Joining Amazon Web Services (AWS)
It’s been eight months since my I re-launched my site. Since then, I’ve been pushing off a personal update post. There have been a ton of new happenings in my world. Needless to say, life is moving fast and though at times it can feel like a whirlwind, though I wouldn’t change anything about it.
When I reflect on my career, I can’t help but be grateful. Unlike many young professionals who spend five to ten years exploring and looking for roles that they love, I managed to find my path easily. Each step seems to build on top of the last in a perfectly orchestrated way, and though some steps can be hard to make, in the end it always works out for good.
One of the harder steps took place at the end of 2019, when I transitioned out of Red Hat to pursue a role at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Working at Red Hat was a dream come true for me. I love open source and believe that open source already is and will continue to be the most viable strategy for enterprise software development. Red Hat sits on the bleeding edge of open source in enterprise, with 25 years of experience in the space and a model that has generated billions in revenue, more recently notching the largest software acquisition ever.
My time at Red Hat was an experience that I’m incredibly grateful for. Learning the open source business model, having an inside perspective of the acquisition process, and helping to lead the day 1-30 messaging for our developer audience was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Along with the work experience, there were many intangibles that I gained, like a network of highly intelligent peers, an in-depth understanding of the underlying technologies in Red Hat’s very broad portfolio, and ultimately the job experience that led to my current role.
Several people have asked me if my transition from Red Hat was due to IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat. The simple answer is no, it wasn’t. The longer answer is yes, in some ways. There are a ton of factors that go into making a decision to leave a role, lifestyle preferences, compensation, career vision, job satisfaction, just to name a few. When I look at the factors that drove me to towards AWS to most people’s surprise, it’s mainly lifestyle preference.
Red Hat is based in Raleigh, and though it’s an incredibly ‘remote friendly’ workplace, no matter where you work careers are built on relationship and relationships happen in person. Pulling this off required travel, a ton of travel. In 2019, I spent over 60 nights in hotels. As a husband and father of three young children, the burden was greater than I had originally expected and the requirement to travel seemed to grow as my role in the organization expanded.
When IBM acquired Red Hat, the motto was that ‘Red Hat is still Red Hat.’ For a company the size of Red Hat, sustaining your internal ethos and resisting a thorough ‘blue washing’ is not an easy task. The leadership at Red Hat has not let up on that vision, and (at least when I was there) have done everything in their power to keep all the things that make Red Hat a unique place intact. Ultimately though, in many ways the fight to maintain Red Hat’s independence had an opposite effect. Preserving the things we love tricked us into imposing the same bureaucracies we resent. Fear and uncertainty can drive the most stable individuals to act out of character, and though lines of communication remained open, competing with IBM’s reputation for rolling layoffs and employee distrust proved to be a challenge for some.
I’ve always tried to maintain a high-level of intentionality when it comes to my career. I believe that careers are crafted and that success isn’t something that the majority of us simply stumble upon. The DC tech scene is an interesting place, unlike most tech hubs that are sustained by VC dollars, DC tech thrives on government contracts, consulting, and regulation. The deeper my family’s roots grow here, the more obvious it becomes that my future depends on the ability to operate in the public sector space.
When AWS contacted me about a role at HQ2 (just a few miles from our home in Alexandria, VA) I saw an opportunity to keep the momentum in my career as a developer marketing specialist rolling, while balancing the demands that my career was placing on my family. The role is public sector facing, with global scope, and a local team. A dream job, that seemed to fall right into my lap.
To be completely honest, at first, I did not think I was going to get the job. Usually when things seem too good to be true, they are. Despite my doubts, I agreed to an exploratory call with the recruiter and figured that the worst possible outcome is remaining in my current role, which was going great. Needless to say, the call went well as did my intro call with the hiring manager, which lead to one of the most unique and impactful processes of my career.
Amazon is a fascinating place. Internally the term ‘peculiar’ is used to describe the culture, and the interview process was nothing short of that. Amazon interviews focus almost entirely around our fourteen leadership principles, which are the foundation of what makes Amazon such an incredible place to work. Candidates are expected to understand the principles and identify specific instances that demonstrate the preexistence of those principles in workplace scenarios. The final step of the Amazon interview process is an on-site that lasts for about six hours, comprised targeted questions relating to the fourteen leadership principles. It’s a marathon, and like a marathon, it requires preparation.
My interview fell the week after the Thanksgiving holiday, which gave me a ton of time to prep. I ended up spending the first two to three hours of the day prepping furiously before my kids woke up. Recalling specific instances from my career that relate to each principle required a ton of reflection. There were instances where I did the right thing and others that I wish I could have a second shot. As time went on I began to internalize the leadership principles and the value became increasingly clear. If that was the extent of my interaction with Amazon, it would have been worth every second. Luckily, I get to spend a lot longer here.
A few people have questioned my reasons for joining AWS, eluding to a workaholic cutthroat culture. I can’t speak on behalf of every Amazonian, but my experience has been anything but that. Amazon is a challenging place to work, we take on big projects, we strive for high-levels of excellence, and we work hard. Those same challenges are what make it a highly-rewarding place to work.
For those who are wondering what I do at Amazon (Hi mom!), I work for Amazon Web Services (AWS) which is a subsidiary of Amazon and is the most broadly adopted cloud platform. For some, that’s gibberish, in which case, we’re a platform that provides the resources for developers build really cool stuff … like the stuff in the video below.