We’ve all heard about startups like Netflix and Airbnb that came of age on AWS (Amazon Web Services), and became major forces reinventing their industries. As Vice President of EC2 Windows (Elastic Compute Cloud service that offers users flexible, scalable compute capacity for Microsoft applications), Sandy Carter is helping drive adoption of AWS technologies among enterprises.
In this interview, Sandy answers a Proust Questionnaire (a parlor game popularized by Marcel Proust, who believed that an individual will reveal their true nature in answering these questions), speaks about her grandmother, her team at AWS, and why she loves the beach.
Which person do you most admire?
My grandmother – I admire her because of her grit. She’ll tell you that she’s five feet tall, but she’s only four foot eleven. Despite this, she was really good at basketball, and played at a time when women weren’t encouraged to take up sports.
What is your greatest fear?
Not being able to contribute to society. I always want to be able to give back in some way, even after I retire.
In your mind, what is the single greatest innovation in history?
Artificial intelligence. People say that it’s going to take away jobs. But I believe it’s going to help us focus on what’s interesting and important, like finding a cure for cancer.
What is your first memory of a computer?
I went to college at Duke (I was a tutor for the basketball team at Duke!) to be a doctor. But I found out that I was allergic to the chemicals that are typically used in a doctor’s office. This would come in the way of my being a doctor – it wouldn’t do to see patients while passing out at the same time. My advisor asked me to take a class in the Computer Science department. This was great because it allowed me to test drugs, without using animals.
What is one thing you do every week you do to stay focused on customer needs?
I make time to talk to customers every day.
What publications do you read to stay current with external trends?
I like to read businesses books. Most recently, I read the Next Generation Business Experience. As an adjunct professor for Carnegie Mellon, I read academic journals regularly. I also read Gartner reports and am a voracious consumer of social media.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I overuse exclamation points. When I left my role at IBM, my team gave me a statue shaped kind of like an Emmy – but it was a big exclamation point. I also use the word amazing such as “These customer wins at AWS are amazing! The people at AWS are amazing!”
When and where were you happiest?
I’m always happiest at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. I go to the beach twice a year. It’s where I do my big thinking such as the idea for my next book.
What was the last time you were wrong about something?
Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be able to sing. I play the piano, the saxophone, and clarinet, but I want to be able to communicate musically, even if it is for karaoke.
Tell us about the last time you disagreed and committed to something.
It was last night. I loved the name of a product – but a majority of the team wanted to go with another name. So I disagreed and committed.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I just recently had an accident in Brazil and broke my femur. The doctors say that it’s a three year recovery process, but I’d really like for things to go back to how things were before the accident. I also wish I could be more patient. Amazon believes in bias for action – but you don’t want to over-index on that.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My two daughters, Maria and Kassie.
Looking back, was there an event or moment that altered the direction of your career?
I was always very technical. I have a degree in Computer Science and Math. But one of my managers told me that my real talent was in translating that technology into real-world knowledge. His words resonated with me, and got me interested in other areas like sales, marketing, and business development.
Where would you most like to live?
Austin, TX. I like the warm weather, the food, and the people. The only thing Austin doesn’t have is a beach.
What is your most treasured possession?
A necklace my grandmother gave me. It has a single stone surrounded several other stones. It signifies that even while you’re in the center, your family always supports you.
What was your first day like at Amazon?
I remember the new hire orientation. It gets you pumped about the history and tradition at Amazon, and reminds you that you now have the chance to make history because it is still Day 1.
What is an example of a piece of advice you have received?
A mentor once told me that people will not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Be it your manager, your parents or even a work of art, what always stays with you is that emotional connection.
What is an example of a piece of advice you have delivered to others?
Go after what you are most passionate about. I tell the girls and women I mentor when they tell me about getting to the next step or advancing in their career, “Do what you most love. Don’t do something you don’t love, because you’re going to be doing it so much.” Another piece of advice I give women is treat networking as part of the job. Many men take the time to have lunch with a colleague or pursue other networking activities, and women should do the same.
What are some innovations from your organization in 2017 that inspire the most pride within you?
A machine learning platform that connects legacy Windows environments to digital innovation. At re:Invent last month, we had a business called Just Eat demonstrate how they are using Artificial Intelligence to take orders through Alexa while using a legacy Windows base. We’re also helping customers with Internet of Things and Windows. For example, Pitney Bowes is using their SQL database that exists on AWS along with the Internet of Things to have a better transportation application.
Why would you tell a young girl to pursue a career in technology?
There’s no job in the future that won’t have tech. I think both girls and boys should understand technology and would even say that everyone should be able to code. I would also say that you don’t just have to code for stuff that boys like. One of the startups I work with is 360 Fashion. They produce tech fashion, which is clothing that will light up and change designs when you move. There’s so many things you can do that are related to your area of interest – tech can be embedded in anything and everything.
What was the last thing you purchased on Amazon?
A hot pink cocktail dress for the Girls in Tech gala dinner.