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Women in Tech Shine at AWS Public Sector Summit 2016

I’m on my way home from my very first AWS Public Sector Summit. Looking back on the 2 days, I realize that I experienced something completely new at a tech conference: four amazing keynotes, all from women. This wasn’t an accident. Teresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector at AWS, hosted the event and decided to highlight women in technology working in the public sector. As Carlson said, “once we started looking for women leaders in technology to give the keynotes, it really wasn’t that hard.”

Carlson kicked off the morning discussing the growth that AWS has seen in the public sector and she was followed by a stellar lineup of keynotes, including Deborah Brooks, Co-founder and Executive Vice Chairman of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research who discussed how the foundation uses AWS to aid their research; to Stephanie Von Friedburg, CIO World Bank Group who reminisced about what it was like to adopt AWS 4 years ago when no other federal agencies or major banks were using the service.

Ultimately, to me, the star of the morning was LaVerne Council, the Assistant Secretary for IT and CIO for the Department of Veteran Affairs (what a title, right?). Council described her approach to updating the VA’s outdated IT, saying that she pushed her staff to put themselves in the veteran’s shoes to drive a faster and better solution with the best possible end-user experience. “We do not need another application, we need a new experience” she said.

Good process is the key to great technology

-LaVerne Council, Assistant Secretary for IT and CIO for the Department of Veteran Affairs

One of the things I loved about these keynotes was that they weren’t about being women in tech, the keynotes were about migrating to the cloud, shortening development cycles, modernizing IT services. In short, the same exact topics that a male presenter would have covered. At the end of the morning keynotes, Carlson returned to reintroduce their #SmartisBeautiful initiative, which has received mixed reviews in the past. Say what you will about their choice of hashtags (I’m partial to #changetheratio), but I’m legitimately impressed with what AWS did at this conference to highlight the gender inequality in tech. Later in the day, there was also a Women in Technology Panel, which is a more common occurrence at events these days, but was still pretty amazing. LaVerne Council spoke frankly about her experience with men constantly testing her technical aptitude (Ladies, you know what I’m talking about), and Beth Bergsmark, Deputy CIO at Georgetown University, quipped that if we can get developers and operations teams to see eye to eye, why can’t we get men and women? It was a great panel discussion.

Kudos to AWS for putting together such a stellar lineup. I hope to see other vendors do the same at their events.

Portions of this blog were originally posted on the CloudHealth Technologies Blog

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