Amazon Web Services (AWS) opened its first AWS Skills Center in Seattle in 2021 to provide a space where anyone could learn about the cloud for free. Since opening its doors to the public, the 8,000 square-foot learning center has helped more than 25,000 people get access to free skills training and education. Inside the center, guests can explore interactive exhibits and get free training in cloud computing.
People from all backgrounds and of all ages visit the center to learn, including kids exploring the exhibits with their parents, community members taking courses to learn more about cloud technology, and future engineers building a foundation of cloud skills. The center is an important part of AWS’s commitment to provide 29 million people with free cloud skills training by 2025, and a second AWS Skills Center launched at Amazon's new second headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, late last year.
We met with Maria Petrova, site leader of AWS Skills Center Seattle for a full tour of the facility. Here's some of the coolest tech we found inside.
The first thing you see upon entering the AWS Skills Center is the Cloud Discovery Space. This area features interactive exhibits that show how the cloud impacts real-world experiences in areas like smart home technology, robotics, and even space exploration.
Petrova shared that guests of all ages and backgrounds come to the center to engage with the exhibits. She said it’s particularly exciting to see high school students learn about unexpected career opportunities like working with the cloud in the professional sports and video game industries. Petrova was instrumental in starting a field trip program to bring local high school students to AWS Skills Centers.
One of the most popular exhibits is a large, interactive globe situated in the middle of the space that displays over 600 datasets, including real-time weather patterns, planets, and air travel from around the world.
Petrova shared that one of her favorite activities when she brings her kids to the center is using the globe to show them the flight from Seattle to Bulgaria, her home country.
The AWS DeepRacer exhibit is another crowd favorite. The setup looks like a standard car-racing game, but it’s actually a cool opportunity to get started using machine learning by training your own virtual race car. First, you take a lap to train the model, then you test the model by racing the virtual car around the track.
Petrova explained that in addition to the virtual race cars, one-eighteenth scale AWS DeepRacer cars are available on Amazon for anyone who wants to compete in the in-person events hosted by the AWS DeepRacer team. Everyone from students to machine learning enthusiasts and engineers come from around the world train their AWS DeepRacer cars to navigate courses and meet at racing events in real life. One of the biggest races was at a Las Vegas hotel during re:Invent, a learning conference for the global cloud computing community hosted by AWS.
In another exhibit, a robotic arm shows visitors how robots use cloud technology to interpret commands and perform tasks, like picking up packages and products in Amazon fulfillment centers. During our visit, we told the arm which mini Amazon box we wanted it to pick up and watched as it carefully picked the chosen box.
The center’s tech exhibits wouldn’t be complete without Alexa. The smart home exhibit gives visitors a glimpse at how Echo and other smart devices interact to make homes more accessible. We asked Alexa to turn on the stove and start the faucet in the mock kitchen display.
In the Alexa-enabled dollhouse exhibit, we saw how Alexa can share daily reports and turn lights on and off. You can also interact with the display to see how preset routines automatically get the day started or help you wind down at night.
Classrooms behind the Cloud Discovery Space offer engaging learning experiences for students from around the world. AWS instructors lead the training sessions to help students learn fundamental cloud skills. While we were there, a group from the Prison Scholar Fund, which provides skills training and education to formerly incarcerated individuals, was taking a course. Earlier in the year, another group of students traveled from Japan to take courses at the AWS Skills Center in person.
The free courses are also available virtually. Petrova shared that online courses helped a student in South Africa get necessary training to keep his job. His employer required a specific AWS Cloud training and other courses were too expensive. Using the online courses, he took the training from the Skills Center at no cost to him.
AWS instructors have even taken their teaching skills outside of the center to lead cloud certification preparation courses at Mary’s Place, a family shelter located in one of Amazon’s Seattle campus buildings.
Before we left, Petrova shared a story about a senior couple that came in to check out the exhibits. The wife ended up enrolling in some courses. Now, she finally knows how her phone stores all the photos she takes. Petrova emphasized that while the trainings are an excellent boost for a career in cloud computing, the center and its courses really are for anyone with an interest in the cloud and how it works.
Check out the AWS Skills Center Seattle website to get information on in-person and virtual training opportunities, as well as visiting hours and location information.