start with solutions, start with problems that your customers are having.
This reads so obviously and still, often we are not working like that. Instead of first deeply understanding the need of the customer and the problem that we’d like to solve we are suggesting a premature solution and later are surprised by the fact that we are not meeting „customer expectations“ or rather haven’t solved any real problem or have solved it in a way that doesn’t work for the customer.
To resolve this you can use different methodologies. Design Thinking is one of them, Working Backwards is how AWS fills this concept with life.
It was also pointed out that this process needs to become part of an organizational flow in which you start with Design Thinking, you then work on solving the problem with Agile Teams and operate those solutions with DevOps in mind.
2. Generalists vs. Specialists
In a session about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, the presenter made a point about generalists eventually becoming more important than specialists if you are talking about building successful solutions.
Take experts in artificial intelligence for example. There are only a few true experts in this field available globally. However, there is a huge demand for knowledge of AI / ML in the industry. The way AWS reacted on this is to offer three layers of AI / ML related services. First, the very basic level. It offers you the greatest flexibility, but it also requires you to understand the underlying models and math. The second layer gives you access to frameworks. You still need to understand the ML concept, but you can rely on algorithms doing the actual work. The third layer consists of application services which have a specific purpose and are pre-trained by AWS. E.g. voice recognition, image recognition etc.
So in above example, people who are not experts in AI / ML can apply ML to their solution because of the application services that are being offered by others. The specialist is not needed in that case. Who is needed is someone with a brought view on technology who is able to understand problems and find solutions given existing technology.
I still think there always will be the need for specialists, but I found that point of you refreshing and interesting.
The presenter also shared a fitting quote from Robert A. Heinlein:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
This one is more personal for me. Sometimes it is easy to become complacent. You know what you know and you are good at what you are doing. But what are you really doing? You’re are slowly killing your future. It is important to continue learning and stay curious. Why?
- You open yourself up for new opportunities
- You find better ways
- Shed light on blind spots
- Keep up with technology (vs. being left behind)
- Fuel your personal growth
- It is simply more interesting
Learn to Learn and be Curious:
- Dedicate time for learning and being curious. It needs to become part of your daily routine.
- Do so consistently
- Outside of your comfort zone
- A new language, a new framework, new activity, a new anything
- Visit random meetings / conferences / meetups
- Increase entropy and collisions
- Inspiration and new perspectives
Have you visited an AWS Summit in your country? What were your main takeaways?