Women Empowerment Teresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector, Amazon Web Services

Our Anniversary Special feature celebrates this iconic woman, who has carved a name for herself in the technology industry. In an exclusive interview with IG Editor-in-Chief Jasmine Bedi, Amazon’s Teresa Carlson, Vice President Worldwide Public Sector AWS shares her inspiring path and her visionary eye for the future.

AWS is the undisputed leader in cloud computing, but as you have reiterated, the cloud in public sector is still in its nascent stages. Do you think that governments are moving fast enough to modernize antiquated systems and digitize government and citizen services?

Many governments around the world are undergoing rapid transformation to gain efficiencies, more effectively meet the needs of their citizens, and innovate more rapidly. The organizations that are benefitting the most from digital transformation share a few common traits.

First, successful digital transformation starts with top-down, cloud-first strategies designed to provide guidance around procurement, implementation, security, and workforce skills development to foster faster cloud adoption.

Second, the senior government leaders share in their commitment to cultural change. That means that they are in alignment on the importance of encouraging their teams to think big about how technologies like cloud computing can serve their mission better, faster, more affordably, and more securely. It is why AWS builds tools with builders in mind—so that senior leaders can foster a culture of innovation and empower their teams to rapidly experiment and deliver results.

Third, successful organizations recognize that to transform their systems they often need to upskill their teams. Through training and certification programs like AWS Educate and AWS Academy, we train hundreds-of-thousands of people a year on the use of cloud technologies, and work closely with government and commercial employers to make sure that our offerings match their technical requirements. For students, we offer stackable credentials so that each can choose a pathway to expertise. The combination of feedback-driven courseware and the opportunity for team members to train and upskill in a self-directed curriculum is critical to ensuring that an organization has the technical expertise needed to accelerate its mission.

Finally, the organizations that are really succeeding don’t wait until they figure out how to move every last workload. We often work with organizations to do a portfolio analysis to assess each application and build a plan for what to move short-term, medium-term, and last. This process helps organizations get the benefits of the cloud for many of their applications much more quickly, and it gives them experience in the cloud as they stage the rest.

We are always willing to partner with state and local governments to share proofs of concept, build a framework to support successful cloud adoption, and help remove blockers where possible.

Teresa is joined by students from the Las Vegas area who participated in an AWS Field Trip to get inspired and excited to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

With 20 new governors sworn in 2018, what difference have you seen in states’ adoption of new technology including cloud?

I’m thrilled to see that innovation and transformation have become a major focus for governors. For example, the Governor of California has created a new Office of Digital Innovation to build more citizen-centric applications. Governor DeSantis of Florida and Governor Walz of Minnesota have both driven major IT governance reforms that will foster more agile operations in the cloud. And states like Maryland, Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia are led by forward-thinking governors who are leveraging the cloud to improve cybersecurity, share data to improve citizen outcomes, and foster workforce development through the launch of degrees in cloud computing at universities and community colleges. Of course, these states aren’t finished yet and there are many more exciting things to come.

What is the importance of public-private partnerships in your opinion? Please share an example of any such partnerships that you may have been involved with and the impact it had on the industry.

Public-private partnerships are important because they bring together a diverse group of views, capabilities, and resources to solve big challenges, typically ones that each sector could not solve. One of the programs I am most proud of and passionate about is the AWS Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) program. AWS CICs provide an opportunity for nonprofits, education institutions, and government agencies to collaborate with other public sector organizations on their most pressing challenges, test new ideas with Amazon’s innovation process, and access the technology expertise of AWS. Last year, we published our first round of open source solutions created by our CICs. Each one is tied directly to common public sector challenges, such as protecting crops from pests or managing digital evidence to help solve crimes.

With Amazon HQ2 coming to Northern Virginia, what kind of opportunities does that bring for the technology community, and what does it mean for Amazon’s public sector business with the government?

With HQ2, we expect to create more than 25,000 high-paying jobs over the next 10 years or so. These roles are tackling exciting projects across Amazon, such as cloud computing and new Alexa features for customers. And we’re hoping to do much of our hiring locally. The talent pipeline in North Virginia is a big part of why we selected this area. It presented the best long-term opportunity for us to hire, develop, and retain some of the best tech talent in the world.

In addition to our direct hiring and investment, the construction and ongoing operation of HQ2 will create tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment.

We’re also deeply engaged with K-12 and post-secondary institutions in Virginia to build 21st century skills. For example, we have worked with the Governor’s office and Virginia Tech to provide the cloud infrastructure for The Virginia Cyber Range. This content repository and simulation environment is designed to provide hands-on exercises and prepare students from across the state for cybersecurity-related jobs. And we recently announced that we will support funding for intro and AP computer science classes in 27 schools across Virginia as part of our Amazon Future Engineer program—a childhood-to-career program to inspire, educate and propel children and young adults from underserved and underrepresented communities to pursue careers in computer science.

In addition, we recently launched a cloud degree collaboration between AWS Educate and select K-12 school districts in Virginia, the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), and leading four-year universities in the state. Participating academic institutions are leveraging AWS Educate, our global initiative to provide students and educators with the resources needed to accelerate cloud-related learning by building associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs, as well as high school STEM curriculum. The Cloud Degree Program is creating pathways towards in-demand, tech-related careers in cloud computing. The collaboration will also work with employers throughout Virginia, who have a growing need for tech workers with cloud computing skills. By embedding the AWS Educate program to create a statewide cloud degree program, Virginia is providing students with an on-ramp to innovation and careers in the cloud.

Developing a strong talent pool does not just benefit Amazon; our customers and partners will also benefit from the availability of an expanded pipeline of technical talent. I’m confident that Northern Virginia’s tech sector will continue to grow as we find more and more opportunities to partner and collaborate across the industry.

What does the government of 2025 look like to you in terms of its cloud adoption and associated technologies?

As I mentioned, we are only just beginning to leverage the power and potential of the cloud. With its always-on, on-demand delivery of almost limitless IT resources over the Internet, cloud computing can accelerate scientific research, advance breakthroughs in medicine, and enhance efficiencies in transportation, intelligence, security, health, and media. We are already seeing the use of technology to create “smart cities” in the United States and around the world, and the use of technologies to make our local communities safer, easier to navigate, and better places to live. As I travel around the world, I am already seeing more customer-friendly government services for constituents, with fewer lines and shorter wait times. And I expect the “first movers” to employ innovative approaches to spur economic development and place a real focus on attracting start-ups and other businesses. I also anticipate that with greater adoption of cloud for workloads and disaster recovery, we will see a marked decrease in cybersecurity attacks lobbed against government agencies and localities.

Having started AWS’ public sector business almost a decade ago, what have been some of your challenges in your journey and how have you overcome them?

When I started the Worldwide Public Sector, we had the vision to give our government customers the same tools as the world’s most innovative companies so that they could pave the way for disruptive innovation to build a better world. But there was no playbook about turning this vision into reality. We had to start from scratch and focus on working backwards from the needs and requirements of our customers to deliver the results that they needed. One of the ways we continue to seek customer input is the AWS City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge. We created this challenge in 2014, and asked cities to share how they are using cloud to innovate for their residents and improve service delivery. Winners of the challenge receive cash, promotional credits, and AWS training. The diversity of submissions has not only taught us about the challenges our customers face, but it has informed our own roadmap so that we can develop services and programs that our public sector customers need. I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved since then, and I’m still excited, because we have so much more left to do.

AWS has a huge network of partners. Can you share with us what that network looks like and in your opinion, its importance?

The AWS Partner Network (APN) is our global partner program for technology and consulting businesses that leverage AWS to build solutions and services for customers. The network helps companies build, market, and sell their AWS offerings by providing valuable business, technical, and marketing support. There are tens of thousands of APN Partners across the globe. More than 90% of Fortune 100 companies and the majority of Fortune 500 companies leverage APN Partner solutions and use their services.

Our goal is to help partners differentiate their business, reach new customers faster, and deeply engage with existing customers. Whether partners are just beginning to build their business or expanding it, there are numerous APN programs to help them succeed. We will continue to do all that we can to bring true value to our customers through a differentiated partner network. For example, we will continue to offer competencies that highlight partners that have demonstrated technical proficiency and proven customer success.

“Inclusion and Diversity” seems to be a topic that is gaining traction globally. As a very successful businesswoman, do you think enough is being done for women from an equality perspective?

We have a long way to go to get where we need to be. For too many women and other minority groups, the tech industry can be a lonely place. According to findings from McKinsey & Company and Lean In, being “the only one” is still a common experience: one in five women say they are often one of the only women in the room. This is twice as common for senior-level women and women in technical roles.

There is obviously a lot of room to grow, and there are concrete actions that companies can take to improve. For instance, it’s critical to ensure that hiring and promotions are fair, that employers foster an inclusive and respectful culture, and that senior leaders and managers become champions of diversity.

At AWS, we believe the future of tech must include every color, gender, belief, origin, and community. We’re continuing to prioritize pay equity and we’re setting out to transform our industry. In 2017, we launched We Power Tech, a program focused on engaging all underrepresented communities in order to build a new pipeline of tech talent. We Power Tech partners with over 70 organizations throughout the world, supporting underrepresented communities in tech by providing access to AWS credits and learning modules. We Power Tech hosts events and workshops to support entrepreneurs and founders who are women, people of color, LGBTQ, and/or people with disabilities. Today, we’ve engaged more than 1,000 technologists and have established a presence around the world.

Prior to technology you were in the healthcare industry. Tell us about your transition from one to the other.

I started out in healthcare as a speech/language pathologist. Along the way, I was drawn to IT because I saw the potential that technology could bring to healthcare and the need for digital transformation in the industry. It wasn’t just about opportunity, but also about addressing important basics like making electronic medical records a reality and driving better patient outcomes.

I suppose that making that leap seemed risky, but at the time, that pivot really made sense for me. I am a naturally curious person and need to keep learning. But as I reflect back upon my career, I am convinced I was destined for a career in technology because I’m passionate about using the tools we have to truly impact people’s lives in a positive way. And there’s no better place to do that than AWS.

Interestingly, my experience in speech language pathology has helped me a lot in the tech industry. In that role, I worked with young children who had learning and articulation disabilities, teenagers with head injuries, and adults who’d had strokes. To truly understand communication disorders, you need to understand ‘normal’ communication patterns first, so I’m very tuned in to body language and contextual cues. Having a deep understanding of communication styles helps me every day as I interact with a diverse and global range of customers, partners, and team members.

You are a role model for many women who aspire to be in this industry. Do you have any message for young women who want to foray into this industry?

You won’t find a more exciting and transformative industry—and we need more women. Diversity among our workforce allows us to check our unconscious biases, look around corners, and challenge our own assumptions. And that is not just my opinion; there is a growing body of research that shows that an inclusive and diverse company is one that excels compared to its peers.

It is also important to note that technology is about more than just engineering skills—we need talented marketers, recruiters, lawyers, and public policy professionals—to name just a few—to ensure that our technology serves the needs of customers around the world.

Here are a few practical steps that young women (and men) can take today:

 Inventory all that you’ve accomplished in your career, and then make a second list of everything you want to. Add a star next to those items you’re prepared to do right now. I encourage you to think creatively about how you can apply your skills to different domains. If applying for a job, always take the time to evaluate that job and rewrite the job description.

 After that, determine how you can upskill yourself to accomplish the goals you aren’t ready to tackle today. Do you need more training? Take advantage of online courses like the ones offered on aws.amazon.com/training. All you need is an Amazon account to begin!

 Finally, for tasks that you’re ready to conquer, dive in! Be proactive in showing off your skills and telling your story.

These are three easy steps, but they are steps that few people ever take. Be one of the few who doesn’t wait for an invitation from someone else. Jump right in – I’m excited to see what you build!

You are such a driven person, always on-the-go and inspirational for many! Can you share with our readers what keeps you going and who/what inspires you?

I’m most inspired when I meet with our customers and listen to their stories of success. It drives me to know we’ve helped them achieve their mission and made their world better through innovation and technology. I am inspired by the stories that I hear from men and women around the world, who have taken advantage of the opportunity to learn new skills and whose lives and careers have been truly transformed. And finally, I’m also inspired by the talented set of leaders that surround me every day at AWS, and our colleagues around the globe that are dedicated to making a difference.

What are some ways AWS is supporting customers during COVID-19?

We’re supporting customers around the world to keep businesses running, classes going, and speed COVID-19 research projects. One area where we have heard an urgent need is in the research and development of diagnostics, which consist of rapid, accurate detection and testing of COVID-19. Better diagnostics will help accelerate treatment and containment, and in time, shorten the course of this epidemic.

That’s why we launched the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative—a global program to support customers who are working to bring better, more accurate, diagnostics solutions to market faster and promote better collaboration across organizations that are working on similar problems. As part of this, we committed an initial investment of $20 million to accelerate diagnostic research, innovation, and development to speed our collective understanding and detection of COVID-19 and other innovate diagnostic solutions to mitigate future infectious disease outbreaks. Recent beneficiaries of this initiative include radiologists and physicians at UC San Diego Health, who are working to quickly detect pneumonia and better distinguish COVID-19 patients who need supportive care in the hospital from those who can be followed closely at home. Additionally, AWS is supporting an effort from Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a nonprofit furthering research to manage diseases, to estimate unreported COVID‑19 cases.

AWS also joined the White House COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium, offering research institutions and companies technical support and AWS credits to advance research on diagnostics, treatments, and vaccine studies related to COVID-19. These are just a few of the many efforts underway to help populations manage the impact of COVID-19. AWS will continue to put our customers first, providing highly-reliable infrastructure when they need it most.