Building an Effective AWS Team

Brett Gillett


If I had to weigh the difficulty of the AWS platform versus finding the right technical resources, by far the search for the best resources for your team is the most challenging aspect of building solutions on the AWS platform.

Over the last year and a bit, we’ve helped dozens of organizations build their internal teams. In this article, I’ll outline some of the most important things we look for when scouting for AWS resources.

Continuous Learner

Being a Continuous Learner is the most important attribute I look for when building AWS teams. What do I mean when I say ‘Continuous Learner’? With over 1,300 updates to the AWS platform last year you need people who can jump in and learn how the changes may affect your deployment.

The next most common question I get is how do we find ‘Continuous Learners’? Well in my experience the most successful folks are the ones who get excited about learning in general - Steven Covey called it ‘Sharpening the Saw.’ When I’m searching for these types of resources I don’t assess just technical skills; if someone took a night class in accounting (as an example), this peaks my interest.

Ultimately, you want to identify individuals who can stay up-to-date on a platform which changes rapidly. Otherwise, their skills (and value) will drop off significantly in a (very) short period.

Explorers

The next attribute I look for is what I call an ‘Explorer’ mentality - those folks who are excited about the platform in general and are builders. AWS announces a new service, and an ‘Explorer’ quickly comes up with a project to test out how the service works and more importantly - how to integrate it with other AWS services.

You do have to be a bit careful with this one. While being an ‘Explorer’ is great, being one at the cost of everything else (think sacrificing work-life balance for the thrill of exploring) - is not. The trick is finding the right balance.

Team Player

Have you ever heard the term ‘pair programming’? It’s when you team two developers together to work on a problem. It’s a fantastic way to not only accelerate problem resolution, but it also accelerates learning.

Being able to work in small, agile teams is what I want to see in an AWS candidate. The platform is too big for one person to know everything. Therefore, someone who works well in a group is a resource that ends up being much more productive on the AWS platform.

AWS Certifications

What about AWS Certifications you say? Meh. This used to be much more important a few years back, but nowadays with all the fantastic training available, someone having certifications does not immediately tell you much about their abilities. Having an AWS certification still helps open doors, but you need to have another mechanism in place to validate their skill level. We use a couple of methods to help us confirm skills. First, we have a simple set of questions we ask candidates to fill out, after that, we ask them to solve a business problem for a typical AWS use case.

Wrapping Up

You’ll notice in the list above there are no technical skills. The lack of focus on technical skills can freak out some organizations, but I’ll give you the rationale behind my thought process. In the end, anyone can learn the technology, and it’s in AWS’ best interest to make services easier and easier to adopt. What’s difficult is finding the person with the attributes I mentioned above and then helping them excel. Nothing unique to AWS here - right?