8 min read
Updated Nov. 4, 2022
Building careers in the AWS cloud, no tech experience required
Amazon is committed to supporting diverse and emerging talent from around the world, including military veterans and spouses, through training and development programs that provide alternate paths into tech careers.
Written by Life at AWS team
Courtney Sampson wasn’t sure how he was going to change his career path after spending four years in the U.S. Air Force. He knew he wanted to work in technology and that his military experience would be valuable in the professional world — he just wasn’t sure how valuable until an Amazon Web Services recruiter contacted him.
The recruiter was looking to hire solutions architects, or SAs, for paid, on-the-job training through the Amazon Technical Apprenticeship program. Intrigued, Sampson started researching the company and learned how broad an SA’s work could be, especially the wide range of technologies used. He had studied cybersecurity and worked in weather forecasting in the Air Force, but this seemed like an entryway into a vast new frontier.
After his apprenticeship, Sampson joined AWS as a full-time solutions architect in 2020. In January of 2022, Amazon celebrated the 1,000th full-time hire through the program in the United States, and reached more than 1,500 full-time hires by the fall of 2022—the vast majority of whom are from the military community. In 2021, Amazon far exceeded its pledge to hire 25,000 military veterans by 2021.
“AWS and Amazon really take a risk in having people who are untrained, but we have the leadership principles that Amazon desires, and they bring us in and take on the investment to train us,” Sampson said. “I think I made it this far because of the support of everyone around me. It’s intimidating how smart people are, but also it’s impressive how willing they are to go out of their way to help and develop you.”
Access and opportunity
What started as a three-person military recruiting team in 2017 has grown to include programs that are changing the lives of transitioning service members, veterans and their spouses around the world. Today, these inclusive hiring programs are offered to people from all backgrounds, not just the military community, and are led by U.S. Navy veteran Nick Curry, head of Military Initiatives, Apprenticeships, and Emerging Talent at AWS.
After 20 years in the Navy, Curry jokes that he’s kept the “ship” theme front and center in his career. As AWS’s bona fide captain of Emerging Talent Programs that include apprenticeships, internships, returnships, and fellowships, Curry said he's often called the “fleet Admiral of Amazon." AWS has hired more than 1,200 candidates through these “ships.”
Curry was drawn to AWS because of its support for the military community when he joined the company five years ago — Amazon founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos announced in 2016 that Amazon would hire 25,000 U.S. military veterans and spouses by 2021, and train another 10,000 in cloud computing.
Curry quickly learned that Amazon’s commitment to hire diverse and emerging talent extended far beyond the military community. Since Curry joined, the Emerging Talent Programs — which include the military apprenticeships and other training paths for non-military candidates — have gone from supporting just three job families within AWS to 12 job families across all of Amazon, including high-demand technical roles like software development, and non-technical roles. Some programs require no technical experience at all while others require some technology proficiencies.
Regardless of which ship he’s steering; the mission is universal: build recruiting programs that provide access and opportunity to candidates who don’t come to AWS through traditional channels such as campus or tech-industry hiring. This includes programs that recruit and train traditionally underserved tech talent pools such as women and gender expansive people, and non-traditional tech-talent sources such as community colleges, candidates without STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degrees, and the military.
“We’ve proved out the concept that you don’t have to be a computer science major to be a successful software developer at Amazon.”
Head of Military Initiatives, Apprenticeships, and Emerging Talent at AWS
Programs span the globe, too—apprentices started in July and September 2022 in the U.K. and Ireland. Liza Robinson, who leads Emerging Talent Programs for AWS in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said AWS is also sponsoring software development engineer bursars in South Africa to support diverse hiring there. As a pilot program in 2022, the AWS UK Demand Generation team welcomed its first Military Development Program cohort with three ex-military participants joining AWS for 12 weeks to gain work experience. Two of these veterans became full-time hires after the program, and the third joined another Amazon team as a full-time hire.
In Asia, Pacific, Japan, China (APJC), a Women in STEM Cloud Support Engineer Apprentice program launched in May 2022. Orla Byrne, who leads Emerging Talent Programs for APJC, said a Network Development Engineer Apprentice program also started in 2021 in Australia, and the first work-study apprenticeship program for early career data center roles recently launched in Singapore.
Without a computer science or software engineering degree, or any professional technology experience, Brittany Wilkins is on her way toward a new career in cloud computing.
Wilkins was working as a police officer before landing an AWS Apprenticeship to become a data center technician. As she learns valuable technical skills, she’s also happy to learn that her new career path offers much of the same personal fulfillment and meaningful work she experienced as a deputy sheriff.
“Growing up, I kind of always loved serving and helping people — that’s what made me go into law enforcement,” she said. “In some technology roles, (I assumed) you’re just working by yourself, fixing things. I didn’t really see the correlation to helping clients that I see now.”
Military and other AWS apprentices are selected for these programs because they have a natural customer obsession and embody many of Amazon’s other leadership principles. That’s exactly why the Emerging Talent Programs have been able to expand so broadly, Curry said.
In addition to their leadership principles, almost all “ship” candidates come in with some form of professional maturity. Military apprentices have worked in environments that are very high-stress, in very important types of positions, Curry said, while many of the diverse candidates who come in through these programs have historically been marginalized or overlooked.
“Then they come to AWS and we work with them in a way that shows we actually care and these individuals feel connected to us and our teams,” Curry said. “And they flourish here because they feel like they’re supported.”
Walking the walk
Inclusive hiring is something Curry is passionate about not because it’s some initiative or box he has to check, but because it’s the right thing to do. He’s especially proud of the fact that the recruiting teams that support his Emerging Talent Programs are representative of the people they’re hiring.
“Our recruiters look like the people we’re hiring. They relate to them; they can connect with them on a personal level and they can be authentic. The more that we can have diversity on our teams, especially in the recruiting space, it really connects with our candidates,” Curry said. “We are a very diverse team doing very diverse hiring for an even greater diverse company.”
Curry recognizes there’s always more work to be done when it comes to inclusive hiring, but he’s confident his team is leading by example. They’re proud of the impact they’re having not just on the lives of candidates, but also across Amazon.
“We're actually trying to bring more people in that are from these different backgrounds so that we can influence the larger organization to continue to hire from these emerging talent pools. And so, we feel like we're doing something that is actually making a difference,” Curry said. “And we can see it in the people we hire and the work that they do and the feedback we get from the candidates about how life-changing this opportunity is.”