Building and Maintaining Cultures of Innovation with Francessca Vasquez

Episode Summary

Francessca Vasquez is the Vice President of Technology at Amazon Web Services, a job she started in March 2021 after a four-year stint as head of solutions architecture and customer solutions management at AWS. Prior to these positions, Francessca worked as a group vice president at Oracle, led the Americas enterprise architects and solution specialists at Salesforce, and was a partner for CSC’s global consulting and public sector division, among other positions. She also worked for the Department of Defense for two years. Join Corey and Francessca as they talk about empowering customers with tools that enable them to build cultures of innovation, how AWS is focused on meeting customers where they are, how different organizations have different starting points for moving to the cloud, how AWS helped Nationwide migrate to the cloud, how the pandemic has made digital a permanent fixture for all organizations, how some workers have taken a break during the pandemic, what AWS is doing to make technology more accessible, how many AWS employees start as customers, and more.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Francesca

Francessca is the leader of the AWS Technology Worldwide Commercial Operations organization. She is recognized as a thought leader of business technology cloud transformations and digital innovation, advising thousands of startups, small-midsize businesses, and enterprises. She is also the cofounder of AWS workforce transformation initiatives that inspire inclusion, diversity, and equity to foster more careers in science and technology.


Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.

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Corey: And now for something completely different!

Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. It’s pretty common for me to sit here and make fun of large cloud companies, and there’s no cloud company that I make fun of more than AWS, given that that’s where my business generally revolves around. I’m joined today by VP of Technology, Francessca Vasquez, who is apparently going to sit and take my slings and arrows in person. Francessca, thank you for joining me.

Francessca: Hi, Corey, and thanks for having me. I’m so excited to spend this time with you, snarking away. I’m thrilled.

Corey: So, we’ve met before, and at the time you were the Head of Solutions Architecture and Customer Solutions Management because apparently someone gets paid by every word they wind up shoving into a job title and that’s great. And I vaguely sort of understood what you did. But back in March of this year, you were promoted to Vice President of Technology, which is both impressive, and largely non-descriptive when one works for a technology company. What is it you’d say it is you do now? And congratulations, by the way.

Francessca: Thank you, I appreciate it. By the way, as a part of that, I also relocated to our second headquarters, so I’m broadcasting with you out of HQ2, or Arlington, Virginia. But my team, essentially, we’re a customer-facing organization, Corey. We work with thousands of customers all over the globe, from startups to enterprises, and we ultimately try to ensure that they’re making the right technology architecture decisions on AWS. We help them in driving people and culture transformation when they decide to migrate onto the cloud.

And the last thing that we try to do is ensure that we’re giving them tools so that they can build cultures of innovation within the places that they work. And we do this for customers every day, 365 days a year. And that’s what I do. And I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, so I’m having a blast.

Corey: It’s interesting because when I talk to customers who are looking at what their cloud story is going to be—not just where it is, but where they’re going—there’s a shared delusion that they all participate in—and I’m as guilty as anyone. I have this same, I guess, misapprehension as well—that after this next sprint concludes, I’m going to suddenly start making smart decisions; I’m going to pay off all of my technical debt; I’m going to stop doing this silly thing and start doing the smart thing, and so on and so forth. And of course, it’s a myth. That technical debt is load-bearing; it’s there for a reason. But foundationally, when talking to customers at different points along their paths, I often find that the conversation that I’m having with them is less around what they should be doing differently from a tactical and execution perspective and a lot more about changing the culture.

As a consultant, I’ve never found a way to successfully do that, that sticks. If I could I’d be in a vastly different, vastly more lucrative consulting business. But it seems like culture is one of those things that, in my experience, has to be driven from within. Do you find that there’s a different story when you are speaking as AWS where, “Yeah, we’re outsiders, but at the same time, you’re going to be running production on us, which means you’re our partner whether you want to be or not because you can’t treat someone who owns production as a vendor anymore.” Does that position you better to shift culture?

Francessca: I don’t know if it positions us better. But I do think that many organizations, you know, all of them are looking at different business drivers, whether that be they want to move to more digital, especially since we’re going through COVID-19 and coming out of it. Many of them are looking at things like cost reduction, some organizations are going through mergers and acquisitions. Right now I can tell you new customer experiences driven by digital is pretty big, and I think what a lot of companies do, some of them want to be the north star; some of them aspire to be like other companies that they may see in or outside the industry. And I think that sometimes we often get a brand as having this culture of innovation, and so organizations very much want to understand what does that look like: what are the ingredients on being able to build cultures of innovation?

And sometimes organizations take parts of what we’ve been able to do here at AWS and sometimes they look at pieces from other companies that they view as north star, and I see this across multiple industries. And I think the one that is the toughest when you’re trying to drive big change—even with moving to the cloud—oftentimes it’s not the services or the tech. [smile]. It’s the culture. It’s people. It’s the governance. And how do you get rallied around that? So yeah, we do spend some time just trying to offer our perspective. And it doesn’t always mean it’s the right one, but it certainly has—it’s worked for us.

Corey: On some level, I’ve seen cloud adoptions stall, in some scenarios, by vendors being a little too honest with the customer, if that doesn’t—

Francessca: Mmm. Mm-hm.

Corey: —sound ridiculous, where it’s—so they take the customer will [unintelligible 00:05:24], reasonable request. “Here’s what we built. Here’s how we want to migrate to the cloud. How will this work in your environment?” And the overly honest answer from a certain provider—I don’t feel the need to name at the moment—is, “Well, great. What you’ve written is actually really terrible, and if you were to write it better, with smarter engineers, it would run great in the cloud. So, do that then call us.”

Surprisingly, that didn’t win the deal, though it was, unfortunately, honest. There was a time where AWS offerings were very much aligned with that, and depending on how you wind up viewing what customers should be doing is going to depend on what year it was. In the early days, there was no persistent storage on EC2—

Francessca: Mm-hm.

Corey: So, if you had a use case that required there had to be a local disk that could survive a reboot, well, that wasn’t really the place for you to run. In time, it has changed, and we’re still seeing that evolution to the point where there are a bunch of services that come out on a consistent, ongoing basis that the cloud-native set will look at and say, “Oh, that hasn’t been written in the last 18 months on the latest MacBook and targeting the developer version of Chrome. Then why would I ever care about that?” Yeah, there’s a bigger world than San Francisco. I’m sorry but it’s true.

And there are solutions that are aimed at customer segments that don’t look anything like a San Francisco startup. And it’s easy to look at those and say, “Oh, well, why in the world would I wind up needing something like that?” And people point at the mainframe and say, “Because of that thing.” Which, “Well, what does that ancient piece of crap do?” “Oh, billions a year in revenue, so maybe show some respect.” ‘Legacy,’ the condescending engineering term for ‘it makes money.’

Francessca: [smile]. Yeah, well, first off, I think that our approach today is you have to be able to meet customers where they are. And there are some customers, I think, that are in a position where they’ve been able to build their business in a far more advanced state cloud-natively, whether that be through tools like serverless, or Lambda, et cetera. And then there are other organizations that it will take a little longer, and the reason for that is everyone has a different starting point. Some of their starting points might be multiple years of on-premise technology.

To your point, you talked about tech debt earlier that they’ve got to look at and in hundreds of applications that oftentimes when you’re starting these journeys, you really have to have a good baseline of your application portfolio. One of my favorite stories—hopefully, I can share this customer name, but one of my favorite stories has been our organization working with Nationwide, who sort of started their journey back in 2017 and they had a goal, a pretty aggressive one, but their goal is about 80% of their applications that they wanted to get migrated to the cloud in, like, three to four years. And this was, like, 319 different migrations that we started with them, 80 or so production cut-overs. And to your point, as a result of us doing this application portfolio review, we identified 63 new things that needed to be built. And those new things we were able to develop jointly with them that were more cloud-native. Mainframe is another one that’s still around, and there’s a lot of customers still working on the mainframe. We work with a very—

Corey: There is no AWS/400 yet.

Francessca: [smile]. There is no AWS [smile] AS/400. But we do have mainframe migration competency partners to help customers that do want to move into more–I don’t really prefer the term modernize, but more of a cloud-native approach. And mostly because they want to deliver new capability, depending on what the industry is. And that normally happens through applications.

So yeah, I think we have to meet customers where they are. And that’s why we think about our customers in their stage of cloud adoption. Some that are business-to-consumer, more digital native-based, you know, startups, of course; enterprises that tend to be global in nature, multinational; ISVs, independent software vendors. We just think about our customers differently.

Corey: Nationwide is such a great customer story. There was a whole press release bonanza late last year about how they selected AWS as their preferred cloud provider. Great. And I like seeing stories like that because it’s easy on some level—easy—to wind up having those modernized startups that are pure web properties and nothing more than that—not to besmirch what customers do, but if you’re a social media site, or you’re a streaming video company, et cetera, it feels differently than it does—oh, yeah, you’re a significantly advanced financial services and insurance company where you’re part of the Fortune 100. And yeah, when it turns out that the computers that calculate out your amortization tables don’t do what you think they’re going to do, those are the kinds of mistakes that show. It’s a vote of confidence in being able to have a customer testimonial from a quote-unquote, “More serious company.” I wouldn’t say it’s about modernization; I’d say it’s about evolution more than anything else.

Francessca: Yeah, I think you’re spot on, and I also think we’re starting to see more of this. We’ve done work at places like GE—in Latin America, Itaú is the bank that I was just referring to on their mainframe digital transformation. Capital One, of course, who many of the audience probably knows we’ve worked with for a long time. And, you know, I think we’re going to see more of this it for a variety of reasons, Corey. I think that definitely, the pandemic has played some role in this digital acceleration.

I mean, it just has; there’s nothing I can say about that. And then there are some other things that we’re also starting to see, like sustainability, quite frankly, is becoming of interest for a lot of our customers as well, and as I mentioned earlier, customer experience. So, we often tend to think of these migration cloud journeys as just moving to infrastructure, but in the first part of the pandemic, one of the interesting trends that we also saw was this push around contact centers wanting to differentiate their customer experience, which we saw a huge increase in Amazon Connect adoption as well. So, it’s just another way to think about it.

Corey: What else have you seen shift during the pandemic now that we’re—I guess, you could call it post-pandemic because here in the US, at least at this time of this recording, things are definitely trending in the right direction. And then you take a step back and realize that globally we are nowhere near the end of this thing on a global stage. How have you seen what customers are doing and how customers are thinking about things shift?

Francessca: Yeah, it’s such a great question. And definitely, so much has changed. And it’s bigger than just migrations. The pandemic, as you 
rightfully stated, we’re certainly far more advanced in the US in terms of the vaccine rollout, but if you start looking at some of our other emerging markets in Asia Pacific, Japan, or even AMEA, it’s a slower rollout. I’ll tell you what we’ve seen.

We’ve seen that organizations are definitely focused on the shift in their company culture. We’ve also seen that digital will play a permanent fixture; just, that will be what it is. And we definitely saw a lot of growth in education tech, and collaboration companies like Zoom here in the US. They ended up having to scale from 10 million daily users up to, like, 300. In Singapore, there is an all-in company called Grab; they do a lot of different things, but in their top three delivery offerings—what they call Grabfood, Grabmart, and GrabExpress—they saw, like, an increase of 30% user adoption during that time, too.

So, I think we’re going to continue to see that. We’re also going to continue to see non-technical themes come into play like inclusion, diversity, and equity in talent as people are thinking about how to change and evolve their workforce. I love that term you used; it’s about an evolution: workforce and skills is going to be pretty important. And then globally, the need around stronger data privacy and governance, again, is something else that we’ve started to see in a post-COVID kind of era. So, all industries; there’s no one industry doing anything any different than the others, but these are just some observations from the last, you know, 18 months.

Corey: In the early days of the pandemic, there was a great meme that was going around of who was the most responsible for your digital transformation: CIO, CTO, or COVID-19?

Francessca: [smile].

Corey: And, yeah, on some level, it’s one of those ‘necessity breeds innovation’ type of moments. And we’re seeing a bunch of acceleration in the world of digital adoption. And I don’t think you get to put the genie back in that particular bottle in a bunch of different respects. One area that we’re seeing industry-wide is talent discovering that suddenly you can do a whole bunch of things that don’t require you being in the same eight square miles of an earthquake zone in California. And the line that I heard once that really resonated with me was that talent is evenly distributed; opportunity is not. And it seems that when you see a bunch of companies opening up to working in new ways and new places, suddenly it taps a bunch of talent that previously was considered inaccessible.

Francessca: That’s right. And I think it’s one of those things where—[smile] I love the meme—you’ll have to send me that meme by the way—that just by necessity, this has been brought to the forefront. And if you just think about the number of countries that, sort of, account for almost half the global population, there’s only, like, we’ll say eight of them that at least represent close to 60-plus percent. I don’t think that there’s a company out there today that can really build a comprehensive strategy to drive business agility or to look at cost, or any of those things digitally without having an equally determined workforce strategy. And that workforce strategy, how that shows up with us is through having the right skills to be able to operate in the cloud, looking at the diversity of where your customer base is, and making sure that you’re driving a workforce plan that looks at those markets.

And then I think the other great thing—and honestly, Corey, maybe why I even got into this business—is looking at, also, untapped talent. You know, technology’s so pervasive right now. A lot of it’s being designed where it’s prescriptive, easier to use, accessible. And so I also think we’re tapping into a global workforce that we can reskill, retrain, in all sorts of different facets, which just opens up the labor market even more. And I get really excited about that because we can take what is perceived as, sort of, traditional talent, you know, computer science and we can skill a lot of people who have, again, non-traditional tech backgrounds. I think that’s the opportunity.

Corey: Early on in my career, I was very interested in opening the door for people who looked a lot like me, in terms of where their experience level was, what they’d done because I’d come from a quote-unquote, non-traditional background; I don’t even have a high school diploma at this point. And opening doors for folks and teaching them to come up the way that I did made sense for a while. The problem that I ran into pretty quickly is that the world has moved on. It turns out that if you want to start working in cloud in 2021, the path I walked is closed. You don’t get to go be an email systems administrator who’s really good at Unix and later Linux as your starting point because those jobs don’t exist the way that they once did.

Before that, the help desk roles aren’t really there the way that they once were either, and they’ve become much more systematized. You don’t have nearly as much opportunity to break the mold because now there is a mold. It used to be that we were all these artisanally crafted, bespoke technologists. And now there are training curriculums for this. So, it leads to a recurring theme on the show of, where does the next generation really wind up coming from?

Because trying to tell people to come up the way that I did is increasingly reminiscent of advice of our parents’ generation, “Oh, go out and pound the bricks, and have a firm handshake, and hand your resume to the person at the front desk, and you’ll get a job today.” Yeah, sure you will. How do you see it?

Francessca: You know, I see it where we have an opportunity to drive this talent, long-term, in a variety of different places. First off, I think the 
personas around IT have shifted quite a bit where, back in the day, you had a storage admin, a sysadmin, maybe you had a Solaris, .NET, Linux developer. But pretty straightforward. I think now we’ve evolved these roles where the starting point can be in data, the starting point can be in architecture.

The personas have shifted from my perspective, and I think you have more starting points. I also think our funnel has also changed. So, for people that are going down the education route—and I’m a big proponent of that—I think we’re trying to introduce more programs like AWS Educate, which allows you to go and start helping students in universities really get a handle on cloud, the curriculum, all the components that make up the technology. That’s one. I think there are a lot of people that have had career pivots, Corey, where maybe they’ve taken time out of the workforce.

We disproportionately, by the way, see this from our female and women who identify, coming back to the workforce, maybe after caring for parents or having children. So, we’ve got—there are different programs that we try to leverage for returners. My family and I, we’ve grown up all around the military veterans as well, and so we also look at when people come out of, perhaps in the US, military status, how do we spend time reskilling those veterans who share some of the same principles around mission, team, the things that are important to us for customers. And then to your point, it’s reskill, just, non-traditional backgrounds. I mean, a lot of these technologies, again, they’re prescriptive; we’re trying to find ways to make them certainly more accessible, right, equitable sort of distribution of how you can get access to them.

But, anyone can start programming in things like Python now. So, reskill non-traditional backgrounds; I don’t think it’s just one funnel, I think you have to tap into all these funnels. And that’s why, in addition to being here in AWS, I also try to spend time on supporting and volunteering at nonprofit companies that really drive a focus on underserved-based communities or non-traditional communities as different pathways to tech. So, I think it’s all of the above. [smile].

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Corey: Yeah, I have no patience left, what little I had at the beginning, for gatekeeping. And so much of technical interviewing seems to be built around that in ways that are the obvious ones that need not even be called out, but then the ones that are a little bit more subtle. For example, the software developer roles that have the algorithm questions on a whiteboard. Well, great. You take a look at the average work of 
software development style work, you don’t see those things coming up in day-to-day. Usually.

But, “Implement quicksort.” There’s a library for that. Move on. So, it turns out that biases for folks who’ve recently had either a computer science formal education or computer science formal-like education, and that winds up in many ways, weeding people out have been in the workforce for a while. I take a look at some of the technical interviews I used to pass for grumpy Unix sysadmin jobs; I don’t remember half of the terminology.

I was looking through some my old question lists of what I used to ask candidates, and I don’t remember how 90% of this stuff works. I'd have to sit there and freshen up on it if I were to go and take a job interview. But it doesn’t work in the same way. It’s more pernicious than that, though, because I look at what I do and how I approach it; the skills you use in a job interview are orthogonal, in many cases, to the skills you’ll need in the workforce. How someone performs with their career on the line at a whiteboard in front of a few very judgy, judgy people is not representative of how they’re going to perform in a collaborative technical environment, trying to solve an interesting problem, at least in my experience.

Francessca: Yeah, it’s interesting because in some of our programs, we have this conversation with a lot of the universities, as well, in their curriculums, and I think ultimately, whether you’re a software developer, or you’re an architect, or just in the field of tech and you’re dealing with customers, I think you have to be very good at things like problem-solving, and being able to work in teams. I have a mental model that many of the tech details, you can teach. Those things are teachable.

Corey: “Oh, you don’t know what port some protocol listens on. Oh, it’s a shame you never going to be able to learn that. You didn’t know that in the interview off the top of your head and there’s no possible way you could learn that. It’s an intrinsic piece of knowledge you’re born with.” No, it’s not.

Francessca: [smile]. Yeah, yeah, those are still things every now and then I have to go search for, or I’ve written myself some nice little Textract. Uh… [smile] [unintelligible 00:22:28] to go and search my handwritten notes for things. But yeah, so problem-solving, being able to effectively communicate. In our case, writing has been a muscle that I’ve really had to work at hard since joining here.

I haven’t done that in a while, so that is a skill that’s come back. And I think the one that I see around software development is, really, teams. It’s interesting because when you’re going through some of the curriculums, a lot of the projects that are assigned to you are individual, and what happens when you get into the workplaces, the projects become very team-oriented, and they’re more than one people. We’re all looking at how we publish code together to create a process, and I think that’s one of the biggest surprises making a transition [smile] into the workforce is, you will work in teams. [smile].

Corey: Oh, dear Lord. The group project; the things that they do in schools is one of those, great, there’s one person who’s going to be diligent—which was let’s be clear, never me—they’re going to do 90% of the work on it and everyone shares credit equally. The real world very rarely works that way with that sense of one person carries the team, at least ideally. But on the other side of it, too, you don’t wind up necessarily having to do these things alone, you don’t have to wind up with dealing with those weird personal dynamics in small teams, for the most part, and setting people up with the expectation, as students, that this is how the real world works is radically different. One of the things that always surprised me growing up was hearing teachers in middle school and occasionally beyond, say things like, “When you’re in the real world”—always ‘the real world’ as if education is somehow not the real world—that, “Oh, your boss is never going to be okay with this, or that, or the other thing.”

And in hindsight, looking back at that almost 30 years later, it’s, “Yeah, how would you know? You’ve been in academia your entire life.” I’m sorry, but the workplace environment of a public middle school and the workplace environment of a corporate entity are very culturally different. And I feel confident in saying that because my first Unix admin job was at a university. It is a different universe entirely.

Francessca: Yeah. It’s an area where you have to be able to balance the academia component with practitioner. And by the way, we talk about this in our solutions architecture and our customer solutions team—that’s a mouthful—in our organization, that how we like to differentiate our capabilities with customers is that we are users, we are practitioners of the services, we have gone out and obtained certifications. We don’t always just speak about it, we’d like to say that we’ve been in the empty chair with the customer, and we’ve also done. So yeah, I think it’s a huge balance, by the way, and I just hope that over the next several years, Corey, that again, we start really shifting the landscape by tapping into what I think is an incredible global workforce, and of users that we’ve just not inspired enough to go into these disciplines for STEM, so I hope we do more of that.

And I think our customers will benefit better from it because you’ll get more diversity in thought, you’ll get different types of innovation for your solution set, and you’ll maybe mirror the customer segments that you’re responsible for serving. So, I’m pretty bullish on this topic. [smile].

Corey: I think it’s hard not to be because, sure, things are a lot more complex now, technically. It’s a broader world, and what’s a tech company? Well, every company, unless they are asleep at the wheel, is a tech company. And that that can be awfully discouraging on some level, but the other side of it has really been, as I look at it, is the sheer, I guess, brilliance of the talent that’s coming up. 

I’m not talking the legend of industry that’s been in the field for 30 years; I’m talking some of the folks I know who are barely out of high school. I’m talking very early career folks who just have such a drive, and such an appetite for being able to look at how these things can solve problems, the ability to start thinking in innovative ways that I’ve never considered when I was that age, I look at this. And I think that, yeah, we have massive challenges in front of us as people, as a society, et cetera, but the kids are all right, for lack of a better term.

Francessca: [smile].

Corey: And I want to be clear as well; when we talk about new to tech, I’m not just talking new grads; I’m talking about people who are career-changing, where they wound up working in healthcare or some other field for the first 10 years of their career—20 years—and they want to move into tech. Great. How do we throw those doors open, not say, “Well, have you considered going back and getting a degree, and then taking a very entry-level job?” No. A lateral move, find the niches between the skill you have and the skill you want to pick up and move into the field in half steps. It takes a little longer, sure, but it also means you’re not starting over from square one; you’re making a lateral transition which, because it’s tech, generally comes with a sizable pay bump, too.

Francessca: One of the biggest surprises that I’ve had since joining the organization, and—you know, we have a very diverse, large global field organization, and if you look at our architecture teams, our customer solution teams, even our product engineering teams, one of the things that might surprise many people is many of them have come from customers; they’ve not come from what I would consider a traditional, perhaps, sales and marketing background. And that’s by design. They give us different perspective, they help us ensure that, again, what we’re designing and building is applicable from an end-user perspective, or even an industry, to your point. We have lots of different services now, over a hundred and seventy-five plus. I mean, we’ve—close to two hundred, now.

And there are some customers who want the freedom to be able to build in the various domains, and then we have some customers who need more help and want us to put it together as solutions. And so having that diversity in some of the folks that we’ve been able to hire from a customer or developer standpoint—or quite frankly, co-founder standpoint—has really been amazing for us. So.

Corey: It’s always interesting whenever I get the opportunity to talk to folks who don’t look like me—and I mean that across every axis you can imagine: people who didn’t come up, first off, drowning in the privilege that I did; people who wound up coming at this from different industries; coming at this from different points of education; different career trajectories. And when people say, “Oh, yeah. Well, look at our team page. Everyone looks different from one another.” Great. That is not the entirety what diversity is.

Francessca: Right.

Corey: “Yeah, but you all went to Stanford together and so let’s be very realistic here.” This idea that excellence isn’t somehow situational, the story we see about, “Oh, I get this from recruiters constantly,” or people wanting to talk about their companies where, yes, ‘founded by Google graduates’ is one of my personal favorites. Google has 140,000 people and they founded a company that currently has five folks, so you’re telling me that the things that work at Google somehow magically work at that very small scale? I don’t buy that for a second because excellence is always situational. When you have tens of thousands of people building infrastructure for you to work on, back in the early days was always the story that, that empowered folks who worked at places like Google to do amazing things.

What AWS built, fundamentally, was the power to have that infrastructure at the click of a button where the only bound—let’s be realistic here—is your budget. Suddenly, that same global infrastructure and easy provisioning—‘easy,’ quote-unquote—becomes something everyone can appreciate and get access to. But in the early days, that wasn’t the thing at all. Watching our technology has evolved the state of the art and opened doors for folks to be just as awesome where they don’t need to be in a place like Google to access that, that’s the magic of cloud to me.

Francessca: Yeah. Well, I’m a huge, just, technology evangelist. I think I just was born with tech. I like breaking things and putting stuff together. I’ll tell you just maybe two other things because you talked about excellence and equity.

There’s two nonprofits that I participate in. One I got introduced through AWS, our current CEO, Andy Jassy, and our Head of Sales and Marketing, Matt Garman. But it’s called Rainier Scholars, and it’s a 12-year program. They offer a pathway to college graduation for low-income students of color. And really, ultimately, their mission is to answer the question of how do we build a much more equitable society?

And for this particular nonprofit, education is that gateway, and so spent some time volunteering there. But then to your point on the opportunity side, there’s another organization I just recently became a part of called Year Up. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them or worked with them before—

Corey: I was an instructor at Year Up, for their [unintelligible 00:31:19] course.

Francessca: Ahh. [smile].

Corey: Oh, big fan of those folks.

Francessca: So, I just got introduced, and I’m going to be hopefully joining part of their board soon to offer up, again, some guidance and even figuring out how we can help. But so you know, right? They’re then focused on serving a student population and decreasing, shrinking the opportunity divide. Again, focused on equitable access. And that is what tech should be about; democratizing technology such that everyone has access. And by the way, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have favorite services and things like that, but it does mean—[smile] providing [crosstalk 00:31:58]—

Corey: They’re like my children; I can’t stand any of them.

Francessca: [smile]. That’s right. I do have favorite services, by the way.

Corey: Oh, as do we all. It’s just rude to name them because everyone else feels left out.

Francessca: [smile] that’s right. I’ll tell you offline. Providing that equitable access, I just think is so key. And we’ll be able to tap in, again, to more of this talent. For many of these companies who are trying to transform their business model, and some—like last year, we saw companies just surviving, we saw some companies that were thriving, right, with what was going on.

So again, I think you can’t really talk about a comprehensive tech strategy that will empower your business strategy without thinking about your workforce plan in the process. I think it would be very naive for many companies to do that.

Corey: So, one question that I want to get to here has been that if I take a look at the AWS service landscape, it feels like Perl did back when that was the language that I basically knew the best, which is not saying much.

Francessca: You know you’re dating yourself now, Corey.

Corey: Oh, who else would date me these days?

Francessca: [smile].

Corey: My God. But, “There’s more than one way to do it,” was the language’s motto. And I look at AWS environments, and I had a throwaway quip a few weeks back from the time of this recording of, “There are 17 ways to deploy containers on AWS.” And apparently, it turned into an internal meme at AWS, which is just—I love the fact that I can influence company cultures without working there, but I’ll take what I can get. But it is a hard problem of, “Great, I want to wind up doing some of these things. What’s the right path?” And the answer is always, “It depends.” What are you folks doing to simplify the onboarding journey for customers because, frankly, it is overwhelming and confusing to me, so I can only imagine what someone who is new to the space feels. And from customers, that’s no small thing.

Francessca: I am so glad that you asked this question. And I think we hear this question from many of our customers. Again, I’ve mentioned earlier in the show that we have to meet customers where they are, and some customers will be at a stage where they need, maybe, less prescriptive guidance: they just want us to point them to the building blocks, and other customers who need more prescriptive guidance. We have actually taken a combination of our programs and what we call our solutions and we’ve wrapped that into much stronger prescriptive guidance under our migration and again, our modernization initiative; we have a program around this. What we try to help them do first is assess just where they are on the adoption phase.

That tends to drive then how we guide them. And that guidance sometimes could be as simple as a solution deployment where we just kind of give them the scripts, the APIs, a CloudFormation template, and off they go. Sometimes it comes in the form of people and advice, Corey. It really depends on what they want. But we’ve tried to wrap all of this under our migration acceleration program where we can help them do a fast, sort of, assessment on where they are inclusive of driving, you know, a quick business case; most companies aren’t doing anything 
without that.

We then put together a fairly fast mobilization plan. So, how do they get started? Does it mean—can they launch a control foundation, control tower solutions to set up things like accounts, identity and access management, governance. Like, how do you get them doing? And then we have some prescriptive guidance in our program that allows them to look at, again, different solution sets to solve, whether that be data, security. [smile].

You mentioned containers. What’s the right path? Do I go containers? Do I go serverless? Depending on where they are. Do I go EKS, ECS Anywhere, or Fargate? Yeah. So, we try to provide them, again, with some prescriptive guidance, again, based on where they are. We do that through our migration acceleration initiative. To simplify. So.

Corey: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And I give an awful lot of guidance in public about how X is terrible; B is the better path; never do C. And whenever I talk—for example, I’m famous for saying multi-cloud is the wrong direction. Don’t do it.

And then I talk to customers who are doing it and they expect me to harangue them, and my response is, “Yeah, you’re probably right.” And they’re taken aback by this. “Does this mean you’re saying things you don’t believe?” No, not at all. I’m speaking to the general case, where if, in the absence of external guidance, this is how I would approach things.

You are not the general case by definition of having a one-on-one conversation with me. You have almost certainly weighed the trade-offs, looked at the context behind what you’re doing and why, and have come to the right decision. I don’t pretend to know your business, or your constraints, or your capabilities, so me sitting here with no outside expertise, looking at what you’ve done, and saying, “Oh, that’s not the right way to do it,” is ignorant. Why would anyone do that? People are surprised by that because context matters an awful lot.

Francessca: Context does matter, and the reason why we try not to just be overly prescribed, again, is all customers are different. We try to group pattern; so we do see themes with patterns. And then the other thing that we try to do is much of our scale happens through our partner ecosystem, Corey, so we try to make sure that we provide the same frameworks and guidance to our partners with enough flexibility where our partners and their IP can also support that for our customers. We have a pretty robust partner ecosystem and about 150-plus partners that are actually with our migration, you know, modernization competency. So yeah, it’s ongoing, and we’re going to continue to iterate on it based on customer feedback. And also, again, our portfolio of where customers are: a startup is going to look very different than 100-year-old enterprise, or an independent software vendor, who’s moving to SaaS. [smile].

Corey: Exactly. And my ridiculous build-out for my newsletter pipeline system leverages something like a dozen different AWS services. Is this the way that I would recommend it for most folks? No, but for what I do, it works for me; it provides a great technology testbed. And I think that people lose sight pretty quickly of the fact that there is in fact, an awful lot of variance out there between use cases’ constraints. If I break my newsletter, I have to write it by hand one morning. Oh, heavens, not that. As opposed to, you know, if Capital One goes down and suddenly ATMs starts spitting out the wrong balance, well, there’s a slightly different failure domain there.

Francessca: [smile].

Corey: I’m not saying which is worse, mind you, particularly from my perspective, however, I’m just saying it’s different.

Francessca: I was going to tell you, your newsletter is important to us, so we want to make sure there’s reliability and resiliency baked into 

Corey: But there isn’t any because of my code. It’s terrible. This—if—like, forget a region outage. It’s far more likely I’m going to make a bad push or discover some weird edge case and have to spend an hour or two late at night fixing something, as might have happened the night before this recording. Ahem.

Francessca: [smile]. Well, by the way, I’m obligated, as your Chief Solution Architect, to have you look at some form of a prototype or proof of concept for Textract if you’re having to handwrite out all the newsletters. You let me know when you’d like me to come in and walk you through how we might be able to streamline that. [smile].

Corey: Oh, I want to talk about what I’ve done. I want to start a new sub-series on your site. You have the This is my Architecture. I want to have something, This is my Nonsense Architecture. In other words, one of these learning by counterexample stories.

Francessca: [smile]. Yeah, Matt Yanchyshyn will love that. [smile].

Corey: I’m sure he will. Francessca, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. If people want to learn more about who you are, what you believe, and what you’re up to, where can they find you?

Francessca: Well, they can certainly find me out on Twitter at @FrancesscaV. I’m also on LinkedIn. And I also want to thank you, Corey. It’s been great just spending this time with you. Keep up the snark, keep giving us feedback, and keep doing the great things you’re doing with customers, which is most important.

Corey: Excellent. I look forward to hearing more about what you folks have in store. And we’ll, of course, put links to that in the [show notes 00:40:01]. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Francessca: Thank you. Have a good one.

Corey: Francessca Vasquez, VP of Technology at AWS. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with a comment telling me why there is in fact an AWS/400 mainframe; I just haven’t seen it yet.

Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit to get started.

Announcer: This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.

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