Leaders are not always the ones who shout the loudest
“I like to say I’m the product of an Amazon narrative,” says Ramat Tejani, referring to the company’s practice of requiring all employees with a new idea for the business, to first write it up as a press release, with an accompanying set of frequently asked questions, to explain what they’d like to build.
This ‘working backwards’ methodology, which involves producing a six-page narrative as a kind of ‘fast forward’ into the future, detailing exactly what you want a customer to experience, is the origin of every major Amazon product and service that exists today. It’s also how Ramat’s role, and the programme she is now helping to run, came into being.
Ramat, who joined Amazon’s cloud computing business Amazon Web Services (AWS) at the end of last year, is Programme Marketing Manager for ‘AWS Get IT’, a new initiative that aims to encourage more young people from diverse backgrounds, particularly girls, to gain practical digital skills, while inspiring them to consider a career in technology.
“Everyone knows there isn’t enough diversity in the tech industry,” says Sonia Ouarti, Head of Marketing for AWS UK and Ireland, and Ramat’s manager, whose original narrative led to the creation of the programme. “We want to break down stereotypes of what it means to work in technology and give more young people the chance to fulfil their potential.”
The driving force behind AWS Get IT, Sonia saw an opportunity to not only introduce young people to cloud computing and digital skills, but also show them the array of career options available in technology, by giving them the chance to meet, and learn from, female leaders.
“An important part of what we are doing is giving women already working in the industry, who might not naturally put themselves forward, the confidence, and chance, to tell their story,” she continues.
AWS Get IT, which launches nationwide this week, has been developed together with youth training organisation Future Foundations. It began life as a pilot, involving schools in London, and a team of AWS volunteers, to get it off the ground. Thanks to their help, Sonia explains, it is now scaling up as a fully-fledged programme within the business, with Ramat managing it day to day, and schools across the UK invited to take part.
AWS Get IT has two distinct but complementary strands. The first is a competition that challenges 12 to 13-year-olds (year 8) to come up with an innovative idea for an application to help to solve a specific problem for their community, or school.
The second is a targeted programme of public speaking training, designed to raise the profile of women already working in tech roles - starting with AWS’ own employees. The company will expand an ambassador scheme that gives female employees the chance to receive executive level coaching, and subsequent speaking opportunities, so they can, as Sonia puts it, “learn to be a bigger voice.”
AWS Get IT builds on ‘Amazon Amplify’, announced in March - a series of initiatives designed to further increase the number of women in technology and innovation roles across the company’s UK business.
Any school team that participates in the competition must be composed of a majority of girls. “We want to show pupils, from an early age, the importance of including a range of opinions, whatever project you’re working on,” says Sonia.
As part of the competition, AWS will hold day-long boot camps at its offices, giving small groups of pupils the chance to work together with the AWS ambassadors, as well as with their peers from different backgrounds, and schools. The camps will introduce young people to Amazon’s culture of innovation, including ‘working backwards’. They will cover both technical and ‘soft’ skills, such as how to use effective body language, and tone of voice, when presenting to others.
All this is to help prepare pupils for if, and when, they make it to the finals. Held at the annual AWS Summit in London, teams that get past the first round will pitch their ideas in person to a panel of judges from AWS and other organisations. The winning team will later work with AWS experts to develop, build and maintain their app.
"AWS Get IT is a real-world way for us to show young people, at a crucial moment when they’re making education choices, that there’s room for everyone in this industry,” explains Ramat. “I take myself as an example. I honestly never thought I could work for a company like AWS. Even though I have a Master’s degree, and several years’ experience in non-profit, private, and public-sector organisations, I just assumed I’d never be considered.”
“If you’re not used to seeing anyone like you in these positions, it’s hard to imagine yourself doing them. But that’s exactly the mind-set, and the reality, we’re trying to change. It’s not about who can shout the loudest. It’s about being heard in your own way.”