Teaching innovation as a skill: Walking the path to digital transformation | #GuestOfTheWeek


Employees of Amazon Web Services follow the 14 principles of leadership, which Chief Executive Andy Jassy believes is what drives the company’s strength and innovation. Principal five is “Learn and Be Curious,” and the company thinking behind the concept is that leaders are continually learning and always push themselves to be better. AWS likes curiosity and wants its employees to explore their ideas, according to Mai-Lan Tomsen Bukovec, vice president and general manager of the S3 storage service at AWS.

“Be the leader of a new initiative. Get out of your domain and try something that is out of your expertise, and you will learn something. And you will expand what you know. And before you know it, you will be saying, ‘I’m good at that. I’m thinking up new ideas and making them happen,’” she asserted.

Tomsen Bukovec visited theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile live streaming studio, twice over the past few months to talk about the path to innovation and how she teaches “innovation as a skill.” She joined theCUBE host Stu Miniman (@stu) at AWS re:Invent 2016 in October to discuss AWS’ latest ideas for storage that came from customer suggestions, and more recently she spoke to theCUBE host Lisa Martin (@Luccazara) at the CloudNOW 5th Annual “Top 10 Women in Cloud” Innovation Awards to discuss her keynote about teaching innovation. (*Disclosure below.)

This week theCUBE chose Tomsen Bukovec as our Guest of the Week.

The path to innovation means getting out of the box

CloudNOW is a non-profit consortium of leading women in cloud computing and converging technologies. Tomsen Bukovec told Martin that she loves the CloudNOW event because of many women across the technology sectors have great stories that promote learning. The theme of the event was innovation.

During her keynote talk, she discussed how to cultivate innovation as a skill, focusing on how innovation is not something you are born with but something you develop over time through experimentation. “To develop it is to learn, to keep iterating, and that is a philosophy we hold dear at Amazon Web Services,” she expressed.

This topic is not new to many in the technology sector or the nation’s leading universities. In a recent Forbes article, “Our Universities Are Not Teaching Innovation,” author Henry Doss makes the argument that higher education does not teach how to think independently and provide the capabilities for students to go outside their comfort zone. He feels concluded that higher education is more about landing a job.

Two of the biggest technology leaders of all time did not graduate from college. Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies, left the University of Texas after one year after his burgeoning computer upgrading business became too lucrative to conduct in his dorm room. And Bill Gates is known as “Harvard’s most successful dropout” because he left the university to focus on Microsoft.

These were innovators who were very comfortable stepping out of the norm to focus on what they were creating. However, there is no need to abandon college or your day job to become an innovator. Leaders like Tomsen Bukovec mentor younger women and men in their career by telling them not to put themselves in a box. She mentioned that it is good to list your good qualities, but that limits you to only what you are good at and puts you in a box that gets smaller as you get more experienced. Instead, she motivates people to take a chance and try something new.

Tomsen Bukovec did not learn this by reading a book or taking a self-help class; her education in innovation came from life experiences. After graduating from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in creative writing and US history, she joined the Peace Corps and spent a year in Mali in the Northwest region of Africa.

Seeing how technology helped improve people’s lives, her choice became clear. “I’m going into technology to change people’s lives,” she said. And from there she went to work at Microsoft and took night classes in programming at the University of Washington.

Tomsen Bukovec earned her “technology backbone” by throwing herself into hardcore server technologies. “I was curious, and I wanted to learn, and I didn’t think, ‘I am in a box because of my background’ … I thought, ‘How do I want to evolve and make tech make people’s lives better’ … and then I just followed that path,” she disclosed.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of the CloudNOW – 5th Annual “Top 10 Women in Cloud” Innovation Awards. (*Disclosure: Some segments on SiliconANGLE Media’s theCUBE are sponsored. However, no sponsorships have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Where the innovation path leads

During AWS re:Invent, Tomsen Bukovec sat down with theCUBE’s Stu Miniman to discuss what she called “the year of the file.” In her role as VP and GM of S3 at AWS, she and her team produced the upgrades to file storage and retrieval that helped place AWS in a position to fully service the enterprise market with hybrid offerings.

Enhancements such as Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS), which now allows organizations to access their file data from on-premises datacenters.; Amazon Glacier, which offers two cost-effective options for bulk data retrievals, giving access to significant portions of data for things like big data analytics and media transcoding; and, lastly, the Snowball Edge, a new product that has petabyte-scale data transport with compute on board.

Tomsen Bukovec, true to her roots, learns to innovate by focusing on the customer. She said that speaking to customers and listening to their requests drive all the new offerings. “We’re coming up with this not because we are in some Ivory tower and we want to make super smart platforms. We’re coming up with this because customers say, ‘I have all this business logic, and I want to use it,’” she stated.

AWS has made it clear that it is all-in on helping companies who need hybrid solutions. Jassy has said that innovation at AWS does not come from competitors or buying technology companies, but from solely listening to the customer.

And Tomsen Bukovec made it clear that she is driving the S3 AWS team to listen to customers and encourage them to create innovative ways to work with hybrid. What excited her about 2017 is thinking about customer problems and solutions.

“We don’t have these boundaries. We’ll do anything that customers ask for and give them places to put their storage,” she concluded.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of AWS re:Invent(*Disclosure: AWS and other companies sponsor some AWS re:Invent segments on SiliconANGLE Media’s theCUBE. Neither AWS nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo by SiliconANGLE