Wildly intelligent and deeply devoted to helping her students learn, Faye Ellis became the first female A Cloud Guru instructor. Since joining the team in 2017, Faye has authored and co-authored the most popular and most watched courses on the platform. Six times AWS Certified and a re:Invent speaker, Faye’s career has exploded as a leading lady in technology.
Faye’s dedication to exploring better ways to create content is redefining the education industry. I wanted to learn more about her story. What led her to ACG, and did she always have the confidence to step in front of the camera?
In a fun and insightful interview, Faye paints the picture of what it was like to go from a financial services solutions architect to a leader in AWS training.
Advice for females: “Being proud of your achievements is the best way to claim your power.”
What initially drew you to A Cloud Guru?
I was a student taking [ACG co-founder] Ryan’s AWS CSAA course. After I passed, I was contacted to do a student testimonial. As a thank you, A Cloud Guru took all the students who did a testimonial out to dinner. I met the team along with other students, and I remember thinking, “These guys are having so much fun. They have such a great, friendly dynamic.”
A few days later, Ryan contacted me to ask if I would consider joining as an instructor. It wasn’t something that I thought I saw in my future. I was doing really well, working for myself in banking as a freelancer. But I couldn’t stop thinking about walking around that evening, meeting everyone, feeling so envious of the friendships they had. They supported each other and had so much fun doing a great thing working for a very successful company.
When I met up with Ryan a few days later, I could see that he was so passionate about making education available to everyone and changing people’s lives. I talked it over with my husband, and he said I must go do it. “Just try it out,” he said. “The jobs in the bank will still be there if you try it and don’t like it.” He encouraged me to try something different, and I loved it. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.
“As a woman in an engineering role, you always have to prove yourself . . . But in a way, I have an advantage because it means I naturally hold myself to much higher standards.”—Faye Ellis
How did gender play a part in your story?
As a woman in an engineering role, you always have to prove yourself in a way that a man would never have to. No one ever looks at the new guy and thinks, “Does he know what he’s talking about?” They always do with a girl.
But in a way, I have an advantage because it means I naturally hold myself to much higher standards. I always make sure I work harder than all the guys around me. I don’t think that I’m going to do as much as they do; I’m going to do more than them. I’m going to try to be the best.
I think a lot of women working in IT are like that. It means that if you hire a female engineer, you’re hiring yourself a tier 1, premium employee, because they had to fight to get where they are. They can’t just turn up and be the Average Joe — they have to be better than him. I think it’s probably the same for anyone with a minority background. Whenever you’re hiring a female engineer or an engineer from a minority group, you’re generally getting somebody who knows how to go the extra mile simply because they’ve always had to.
In a time with as much power as ever, women are not comfortable claiming their power. What have you done to feel comfortable claiming yours?
I honestly think that it’s being the best you can be: being good at your job, and making sure that everyone knows it. It’s not good enough to be quietly achieving things. You have to make sure everyone knows about it. Women don’t want to be boastful about their achievements, but that’s what men are doing all the time. If I do something I’m proud of, I tell everyone, “Check out what I’ve done!” Being proud of your achievements is the best way to claim your power.
How does A Cloud Guru celebrate your uniqueness?
By believing in me, and by not telling me how to be or how to change my personality. And by letting me have creative autonomy over what I’m doing. At ACG, everyone is encouraged to let their creativity flow, and it’s celebrated. That’s not something I’ve experienced before in any other role. For example, I did a lecture where I used cookies to explain all the different elements of microservices. Being encouraged to be creative and celebrated when we do is really important, because when people are rewarded for something they’re going to do more of it.
“Being encouraged to be creative and celebrated when we do is really important, because when people are rewarded for something they’re going to do more of it.“—Faye Ellis
What has been your most career-defining moment at ACG?
Definitely doing a talk at re:Invent. That was such a big deal for me. Although I’m presenting every day, it’s not very often that I do live presentations in front of so many people. And there were A LOT of people there. I never imagined I would end up doing anything like that. If you told me two years ago, I would be like, “OMG, how am I going to do that?” But I did.
Before working at ACG, I was in classroom training, and I remember the instructor telling me about the SA Pro exam and saying how difficult it was — that it was almost impossible — and that most people don’t pass it the first time. I thought to myself, “That sounds so difficult. I’ll never be able to do it.” The Machine Learning Specialty was also super difficult for me, because I had only a little bit of math experience from university and no previous experience with data science. But I passed both on my first try. I was on a high for a month.
So, what’s next?
The future for me is evolving education. Where’s education going? How can we make online education continuously evolve and respond to the needs of the students? What we’re doing now is great, because it got us 1.5 million students. But if we’re really going to grow, how are we going to adapt to that changing landscape? The next generation of engineers coming into the pipeline is the generation that grew up on YouTube, and we all have shorter attention spans! How do we continue to evolve our content to cater to a world that is evolving?
A Cloud Guru is defining the industry at the moment. I’m always researching ways to make content more engaging. How can we make content that you want to watch? How do we make content that you don’t have to watch five times to remember the topics? Imagine if you could create content where a story or example or scenario or analogy you heard once just sticks to your brain: that’s what I’m chasing after.