By Amber Runnels, AWS Ambassador and Sr. Big Data Architect – Mission Cloud Services
By Elaine Perales, Manager, Global Programs – AWS
This blog series highlights six trailblazing women who have shared their personal stories of how they overcame challenges, stereotypes, and barriers in their careers, who inspires them to #BreakTheBias every day, and valuable advice on developing a career in technology.
Amber Runnels is a Sr. Big Data Architect at Mission Cloud Services, an AWS Premier Tier Services Partner that helps businesses architect, migrate, manage, and optimize their Amazon Web Services (AWS) environments.
Amber has 10+ years of experience on databases, ETL, data warehousing, and all things data. She spent the majority of her career in the Oracle database and apps space before transitioning into the field of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and big data.
Amber has been helping customers to optimize workloads in the AWS data ecosystem to achieve a scalable, performant, and cost-effective architecture. Aside from technology, her passion is exploring the many places and cultures this world has to offer, most notably China where she spent several years living abroad in Shanghai.
Q&A with Amber
AWS: The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Break the Bias.” What does that phrase mean to you when it comes to your career?
Amber: Every step through my career has been met with the constant need for me to prove myself and my technical ability by being one step ahead of my peers and customers and continuously delivering results. As a Latina in a largely male dominated field, I don’t fit the mold of what people expect from someone in my industry.
Throughout my schooling and career, being the only female in a big group has always been the norm, but being a minority in a certain domain is not what breaking the bias means to me. Breaking something implies force and determination and it’s about thriving and succeeding in spite of the bias and challenges.
AWS: What challenges or biases have you faced in your career, and what lessons have you learned?
Amber: When I meet with customers or others in my field, I am typically met with shocked or surprised faces that I operate at a senior level in my technical domain. Because of this bias, I’ve had to work harder and longer than most to get to the point I am today, especially to earn the trust of customers as a technical professional. What has kept me going is my inner determination to master my technical domain, and in the particularly tough situations to prove to all the doubters that I am more than capable of succeeding.
An experience that clearly stands out in my mind was when I finally had the opportunity to expand my technical skill set into the big data domain and was beyond eager to begin my training. Upon entering the room, I was greeted by the trainer with the words: “This is for big data training, are you sure you belong here?” Although this comment was innocently made, it well illustrates the bias that many face in the technology field. Rather than “belonging” somewhere, as a technology professional we each have earned our place by relentless efforts regardless of our background.
Despite some initial bias, I have been fortunate to build lasting relationships with those that I had to prove myself to. So although some may never give up in their bias, it’s important to not write all people off. I personally would have missed out on impactful and meaningful mentorships if I had not taken the time to earn trust from my colleagues.
The most important lesson I have learned is to not let the way others see you affect your own view of who you are or aspire to be. Although breaking the bias may be a long-term goal, seeing yourself bias-free should be done from day one.
AWS: What steps can others take to be better Allys to women, what can we do to inspire these advocates?
Amber: Ever since I was young, my parents—in particular my father who is also an AWS architect—always taught me that anything that he could do, I could do. Growing up, I always remember there was never a distinction between the tasks that were assigned to me and what he did, even if this meant hard manual labor. This reinforced the idea that there was no difference in what I could accomplish because I was a female and, more importantly, that I could achieve anything, including having a career in the field of technology.
Because of this, I have always found it difficult that, as a female engineer, I am put in a separate category from “regular“ (i.e. male) engineers. Creating a separate category implies that we are somehow different, and in a way inferior, to our male counterparts—when, in fact, we are all performing the same work.
This understanding that there is no distinction between male and female engineers is essential for breaking the gender separation in tech. We can offer our support to those navigating their way in their technical careers by doing our best to support all, regardless of their background, as they work to achieve new heights in their technical careers.
AWS: What advice do you have for other women who want to keep up their technical skills?
Amber: Working in the technology industry, especially in recent times, it’s easy to get side-tracked with work that might not advance your skills. The most important thing is to determine your ultimate value as a technical professional and prioritize that. If possible, try to work with management to set aside time to keep your technical skills fresh.
The thing that has helped me is to see technology as part of who I am as a person. When technology is a part of your DNA, keeping abreast of the latest advancements will come naturally to your normal life routine.
More from Amber
Here are some blog posts written by Amber:
- Avoiding rookie mistakes when using AWS Glue – Mission Cloud Services
- Creating a custom AMI on Amazon EMR – Medium
International Women’s Day and #BreakTheBias
International Women’s Day (March 8) celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness against gender bias, and accelerating gender equity.
The International Women’s Day theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. This theme acknowledges that gender biases, discrimination, and stereotypes exist, and provides an opportunity to be part of a movement that promotes a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture both individually and collectively as an organization.
Amazon is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the company’s diverse perspectives come from many sources including gender, age, race, national origin, sexual orientation, culture, and education, as well as professional and life experiences.
AWS Ambassador Partner Program
The AWS Ambassador Partner Program features a vibrant worldwide community of technical experts, known as AWS Ambassadors, from our services and software partners.
If you’re an employee of an AWS Partner, hold multiple AWS Certifications, and contribute to the AWS community through public presentations, open source projects, social media, and more, see if you qualify for the AWS Ambassador program. If you’re an AWS customer and want to contact an AWS Ambassador, we’ve listed each Ambassador on the AWS website so you can connect with them through their employer.