Sometimes Dragons

Say Hello to the Newest AWS Heroes

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With AWS re:Invent less than a month away, AWS recently announced the newest additions to its AWS Heroes program, including the introduction of a Data Heroes category.

The goal of this program, according to AWS:

The AWS Hero program recognizes a vibrant, worldwide group of AWS experts whose enthusiasm for knowledge-sharing has a real impact within the community. Heroes go above and beyond to share knowledge via social media, blog posts, open source projects, events, and user groups.

In other words, AWS has found external practitioners who have expertise in (and enthusiasm for sharing their expertise in) specific categories of AWS offerings, and has created a system to recognize and amplify their voices.

AWS has leveraged the relationships it has built through its Heroes program to organize some truly neat events, some of which I’ve been lucky enough to experience in person. This past summer I spoke at the AWS Developer Influencers Summit, a two-day event that brought together members of the AI/ML, Containers, and Serverless Heroes groups along with individuals recognized as experts in the data and dev tools spaces. The event (also nicely described in this post by Robert Koch, part of the inaugural Data Heroes cohort), included a nice mix of specialization-based programming tailored to each of the groups and all-hands events—such as dinner at the Living Computers Museum—that fostered an exchange of ideas among groups. 

“Hello World” display at the Living Computers Museum in Seattle, WA

Following the Developer Influencers Summit, AWS held a two-day Serverless Heroes Summit (hosted by AWS’s Rebecca Marshburn) immediately afterwards. I attended the first day of this event, the highlight of which was watching some of the Serverless Heroes join AWS Developer Advocates for some competitive live coding on Twitch. I also had the opportunity to chat with some of the Heroes in smaller groups, and our conversations ran from the specific (I learned about step functions and got to talk testing, observability, and CI/CD) to the more philosophical (it turns out Serverless Heroes have varying answers to the question of “What is Serverless?”; I even tried out Rachel Stephen’s definition of “managed services that scale to zero”).

What struck me most about both Summits was that while AWS-specific offerings came into play, many of the conversations I witnessed involved ideas and concepts that extended beyond AWS per se. With so many vendor-driven tech events becoming too busy with swag and parties and product pitches to leave time to actually talk usefully about tech practices, it was refreshing to see a specifically vendor-organized gathering that focused on tech practitioners and privileged the practitioner point of view. 

To that end, while one could simply read the AWS Heroes program as a promotional tactic, to my mind it better fits with what my colleague Stephen O’Grady (The Amazon Effect) has articulated as Amazon’s ability to “internalize around and empathize with developers in a truly fundamental way.” Indeed, part of this empathy appears to lie not only in acknowledging technical merit, but also recognizing the import of developer contributions that reach beyond technical expertise. In characterizing its heroes as experts in both “knowledge-sharing” and “community”—two concepts that necessitate communication skills and extend beyond an ability to code—AWS is helping to shift the paradigm of the exemplary technical practitioner.

The result is a program in which designated AWS Heroes themselves seem truly excited to participate: no small feat when dealing with developers, who tend to have a keen sense for identifying (and avoiding) mainstream marketing or promotional tactics. To give you a better sense of how the AWS Hero designation is received, I leave you with these reactions from some of the newest cohort—starting with newly-minted Serverless Hero Farrah Campbell (Ecosystem Director at Stackery), who I had the good luck to meet at this year’s Monktoberfest before she became AWS-Hero-famous:

Disclaimer: Amazon is a RedMonk client; I attended both the Developer Influencer Summit and the Serverless Heroes Summit through a paid engagement with Amazon. Stackery is not currently a RedMonk Client.

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