AWS Re:Invent 2019: The kids' take on the public cloud's biggest tech show

Official estimates suggest 65,000 people made the trek out to Las Vegas this year for the 2019 Amazon Web Services (AWS) Re:Invent user and developer conference, and among them were five tech-savvy teenagers from Hertfordshire-based boarding school, Bishop’s Stortford College.

The quintet were gifted the chance to attend the show as a reward for winning the public cloud giant’s skills-focused Get IT competition with a speech-to-text app geared towards improving the classroom learning experience for hearing-impaired children.

The app – dubbed Connect Hearo – is connected to a microphone held or attached to a teacher, whose utterings are picked up and converted to text by the app in real-time. It is then published to a mobile device so that a child with hearing problems can read along and keep up with what is being taught.

Connect Hearo was pitted against 130 submissions from 36 schools, in response to a competition brief set by the AWS Get IT team that called on them to develop an app that could help solve a real-life problem within their school or local community.

AWS Re:Invent – getting kids into IT

The over-arching aim of the Get IT Programme is to inspire young people between the ages of 12 and 13 years old to consider pursuing a career in technology and provide them with insights into the diverse range of roles that exist within the sector.

And the children’s trip to Re:Invent plays an important part in this, as Ibby, Millie, Amy, Charlie and Zak, were invited to attend sessions, participate in the conference’s student track and meet IT leaders who are digitally-transforming their organisations with the help of  AWS.

As part of Computer Weekly’s AWS Re:Invent coverage, the children were invited to share their musings about the show on the Ahead In the Clouds blog, and provide our readers with a fresh perspective (or a reminder) about what it’s like to attend your first ever tech conference.

Read on to find out what they made of Re:Invent 2019…  

Ibby, 13 years old, Connect Hearo user experience expert (photo end right)

The highlight of AWS Re:Invent was our walk around the expo hall after the Student Track finished. We got to look at all of the other stands, and – to me – the most interesting part was the Jam Lounge,  which was a section in the hall showcasing the latest technology, which included a  virtual reality (VR) stand.

We got taught how virtual reality companies were incorporating learning into their interactive games. Basically, what they are doing is teaching children new skills or refining existing ones through VR games. This way they take in more without even realising it, we learned, and this is a process called gamification.

Millie, 14 years old, Connect Hearo software planner (photo second from the right)

I really enjoyed going to AWS re:Invent, and the highlight for me was the augmented reality (AR) demonstration in the Developers’ Lounge. The demonstration showed you how AR could be used to help quickly educate people about things, with one example being learning how to change a tyre on a truck.

Without the AR demonstration, you would have to read a large manual on how to do this job, but – with AR – you can fully understand how to change the tyre in less than 10 minutes. As well as being much quicker, the AR also helps you understand how it works in much more detail.

If you were just reading a manual it could be confusing to understand what the manual was trying to tell you, especially if there were no diagrams. With the AR, it showed you step-by-step what to do with animations on the AR truck so you could see it happening. This part of the expo was particularly interesting, because you could really imagine how learning experiences might be enhanced and improved in the future.

Amy, 13 years old, Connect Hearo user journey designer and author (photo middle)

My favourite part of Re:Invent was at the start of the second day when we were taken into a meeting room with students from a nearby high school. This was part of a programme called ‘AWS Educate’, which aims to get children learning about technology.

Here we learnt how to build a Chatbot based on the Amazon Lex service [Ed – An AWS service that lets users build text- and voice-based conversational interfaces into apps].

This consisted of us programming a conversation where the user ordered something of our choice (in my case shoes), which meant we had to come up with trigger words and responses where we could input variables that would determine what you would order later.

This led onto us coming up with a confirmation text where the answer is either yes or no, both of these leading onto another response. Overall, I found this to be really interesting and will hopefully be something I use in the future.

Charlie, 13 years old , Connect Hearo app statistician (photo end left)

The main aim of the trip was to visit the expo and Student Track, during which we had a talk from Teresa Carlson, the head of public sector for AWS, who introduced the CTO of the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) for NASA, Tom Soderstron, whose organisation is a customer of the firm.

We looked at rovers and how they can be incorporated into new fields of work and not just space exploration, and – with this in mind – we brainstormed some new use cases for the technology.

Soderstron explained to us that this was exactly what they were doing at the JPL and that they weren’t just making rovers that went to Mars. He told us how they made lots of different types for different jobs and that they are looking at new designs for the rovers. This was very inspiring and got us thinking about all the different technologies they were looking at.

Zak, 13 years old, oversees microphone logistics and general problem solving for Connect Hearo (photo second from the left)

During our trip to AWS Re:Invent my highlight was meeting a Formula 1 (F1) engineer. His name is Rob Smedley, and he is an amazing engineer, who has worked for F1 teams such as McLaren and Ferrari. His job is basically to try and make F1 cars complete a lap around a track as quickly as possible.

We had an extremely interesting interview, with Rob talking about many topics to do with engineering, such as how tech is being incorporated into the racing industry, to how we need to encourage women to get into engineering.

One thing that I was very interested in was what engines F1 use, and what their power to weight ratio is. All my questions were answered, and I found out that F1 cars use hybrid single turbo V6s and have at least 1000 horsepower and weigh only 750 kilograms. The answers I received were all extremely amazing and were explained in lots of detail.

The experience was definitely my highlight of the trip as I love everything with an engine and at least four wheels. It was great to meet someone with the same interests as me: tech and cars. It was truly a one in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.

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