What I Learned: Onboarding at AWS

As the UK relaxed lockdown rules and return to in-person meet-ups was back on the table, I began a new phase in my career and a new way of working. In late July 2021, I joined Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a Solutions Architect.

It’s been an incredible three months onboarding (yes, really, three months onboarding!). I’ve learned so much so fast, so I wanted to take this opportunity to pause, reflect and write. I return to my What I Learned series to share some of the lessons that have carried me through.

Learn and Be Curious

A well-known Amazon Leadership Principle, Learn and Be Curious has become a personal mantra. Whether it’s studying for certifications, preparing my onboarding builder project, attending talks, asking questions, joining events, shadowing meetings.

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

What resonates with me most is the emphasis on improvement, on pushing yourself to explore, to get out of your comfort zone. When starting any new job, role, or career change this has to be your driving force. But, it’s daunting. As you navigate your new path it can be comfortable to stick to what you know, prove to colleagues that “you’ve got this” by falling back on your go-to-toolkit. I would urge you to step outside.

Over the last three months I’ve taken extensive notes in every meeting, I’ve asked questions out-loud my mind was telling me I “should” know, I’ve put my hand up to work on projects, speak at events and collaborate in ways I’ve never done before, I’ve started projects with big ideas and learned to drill into the detail to get them done and done right, I’ve made mistakes and learned how these are lessons for the future, I’ve read, and read, and read – a lot.

Fight the inside voice telling you you’ll fail, embarrass yourself or burden your colleagues. Keeping a curious attitude at the heart of what you do will help you succeed faster than you realise and you’ll be amazed at how much you learn.

Back yourself

Imposter syndrome. A phrase we hear time and time again. That voice that tells you you don’t belong. That notes every mistake as a record of your inadequacy. The best friend of our worst enemy, comparison.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt this often. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by colleagues who not only encourage me daily (honestly, it’s like having cheerleaders and it’s fantastic), but who are open and honest about how imposter syndrome, comparison and bad days affect them all. This openness has allowed me to remind myself of my humanity. When we’re moving at pace we forget to check in on ourselves. Remind ourselves of how far we’ve come, to be proud.

Take time each month to record your wins. Looking back over my achievements – no matter how big or small – has been instrumental to getting me through the tough days (and it will help you help others on the good ones).

Feedback is your friend

AWS has an excellent culture of feedback. I didn’t want to make this an I-love-my-new-employer post but it’s a style of working I’ve never experienced and it’s worth a mention. Throughout my onboarding experience I have known exactly what my strengths were and what my colleagues believe I will thrive in, equally, I have been clear on where I should focus my learning and why.

People rarely use the terms pass and failure and instead talk in terms of inclination towards an outcome, ready vs not ready, “areas for growth”, and key learnings. Every morning we are asked to feedback one question anonymously towards our team’s development which feeds into team discussions and strategy and in meetings junior staff are often asked first for their opinion on a new direction, reflections of a meeting or takeaways from an event.

The amount of feedback you’re given also means you learn to listen well, be honest with yourself and develop your own style.

In a company with so many people, it’s likely that feedback and opinions may conflict. When given feedback, I would recommend you ask for examples of best practice and clarification and be honest if you’ve been given conflicting views. This can seem unnatural if you’ve come from a place where feedback wasn’t so “free”, but cultivating this culture is worth it. It means your teams can move forward with conviction, yet be humble in understanding we all have have room to “raise the bar” – no matter our tenure or background.

Socialise with your new colleagues

When starting a new job it can be difficult to build up the courage to introduce yourself to new people, share details about your life, know when to attend socials and when to get an early night – but socialising (and having fun!) in your job is vital.

I’m an extrovert and I don’t embarrass easily so I’ve often enjoyed networking throughout my career, but I know I’m not the “norm” and many people find this challenging. So, my top tips for reaching out to new people if you feel anxious are:

  • Approach someone new for a coffee break for at least 30 mins each week
  • Schedule regular catch ups with other new starters or peers in your department – lunch, drinks, video calls – where you don’t talk about work
  • Sit in a new seat (or area) each time you go into the office and say good morning to everyone on your pod (this’ll also help you find the part of the office you feel most comfortable working in)
  • Take ownership of one of your team’s social events whether it’s a game, team dinner, or away day planning
  • Attend another team’s social (i.e. with people you won’t be working with everyday)
  • Get involved with a cross-company initiative (but don’t sign up for everything!) to meet colleagues outside of your area, gain a new perspective on your role and contribute to a wider career goal

Find your own rhythm

I was talking with a colleague about morning routines (see my earlier post) and how I discovered my rhythm when it came to productivity. Yet, when any period of change hits I often revert to bad habits. Diary overload. Less exercise. Fewer breaks. No “me time”.

About three weeks into the new role, I found myself drained. I hadn’t stopped doing and my body was tired. Despite feeling mentally positive (I have a tendency to “push through” – see my post on this here), I realised I had to quickly take control of the situation to avoid cycles of the past. I reached out to my therapist for a check-in, I told my partner and friends how I was feeling, I planned days of the week for alone time, meditation, running, swimming, socialising and suddenly my shoulders were softer, my jaw unclenched and I felt able again.

My manager also recommended I spend time reflecting on what I’ve learned and achieved. On a particularly low day I noted all the things I’d done over the five weeks prior and was shocked. “I did all this” I told myself. That evening I slept easier and the next day I approached my work with much more enthusiasm and self-belief.

I’m not someone who takes to resting easily. I find comfort in noise. But, over this period, I’ve made sure to explore comfort in silent moments. My quiet mornings with nothing but me, a cup of coffee and the sunrise (yes, I wake up really early…).

As you navigate changes in your career, your personal life, as our lives all change again after a year we’ll never forget, remember you.

You’ve got this.

I’ll be returning to What I Learned on this site as I continue to navigate my personal and professional journey – but if there’s something you’d like to hear about please get in touch at contact@rkulidzan.com or hit the socials below.

Disclaimer: All views shared in this post are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close