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Tiara Pathon putting AWS Skills Centre on the map 

Tiara Pathon wants the AWS Skills Centre in Cape Town to be a beacon of hope for the youth of South Africa. 

When Amazon web services appointed Tiara Pathon to be the site lead at the first Skills Centre outside of the US, it closed a circle that began two decades ago when Chris Pinkham and Benjamin Black presented the original AWS concept, known at the time as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.  

Pinkham got permission to move his team to Cape Town, where they built the cloud computing platform that became AWS, and today runs nearly half of the modern internet. AWS’ newly launched Skills Centre in Cape Town offers free cloud skills training to the community that helped birth the web-services behemoth, and Pathon has a deep understanding of her role as custodian of this empowerment dream. 

What was the career path that led you here?  

I’ve spent the last 20-odd years in HR and worked my way up from being a personal assistant to an HR manager to becoming vice president of HR. That part of my career helps me understand what kind of support young people need to break into the workforce, and how to continue that support once they are there. 

It’s more than just young people coming in for training, though. How do you advise the start-up community and older professionals who are pivoting their careers? 

As part of my career journey I brought an NPO to South Africa called Dress for Success. They are a US-based non-profit supporting women with appropriate interview clothing, so that they can make the right first impression and take one step closer to employability. I ran that for three years and it was really tough, because my first application was declined and I had to fight hard to get something that was desperately needed into the country. 

Amazon focuses on excellence. How tough was it to get into the company? 

I saw a position on LinkedIn and spent five days preparing a CV. The first round was easy, because they called me the next day, but then it was five more interviews.  

It was a job I wanted and now, leading this centre, it’s as if all my experience and my passion for inspiring young people has come together. I know that when you help a young person find a sustainable job, you not only help them, you help the family and you help the community that they live in. 

What position did you start in at AWS? 

My first role within Amazon Web Services was a digital skills enablement programme manager, and that was working across AWS educational programmes. I did that for the past three years and then joined the Skills Centre in August.  

For me, it was a natural move, being born and bred in Cape Town, understanding Capetonians really well, and knowing who the NPOs are inside of Cape Town that are supporting young adults with gaining skills and workplace experience so that they can find sustainable employment. 

So what actually happens at the Skills Centre?  

We have a cloud-discovery space where we excite and engage young learners about the potential of cloud computing, but also organisations and start-ups.  We encourage current AWS customers and partners to bring the employees around to understand how different AWS services are used in unexpected contexts like gaming, sustainability, and professional sport. 

And you also offer free training?  

Yes, we offer training across three series, Mondays to Thursdays. First is computer foundations, and second is our cloud-practitioner foundational certification.  

What we’ve done is we have taken a full-day course an IT professional would do with a training partner and broken it up into three bite-sized pieces, because it becomes easier for young person who’s never experienced it before to consume. 

We add labs to that, which is important because that’s a sandbox environment that the young person can take the theory they have just learned in the classroom, and practise it in deploying AWS services in a real life work scenario. Then there’s exam readiness, where we off er a three-and a-half-hour exam-readiness course for cloud practitioners, which is our foundational certification. 

Will we see Skills Centres in other parts of the country?  

Cape Town was a natural choice, because it’s our AWS home. It’s all centred here. Everything we grow, we start from here. We started to expand with offices in Joburg, so hopefully that will follow, but the initial choice for us was our home. 

 Words by: Lindsey Schutters

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