What was it like to attend a virtual conference? - AWS Online Summit Series

Published on May 24, 2020 by jhole89 on cloud, aws, conference

Welcome, this is part of my ongoing series on AWS’s recent Online Summit 2020, where I write about my thoughts and learnings from the range of topics presented. As always, the content here describes my own thoughts and understandings from the material presented, not the views of the presenters, who I do not speak for.


What was a virtual conference like?

Now that I’ve written up each talk, I thought I’d write a bit about what attending a virtual conference was like?

The first thing I noticed is that all the videos were pre-recorded, rather than live streams. This meant that there was no back and forth with the presenters, and that any questions were instead answered by an “AWS Expert” via a text chat. That definitely didn’t give me a feeling of being part of something in the same way a conference would. However, it did mean that there were no latency or connection issues. It also meant that I could watch any of the talks once they had been released over the following days, compared to having to choose between which talks I could attend.

Compared to a usual conference where I may attend with colleagues or friends, where we would talk and bounce around ideas about the subject matter, being virtual did not give me this sense of camaraderie. In hindsight, I should have tried to arrange for a group of friends to all dial into the conference on a shared zoom call, as I know this has worked for others in the past.


On the plus side, being able to listen to any talk I wanted to, and being able to quickly switch between talks if I realised the talk I was listening to wasn’t actually of interest, gave me much more freedom.

I would never get up and walk out of day talk if I were there in person, it’s rude and distracting to the presenter. However, knowing that I could switch over to another stream within seconds meant I could be much more flexible in listening to a talk’s opening 5 minutes, and deciding I wanted to stay for the whole thing.

This flexibility also extends itself to the conference becoming more accessible for those that would not have typically been able to attend an in person conference. Whether due to travel, cost, physical accessibility, personal dependents, or work deadlines. There are many reasons why someone might not be able to attend a traditional conference, and many of these disappear in a virtual format.

Not as personal as traditional conferences, but there are lessons to be learnt

Overall I would say this felt a lot less fun than a traditional conference, and I personally found it a lot more of a clinical and lonely experience.


It might be awhile before we can attend conferences like this again

The keynote and fireside chats did better at giving us a personal touch, as these were clearly filmed from the presenters personal office spaces, while the technical talks were presented in front of an AWS-orange screen.

Given the circumstances I’m really glad AWS chose to do the summit, as an online summit is better than no summit, however if it’s a choice between attending one online or in person, I’d prefer to go back to going in person. That said, it may be worth adopting some lessons from online conferences such as live recording the talks and sharing them with participants afterwards, as not all conferences provide these.

However, who knows when we will be able to attend conferences again, so online conferences might become the norm for the foreseeable future.

If you’ve attended an online conference recently - what was your experience?

For more on my AWS Summit series, check out the summaries on the talks I attended below;

A new type of AWS Summit

Kubernetes GitOps on AWS - Jason Umiker, AWS Solution Architect

Enterprise cloud migration meets application containerization - Gaurav Arora, AWS Senior Partner Solutions Architect

CI/CD at scale: Best practices with AWS DevOps services - Loh Yiang Meng, AWS Solution Architect

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