AWS Partner Network (APN) Blog

The Top Eight Tips for GameDay Success (and some GameDon’ts!)

GameDay is an event that we’ve hosted at AWS Summits and re:Invent for the past few years. The event immerses teams into a fictitious scenario where they pretend it’s their first day as the DevOps lead at the “hot” startup called Unicorn.Rentals! Teams work to keep users (and the boss) happy and costs low by managing their infrastructure in a live AWS environment during this competitive event. Throughout the day, teams are challenged to build and maintain highly available and highly scalable solutions.

One of the key tenets of GameDay is that there isn’t only one architecture that wins. Different teams use different approaches, and each approach has its own benefits. It’s exciting for us to see what teams come up with! However, after running several GameDay events, we’ve identifie­d some common patterns for success. We’d like to share these with you, to help you prepare for the next time you find yourself working at Unicorn.Rentals.

  1. Treat it like production! As in the real world, if your systems are down, you’re not scoring points or making money. Your first priority as a team should be to ensure production is up and then experiment with new things. One strategy we’ve seen is for one or two people in the team to keep things running, while others work on new ideas and strategies. We’ve seen teams earning zero points, although their laptops and code editors were open. No one was trying to fix things, or even noticed things were down!
  2. Get to know your team. Teams sometimes tell us that things are randomly changing in their environment and they don’t know why. Only then do they find out that one of their team members, who is sitting at the same table with them, is logged in and making changes. Talk to each other during the event and stay on top of who is doing what, and why. Having a collaboration tool like Slack or HipChat handy can be extremely beneficial during GameDay.
  3. Show up early. Space often fills up quickly for this event. Getting seats close to the ball pit is a huge advantage.
  4. Take an inventory of what you have in front of you. Assume that whatever has been handed to you for GameDay is tainted.  You did not build it or architect it.  Take some time to understand what you have been given before you start making changes or additions.
  5. Security! Don’t think for a second that the other teams in the room are friendly. Make sure you’re following security best practices.
  6. Don’t try to do everything on your own. Take advantage of the collective knowledge and insights from your team members to approach the problem in front of you.  Give everyone an opportunity to contribute and feel included.
  7. Be prepared. Make sure you bring a laptop, preferably with the AWS CLI already installed and ready. You don’t need an AWS account to play—we’ll provide one for you.
  8. Bring cookies for the support staff! Needs no further explanation.

However, issues sometimes happen. We’ve all hit our heads against the wall, sometimes for hours, overlooking small things. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and recap some of the best (worst) problems we’ve seen:

  • Spending 30+ minutes debugging why you can’t RDP into an instance. Going through all sorts of networking tricks, firewall, security group settings, etc. Turns out it was a Linux instance.
  • Same as above, but SSH’ing into a Windows instance.
  • VPN’ing into your corporate network, which doesn’t allow outbound RDP or SSH.
  • Debugging why the AWS Java SDK produces an error, only to find out you’ve been following instructions for the AWS Python SDK.
  • Missing a space when setting ENV variables, and spending 20+ minutes working out why it was causing an error.

The most important key to success is simple: have fun!  The day will be challenging, and you may want Unicorn.Rentals to burn to the ground. But if you leave GameDay having interacted with a service you’ve never touched before, or having learned something new, well then, that’s a success in our book. There’s no better teacher than experience, and letting Unicorn.Rentals take the hit instead of your company is a huge win.

Do you think you have what it takes to win the prestigious Unicorn Trophy? If you’re registered for the San Francisco Summit on April 18 – 19th, 2017 then join us for GameDay on the 18th! It’s a first-come, first-seated event so make your way to the GameDay room early. Click here to view the detailed agenda.

If you’ve participated in GameDay in the past, then we want to hear from you: Do you have any other tips for success to share? Any issues you faced? Talk to us in the comments section.