Speaking at the AWS Summit in Beijing

December 12 2014

I presented today at the AWS Summit in Beijing. My topic was AWS Cloud Storage. It was the first time I’d ever presented anything professionally in front of this many people (around 400-500 in the audience) at a public event. To compound matters, I had to do most of the presentation in Chinese!

This was the first AWS Summit in Beijing. Overall, there were around 3,000 people attending the event. Here’s the list of speakers, with my bio in Chinese.

My bio in Chinese...

Werner Vogels did the keynote speech (mostly a rehash of the re:Invent news) in the morning, and the afternoon was split into four different tracks. I was presenting as part of the deep dive track, and my presentation was on the AWS storage options, focusing on S3 and customer use cases.

I went first in the deep dive track

I was pretty nervous going into this. I had never presented publically to customers before this. I had two other speaking experiences recently, but they don’t compare to this. I presented S3 to about 200 internal solutions architects earlier this year. I also gave a speech to about 200 fellow graduates during my Chicago Booth graduation dinner.

Because the event was being held in Beijing and nearly all the audience members would be Chinese, I was asked to present in Chinese. I ended up doing about 80-90% of the speech in Chinese while using English for some proper nouns (e.g., “Hadoop”). In the end, I practiced the speech around six times, from beginning to end.

Doing the speech in Chinese was a great forcing function for me. I had to learn a bunch of technical terms that I normally wouldn’t use Chinese for (examples are “storage” 存储 and “use case” 使用案例). I had a much better time understanding Chinese customers during our meetings this week compared to when I visited earlier in May. At this point, I’m pretty confident I could work professionally in China, particularly in technology. I might still have some reading/writing challenges, but I think I’ll be able to converse and communicate directly in person.

During the actual speech, I only made one major mistake. Over the course of the speech, I probably said the word “upload” (上传) a dozen times. But one time, I screwed up the pronunciation, and I ended up saying 上床, which literally means to get in bed (and is a euphemism for having sex). I didn’t realize my mistakes until I started seeing giggles in the audience, and then I laughed a bit too.

I was pretty nervous to begin

The fun part actually came after the speech, when I held a coffee chat to do Q&A with the audience. There were about 30-40 people who came with questions. They asked some pretty advanced and detailed questions. Interestingly, there were two people that self-identified as working for a competitor (one at Kingsoft Cloud and the other at Aliyun). I kept my answers pretty generic, so I doubt they learned anything they couldn’t already find via public documentation.

The summit organizers made a nice sign for me for the coffee chat!

Overall, I think I did fine. At the very least, it’s a great learning experience so that I won’t be so nervous for future speaking opportunities. Hopefully, I’ll be invited back to Beijing for the AWS Summit next year!

Here’s the video of the presentation (and a link). The slides are available here.

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