Janet T. Phan is a senior technical product manager for Amazon’s Project Kuiper, a long-term initiative to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that will provide affordable, reliable broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world.
The daughter of Vietnamese refugees who didn’t know how to help her navigate the American education system, Phan left home during her last year of high school and worked to put herself through college. A professor recognized her aptitude for information systems and encouraged her to pursue a career in technology. He helped Phan get her first internship in IT, and her internship supervisor went on to become an important mentor.
“We both went on to new roles with other companies, but I continued to go to him for guidance,” Phan said. “He encouraged me to get into tech consulting, and when he was offered a role in Switzerland, he recommended me for it instead. That had a huge impact on me. I’ve been surrounded by people who supported me and gave me opportunities to take on bigger roles and do what I’m good at, which is bridging gaps between tech and non-tech people.”
The guidance and support Phan received inspired her to found Thriving Elements, a nonprofit dedicated to creating access and opportunities for underserved and underrepresented girls through long-term, one-on-one mentorship in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Phan’s work with Thriving Elements brought her to Amazon.
“In 2019, I started working with people in Tanzania, Botswana, and Uganda to run pilot projects there and realized how hard it was because the internet connection was so poor. The people I was working with were really motivated, but the infrastructure didn’t—and still doesn’t—support collaboration,” Phan said.
Phan joined Project Kuiper’s Enterprise Engineering team in March 2022. As a senior technical product manager, her role is to serve as the voice of the customer: the engineers—hardware, electrical, and mechanical—who work on the satellites.
“The better that we do our job, the faster and easier they can test, design, and build the satellites,” she said. “The faster that happens, the faster we get internet to people who need it—including the communities my nonprofit serves. So I have a personal stake in this too.”
Phan has brought her expertise in mentoring to Amazon. She serves as president of Women@ Ring and Kuiper, a chapter of the Women at Amazon employee affinity group. She also continues to be inspired by the women around her, including Cat DeLeonardis, senior manager of Ground Infrastructure Services for Project Kuiper, who helped bring her up to speed on Amazon’s culture. Phan sees her as a mentor.
“This year at Amazon has been such a whirlwind,” Phan said. “And I actually really love it.”