Originally from Nigeria, Bode Popoola moved to Ireland in 2001—four years later he began studying business management at Dublin Business School. Realizing it wasn’t the right fit, he left his studies and started working in a full-time retail role to support his family. In 2014, seven years after leaving business school, Popoola decided to re-enter higher education as an older student, studying information technology and computing at the Technical University of Ireland. It was while at university that he secured an internship at Amazon Web Services (AWS), an opportunity that led to what he describes as his “dream job” as a cloud support engineer.
Papoola told us about his journey through the AWS internship program and why being given the chance to take on bigger responsibilities at an early stage helped him quickly develop and demonstrate his value to the team.
What made you decide to study IT after a decade in retail?
I wanted to go back into education and get my degree to create more opportunities for myself and my family. I realized that my job in retail wasn’t taking me further and that I had bigger ambitions I wanted to achieve elsewhere.
I’ve always been obsessed with IT and technology. I used to open the outer shell of my personal laptop and play around with the parts, even though that’s exactly what the manufacturer asks you not to do. I did this with my broadband at home as well. I love taking things apart, seeing how they work, and pushing the boundaries of what I can do with these technologies. I was also reading a lot online about networks, and I was really interested in industry news about innovations. Because I had this natural curiosity for IT, I thought perhaps it could be my new career path. When I started studying business management back in 2005, I wasn’t interested in it. Maybe I was too young to make the right decision for myself and that’s why I followed what my friends and peers were doing. I knew that this time around I could finish my degree successfully and do something career-changing with it.
How did you get the AWS internship while studying?
As part of my studies, I was encouraged to find an internship for the final semester of my third year. This internship was so important. I’d spent two years studying theory and spending time in the university labs, but I needed to start putting this into practice in the real world.
I was still working part-time in retail while studying full-time, and I had no idea where to start looking for an internship. Luckily, our lecturers made lots of suggestions and pushed us to plan early.
One option they put forward was Amazon and AWS. At first, I wasn’t sure I would have a chance. Amazon is a big company and I felt I didn’t have enough experience. But my lecturer told me to go for it, so I applied and got an interview. I was delighted when I found out I had a place in the program.
What was your experience as an intern?
AWS interns usually work on internal projects, rather than anything external or customer-facing. I was part of the cloud support engineering team that supports AWS enterprise customers. I was one of three interns new to the team. On our first day, our manager told us that given how strong our interviews had been, we could potentially work directly with customers in a few weeks’ time, after completing the new hire and onboarding trainings. This approach was a bit of a departure from how the internship program usually works, and the flexibility helped me achieve more in a shorter period. As an older student starting a new career from scratch, I really valued this.
We shadowed senior engineers for the first couple of weeks and learned how to do things such as deal with customer queries, replicate customer environments, and troubleshoot their issues. Then our manager asked if we would be comfortable working with some smaller customers on our own, and we said yes. It was great to be recognized and trusted in our department with bigger responsibilities, especially as a mature learner, and in such a short space of time.
After six months of working at AWS, I thought, “Wow, at college we have learned such a small part of what there is to know.” I loved the internship, and AWS extended mine by a month so I could support the team further before I went back to college. By the end of my internship, I had an offer to come and work full time for AWS after my final year of study.
What’s your role like now?
I’ve been at AWS as a cloud support engineer for over four years now and my role continues to develop. When I first started, I helped customers with their AWS applications—debugging reported problems and working with AWS cloud developers to better understand and support our products and services. Then I became what we call a “subject matter expert” (SME) in Amazon FSX for Windows File Server—a managed service that helps customers to run their file services on AWS. I mostly deal with technical issues that have been escalated after a client and an engineer can’t solve the problem. I talk to AWS customers of different sizes every day—over email, phone, or instant messaging, depending on what kind of technical issue they are facing and how critical it is. Becoming an SME at AWS isn’t easy. You need to know your stuff and go through months of training. But after three years of learning about AWS services, it was a great opportunity for me, especially because I loved this specific topic. What I like most is sitting down to solve the problem, especially when it’s a tough one that a customer is stuck on. Being able to come in and help them when nothing else has worked is a great feeling.
What does your family think about your career?
I have a young son and daughter, and they keep me very busy. Working remotely has helped me balance parenting and my job at AWS. My son is always coming in to listen to me on the phone. Even though he’s only 5, he’s very curious, like me. He likes to hear what I’m talking about. My daughter is slightly older, so she understands what I do a lot more. She would love to get into IT herself, so I’m teaching her the basics, including some easy coding to start her off. We need more women in IT, and I will always encourage and support her to go into the field, as long as this is what she wants for herself.
Can you share some career highlights with us?
I’m one of the founders of the Amazon Black Employee Network (BEN) affinity group chapter in Ireland. We started setting it up in 2019 and launched a year later, in the middle of the pandemic. It’s been amazing to be part of this. In my role as community engagement lead, I work to create a sense of community for members. I’m also responsible for growing our membership through events that entertain employees and educate them about issues that affect the Black community in Ireland. Last October was Black History Month in Europe, so we put on virtual events, with guest speakers including medical scientist Pamela Uba, who in 2021 became the first Black woman to win Miss Ireland; Yemi Adenuga, a Nigerian-Irish politician who in 2019 became the first elected Black female public representative in Ireland; and Uruemi Adejinmi, the first African-Irish woman to be appointed as a mayor in Ireland. I’m constantly meeting inspiring people through my work with BEN and building skills in influencing and leadership at the same time. I’ve been back to my old college to talk to final-year students about careers in cloud computing and the opportunities available at AWS. College is a special place for me. It’s where I learned about the AWS internship, which ultimately led to where I am today. I want to share my story and show people what’s possible.
AWS is committed to providing opportunities for students and recent graduates from all backgrounds to cultivate their passions and sharpen their skills. Find out more about our internship program.