My Journey from a mechanic to AWS Certified Solutions Architect
“Welcome to the the re:Invent AWS Certification Lounge! We’re so glad to have another certified woman in the ranks — there are so few of you!”
Seriously? I love the rockstar status as much as the next girl, but where were rest of the women leading this digital revolution in the cloud? Are there really so few women in technology with these valuable AWS Certifications? Say it ain’t so #WomenWhoCloud.
This is going to sound silly, but I didn’t know I was a Woman in Tech until a few years ago when a friend told me that it was a “thing”. My gender isn’t a consideration in the workplace until others remind me — but my experience at re:Invent wasn’t the first time and unfortunately, it won’t be the last.
Skill Up — Put Up — Show Up
We are Women in Tech — the marginalized but capable group of ladies fighting for inclusion on the forefront of the diversity agenda. It is time to show up, get certified, and overrun the AWS Certification Lounge at re:Invent with #WomenWhoCloud.
The cloud needs more women to overrun the AWS Certification Lounge at re:Invent 2017 — help me make it happen #WomenWhoCloud
The #WomenWhoCloud is a challenge for you to skill up — for leaders to put a hand up — and for all women to show up at re:Invent. Let’s all make sure it’s no longer a big deal when a woman shows up at the certification lounge in 2017.
To get started, I will sponsor a cohort of 20 women with AWS Certification training from A Cloud Guru. More details on how you can join my team or sponsor your own group for the #WomenWhoCloud challenge are below.
My Love Affair with Cars
Long before my current career as an AWS Solutions Architect at a Fortune 500 financial services company, I spent hours hanging over the front cap of a fast car looking at the latest refinement or failure. I studied automotive technology, and went to work at one of the largest Ford dealers in the area.
I was enamored by the engineering that harnessed the energy of thousands of explosions a minute (freaking explosions!) to propel the kinetic chain of the automotive drivetrain. I fell in love with working on cars — with the luster, the grit, the performance, the complexity, and the human connection.
My shop foreman had discerning eyes and a ZZ-Top beard that obscured where the cigarette met his lips. He was an even tempered man of very few words that said so much. He carefully paired me in a rotation with different lead technicians so that I could learn from their experiences.
Fix It Right — The First Time
Electronic components were displacing or augmenting entire systems. Distributors were replaced by electronic ignition and timing systems. Sensors began measuring air flow, exhaust, speed and pressures. Control modules were leveraging sensor data for onboard optimization of timing and fuel efficiency. Carburetors were gone, replaced by fuel injectors.
For many, adapting to the new technology wasn’t easy. Master technicians were intimidated and fearful of the learning curve because they couldn’t visually inspect the mechanics. Electronic component behavior and diagnostics were misunderstood. Technicians would “fix” something, only to have the car returned to the shop with the same problem.
As part of Ford’s ambition to “Fix it right the first time”, the Service Bay Diagnostic System (SBDS) was introduced.
The SBDS was large cart with a computer terminal and wiring harness system. The cart drawers were stocked with interchangeable leads and adapters to perform onboard electronic component diagnostics.
I was very familiar with fault code retrieval and other component testing techniques, so my diagnostics were already very accurate. But the new system allowed me to validate component behavior at run time — my first unit test harness! 😉
“Don’t Get the Red Ass, Woman”
A few weeks into my job, I was fixing rear drum brakes on a pick-up. That repair is purely mechanical, and every mechanic has a different approach to reconnecting the springs to the shoes that hold the assembly together.
Over my shoulder, I heard a few of the guys conducting a play-by-play commentary and analysis of my approach to the repair. I was so infuriated by the smug audience — I picked up my steel pry bar like a baseball bat. I threatened to break their knees if didn’t get the $%^# out of my bay until they muttered away.
My foreman heard the commotion and slowly walked over. He looked at me thoughtfully as he took a drag of his cigarette. The foreman glanced at the car, and then over at the men. He blew out the smoke and said slowly and simply — “Don’t get the red ass, woman.”
My paradigm shifted harder than a millennial working a clutch.
The look in his eyes changed everything for me. It was a plea for patience and compassion. At that moment, I realized that my presence in the shop was a huge change for them. The men needed room to work through their change curve. I couldn’t react that way to every mistake they made.
I’m a Not a Women Mechanic, I’m a Mechanic
As I rotated through each of the lead technicians, they offered deeper insight cultivated through years of execution. Each rotation started a new relationship and a learning curve with a new personality. I invited them to be honest and direct with me, but I couldn’t be offended when it stung.
I could have taken offense when a tech suggested they need to perform part of a repair because I didn’t have enough “muscle” — but instead, I just told them I would give it a shot first. I didn’t ask for permission. They were constantly amused by the adaptive techniques I used to compensate for my strength disadvantage, and they admired my ingenuity and tenacity.
In time, they began to lend their credibility privilege in conversations with other techs who might be anxious about having me in their future rotation. The techs now invited me to lunch and included me in diagnostic conversations. They vouched for me and my work not because I was a woman, but because my value was indisputable.
They didn’t treat me like a girl. They treated me like a mechanic. To me, that’s what being a “male ally” is all about.
In the Eye of a Hurricane
As I migrated my career to software engineering, I was naturally able to translate my learnings from the automotive industry. After all, the automobile is a highly precise, complex system with infrastructure, components, patterns, and interfaces complete with constraints, tradeoffs, optimizations, patches and releases. It also includes a real time user-interface to provide feedback to the driver on their needs and safety.
There is another major similarity to the auto industry — the tech revolution I experienced as a mechanic is similar to the current disruption that cloud computing is having on the technology industry. While some engineers are leaning into the transformation required, many others are behind the curve — treating the cloud the same as physical infrastructure.
During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I worked to recover the financial systems that were impacted — along with my home — by the natural disaster. The experience ignited my passion for cloud computing and clearly highlighted the value proposition. I made a decision to be part of the disruption and drive cloud native architectures.
Over the past year, I’ve combined training resources like A Cloud Guru with hands-on experience to learn cloud computing. A few months ago, I passed the exam and achieved my AWS Solution Architect Associate level certification.
- SKILL UP, LADIES! I will sponsor the first 20 women who are committed to achieving their certification by AWS re:Invent 2017. I will provide access to training curriculum and accountability partnership. Comment on this blog and then follow me on twitter to connect.
- PUT A HAND UP, LEADERS! I challenge other women leaders in tech to sponsor a small team of 5–20 certification candidates to encourage more women to achieve position of credibility through advanced training and certification. Mention #WomenWhoCloud to purchase a block subscription from A Cloud Guru, create a team name, and then email your candidates an invite.
- SHOW UP, EVERYONE! If there are women on your team who are actively involved in cloud computing or seeking to learn, send them to Re:Invent 2017. The learning experience for me was immeasurable. Plus, we need to overrun the AWS Certification Lounge.
Accept the Challenge #WomenWhoCloud