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From zero to AWS Community Builder in 2 years

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud!

Introduction

In April of 2021, I was accepted into the AWS Community Builders program. This was the latest milestone in a 2 year journey (so far) to upskill myself on cloud technologies. I think now is a good time to pause and share how I was able to achieve this.

AWS Community Builders

AWS Community Builders is a program designed to encourage individuals to share their own learnings and experience with others within their network. This can be done via social network platforms, blogging, presenting at meetups or any other method of putting yourself out to the world. If you are doing any of these, I would encourage you to apply via the link below.

https://aws.amazon.com/developer/community/community-builders/

You get a lot of benefits if you get accepted into the program:

  • Access to AWS product teams and information about new services and features
  • Cool swag kit (pictured above)
  • Promotional credits to be used for AWS development

These are all great but after being a member for 3 months now, I can say the single biggest benefit to me has been access to the AWS Community Builders Slack channel. There you will find a great group of individuals who can really help you up your AWS game. And who you can help too. It is a community and you get back as much as you put in.

Who

A bit of background on myself. I am a 41 year old data engineering manager with 23 years experience in IT. I spent most of the last decade managing data warehousing teams, focused on trying to climb the career ladder and not prioritizing my technical skills. I was always considered technical by my peers and team members and was often been told by developers that they appreciate being managed by someone technical. To be honest, this made me a little lazy. I thought I had the technical side covered and therefore I could focus on being a manager and advancing my career. My strengths lay in organizing the flow of work into the team and protecting them from too many distractions. And that is where I felt I could add most value in a team.

In the first half of 2019, three things happened that forced me to assess the best way to move forward in IT.

1) Restructuring within my employer's organization meant I lost half my team. This made me realize that I had to rethink how I wanted to fulfill my career ambitions as a manager.
2) I attended a course on strengths-based goal setting. The basic premise is to focus on your strengths and that will lift your weaknesses. Rather than trying to improve my presentation and networking skills head on, what if I focused on learning the material and message I had to present and socialize. The better you know your material, the better you would be at presenting about it. In turn, this would make you a better presenter.
3) I became a mentor with the Coderdojo association. Initially, this was to help my son learn how to code. I partnered with another parent to set up a dojo in our local town to help teach kids Scratch. Seeing how kids learn really ignited a fire in me to restart my own technical training.

Around the same time that this was happening, it was starting to become obvious that my employer's existing on-premise data platforms needed to be replaced. I felt that now was a good time to start advocating for a project to upgrade our platform. We wanted to go cloud and this eventually lead me onto AWS.

How

Certification

I understand that some people are skeptical of certifications but for me, I wouldn't be where I am without them. My first cert was the AWS Cloud Practitioner. It is the entry level cert and perfect for anyone starting off. It's the easiest AWS certification exam you will sit and gets you familiar with the whole process of studying, scheduling and sitting exams. I had not sat an exam in over 10 years so I felt this was a big step for me. Also, when I say easiest, I don't mean it is easy, just not as hard as the other exams.
From passing the Cloud Practitioner exam, I have passed four more and will hopefully continue with others.

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
https://www.credly.com/badges/8fc559e6-b8c3-42f3-b78e-7daa81ba6b86/public_url

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
https://www.credly.com/badges/80e7e22d-af7c-4b73-b3f1-1e95136e42b8/public_url

AWS Certified Big Data – Specialty
https://www.credly.com/badges/f208e2bb-a63b-41d0-addd-555db292c637/public_url

AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty
https://www.credly.com/badges/429e9873-1fd4-43df-b3c1-6b2205e01442/public_url

AWS Certified Developer – Associate
https://www.credly.com/badges/a0c991e4-b007-421b-a00b-403aa2c85903/public_url

I am spending more time this year getting hands on experience and blogging than working on certifications. However, I wouldn't be at this point without starting with certifications. They provided a structure and a target for me for getting trained up on AWS and I will continue to study for more certifications.

Blogging

Publishing my first blog was an even more nerve-wracking experience than sitting my first certification exam. Putting myself out there to the general public was pushing myself far out of my comfort zone. My article did several thousand views and didn't bring the world down crashing on me so that was a good start. Since then, I have published 7 other articles. I set a target at the start of 2021 to publish an article every month. So far, I have published 6 in 8 months. When you apply for the AWS Community Program, you don't get a breakdown of why you were accepted but I believe that blogging is what made my application stand out.
I use @practicaldev to publish my blogs as there is no paywall for the readers. I don't do it for money, I do it to share what I've learned and to help others. Check out my blogs here:

https://dev.to/tom_millner

Social Media

Being active on Twitter and/or LinkedIn has been a game-changer for me. Similar to my experience with the AWS Builders Slack channel, being on Twitter exposes you to a community of like minded individuals. I have learned so much from following experts like Jeremy Daly, Sheen Brisals, Yan Cui, Zack Kanter, Chris Munns, James Beswick, etc. The list goes on. Check out who I follow for inspiration.

Check out https://twitter.com/tom_millner/following

Even if you don't tweet, being on Twitter is one of the best way of keeping up to date with the latest technical news and releases.

Summary

If you serious about joining the AWS Community Builders program, there is no secret to how you will be accepted. You need to put the time in and learn as much as you can about AWS Cloud. There are different tracks so you can specialize in one or two different areas. Some of those tracks are Data, Development Tools, Game Tech, Frontend Web and Mobile, Machine Learning and Serverless. These allow you the scope to focus on your chosen track. After that, it's down to hard work and spreading the knowledge of what you have learned.
I would have to say it's definitely been worth it for me both professionally and personally. I am enjoying my industry now more than ever and the key to it has been learning and focusing on your strengths. By going all in on cloud and AWS specifically, I am learning so much everyday and I continue to see great scope to grow my technical skills and career.

Discussion (4)

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techish profile image
Ashish Saxena

Great post!

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deeheber profile image
Danielle Heberling

Thanks for sharing your story.

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harinderseera profile image
Harinder Seera 🇭🇲 • Edited

Thanks for sharing your post, Tom. Keep it up.

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tom_millner profile image
Tom Milner Author

Thanks Harinder, will do