Ep#20 Daily Tech Show: AWS Technical Curriculum Developer Julie Elkins

August 24, 2021

Are you wondering what it takes to become a technical curriculum developer at AWS? What about learning more about some free tools, training and development to start your journey on becoming AWS certified? Or do you enjoy creating content that’s easily consumed. Well today we are talking with Julie Elkins, an AWS technical curriculum developer about her journey as a content development. Julie Elkins didn’t start out with AWS experience and was working at the National Science Foundation when she purchased her first AWS CSA Course.

Julie has been a burst of energy and growing professionally from working at Linux Academy, a cloud guru and now a curriculum developer at AWS. Speaking of energy, do you find yourself needing a little extra hiccup in the morning or do you feel that normal 2:00 p.m. after lunch drive fading away? If so, you might want to grab yourself some devilish good coffee from none other than the Diabolical Coffee store that is roasted on demand and delivered right to your door.
Please join me in welcoming our next guest, a technical curriculum developer at AWS, Julie Elkins.

Host: Jon
Julie, thanks for joining us today!

Guest: Julie
Thanks so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Host: Jon
So, Julie, we’re going to jump right into things. And typically, I asked our guests to give us a little backstory on themselves before we go into our current topic. But today is a little bit unique being that our current topic today is you, and the audience is going to get to know you and how you ended up creating content at AWS. How about a little backstory on yourself?

Guest: Julie
Well, I started out almost six years ago. I was an administrative assistant at the National Science Foundation. We had a team of 81 engineers that manage the infrastructure for NSF National Science Foundation, and as most agencies are doing these days, they started moving to the cloud. So, AWS became one of the services that we were looking at using. I started taking some courses on it and fell in love. I just really changed my life, especially Linux Academy and their certified solutions architect course. So my big passion is paying it forward and helping others who are in a similar situation or maybe completely different situation that I was in. Learn, be curious and you can change lives.

Host: Jon
Now, Julie, What drove you to be that content creator or developer? Also, I do want to touch on your first job at AWS having no experience at all. But what really drove you to being this content creator developer?

Guest: Julie
Well, actually, I had a mentor at NSF. You know, when you’re starting out and you have no experience and no background in it, it’s really hard to get anyone to take a chance on you because they want you to have that experience already but you just want that chance to get experience. So I first built a blog on AWS just from scratch, and I started posting about different things. I was working on different little projects then I started a YouTube channel to get a little bit more interaction and a little bit more depth in my projects. I was getting nowhere at getting a technical job of any sort because I didn’t have that experience.
I saw a post on LinkedIn from Brodus Palmer. He was saying, hey, come work with us. We’re hiring. I applied and luckily landed the job! When I landed the job my manager, Thomas Hasslet told me you are really junior at what we would normally hire for this position. He’s like, but you’re already out there. You’re making content, you’re sharing your content. So, he’s like let’s just take a chance and do it. That was simply amazing!
They were like, okay, let’s try it. Let’s take a chance on it. And then once you get in and you start learning, we started. Not only did I have to create content, which it wasn’t really the position I was looking for because I wanted that hands on technical job but at Linux Academy, we have to build labs from scratch. We have to write the CloudFormation templates and do all of that stuff. So, yeah, I was really lucky.

Host: Jon
Okay, before I ask you my next question, do you know Thomas was my manager at Linux Academy as well?

Guest: Julie
That is amazing. Yeah. He moved up right after I joined to upper management, but, yeah, he was one of the big people that changed my life. There’s a few of them.

Host: Jon
I enjoy his content. He created great content. That’s really where I was working on my certification. If everybody don’t know, I did a summer stint at Linux Academy. You joined..I don’t want to say shortly after, but probably a couple of years or a year after at Linux Academy. Thomas was a really good manager to work for. I actually got to meet him in person because a lot of links kind of stuff.
You were remote, really jumping on it. You said you built a blog in the AWS. Is that by any chance still available?

Guest: Julie
It is. It’s at Julie.com

Host: Jon
I like that it is still available.
Little side note, did you know that Jeff Bar still has a very old blog out there running on EC2 instances?

Guest: Julie
I didn’t know that.

Host: Jon
Okay. He did just update it recently with something like, “I got to figure out how to get my IAM access keys to this EC2 instance. I don’t know if I have it anymore.” And he actually wrote a blog post on how he did and got access back to his website since he hasn’t updated. It was actually a website for Legos as well. You can buy Legos from different places. Very unique, just huge into Legos, but I know I went off of it.

Host: Jon
The other thing is, I did not know you had a YouTube channel. So the very first thing I did is hit that subscribe button because I know how hard it is.

Guest: Julie
It’s hard.

Host: Jon
I do know that and I want to build up your subscriber account. So, everybody, HERE is the link if you want to like and subscribe to Julie’s channel.

Be sure to like and subscribe to my channel as well! We are content creators putting out great content and I think we both provide the value that you’re looking for.
YouTube Like and Subscribe
So Julie, jumping into the next question, we had our discussion backstage and you mentioned how you got your chance into AWS. You were able to land at a job at AWS with no experience. It is a really hard thing to do!
I think that it’s a huge accomplishment!

Guest: Julie
My goal is to one day to be a Solutions Architect. I think it might be slightly changing as I get more into content development. But to be a solutions Architect, you have to have years of experience not only on premises in AWS, but third party tools. And when you’re someone like myself who doesn’t have that experience and doesn’t have any background that you can draw on for that experience, it’s really tough. There’s only so many projects that you can do to add to your resume or add to your blog or add to YouTube channel that can really get your foot in the door and get you noticed.
So it’s hard to get that depth.

Host: Jon
I’m not sure about the SA part. I think you’d be great as an actual trainer because you get to develop, work on, and you’re really good with the content creation. But if a SA is what you want to do or at least a stepping stone, I think you might have found your niche. I’m just letting you know I’m doing something I never thought I would be doing and I love it.

Guest: Julie
That’s great.

Host: Jon
Alright, now lets jump in the Linux Academy. You were at Linux Academy from March 2019 to August 2020. And when I say August 2020, you didn’t make a change in a jobs, Academy was bought out by A Cloud Guru in December 2019. Right after Reinvent, they announced it.

Guest: Julie
Yeah, right after.

Host: Jon
Yeah, actually it was probably two weeks or somewhere right around there. It was interesting because I got a picture with I think it was Sam or Ryan at Reinvent. That was the only reason I remember 2019. It was the last Reinvent that everybody attended in person. It was also the time I put the AWS logo in my hair and I got pictures with Sam and Ryan. So it just it was really interesting. Let’s talk about your Linux Academy experience and some of the things you worked on there.

Guest: Julie
It was really like a dream because I had listened to a lot of the people I was now working with every morning, every night, just hearing them all day long. Sometimes I would listen during my lunch breaks and then to be able to work with them and become friends with them. It was completely unreal. And to learn from them, I had sort of my orientation buddy was Tia Williams.

Host: Jon
Yes.

Guest: Julie
I owe so much to her because she will tell you like it is and she will tell you what she wants and how she wants it and then just let you go. So you had to sort of scramble and figure it out on your own. Which in my opinion is really one of the best ways to learn. You actually get in there and do it. But that was just amazing to work with those people. Another one, Mark Richmond. He’s actually at AWS with me now, but he’s an SA. But yeah, it’s just a great place to actually meet sort of your heroes. They are people that were a big part of my stepping stone, helping others change their lives and then to become friends and co workers with them.
It was amazing.

Host: Jon
Alright. So I’m going to name drop somebody here. Craig, have you got a chance to work with Craig? Craig and I started at the same time. I saw him grow in the first couple of months that I was there and he enjoys doing content creating and has really grown over the time. The other person, what about Derek Morgan? Have you ever listened to any of his content that he created?

Guest: Julie
I do. I follow him on LinkedIn. And also there’s a slack group that I follow him on and I’ve taken some of his content, but not a lot. But Craig and I are still friends. We still talk pretty regularly. He’s a very quiet person, you know, he is just very quiet. His DevOps professional course is the course I used for that exam. So, it’s just wonderful that the whole time you listen to them in your head at night and then you talk to them the next day.

Guest: Julie
But there’s a really amazing group. And Anthony James at the Linux Academy office. He’s just got signs everywhere. He just had so much heart into that company about today’s day. You can change the life. And it was just very empowering and welcoming and aspiring to realize that you’re doing something that can help someone else change their lives, just like they did for me. So it was just amazing.

Host: Jon
A great group of people out there. You know, I actually had Derek on my show a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about remote return or hybrid office. He gave a really good insight that I released. In fact, you know what? I’m gonna give a quick shout out if you want to take a look at Dereks stuff. I’ll provide the link to the remote return or hybrid office.


Host: Jon
Now, Julie jumping back to it. Let’s talk about ACloudGuru and the transition.
How are things going? Like, what was it like? I also want to know what your thoughts on the latest acquisition was.

Guest: Julie
Well, when I heard the news I was really excited because Felix and Kisha Williams were huge, huge fans of the I get all fan girl around them still today. So I was so excited that not only was I going to be able to work with all these amazing Linux Academy instructors, but now the ACloudGuru instructors as well. I think my love of AWS is just so enormous that I just get so excited to actually meet these people and work with these people in person. I thought the whole merge went really well.

Guest: Julie
Everyone had to go through a completely new boot camp. And because the Linux Academy labs, the Legacy LA people were really strong in that. But then ACloudGuru had a lot of ways that they did things that were slightly different. And all of the Legacy, our people were really great at that. So we had this boot camp and everyone just sort of merged together. And it was really neat because a lot of the content creators created the content for the boot camp. So that was just really neat to see everyone’s take on it.

Guest: Julie
But we all had to get a course and run through the course with the lab and the questions and everything in the new way of doing it. So it was really great for me because it gave me an extra layer of how to create content and different ways to look at things.

Host: Jon
And I know the latest acquisition of portals that was really interesting. So I use ACloudGuru. I use Linux Academy, obviously, for all my training and getting caught up on the knowledge. So ACloudGuru was another one that I utilize, then moving over to PluralSight. What are your thoughts on that?

Guest: Julie
I was shocked. I was in a meeting at AWS and Mark Richmond slacked me and said, Pluralsight just bought ACloudGuru, and I didn’t believe him. I thought he was messing with me because, you know, I just that never, ever I was completely shot by. It never occurred to me that that would be in the cards because they weren’t even finished merging Linux Academy and ACloudGuru together. You know, they were still it was one platform, but it wasn’t. There were still things on the LA side and still things on the ACG.

Guest: Julie
Everything wasn’t on the one platform. So that was really interesting because now they have to do another merge.

Host: Jon
Well, I got to give a Congratulations to them. Start up five years, they sold for almost $2 billion. I mean, it was amazing. And are one of the biggest Australia acquisition or sell of a start up in history?

Guest: Julie
Yeah. I never met them in person, but we had a lot of Zoom calls with Sam, and he seemed also a lot like Anthony just full of heart. He is a huge family. He has, like, five or six kids. I can’t remember off the top of my head, but was just always smiling. Always positive, very welcoming. So, yeah, very happy for them.

Host: Jon
Nice. Well, Congratulations to ACloudGuru. And in fact, it’s very interesting because you went the Linux Academy, ACloudGuru, and if you stuck around it to go on the PluralSight. But it just so happens that you’re now at AWS. So Congratulations. I know that is probably a transition you were always looking forward to in making that jump.

Guest: Julie
The thing I love about AWS is everyone there is obsessed with AWS and the customers like I am. So it feels very home life. You know, it just feels like a very good place to settle. But I think the thing I love, like at all and Linux Academy, we were kind of on our own. We created the content. We created the Syllabus and the labs, and we did all that. But at AWS, I have a whole team. I actually have a technical architect, Eric Robertson, who is amazing.

Guest: Julie
And I’m actually getting that one to one feedback and a little bit more depth. That senior level that I’m looking for, and then being able to work with SME’s is really amazing, too, because they see things from a different technical perspective than I have. So, yeah, I’ve just I feel like I’m just kind of struggling, you know, doing that, just trying to keep my head above water. But pumping out that content and their way of things is definitely different than at Linux Academy much different.

Guest: Julie
So there’s a huge learning curve.

Host: Jon
Yeah. I can imagine I’m going to give you a little bit of information. Did you know that the time that I transitioned out of AWS and the time you transition into AWS was the same month? Weird timing. I’m just about to say Linux Academy. I’m at an awesome company call Spot. Just let, you know, throw it out there. So going off to AWS. What do you really do? What is a technical curriculum developer do? Who is it benefit? And who are your customers? Who’s your audience? What are you making?

Guest: Julie
Well, our audience, our customers are the students. Anyone technical out there looking for training? My main customer right now is our product manager, the one that requested the course. And I’m just creating content. I was actually given a design document, so I didn’t have to make a syllabus. Vincent created this design document, and then I just have to fill it with content, which is absolutely amazing. You know, I kind of feel like that’s sort of my sweet spot. You know, I can just take the content that I know, throw it out there and then Google and ask around to get more depth on the things that I don’t have that depth on.

Guest: Julie
And that’s where Eric and the SME have come in really handy. I feel like I’ve learned so much. I landed on the networking team, which I’m not really sure how I ended up on the networking team. I think I thought I’d be a more generic, like the architecting team or something like that. I’m absolutely loving it. In the NSF, we managed and built the networking for NSF, so I have a little bit that I can pull from there, not much. Just we a little tiny bit, but, yeah, I absolutely love it.

Guest: Julie
I’m just creating content all day. It goes through tons of reviews. I get tons of feedback. I incorporate that feedback and just. Well, in eight days, hopefully, we’re going to finish course three for the networking curriculum, which will be my actual first course for AWS. I did a refresh for course one of the networking curriculum. So, yeah, I’m really excited.

Host: Jon
Real quick. what type of content you create?

Guest: Julie
So I’m not doing the labs. I do get to participate in the labs. I got to share a few confirmation templates that I had, but right now I’m just building content. So it’s just basically written words. And yesterday or Tuesday, we were in studio. We did a couple of videos that we recorded. That was I’ve never been in studio record. Yeah. I always record from here. So that was an amazing experience.

Host: Jon
But video environments are just a little stressful. Where everybody’s on you and you are like, we got to do this in one take.

Guest: Julie
Yes. Yeah. So I’m just creating the content. We create content in Rise, so it has different options. So you can add videos, you can do accordions, you can do tab style learning, all kinds of different options in there.

Host: Jon
Nice. That’s really interesting. Now you mentioned that you took Craig’s course for DevOps, and I have to jump in. Did you pass the DevOps certification? Okay, just checking. I didn’t want to put you on the spot, but you said you took Craigs course. So I figured it was that you passed, shout out to Craig for helping it. Now, you are also working on the networking portion, which you said you don’t know why?

Guest: Julie
I don’t have that experience.

Host: Jon
But guess what? That’s one of the benefits with AWS is you’re taking out of your comfort zone. Now you’re going to learn networking. Networking is huge and crucial. It’s like the 101. You should take this going into AWS. So I think that’s really good coming in with a fresh perspective into networking, because you can challenge certain things that people are under the assumption that you should already know you’re going in. You’re like, I don’t know this. Well, guess what? Now there’s pre RECs to it.

Guest: Julie
Yeah, that’s happened a little bit already, because it’s a level two course. It’s not a beginner. It’s a little bit intermediate. And I had to fight to keep a network design document in there. I wanted to talk about your network design, how you should have it documented. You should keep it updated, and it kept getting cut, getting cut, getting cut. And then they had a customer come in, and I was not part of that discussion, but the customer really value their network design or something in. Anyways, they’re like, let’s add it back in.

Guest: Julie
And I was like, yes, we got to keep that, though.

Host: Jon
Nice. Well, I’m glad I was working. I’ve got two more questions before we kind of wrap things up. One, you mentioned training is personal, and I’d like you to elaborate on that just a little bit, because as a content creator, that’s something we strive to achieve. It really kind of validates content creating. What do you mean by training is personal?

Guest: Julie
Well, you know, I think the big thing for me is there’s all kinds of training out there, right? There’s multiple courses, especially on you. To me, you can get lost on your domain looking at different courses out there. But for me, I think just because it changed my life and it’s been so recent that I’m just still really passionate about that. But a lot of people don’t vibe with me. My most negative feedback was my voice. When I get excited, I start talking faster and my Southern accent will start flying out here and there.

Guest: Julie
And it’s hard when you’re recording to keep a cadence and keep a pace and keep talking nice and slow. So you sort of have to vibe with your instructor. You have to enjoy their voice, trust their content is solid. And then also, I think for me, go to people who are passionate about creating that content and who create that content because they want to help others. They want to help people change their lives or get a new skill or do whatever they need to do. But then they’re also giving back.
They’re also in the community answering questions or helping out or anyone we can as internal employees can refer people in which holds a little bit more weight coming in that way versus just coming in cold of the the street. So, you know, just giving back, paying that forward because I was really lucky with the sort of my path and how it came about, you know, and I just really want to pay that back. And I think people should support people who like me and like yourself.
And there’s Adrian and John Bonzo from CloudAcademy, and just people out there daily answering questions, helping out, however they can. It just becomes very personal. And then it’s personal in another way. Like you create that content and then you get feedback because sometimes it’s like, oh, you know, like, I put a lot of heart into that. But then, yes, I see what you’re saying. So you have to be able to step back from that sometimes and make that adjustment because you want to have solid content that it’s going to work for everyone.

Host: Jon
And you mentioned work for everyone. And just as you said, content is not always for everyone. Your personality is not for everyone. So you have to have that. One of the things that I enjoyed about Linux Academy was this community engagement. Somebody said, hey, I passed. I did this or we reached out immediately. Congratulations. Great to hear from it. Or you were on LinkedIn Facebook, you were really kind of engaged with the community and responding to them on that positive feedback. And as you grow into a bigger company, it’s very difficult.

Host: Jon
My last question for you because I know we are running out of time is, are you working on any current certification?

Guest: Julie
I have two left. I have Data Analytics which is the one I’m working on now but it’s not called Big Data anymore. Databases are my weak area. So I save those for last. And I don’t know why I decided to do Machine Learning before Data Analytics, because I’m seeing a lot of stuff that I’ve learned during the Machine Learning training in the Data Analysis training. But I wanted to have that done in August. And here we are in August. But just, you know, with the new AWS job and learning the new AWS way of doing things, I’m just still struggling to get through that.
But yeah, that’s the one I’m working on now.

Host: Jon
Alright. Well, good luck on those exams. And is there any information we can give to the audience on free AWS training or resources that we can provide?

Guest: Julie
The AWS has tons of free training but I do think there is a price for the labs. I’ll have to check on that. But, yeah, I have a lot of content on AWS @ Julie.com new content that I personally use. Like, I started content that I trust and frequently ask questions, which I’m still kind of building on. But I think the best thing that you can do and the best place to find your training is in different slack channels.

Guest: Julie
And then I think most people have some sort of free content. Anyways, to sort of draw you in, I’m building a certified Solutions Architect course on the YouTube channel. It’s going very slow, but I’m slowly getting that out. I’m worried that by the time I finish, I’m just going to have to go back and update so much with console updates and and new services and stuff. But I think if you can get some solid, good training to get over that initial hump, and then you get a better paying job, and then you can afford to actually pay for training.

Guest: Julie
It takes a lot of time to create training. So I have nothing against people who create training and charge for it. I mean, that’s just what they do. Supporting those people that have the heart and are creating that training, I think, is key!

Host: Jon
Awesome. So, everybody, you heard it here! Not only do you want to like and subscribe to my channel, but take a look at Julie’s channel and also like and subscribe! Now Julie, for the Solutions architect, I think you should just put it out, and it is what it is and at least build and build off of it.

Congratulations on all your accomplishments, including AWS! Julie, thank you for your time. Thank you for joining us. Once again, this is the Daily Tech Show. I’m your host, Jon Myer. And until next time, thank you.

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