A 12 Step Program to Get from Zero to Hundreds of AWS-Certified Engineers

Jonathan Allen
Jul 15, 2017 · 9 min read

“Don’t wish for what you haven’t got; it blinds you to the possibilities of the present”


As an AWS Enterprise Strategist, I have the privilege of meeting executives from around the globe who are faced with a wide range of business and technology challenges. Each customer is unique. Many of the challenges, however, like history, tend to rhyme.

One of those rhymes is the skills challenge in the market, and the belief that not having the right people on staff stops you from moving faster, saving money, and expanding your business on the cloud. It’s certainly true that the number of job postings with the words “AWS” and “cloud” have materially increased as people realise the power of letting AWS do the undifferentiated heavy lifting in the infrastructure space. But I don’t think that this escalating demand, or the perception that you don’t have the talent that you need, should get in the way of your enterprise cloud success.

Stephen Orban, Head of Enterprise Strategy at AWS, has written convincingly about this in a recent post, “You Already Have the People You Need to Succeed With the Cloud.” And, to reinforce this point, I’d like to share the story of when I faced a major skills challenge. That was back in 2014, at the start of my cloud journey.

I was Capital One’s CTO in the UK then, and I found myself thinking deeply about the perceived skills gap in my engineers. These engineers were really talented, but they were predominantly skilled in legacy on-premise technology; as a result, they offered largely siloed infrastructure skill sets.

Seeking change, I then proceeded to make the oft-repeated mistake of creating a unicorn job specification and placing it joyfully in the external job market. I was surprised and disappointed when my job posting was met by a profound echo of silence in my inbox.

I was clearly missing a crucial fact.

The highly skilled, proactive, and dedicated team I had was the team I needed. The team members just needed a path, an incentive, and someone with empathy to listen and address their totally human fears of the technology unknown.

This realization about talent transformation and the enterprise cloud journey led to a significant amount of best practice and human learning for me. I have to be honest, though; mistakes were made and time was lost along the way. But we established a path that eventually worked and ultimately contributed to Capital One’s UK success. This contributed to helping Capital One scale its technical talent to a profoundly high level globally. In fact, a full 2 percent of all AWS-certified developers now work at Capital One.

With the benefit of hindsight here are the 12 steps that worked for us —

Step 1 — Acceptance

Step 2 — Training

Step 3 — Hands-On Time

Step 4 — Create Your Two-Pizza Team

Step 5 — Bring in Some Experts

Step 6 — Make It Real

Step 7 — Scale the Learning with Cellular Mitosis

Step 8 — Certification

Step 9 — Scaling the Certification and Associated Leadership

Step 10 — Recognise and Reward Expertise (In a Very Loud and Proud Way!)

Step 11 — Take the Challenge Yourself

Step 12 — Create a Unifying Job Family Portfolio

Technical Program Manager (TPM) — Typically responsible for the Agile execution, release train congruence and team interdependencies.

AWS Infrastructure Engineer (IE) — Previously data center systems engineers, who were typically Linux/Wintel/Network, etc. Now creating CloudFormation code for different AWS building blocks as required for the product teams. AWS experts.

Software Development Engineer (SDE) — Writing logic and working with data constructs in a variety of software languages.

Software Quality Engineer (SQE) — Using test-driven design principles. Ensuring that testing is considered and executed throughout the lifecycle.

Security Engineer — Ensuring that security is holistic.

Engineering Manager — The manager responsible for both intent and supervising a group of engineers comprised from the above skill groups.

As you follow this path, it’s important that some glass ceilings get broken. In particular, it’s essential that engineers who don’t manage people now have the ability to get to very senior levels — including that of Director and above — and still not be managing people. These promotions should respect technical depth and associated competency development, as well as technical leadership maturity as it broadens. As a leader seeing your employees scale new heights and attain hard earned promotions is always the most rewarding part of the role. Many members of my team who took the great opportunities available proudly achieved promotion. We also broke the glass ceiling ourselves, and as I was leaving Capital One UK, one of my proudest moments was promoting a founding member of our Cloud Center of Excellence to the Infrastructure Engineering Director level. This person remains an individual contributor, hands-on AWS expert, and a good friend.

Following these 12 steps as a path to talent transformation, can unleash your teams so they achieve greatness things for your customers.

Remember — “All of your assumed constraints are debatable.”

Jonathan Allen
@jonatallen
jnatall@amazon.co.uk
EMEA Enterprise Strategist and Evangelist

Update 15th January 2018 — Reinvent Breakout Video of this Blog is available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO0eqTCQC8U

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