Journey to Day 1 – A Lesson in Belief

I received an email a couple weeks ago from the onboarding group called J2D1, which stands for “Journey to Day 1”. That’s the recruiting team that facilitates the onboarding process for all incoming new hires. That team is at Amazon, and Day 1 is a tip to Jeff Bezos’ conviction and principle that everyday is Day 1.

Did you get that? I just became an Amazonian!

I received an offer a few weeks ago to work for AWS as a VMware Specialist Solutions Architect. This is my dream job, so I couldn’t be more excited! Today, Monday, March 15, is officially my Day 1, but the journey to get here started long before I received the onboarding email from J2D1.

Several months ago, I took part in a career coaching session by Kat Troyer and Liz Bronson from the Real Job Talk Podcast. One of the biggest takeaways was simply an accountability challenge: to start getting up early each day and use the time to work toward my personal goals, with minimal distraction and the energy that comes with the start of a new day. I eagerly accepted the challenge and the very next day, I was up at 5:00AM. That started a consistent habit, morning after morning for the next several months. I had also been reading a couple books by Cal Newport – “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” and “Deep Work” – and earlier in the year, I read James Clear’s book, “Atomic Habits“. The culmination of the ideas in those books along with the extra time in the mornings to focus on some key goals paved the way for massive change.

I used the time at first to knock out some blog posts on professional development, which got me into the habit of writing and engaging in truly focused work. I embraced the ideas from “Deep Work”, which is hands down one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years. Immediately following the push to get some posts out, I tackled my resume. I knew it needed an update and I ended up doing an entire refresh. I followed the tech resume guidance of Gergely Orosz, and within days, my resume was polished. I then started tackling technical skills, primarily Ansible, VMware Cloud on AWS, and later VMware NSX. All of which would help me in the months to come.

Through these morning hours, something less tangible, but more powerful started to take place. Besides writing the blog posts, reworking my resume, and learning new skills, I was exercising new levels of discipline, and I was becoming more intentional and focused with my time. I had also been practicing mindfulness, and the end result of all of this was new found clarity in direction and the confidence to aim high. 

It was at this point I decided to follow up on an earlier conversation I had with a good friend and 5 year AWS veteran, Johnny Hanley. I asked him to refer me for a couple AWS positions, one of which I was especially excited about. I’ve been enthusiastic about AWS and public cloud for the last few years and even moreso after I achieved my AWS Solutions Architect Associate certification (exactly one year ago tomorrow!). And I’ve attained a level of expertise with VMware solutions, as I’ve focused on this specialty for the last decade of my career. So the VMware Specialist SA role was right up my alley. I just needed the boldness to go for it.

Once the process got started, I couldn’t stop it. Sure, I was intimidated at points along the way. There were moments I thought I hit the end of the road, and I actually felt a bit of relief since that would mean not having to face the next big challenge. But I kept clearing the hurdles. I remember one night early on looking at Glassdoor reviews and reading about the interview process – “the loop”, as they call it. I read about the five plus hours of interviews and the presentation that SA candidates were required to give. This should have been enough to scare me away, but I trudged on anyway.

I cleared the technical phone screen and was on my way to the loop. I was immediately excited that I passed, but that soon followed with dread of having to face the loop. I decided then that my goal for the loop was to simply get through it with the satisfaction of knowing that I presented myself well, even if I didn’t clear it. So I rolled up my sleeves and put together a presentation using my design and implementation experience for one of our largest customers. I felt like I was putting together a VCDX presentation – but in two weeks as opposed to six months. And I reviewed key successes (and failures) of my career to highlight during the behavioral portion of the interview.

After 6 hours of intensive interviewing, I was done. For the most part, I felt like I met my goal: that I presented myself well. The exception was the last hour of interviewing, which I believed to be my weakest. This was unfortunate as I truly wanted to end on a high note. But overall, I felt good about my delivery and composure and the behavioral examples and presentation I shared throughout the rest of the interviews. I did my best to focus on the high points where I felt I was strongest. But would that be enough? Or was this the end of the road?

One week later, I received a call from the recruiter. As soon as I heard the word, “Congratulations!”, I knew my world was about to change. Honestly, I was stunned, so it took a few moments to express my enthusiasm. I couldn’t believe that I cleared what I had come to believe was one of the highest bars in the world of interviewing. Whether that’s true or not, it was still an unbelievably high bar that just a few months ago, I would not have had the belief to pursue.

One of the more profound thoughts I’ve had over the last three weeks has been, “All I did was ask”. Meaning, I just simply had the audacity to ask for the job, by applying and going through the interview process. That is one of the greatest lessons from this pursuit. As a good manager once told me, “Fortune favors the bold”. In truth, I was not certain I had the necessary experience or skillset to be hired at AWS, but I learned that sometimes it’s just a matter of being bold enough to go for it anyway.

I will also share this last thought. After I cleared the phone screen, I noted to my AWS friend that the hard part was about to begin. He wisely corrected me and said that the hard part was all the sweat and labor I put in through my career to hone my character and gain the experience to arrive at this point. All I had to do now was talk about it and leverage my strengths. Wise words for any endeavor.

It’s been an amazing journey. But the journey has been mostly a growth in spirit, belief, and confidence. And I am full of the deepest gratitude for this gift I’ve been given. I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity that I believe will set me on wildly new course in my career and life and do wonders for my family. And to think this was the result of using the leverage of some deep work for a relatively short period of time on some key targets. Those morning hours helped me find the path, map out the actions needed, and then muster the boldness to go for it. So thanks to Kat and Liz for that accountability challenge, which was the seed that led to leveraging what was already inside of me. Thanks also to John White and Ray Heffer for their career insight, which brought additional clarity in recent months. Major thanks to Johnny and a whole cast of close friends and family for the coaching and cheerleading along the way. I couldn’t have done it without them. And of course, thanks to the team at AWS who decided to give me a chance.

My encouragement to anyone reading this: Whatever wild and audacious dream you have, just go for it. Who knows, you might just achieve it!