AWS Training and Certification Blog

Chouaieb Nemri’s unstoppable quest to the AWS Cloud

Just yesterday, Chouaieb Nemri, an AWS Data Lab Solutions Architect, passed his 12th AWS Certification. That means he now has every certification currently offered by AWS, an achievement shared with a limited number of individuals. Even more remarkable, Chouaieb completed his previous 10 certifications in the span of a single year. Chouaieb suffers from a rare and severe form of muscular dystrophy, which significantly compromises his ability to move. To hear Chouaieb tell it, however, he was able to achieve these amazing technical feats not so much despite his disability but because of it.

“Disabilities make life more difficult, but it’s important to recognize the strengths they bring you as well,” Chouaieb says. “My life contains more friction and unpredictability than most people’s, and that’s actually trained me in several habits of mind that are important in software development and deployment. Disabled folk are always thinking about obstacles, risks, and mitigation plans. One of the first things you learn in IT is to design your systems for failure. People who are not disabled might not think that way naturally, but it’s a principle I’ve had to apply to my life since I was very young.”

In recent years, hiring diversity has become more of a priority across the technology sector, but Chouaieb is adamant that hiring a disabled person is not just the right or fair thing to do, it is one of the most effective strategies for building strong, effective teams.

“A great deal of research has shown that companies with diverse workforces tend to be more innovative, more agile, and better at problem solving than ones in which employees all look like each other,” he says. “When someone with a disability comes into a company, they don’t just bring technical skills to the table, they bring a whole new perspective, new ways of seeing things, new ways of identifying problems, and new ways of tackling them.”

Indeed, study after study has shown that people with disabilities are more likely to find solutions to complex and unexpected problems, have higher job satisfaction and lower turnover, and that diverse companies tend to produce better financial returns, making investments in training and development more valuable.

The power of technology

A native of Tunisia, Chouaieb was always fascinated by technology and math. “I first understood the transformational power of technology when I got access to my first electric wheelchair at the age of six,” he says. “It was a revolution for me because it enabled me to interact more directly with the world around me.”

Chouaieb’s parents were adamant that he attends conventional schools, despite initial resistance from administrators. Chouaieb went on to become valedictorian of his undergraduate class in Tunisia (studying physics, math, and engineering), and then got a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech. However, once he started working in the field as an electrical engineer, he discovered that most practical applications of control theory are about heuristics and empirical testing. The mathematical tooling is mainly reserved to PhDs and research institutes. This realization set Chouaieb on a new path toward data science and the cloud.

“I wanted to work in a field where I would be in touch with cutting-edge math research and use advanced mathematical tooling to solve real-life problems. I also wanted to work remotely. The IT industry provides more flexibility, accommodates different needs, and is more accessible,” he says. “I really didn’t know much about computer science at the time, so I needed to ramp up on IT, security, performance, networking—everything really.”

After shifting his focus to IT, Chouaieb became fascinated by the seemingly endless possibilities of what could be done in the cloud. In one of his early projects, he helped automate the prediction of grape harvests for a French winery using a combination of robotic monitoring, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

“It felt like magic,” he says. “We were using computer vision to estimate the annual crop yield based on data from a robot that would roam the vineyard, taking footage of the vines. We used a machine learning algorithm to identify grape berries, and from there we could calculate the number of people and amount of storage facilities the winery would need at harvest time. Historically this was all done by hand, with about 80% accuracy. The new system got us to 96% accuracy with a fraction of the work. The cloud can put this kind of power anywhere you want. It changes the whole way you think about using computing power.”

AWS Certifications as an enabler of career growth

If he wanted to continue growing his career in cloud technology, Chouaieb knew he needed to learn a lot more. “I was amazed by the power of the cloud and the opportunity it brings, but I was also intimidated by the huge amount of knowledge you need to take advantage of its highest capabilities,” he says.

He started learning about AWS with a prep course for the AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate exam. “I already had a technical background and I felt comfortable to go for an AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate certification and skip the foundational AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner,” he says. “The certification allowed me not only to acquire knowledge that is specific to the AWS Cloud but also to gain fundamental skills that every person working in IT should have.”

Chouaieb also believes that preparing for AWS Certification helped him focus on specific knowledge areas and speed up his progress. “It allowed me to acquire skills much faster than if I was navigating the IT world by myself,” he says. “Also, AWS Skill Builder was a great help in getting started, especially the exam prep courses, which help you understand what it will be like to sit for the exam, and make sure you are ready for the exam day.”

All this dedication paid off in a big way. “After getting all three AWS Associate Certifications, AWS Certified Machine Learning – Specialty, AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty, and AWS Certified Security – Specialty, I was able to more than double my salary,” he notes. “This technology has given me a chance to truly succeed and thrive.”

Failing forward

While passing his 12th and final AWS Certification exam was a triumph, the journey was not always easy. Chouaieb feels it is important to fully disclose that. When he took the AWS Certified Advanced Networking – Specialty exam in August 2022, he failed the test. “It’s an indication of the exam’s complexity,” he notes. “These are challenging tests that truly mean something.”

What surprised him was that his LinkedIn post about failing the exam received more engagement than any of his other posts. “The honesty really resonated with people,” he says. “People tend to only show what they think is their best selves on social media. The failure was an indication that I was stretching myself, and not just aiming for low-hanging fruit.”

Helping others

In May 2022, Chouaieb landed a job with AWS as a Data Lab Solutions Architect. While his official job involves optimizing cloud deployments for his clients, he also carves out time to harness the cloud to create novel technologies that can help people with disabilities.

“Eighty percent of my time is spent as a cloud engineer for our clients. But our leadership encourages us to spend the rest of our time advancing cloud technologies,” he says. “Lately I’ve been working on a solution that uses AWS artificial intelligence services in conjunction with the large language models available in Amazon SageMaker Jumpstart to help people with visual impairments. I presented this tool at the AWS Summit in Paris in April 2023.”

His hope is that one day in the future other disabled people will benefit from the work he’s doing today. “I’ve learned in a deeply personal way how technology can make an extremely positive impact on the life of a human being,” he says. “That’s why I’m keen on developing more of it.”

Chouaieb regularly posts essays on LinkedIn and Medium about various issues, from disability and AI, to his AWS Certification journey. He also provides free mentoring for people with disabilities.

Learn how you can get started on your AWS Certification journey and which AWS Certification path is right for you.