My path into AWS: Part 1, Introduction

My path into AWS: Part 1, Introduction

This will be a series of posts on the AWS recruitment process. If you wish to see a list of all the posts for this series, click here. I will try to cover everything I find relevant, but I’m open to suggestions on what to include. Let me know via Twitter!

DISCLAIMER: I am sharing my personal experience, and my views don’t necessarily represent Amazon’s. For more information, please consult Amazon’s official documentation and websites.

If you wish to see a list of all the posts for this series, click here.

I’ve been meaning to write this for the past few weeks, but suffice to say I’ve been quite stressed, as I had to move about 1500 km, from the city I was born in, and the city I spent more than 25 years of my life in, to a different city: Dublin.

Fortunately, things have settled down now and I have managed to find some time to write this post.

A bit on my background and why I decided to join AWS first. For the past 4-5 years, I’ve been dreaming about the possibility of joining a high-performance company the likes of AWS, Google, Microsoft, or similar. I’ve gone through multiple psychological steps, including one where I thought I was not a good fit, and that there’s no way I’d ever reach such goal, so I’d better settle for more easily reachable goals (if only one could travel 4 years back in time). I have worked both professionally and informally as a systems administrator, and I have also done a fair bit of programming on my own. If you don’t already know me, I’m passionate about computers, and I strive to become part of a high-performing team of passionate engineers who, like me, want to build the future. Professional development and passion have been a constant that have driven my life for the past few years. Always with the hopes of some day reaching the point I’m at today. In fact, I have probably submitted my resume at least a dozen of times at AWS, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Cloudflare, Akamai, Twilio, and other software and computer network companies to no avail. In particular, regarding AWS, I had already failed one interview, and had an error on a second one that disqualified me for the next recruitment steps. The problem had more to do with the interview environment than my knowledge, but nevertheless I was unfortunately not allowed to restart the process.

Before AWS, I was working for cPanel as a Linux technical analyst. My daily duties consisted of having customers contact me for help with cPanel products, and I was able to connect to customer machines in order to quickly troubleshoot their systems and provide a solution.

cPanel was a very fast-paced environment, and I got the chance to sharpen up my customer-facing interpersonal skills while simultaneously working on something I have decades of experience with: Linux systems.

I suspect this is exactly the reason why an AWS recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn. My official title, as displayed on LinkedIn was “Linux Technical Analyst at cPanel”. The recruiter mentioned there would be a week-long learning session regarding AWS, labs included, which, at the end of the process, would culminate in an interview for a potential AWS role. Then it was a matter of signing up using the provided link, and showing up at the scheduled time.

The sessions were spread across three different sessions, each taking place in a different day, with approximately 3 hours for each session in which the instructors taught us a few different AWS technologies, in our case these technologies were:

  • AWS Lambda
  • Amazon API Gateway
  • Amazon Cognito

We were provided with a funded, if temporary AWS account so that, during the duration of the training, we were able to use AWS facilities without needing to spend our money.

Before these sessions, I had only ever heard about AWS. I’ve never used their products in any meaningful way. I thought I’d fail because I had no experience with AWS. After all, there are tons of AWS certified experts out there who are not AWS employees. Why would they choose me?

During the third and last session, the instructors described how the challenge would be carried out. This was the “trial by fire” that would determine if we are eligible for an interview at AWS or not. By now, it would seem quite obvious I passed this challenge, not without the typical hurdles of situations like these. This test was scheduled to be handed in 24 hours, but by the time the instructors logged off because the session ended, I had been working on the challenge for 3 hours, with the last hour in a state of complete lockup, as there was something obvious I was missing, but I was unable to continue working, so I forced myself to go to bed, only to wake up 3 hours later and finish and submit the challenge in about 10 minutes).

The last session concluded on September 5th. As I always do, I assumed the worst, thinking I would be dismissed and forgotten, and that my chances of landing an interview were practically nonexistent.

While this may seem unnecessarily negative, thinking in these terms has some advantages. First of all, once I had finished all my tasks, I submitted them, expecting nothing, which allows me to change my mental context. The alternative would be obsessing over my grade and frantically check my e-mail inbox every day, only to find it empty and become increasingly frustrated as time passes. Secondly, it prepares me for the worst. In this case, the worst is being ghosted or simply being told I’m not a good fit for the team. It wouldn’t be too terrible since I already had a job I enjoyed, but of course it would be a tough blow. Third, if I end up passing, I wouldn’t get too overconfident.

While that’s the technique I use for coping with difficult situations, I also want to emphasise that it’s very important to have confidence in yourself. If there’s a slim chance, as minuscule as it may be, that you are able to land the job of your dreams, then, why not try it? By not trying at all, you already have the “no”. There’s no way to fail if you never try, of course, but there’s also no way to succeed. I have failed a thousand times, and I can only hope I will fail a thousand more, because that, and only that, is an indicative of my progress. Perhaps I was contacted on LinkedIn because they already had my resume on their records and they thought I could be a good candidate. This wouldn’t have been the case had I never submitted my CV in the first place.I know very well receiving rejection after rejection is disheartening, because every time you try and fail, it’s kind of a signal that perhaps you’re doing things wrong, and this has personally affected me, but it is necessary to reframe this in different terms if you want to get anywhere.

In the end, I ended up being invited for a formal interview on September 16th, about 11 days after submitting the final task. Over the course of a few days I was informed about how it all would take place. The interviews would be carried out on September 22. A total of 4 interviews, with a different interviewer, lasting 1 hour each. Like all GAFAM companies, interviewing for Amazon is quite different. Each company has its own style. In the case of Amazon, they strongly emphasise their leadership principles. I will talk about these leadership principles more in future posts, but it’s all very much up to you and your personal experience, as well as your personality. There’s no correct answer here, Amazon simply wants to see you demonstrating your leadership skills in real-world examples. They will often ask you very specific details, and, in many cases, a single situation can be framed and adapted to many different leadership principles, by simply focusing on the specifics of any given situation. This is why it’s very important to be consistent and also inform your interviewers if you are reusing scenarios, as they will meet and discuss your performance and leadership examples.

The interview process is quite exhausting, and very fast-paced, but this is to be expected from a high performance company such as Amazon. You do not need to worry, as keeping calm during the process will also add bonus points to your process, because you will have to face difficult, stressing scenarios once you’re in. This is second nature to me, as I’m able to rationalise stressful situations, but this skill can be learned. It’s simply about getting out of your comfort zone. Stress strikes you when things are not going the way you expect them to, which can happen at any time, regardless of what you’re doing: Cooking, relationships, weather, sports, travelling, and more. I’d say believing in yourself is one of the most (if not the single most) valuable skills you can hold. Once you understand nobody knows more about your professional career than your own self, it gets much easier. It doesn’t matter how many background checks, or how many past employers your recruiter speaks to. Only you will have the full picture.

When preparing for my Amazon interview, I wrote a lot about myself and my past roles, even though many of the questions I anticipated didn’t actually appear during the interview, it helped me gain confidence in myself and carve out ways to answer complex questions. As a guide, try writing at least half a DIN-A4 page (or a single DIN-A5 page if you will) for each of these questions:

  • Why do you want to work at Amazon?
  • What makes you the ideal candidate?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • What finished project are you most proud of?
  • What are your aspirations?
  • What advice would you give to your 5 year younger self?
  • Have you ever taken a decision that later on proved to have negative effects? How did you overcome this negative situation?

Note that these questions must be answered honestly and truthfully, otherwise they won’t be very useful. These will help you get to know yourself, and exist in addition to the mandatory leadership principles questions you’ll get. Also note it’s highly unlikely you’ll be asked all of them, especially the third one, regarding your weaknesses. Many people think it is rude to ask a candidate about their weaknesses, and other people try to frame their weakness in a positive light, such as by saying “I work too hard” or “I become frustrated when things don’t work the way they are supposed to”, but this looks shallow and dishonest to recruiters. Even if that was the truth, it is important to give a sense of why it is negative, and the steps you’re taking to rectify it. I believe being aware of one’s limitations and handicaps is the single most important thing in order to become a better person today than you were yesterday, every day. You also can make up your own questions, but hopefully you get a sense of what an employer is looking for in a candidate. The fact I was able to work as a technical recruiter in one of my roles also helped me see the other part of the recruiting interview, from the eyes of the employer, which was incredibly enriching.

Questions? Let me know: @L1Cafe on Twitter. For other platforms, check out the side menu.