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How one woman is doing her part to dismantle gatekeeping in IT education

Danielle Bechtel
Danielle Bechtel

An ACG veteran, Alicia Cheah has quickly risen through the ranks from being A Cloud Guru’s first content manager to leading our first Community Content department. The Community Content team publishes and maintains a growing library of free, publicly accessible content that complements and supports A Cloud Guru’s catalog of courses and Hands-on Labs. 

Taking ACG’s value of “Learn all the things” to heart, Alicia has combined her background in editing and publishing educational content for schools with the fast-growing cloud computing market. She is 4 x AWS certified (including all three associate-level AWS certifications) and 1x Azure certified. 

A customer and team advocate, Alicia’s leadership will help bring free cloud training to the community in support of our mission to teach the world to cloud.

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How does your team help bring our mission to life?

Where Community Content is really key in our mission is this idea of democratizing education. The content we create is free and public-facing, so anyone with internet access and an awareness of ACG can get access. Our content tends to be shorter and more beginner-focused, so it’s a great way for people who may be new to cloud computing to dip their toes in the water and get a taster for the different topics, teaching styles and approaches that ACG has to offer.

In previous models of IT education, you typically had to go to university to get a computer science or software engineering degree. We have an opportunity to make cloud and IT training so much more open and accessible. This is great for minorities and those taking non-traditional pathways into IT, who may not have had those opportunities historically.

There are gatekeepers in every industry, who want to narrow pathways and increase the barriers of entry into a community. I’ve experienced them myself as an Asian woman who hasn’t come from a traditional IT background. I spent some time studying and pursuing cloud computing certifications and now have 4 AWS certs and 1 Azure cert. I shared this information once with someone I met at a conference, and they said, “I wish you didn’t tell me that. I feel like you are devaluing certifications.” Comments like that don’t bother me as much these days, because I have my reasons for why I pursue certs and I’m not trying to be a developer or a solutions architect. But if you took this attitude towards women, minorities, and really, just anyone who wants to reskill or attempt a career change into IT, then you are essentially shutting them outright from the start.

Education and information shouldn’t be locked up in an elitist tower where only certain people can touch it.

I see Community Content as playing a role in dismantling this type of gatekeeping. I’ve been in education in some form for my entire career and one of my core beliefs is how transformative education can be. Education and information shouldn’t be locked up in an elitist tower where only certain people can touch it. Anyone with the will, the means, and the opportunity can change their lives through education. I’m just really proud of how Community Content can support our company vision to enable anyone, anywhere to be A Cloud Guru.

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As Director of Community Content, what is your typical day like?

In the morning it’s wading through emails and Slack messages, because there’s usually a lot that has come through overnight from our offices in different time zones. But after that, it’s a lot of cross-functional meetings with marketing, product, and other content leaders. I’ll meet with steering committees, review roadmaps, team-level leadership groupings and have 1:1 with my team. It all revolves around working with different stakeholders to figure out what needs to be done next.

There are the fun bits. A team member will ping me and say, “Can you have a look at this storyboard? I want to get your opinion.” or “What do you think about this idea?” I get to see the behind the scenes of when content comes together, which is super cool. It’s really satisfying to see something that was once a twinkle in someone’s eye become real.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

I see myself as people-focused, so I would say that the most interesting and rewarding part of my role is the people leadership aspect. I manage four people, who in turn manage others; and together we form a small but fairly tight-knit team. It’s really important for me as a leader to understand people’s internal drives, so that I can try to match those up with the right roles and development opportunities.

People are complex, and sometimes things don’t go perfectly. Looking back at even the last four or so months since taking on the role, there are some things I would have done differently. But working with people is incredibly rewarding, too. People will surprise you with what they can achieve if you set them up with the right processes and get out of their way.

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What is your leadership style? How do you empower your teams?

My leadership style is people-centered and people-focused. In my career, I’ve been lucky enough to be the beneficiary of managers and leaders who really believed in me. Leaders who gave me the time, space, and safety to be autonomous and to make mistakes. Even if I didn’t believe I could do it, they put that trust in me. I try to do the same for my team. I hold them to a high standard, because I want them to be accountable for the work that they do, but I also do my best to provide them with psychological safety.

The idea of psychological safety at work is absolutely a key ingredient to fostering more productive teams. It’s about creating a space for them to fail and always having their back, no matter what. Being really clear about your expectations, and being really encouraging if they don’t meet them. Knowing how to delegate (and delegating well, not lazily!). Trusting your team members with the full autonomy of the role, and not stepping in just because it’s not how you would personally have approached a task. 

As a leader, you need to be ready to take more of the blame then you perhaps deserve and less of the reward than you perhaps deserve.

I used to be an editor and book publisher. One of the hallmarks of good editing is its invisibility; the audience is not supposed to notice your work when you’ve done a great job. To some degree, leadership is a bit like that; perhaps it’s a bit extreme to say that you have to be prepared to take none of the credit and all of the blame. But, paraphrasing the businessman Arnold Glasow, you need to be ready to take more of the blame than you deserve and less of the credit than you perhaps deserve.

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What do you see for the future of the community team?

With the integration of the A Cloud Guru and Linux Academy teams and catalogs, one of the opportunities we have is to branch out and invest more heavily in topics like Linux, open-source, DevOps, and security. There is a large community that is passionate about these topics that we want to serve.

We also have wider access to the pool of talent now, with centuries of experience within the body of our Training Architects. The Community Content team is really excited about amplifying the voices of our Training Architects and helping to build them up as ambassadors of our brand.

We can explore new content types, new formats, and holistic ways of linking content together and creating synergies between different media types – like a video, podcast, and blog post. Because our Community Content production cycles are quite short, we can afford to be quite agile and responsive, so if a new technique or format doesn’t work there’s very little harm done and we can try other things. It’s a great opportunity to inject innovation and new ideas into what we do.

Thank you for reading. Leave a comment below to share your thoughts with Alicia!

You can learn more about careers at A Cloud Guru by visiting our LinkedIn Life page and careers site.


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