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#3 - Startups on AWS with Nicolas David


This is my interview with Nicolas David, Senior Startup Solutions Architect Middle East at Amazon Web Services. We have discussed some interesting topics ranging from:

  • How startups receive guidance and support from AWS
  • His role on the Cloud Innovation Centers (CIC) program: a program provides opportunities for non profits, education institutions, and government agencies to collaborate with other public sectors utilizing AWS
  • His adventures on being a Technical Trainer for AWS
  • His shift from software develop and IT towards business management and consulting
  • and much more

I really enjoyed recording this episode with Nicolas and hope it brings value for you in the future.

PS: my mic have defaulted to the regular laptop mic rather than my Shure SM7B mic so sound quality from my side isn't that crystal clear. On the bright side Nicolas sound quality is super clear! You can check the transcript to know the questions I have asked for Nicolas on this episode

Audio version

Video version


Mohamad: okay so welcome to the pod, I'm here with Nicholas David. Nicholas do you like to introduce yourself?

Nicolas: yes sure um hi i think first of all thank you for having me today um my name is Nicholas David i'm a senior startup solutions architect at AWS i'm looking after the MENA part of the MENA region uh with the rest of my team and i've been with AWS for the past seven almost seven and a half years now

Mohamad: oh that's cool you've been with AWS for seven years as a senior startup solution architect or in general

Nicolas: oh so this is the latest update to my journey at amazon or at AWS specifically prior to that i i assumed uh couple of other positions i started as a technical trainer for i think about three years um where i was roaming all over europe middle east and africa but also a bit of asia trained to help wherever the assistance was needed were building up the team back then and then after doing a lot of theory a lot of teaching with various types of students customers or events I decided to join the professional services team but on the public sector side of the business and specifically to move to the kingdom of bahrain where where i live today many reasons led to that we'll talk about it in a bit but yeah this is the idea was to go from theory to practice literally with professional services and start building and helping customers move to the cloud

Mohamad: so you actually help on start startups familiar with AWS as a cloud provider to use them so you actually help them support as in the technical support or you choose certain startups that fit the criteria and you give them like credits or kind of help

Nicolas: it's it's a bit different with with the startups and this role the idea is so startups is a very interesting segment um it starts with an idea it starts with a small team and eventually evolves into a bigger much larger thing we at amazon still call us a startup right and we're i believe one point five one point six million employees that's a big startup right um but

Mohamad: that's an enterprise actually

Nicolas: it depends on the perspective you look at it over how you look at it yeah really but the way we operate is is definitely in startup mode in what we call day one mentality so for startups in particular um my goal is to help them consume less right let's say you're building a service a SaaS and for that you're requiring some compute some storage some maybe machine learning some ai and the idea is to show you how to get the most out of AWS for the least amount of money that's the ultimate goal and ultimately you know this leads to a better healthier relationship with the customer but also a more uh you know productive relationship for them where basically if they consume less they can start working fully on their project not worrying about the bill at the end of the month and making sure that they they get the most out of the platform they push the limits of their business plan and eventually deliver at the customer expectations or beyond the customer expectation so ultimately being a startup solutions architect is is definitely that to make sure that your customers are using the cloud in the best of ways and getting the most value out of it to transcend in in business value

Mohamad: and are certain requirements for the startups to receive support it's like do they have to achieve a certain level or any kind of startup can pitch in

Nicolas: it so the way we work with startups is um through programs one of them is called AWS activate and this program is specifically designed for startups that are incubated in incubators that are partners of AWS and so by being partners of aws they can pretend to this program and get a specific level of support they can get credits i believe it's up to a hundred thousand dollars of credits and you know eventually get to where they need to be faster

Mohamad: so you've worked as a senior startup solution architect but you previously worked as a senior consultant on the cloud innovation centers which is the CIS program which provides opportunities for nonprofits and education institution to utilize on AWS we were talking about utilizing on AWS do you mean specific services or in general like like for example if let's say government agencies let's say would they use something like AWS gov cloud or something or most of the services that are on AWS utilizing them to make their progress work forward so okay gov cloud is is a specific set of region and that is built in the us and so we don't use that in bahrain we use the bahrain region which is you know opened i think almost three years ago two and a half years ago something like that

Mohamad: almost two almost two to three years

Nicolas: yes and so basically the cloud innovation center program the kick program is very simple its mission is to enable students to tackle real life problems in public sector so it may be anything that's related to people wearing masks when we were in the big part of the pandemic or maybe automating some services that were in person services i have a few examples to share and um transforming them using AWS services to make sure that they respond to the need and they solve and one thing that's important to note is that the students whenever they start these challenges they don't know anything or maybe a little bit about they know maybe about S3 which is one of the most popular uh services when we talked to students about cloud storage and you know we take them on that journey from zero to zero by you know running a series of workshops around the the methodology that is used at amazon the working backwards methodology where we start from the finished product what it would look like and then you know turn around and look at where we are and then identify the key steps the key features what needs to be done to get there and so that's usually your first step then we translate those business requirements into technical technical requirements we define the different possibilities on how to build what we want to build and once we have a find all of that then the next logical step is to basically get get started get building we support the students in various dive deep sessions in understanding how one particular service works or why you would choose one type of database or another one how you want to start using machine learning things like that and we build with them we actually support them building which is most accurate we support them building this prototype to where after the semester when the semester is finished they're presenting back this prototype to the challenge sponsor

so let's say one of the challenges we worked on was a challenge for the ministry of works and municipality here in the kingdom and the idea was to automate the process of getting a proof of address certificate maybe the bank needs it maybe your insurance needs it maybe whomever whatever type of organization needs it and so prior to that challenge the process and prior to covid one nine the process was as follows you go to your local ministry of works and municipality office and you get a ticket you fill some forms you give all the documents you wait on average three to five days and and that's it you get your proof of address certificate against think some proof of payment or some form of payment during the pandemic this was not so much possible people were wearing masks you were limited to the amount of people you could have in a certain area and or or a room and so it made the whole experience very difficult and painful for citizens and residents of the kingdom so the students had the idea of using a chat bot and pushing interactions between the ministry and the customer so to speak to get proof hard certificate and they were able using image recognition machine learning and few interactions and connections to other apis to bring the process from three to five days to about two and a half minutes and you would get

Mohamad: oh that's actually quite interesting

Nicolas: yeah it's it's really really cool because for two reasons actually the first one is that they didn't know much about cloud when they started and they built something that efficient i think the amount of money that it would cost per month to run this was about a hundred and fifty dollars right so they beat something that was technically efficient economically efficient and they also put a bunch of security around it to where it was a little bit more than a prototype i think it was maybe leaning on to what we like to call the mlp minimum lovable product or minimum viable product mvp and the second point that is that is really cool is that yeah it's it's it's a real transformative experience for them because you don't often get that kind of opportunity in university to learn something new apply it immediately and potentially change people's lives in in in like a blink of an eye a semester is a blink of an eye so this was one of the examples that we worked on with students from a university here in bahrain and ultimately that's the mission right solve public sector problems with technology with cloud and prove that you know if you focus on it for minimum minimum amount of time with even zero knowledge or a little bit of knowledge you can get to it in a very short amount of time

Mohamad: so the support was to provide them guidance on how to develop those kind of services on aws

Nicolas: it's a little bit more than that it was a more of mentoring i i would say mentoring and

Mohamad: it's more than that

Nicolas: yeah and and a lot of dive deep sessions um typically to to get them familiar with those services because for example in the initial train of process of process they were thinking oh let's use a relational database and you know this is the stuff that they knew the stuff that they learned at school and at university sorry and that they had been doing projects on but ultimately i like to get people to go outside of their comfort zone to understand what are the current trends today and how far can you push yourself to build something that is scalable cost efficient that has excellent performance and um looking at the well acquitted framework you know the different pillars of that framework to make sure that they understand how important it is to modern applications so it's not only about solving the challenges it's about pushing yourselves and it's about getting up to speed on what the industry wants in startups for example right and we had an example of a team of students that did this i'm actually meeting with them this afternoon it's a project where they were translating in real time voice to sign language right so the idea was to replace this person that was signing important things on tv like the news or or important broadcasts maybe the parliament or things like that in real time so that the tv channel or whomever was using this solution would be more inclusive and again these students started with no knowledge whatsoever of aws and within three months they had a working prototype they were able to translate a very basic i want to say sentences but have a discussion an ongoing discussion with an actual human and a three d avatar using amazon sumerian so you know amazing stuff um but never if if you if you were to ask them when they started you know you're going to be able to build this and be this i want to say a revolutionary in your field um they would never have believed you right so pushing the boundaries making sure that uh we mentor them with the proper amount of technology the proper amount of methodology and showing them that you can do literally the cloud is the limit right in these scenarios you want to be able to explore new things and not you know stay in your comfort zone think that's one of the the most important things that i could uh tell about this particular program

Mohamad: yeah i understand you on this point i actually did learn this when i actually joined the company that i currently work in which is zero and one it now became the premier partner in the middle east so they when first entered the i had this idea of using a certain let's say a technology because i'm familiar with it and they're like oh no we're gonna use this other technology because it solves this solution much more better like for example when i first joined like two years ago i've never even thought about using let's say like lamda but now i just use it on a daily basis or for example dynamic dv is a good example as well when i learned about DynamoDB and then i learned about single table design it changes your perspective of how you actually use databases

Nicolas: absolutely absolutely it's a it's a complete game changing you know experience in in so many ways thinking about how you develop applications thinking about you know how you're going to approach a certain problem in one of the challenges there was one of the students that were one of the tasks that they were trying to do is to fire events on a very small granularity smaller than five minutes and so for that they were trying to find a way to do it that was scalable that was reliable and they came up with an amazing suggestion in my mind just thinking out of the box this way is is mind blowing on dynamodb for example you have the possibility of getting records that are going to expire you sell a ttl on a record so you know exactly when that record is going to expire and they thought well you know this generates an event then i can launch a lambda function i will use that and then eventually you know the idea was fantastic but the way this part of dynamodb works is that with the scale of dynamodb sometimes this exploration can be right on time sometimes it can be you know a little bit delayed mostly because you use expiration to delete some records most of the time but i thought that was a great way of thinking from the students and this is some of the things that we want to provoke in the students by using those things much like you were saying i didn't know that i was going or i wasn't thinking about using lambda but now use it on a daily basis because you get so many more ideas on how to use it or so many different ways on how to solve or tackle a problem which is kind of super interesting to be honest

Mohamad: speaking of putting people out of the comfort zone you also worked as a technical trainer on aws where you helped developers and individuals develop skills on the cloud you started with let's say like technical or business essential courses then you went towards advanced courses is there a requirement for an individual to become a trainer and do they give you like to train a specific course or you can choose any course that suits you or you feel comfortable with teaching

Nicolas: that's a very interesting question i'm going to take a little bit of time on entering this question so before i joined aws um i was taking a break from all things it in general i was spending some time in algeria in outside of any city in the middle of the dessert right and um had my phone and was able to receive calls and use internet you know everything pretty normal but i was taking a break from it because i was uh how to say this i was fed up with a bunch of the recurrent problems that i was to see prior to working for aws i worked for banks software leading businesses pharmaceutical businesses yeah insurances you know large companies i want to say very large companies in some cases some of them that were part of the cc forty which is the index on the french stock market and every time i was going for a new experience for a new position in a new company i was still seeing that every every single time the very same problem not necessarily political but technical approaches to how to deal with a specific problem and you know at some point i was like okay um if this is what i'm going to see i need to start really thinking about what i want to do so this is when i went on this journey to explore algeria and you know kept my phone with me and at some point i received a call from a number in the uk and they were asking me if i knew anything about aws and luckily i knew a little bit about S3 and a little bit about EC2 so i told them i know a little bit about these two services storage and compute but i know there's a little bit more than that you know what this is all about what is this all about then we get a you know proper conversation for probably the most expensive half an hour on the phone of life so far where roaming uh costs fortune but you know it eventually led me to where i am today and when i started there was i think november two thousand and fourteen something like that yes november two thousand fourteen there was forty services lambda was not even out there and um you know from the training catalog we didn't have many courses we had architecture on aws advanced get some architecting um we had one c subs class one devops class and i think that was it really four or five classes something like that i got hired to train because you know they were building the team and i believe that you know the way i answered my questions leadership principles or the experience was corresponding to what they were looking for at the time very grateful for that opportunity by the way and so when i started my job there was a ramp up period of about three months to get to learn all of these aws services but the methodology the why are we choosing this service over this one why is this one such an important services compared to let's say the traditional way of doing things and well you know hands on experience was also a big one we are i was given access to actually i opened my aws account was given full access to the account and you know jeff at the time uncle jeff was

Mohamad: uncle jeff

Nicolas: uncle jeff was the one paying all of my expenses exactly good we to jeff thank you uncle jeff but the combination of these sessions where i was to learn from my peers and where i was getting hands on experience trying to solve small problems trying to build things on there definitely got me up to speed and eventually in january the next year i was doing my first training um it was a one day training i think it was an introductory training the timing was not okay the content was okay and the attendance was you know fairly happy with the content so it was my first time yes this was the first time to everything and there was about i think eight people in the room um a typical training for one trainer is about one not one but maybe three to fifteen people in the room and then eventually you know there was a second training a third training and so forth ten twenty one hundred um and in between those trainings you get to do fun things there is this one day training the technical essentials that you talked about there is another version of that training that's called an awesome day and we deliver this in front of an audience and there same topic you first start with small audience forty people and you get gradually go up to one hundred people two hundred three hundred people the interaction gets more and more present in in the way you you you're doing things you know bit by bit you get more confidence and you know the stuff you're talking about because you can relate it to your previous experience you can also learn about these new services coming in in in action in service into the console so all in all the combination of all of this you know made sure that i was able to relate to the the issues that my trainees were facing in their day to day life at work and i think this is one of the things that worked the best for me is the fact that i had some it experience in the past that was very painful very dramatic in some cases um where i could take this and i could definitely see oh this service will solve that this new service would solve that as well oh maybe i could use a combination of this and that or maybe the multi az solution would have solved so many problems all of these things started to make sense you know from the moment i got i took the time to train myself to the moment i was able to deliver and hear those stories from the trainees this is what we're are facing how would you tackle this why is this function so relevant you know all of these questions and then the funny thing is that after a while the the students themselves were coming up with the new features before i even got time to read about them and so you know quick looking up on the website oh yeah that's right this came out okay this key feature blah blah blah okay let's look at the blog post all right and within five to ten minutes you're up to speed and you can start talking to students about it and eventually put it into perspective maybe during the lunch break or maybe after hours you know definitely all of these things piled up to giving us trainers a lot of experience so this is how i trained myself over the course of maybe the first year second and third year were just travelling and traveling i think um i went on on training the one training that was the most interesting or the one session that was the most interesting for me was when i left uh france to go to india for two weeks back to back

Mohamad: now that's quite interesting

Nicolas: it was really awesome because you get to train customers you get to train some of your peers that just joined the ship in in india and then you get to do other interactions outside of of the circle of work to then infuse that back in the second week and so forth

Mohamad: also a cultural shock that's a difference

Nicolas: it it's quite an interesting cultural truck to to be honest this was my first time ever going to india and you know i had a weekend between the two weeks i was there the only thing that i thought was fun to do aside from visiting the sites around was to get a get a cooking lesson so you know you never stop learning that's that's the that's the thing but in india i remember vividly this was maybe in my second year as a technical trainer i said something that probably i thought i would never thought never think of of saying as well i told my students i said if you listen carefully to all the stuff that i'm going to teach you today tomorrow and the day after most training sessions like architecting on aws or three day courses three and um i told them if if you do that and if you learn on the side get the certification i promise you this stuff will change your life like literally change your life and out of the ten people that were in that class that day we got three people that certified with solutions architect associate one of them moved to the uk with his whole family and got a second certification got a major upgrade in his job he's now manager and then the two others are higher in rank in the company that they were in which is an aws partner and it literally did change their lives and this is one of the cool things about about being a trainer is that not only you're giving you information giving knowledge to to your students but you have this possibility of of changing their lives most people will say oh yeah it's just another training but no as you said rightfully again when you start looking at how to use lambda how to use dynamodb how to solve problems with certain services you can literally build anything and everything managing iot devices on aws is one of the things that i find a joy it's super easy training machine learning models on aws when sagemaker is unbelievably simple and i never thought i would able to approach this domain right but yeah we we we made it super simple super simple to approach that you know it's like your entry point and then eventually you'll start looking at other services to leverage another aspect of aws of the cloud platform and it makes it makes it super easy for you to start innovating and to do things that you thought never were possible before so the training part yeah there's not really so much of a requirement i think experience is one you have to have experience in it you have to understand concepts like high high availability how you do that scaling also very important how do you scale something when become popular your website becomes popular or maybe prime day at other end of the spectrum um maybe looking at things that motivate you in it if it is automation if it is the developer the whole developer experience and making sure that whenever you build your mobile application or your web application you can do it in a super smart way smart in the sense that you're not losing time or you're not doing something that is redundant over and over the same thing

Mohamad: like for example like for example building your website on code pipeline and code build instead of you doing manually every single time and uploading it

Nicolas: on ftp or whatnot or changing permissions yeah this is a great example there's a ton of things that you can automate very very easily ton of examples online also uh that definitely if you're doing this and if you want to teach others how to do it or if you want to teach others cloud in general because this is something that you like definitely this is a good good entry job yes definitely um

Mohamad: and the students will end up using the labs for example to start to fiddle around with the labs they start to develop on aws let's say during the session

Nicolas: yeah during the training sessions you're correct you have a portion of the trainer talking and interacting with you but there's also a portion of labs which you have for the entirety the entire duration of the training and then maybe you can extend that on the learning platform of aws to try new things or new concepts out of that same domain that you were attending the training on so it's not something that is strictly talking it's also hands on experience super important and and definitely this is uh is a it's a good way to train yourself to become a trainer and a good way to give back this knowledge that you have acquired on aws yeah

Mohamad: so you actually went to india you went to algeria you are in france right

Nicolas: yes i'm originally from france

Mohamad: you're originally from france you went to uk as well or you just got the phone call from eight eleven years

Nicolas: i trained the list of country is is is big um pretty much all of the countries of europe may minus eastern europe northern africa i went to tunisia went to middle east went to india went to the US went to asia um the northern part of europe as well yeah i was traveling eighty percent of the time at the time so if you if you were to become a technical trainer today you would probably not get this eighty percent traveling would try to keep things healthy but at the time the training team was maybe a handful of trainers maybe five six trainers so this is one of the reasons why we're building the team scaling and at the same time you need to deliver right so it's it's it was quite quite a lot of trouble at the time for now not i love bahrain this is uh you know even even though right now the temperature is starting to get up to you know summer temperatures it is fantastic maybe nine months out of the year you get i see want to say temperatures that you can experience somewhere else than than middle east up to forty degrees something like that this is quite common in south of france but yeah it's an amazing place i'm happy to have moved here lots of customers lots of interesting stories to tell and also i think one of the important things here um whenever i decided to move to to bahrain or to actually get a job to go to bahrain and move internally um i overheard somewhere i not say really where but i overheard somewhere that there was going to be a region in bahrain and i thought and then i started getting it bit by bit the country most of the people that that that i talked to about bahrain prior to moving they said but it's a small country why are we building a region there and in my mind the reasoning behind it is because you know bahrain is like a startup it's small so you can iterate really fast fail fast fell often and then maybe do something else try something else and eventually get to the point where they are today i think in the brussels summit not too long ago um the director for emea public sector isabella mentioned the achievements of the bahrain government how it completely transformed the landscape of applications the way you do things the example of that proof of address certificate is one amongst many here you can do pretty much everything that you had to do in person before you can do it online nowadays um the generalization of all of that you want to officially january first of twenty twenty two and and it's a real breathe to do anything really on your mobile on your computer it takes very little time uh and in the experience the customer experience it is great it's getting even better day by day um and another experience was during the the pandemic every single country got their mobile application to track the different doses or different tests that you had different doses from the vaccine different tests that you have taken and bahrain had in my mind one of one of the most efficient applications they developed it really really fast and started iterating adding some functions one of the most recent one that i really like you have people that are crossing the border on daily basis to go from bahrain to alb in saudi arabia and you can literally connect your profile your data in this application to the saudi version of that application and just one click all your data is sent over to that application your you know vaccine data your pc test data and you don't have to enter anything in a new application this is one of the many examples of how bahrain is using leveraging cloud technology

Mohamad: so you got a so you got a vaccine pass on the gcc area

Nicolas: the application is compliant with has a very tight relationship with the one in saudi but whenever i went to uae for example i was able to offline even without wi fi or anything being able to pull up all of my data the latest data because it's refreshed in the background i mean it seems like a tiny detail but it makes a whole lot of difference when you're traveling in those different difficult times and when you're trying to integrate with other similar or yeah similar applications

Mohamad: so now you're currently in bahrain you also organized the aws bah hand user group the user group started before the region actually opened in bahrain or after it happened in bahrain

Nicolas: um if i remember correctly we started the user group in october twenty eighteen so this was the year i arrived um i don't remember to be to be honest twenty twenty two yeah it's definitely opened we definitely opened the user work before the region the region opened and the idea was to raise awareness to build a the community and raise the awareness in the community around cloud also to understand what were the challenges of the developers or the companies that were here in bahrain and that didn't have the opportunity to talk to an account manager yet or things like that and so uh my friend hamad and friend and colleague hamad and uh fatma mani we opened this user group and we started running sessions talking about cloud basics why is cloud so different than your on premise stuff um we talked about uh uh various things around serverless machine learning databases in general how to choose your database we also had a recap of reinvent by one of the developer relations advocate from germany i believe at the time and um eventually the effort kind of died down because of the pandemic we've been heavily participating in two of the min wide i think it's game game day yeah game day session uh that were organized by the lebanese user group and we're actually looking at rebooting this

Mohamad: that's right

Nicolas: user group were looking for a different approach maybe a hybrid approach to reach more audience and as of today i think there is little less maybe nine hundred and seventy something like that people that registered on the user group so there's a large audience here locally but as you can see i'm not wearing a mask anymore i'm in the office right now and this is something that is dating from late last week so everything is quite new fresh this back to normal quote unquote is is um yeah it's a little bit of of a like a diesel engine it takes a little bit of time to heat up and so we're looking at relaunching it uh i have one of my peer solutions architects here in bahrain that wants to add more content and at least one session per month type cadence she wants to add more but maybe on a remote only type way of of operating with maybe smaller topics like maybe half an hour or an hour topic on on specific things so yeah it's been quite an interesting adventure launching something from zero to almost one thousand people today but i don't think the covid covid pandemic helped to continue this effort in a healthy way i don't think we can make this pan yet but in a in a proper way i think

Mohamad: the user group got contacted by local companies to offer jobs or guidance on how to use aws?

Nicolas: we've got several guest sessions we've got a few companies that asked to sponsor the user group i think this is quite co it means that you know there is something going on um this is one of the things that i want to do as well in rebooting that user group is to make sure that we are as inclusive of the ecosystem that is in bahrain as we can so that means bringing on board the partners

Mohamad: crazy

Nicolas: bringing on board maybe some customers to talk about their journey to the cloud and maybe who knows maybe we can get some sponsorship as well ultimately i don't think sponsorship is is i mean it's relevant for sure but it's not vital to user groups like like the one in bahrain i think the content is what what makes the user group attractive and the community itself by developing eventually we'll create opportunities for know people from the same community to work on startups or in companies on specific projects or maybe for partners or for aws who knows

Mohamad: yep you've also worked as a accelerator mentor rather than now we're going to move away from aws going to go back you worked as an accelerator mentor and an advisory committee where you have to deal with startups and individuals or companies towards their end goal as an accelerator mentor worked with Brinc MENA and advisory advisory committee as ICT team i know i was just going to ask you like a very general question but is there like a common issue that they've faced that it's actually more like a hungry i say this it's more like a cycle you start to notice it on much more than one person it's that is common and what are the least common issues that you've seen

Nicolas: um so first of all brinc is a startup incubator that started as a iot incubator so anything that was connected world type startup would find a great fit there with a lot of great mentors there and then the advisory committee uh stuff that i do is for polytechnic university so that they update the curriculum and stay relevant year after year and then with the forthcoming of cloud this was something that was very important for them and ultimately this led to them being part of the cloud innovation center the kick in initiative that we're discussing earlier so between brain and behind polytechnic one of the things that one of the challenges that i for had foreseen was the enablement how do you make sure that as a startup you are properly unable to use the right services or to put the right level of security on things to not end up on the front page of a magazine or a website in the wrong way of things of course and that's something that you know both universities and and incubators in particular when the startup is at a very early stage are looking at developing they want to make sure that whenever they're building something it's not like a pasta trainer with a lot of holes right we want to make sure that they build something that is robust that has a lot of security in it and and that it doesn't cost a fortune to run and so i think this is one of the main things that we have seen in both university when trying to update the curriculum and the startups that i was mentoring um another thing was also something that we have seen in the cloud innovation center challenges is which service to use which is the service that is going to fit most my use case and usually there is more than one way of doing it so makes the discussion a little bit more interesting um but yeah this is probably one of the the most common points that i could see in both of these organizations and then yeah let's say the least common issue the perspective of of those startups is definitely to get them out there they want to to be relevant in in the area where they're innovating and they want to make sure that what they're doing is sufficiently advanced to where you know they can get funding they can get the attention that it is that they want to have and continue building on their product i think one of the companies that one of the startups that i worked with not through brain though um but with connected devices it's a startup that is based in lebanon and they are basically picture of field of grains right uh let's say you're growing corn in the field and instead of using pesticides to remove all of the other wheats they're using some sort of robot that is going in the field and with the help of a laser it's killing the flowers of those those um weeds that are growing outside of just uh of corn so it's a very interesting way of doing things just the concept itself is is interesting but if they're trying to do things that way it's probably one of the hardest way of of killing wheats so they want to make sure that they're relevant and they want to keep adding fine layers of technology to make sure that their product their service is a key differentiator in that market and that many customers would be adopting their solution so i think you know the level of of focus on details is super super important when you're in an accelerator when you're trying to build your startup and making sure that you're relevant in that market whereas in the university itself you want to make sure that your program is relevant year after year if there is a new trend if there is a shift in programming language if there is a shift in technology you want to make sure you hop on that bandwagon early enough to where the talent that you produce is relevant to the market even even though it's the early days of that new trend something like that and so this this is one of the things that i see the least common between the two the two the accelerator and the university

Mohamad: that's a good speaking of shifts you have an interesting shift as well you shift from system administration it shifted towards project management and business management and consultancy then you shifted towards training and at your control at aws what made you take this shift what what made you like reach the position like okay i'm gonna start this new role i'm gonna dive into it and see if i can actually do this or not did you have these kind of thoughts

Nicolas: yeah so there's two things i i'm super super curious i i love learning new things right and i i love challenges as well so yeah that's that's the idea if if you're telling me uh this is you will not be able to do this in ten days and it's a topic that i absolutely know nothing about challenge accepted let's do it right um and one of the the ways that i'm exploring this outside of just it and work is in the kitchen i i i i love cooking this is a way for me to relieve stress and to innovate and to create new things by looking at different cultures different cooking styles that i probably never um have seen before or reproducing something that is in those fancy cooking books right making it look nice so the analogy is very important because when whenever you're in i t and you're you know let's say my first job as a web developer i met people that were in in so many different industries i was a web developer in a scuba diving shop right so this is a complete different world for me i didn't know anything about school dating i'm not that well ah you know holding my breath under water as well so you know many challenges here but i started meeting people that were working in it and that like me with cooking were using scuba diving to release their stress their pressure and then discover something new or doing something that soothes their mind and so i became more and more interested and i met some people that were in it and said okay what about working on on this particular project said okay but this is something that i don't know a little bit lot of give me about a couple of weeks and then maybe i could do that on top of what i'm doing today this led me into an interesting situation many years later where yeah i can say this i got in trouble in the us for working too many hours on a student visa and eventually had to leave the us because of that

Mohamad: so so wait a second you have abused your student visa

Nicolas: you have with a student visa in the us i think there's one specific student visa where you can work up to twenty hours a week i was doing maybe four times that because i was so curious and i was you know leaving the american dream at the time i was like okay i can do this i can do this and bit by bit the level of complexity became bigger and bigger and bigger and i thought well i can do anything really and then eventually um i started my own business there where i was discovering it and security through open bsd which is a bsd distribution one of unix like many people are going to hate me for saying this unix like distribution but really focused on security on all of these this world that i didn't know much about and so the goal for this was to get customers to pay for services like email or radio streaming services to where it would run on its own it would pay for the internet it would pay for the electricity the hardware adding more hard disks more ram things like that and it did at the end of this small venture um i had two fiber lines i had four servers and everything was paid for so very very interesting i had actually one fiber line one s dsl line this was my my backup line and static ips you know living the geek dream so to speak and um i i started a community called open bsd france you know a lot of things happened around that and then i thought you know if i do this then i can definitely do consultancy and start looking at different aspects of it be sort of like a a squeeze army knife of things right learning one thing led to another but the idea was not to be able to just scratch the surface but maybe dive a little deeper because on some topics like virtualization that was upcoming and and becoming bigger and bigger you need to know a little bit more right you need to know how operating systems are working you need to know how cpu and memory usage is handled and so forth and how security is managed there as well so you know it small gos by small goals and adding layers of of of stuff on onto what i was doing initially led me to to where i am today it's basically i wanna say yeah following a goal that was getting more and more and more complex of becoming an advocate for it but not like the geeky guy right i wanted to make sure that i could talk to people that are doing business with it and where actually it is making sure that they can make money off of whatever they're selling and it worked it worked so i continued working on that up to a point where as i mentioned earlier i became a bit upset at facing the same problems and issues over and over

Mohamad: but that's life actually

Nicolas: well yeah yeah but i mean one of the characteristics that i have is that i i do it by passion i love what i do i could see it the way it's impacting it's touching every single sector in which it's used on good or on bad things right but definitely i love working with technology because it can solve many of the world's problem right now and um

Mohamad: but you hit like a certain plateau at a certain level

Nicolas: yeah

Mohamad: you reached a position like you're not moving any forward or any backwards you're just on the steady line like a couple of years he felt like okay maybe i should do something about this

Nicolas: yeah yeah it's it's the technology itself was i was still learning i was learning new programming languages i learned php not so proud of that one i learned python

Mohamad: yeah yeah it shouldn't be it shouldn't be with php you shouldn't

Nicolas: i learned pearl i learned shell i i i'm not an i t major by all means i only have an associate's degree in a network technician right so a programmer bit by bit you know getting up my game adding this layer again of technology to get there and at some point you feel like the more you add you're still facing the same problems and it's it's really making your ideal of working in it

Mohamad: oh that was nice

Nicolas: a bit of a nightmare to be honest when you start working backwards to go to to to work there is a slight problem so i had the luxury of of saying stop right now i'm gonna pause and take six months of just exploring other things cooking was one of them i wanted to start my own restaurant i'm so glad i didn't this industry is so more so much more savage than ours in so many ways but yeah ultimately uh i think this call from aws to do something in the cloud with the cloud is definitely one of the things that pulled me back in it and said okay maybe you have more to explore maybe there's another way of doing things and ultimately yeah there is more than one way of doing it for sure

Mohamad: so basically you're a veteran in the IT world

Nicolas: when things make sense or when you're trying to when you're trying to like it's like in program in programming when when you're building something and you're like there's way too many ifs in that statement you know it it becomes too complicated for you may want to stop and simplify right and that's those some things that i'm able to to to see whenever i'm working on an app or whenever i'm working on on whatever i'm i'm doing and i think this is definitely the way to approach our it problems to be to be honest

Mohamad: so you have this extensive the experience in the cloud field like you've been working as an it also worked at aws is there like a certain thing to start focusing on when starting on the cloud or what startups should start thinking of when going on the cloud especially on aws

Nicolas: i think the first thing that you should say is that the cloud is the limit right whatever the cloud can do uh i can't do sorry and there's very to that the cloud can do today even back in the day when i joined aws you could still get your way around doing things was a little bit more complicated but you could do it yeah basically putting the limit as high as possible that's one of the first things that you may want to do um because if you limit yourselves then you're not going to be able to produce something that's relevant the second thing that i is important is that start with a small problem um i'll give you an idea when i moved here in bahrain so i told you we love i love challenges ah my wife had given birth the december prior to that to twin girls right and when we moved to bahrain they were three months old then

Mohamad: that's quite of a challenge

Nicolas: yeah for her definitely i'm super grateful to all of this time and dedication that she has given to growing them the way they are today she's done way a lot more than i did and yeah yeah super grateful of that um but when we started and when she was staying home basically taking care of the kids to where they get to a point where they can start going to school which was last year the first year where i actually went to school there was this uh lady that came in and helped her with cleaning the house and we noticed that the lady wasn't doing like let's say it was not a nine to five job for her she was work coming in at nine and then eventually leaving later or eventually coming earlier and leaving later and i didn't feel um com comfortable in giving her the same amount of money that if she was doing a regular nine to five you know to the dot and so i used one of these aws iot buttons and i told her you know when you come in you press this button and when you come out you press it twice it was like why do you want me to do this i told her you know trust me do this and and you will see there will be a difference uh towards the end of the month said okay and you know again as asked she started to press this button once when she came in and twice when she got got out of the house and so what this what this button was doing was to launch lambda function store the time she was coming in on dynamodb and store the time she was living in dynamodb it was also using s ns to send a notification to my wife's phone and my phone to understand you know she's here in the house so if you hear some noise don't freak out this the lady is here and she's she's helping you with the with the cleaning and eventually at the end of the month i noticed that there was a delta of maybe five hours so across the month that's me you know little bit by a little bit it was delta of five hours on top of what the hours she was doing and so i told my wife look there's five hours on uh more than this more than we're paying her so we're gonna pay her a little bit more for the five hours in that way it's fair and she was like oh wow this is so cool just because i pressed the button and i said no no no no the button says when you press once you come in when you press twice you leave the house so i know and you know i count the hours that you are working the real hours that you're working and she was surprised because you know our small button can do all of this right and at the end of the month eventually there's another lambda function that runs a report i get it via email there is the calculation done i know exactly how much i need to pay her so it was a very simple pain point right trying to fair uh to to this young lady that came and help us with the cleaning and make sure that uh i was doing something to bay her according to the amount of hours that she was working and it took me probably three days most of the time was to get the button shipped to bahrain and then i think it was one day worth of time to build the lambda functions and fill the dynamodb table test a few things and what up that was done

Mohamad: you have a startup idea

Nicolas: but i mean that maybe

Mohamad: let's be realistic it's it's a finished system

Nicolas: it's it

Mohamad: you can package it and start selling it

Nicolas: you could start definitely something with that but it i mean to me it was a simple problem and i think it's for anyone that's trying to do something in cloud and start working you way up your skills ideally start something small you you have a problem like this a pain point like this try to solve it try to solve it and maybe point the needle at doing it in the most cost efficient way or in the most precise way or in the most scalable way whatever you want to you know to do that's the idea and then and stop building it right i spent probably uh probably like thirty dollars to get the button shipped and the rest of it was within the free tier of aws so i didn't pay any abs charges the only thing was this this button that whenever you press it runs a lambda function i think even with the text messages there is like a small limit that you can send which is included in the free chair so ultimately again placing the limit high enough to where it's not a boundary to you and the second one is try things try as much as you can there is programs there's trainings there is credits for attending certain sessions that are done online for aws there is free uh certification prep sessions that are online on demand as well there is a lot of ways for you to start exploring things and building something or good idea to build something in the best of ways and iterating is also a great way of making sure that you're not stuck on maybe a not so performing vision of things you want to make sure that uh you give it a try and maybe trying something completely different like this time to live on dynamodb records we spoke about earlier this is something completely different that does the job technically but in real life not so much and it's good to explore these things because sometimes you will eventually fail but you learn from these failures and that's a thing that's very very important in it very very important

Mohamad: so it's about learning new things and try to solve problems in your day to day life

Nicolas: definite

Mohamad: should i should i have like like certain certifications to when i want to solve those kind of problems or they're just like nice to have things to boast around

Nicolas: and there's three important things to know about certifications so the first one is that certifications validate your knowledge right let's say you have an aws solutions architect professional certification it means that you know you're at at least the entry level for that certification that we recommend is two years of experience hands on experience so this is what it says to your employer if they know the value of those certifications or your future employer this particular individual has a certification that is vouchering for about at minimum two years of experience hands on experience if not more with that certification you're able to do abcd and if it matches your your job description then you know good for you you have more chances of getting that job the second point is that i think in the us if you get the solutions architect associate certification the entry salary for that for that particular certification is about a hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year that's a lot of money right and and it's just one certification that costs a hundred and fifty dollars and it validates that you have about six month to a year of hands on experience if i'm correct if you're looking at know kick starting your career and and getting to a job that uses aws if you want to feel relevant or be relevant to that position i think this is a way to validate and and show that you're actually the person for that position right so those are like the two first important points and then ultimately aws certifications from when i started till today there's a whole lot more there's one that is specialized on machine learning there's one that came out not too long ago that's sap on aws right there's so many ways that can say you know i'm an it professional i know cloud and i know cloud very well for this particular specialty so again it's about what you're trying to accomplish if you're trying to showcase that you have the knowledge of course go for the certification show that you have the knowledge and maybe give back some of that knowledge into the many of the open source programs that are leveraging cloud technology today the second objective would be i want to get that job but i know that job requires the second objective would be i want to get that job but i know that job requires skills and i'm not sure i have all of them skills and i'm not sure i have all of them but i know for sure that if i have this certification the employer will really consider my profile and that's that's also one of the main reasons to get the certification and then i guess the last reason which is not very often explored is that when you get the certification you're able to join a community on linkedin and that committed in aside from talking to like minded or like skilled individuals it also is a great pool of talent for companies to start poaching at and looking at oh maybe i want to hire someone that is specialized in this or that and certification vouchers definitely for that but don't wanna say it's nice to have thing a nice to have thing is a poor sh nice to have thing is an island owning an island an important to have thing is is you know in today's standard by today's standard is to have a job and if the certification is your key to that job then you go for the certification make sure you choose the right one to you know that aims towards what you want to do in life and you can always add more specialties there's some people

Mohamad: definitely

Nicolas: that are like fifteen out of fifteen certifications from aws they have all of them and those are great advisors when it comes to startups when it comes large enterprise large companies or companies in general in their journey to the cloud and their transformation

Mohamad: yeah i know you mean for example i have four certificates from aws i'm starting to start on the fifth one actually i have the solution architect associate the developer associate practitioner i have the data analytics specialty and i'm doing the database specialty which is quite quite interesting and the i was actually studying for the ml and i realized if i actually already know data analytics so it makes sense to start with the database then the ml the reason why it's because of the veteran guys will have fifteen certificates recommended this path

Nicolas: all right well i mean it it does make sense you're getting some of the some of the questions that are at some point crossing right those domains are closely related in some areas um but yeah i think once you start going with one and two three certification then you know you will start seeing trends in not in the way pardon me in the way we're asking questions but trends in in how those questions not interfere but step on each other's toes so sometimes there's domains that are very close one to another and this is a great way to to passt education there may be an a golden order of one after another for me i started with solutions architect associate then i think i went for the sis ups yes sysops then solutions architect professional then the developer which is devops engineer so i got all five at some point in time and eventually back in the day they were the validity of the certification was two years so you had a grace period at the end of the the validity of the certification to renew them and pass only a small amount of questions that was the difference between the old cert and the new and when you let that thing expire then you have to go and take the whole thing all over again

Mohamad: let's say for example if i have for an example solution architect associate i have like a grace period to recertify myself and the only thing i do is the difference of the questions between the old version and the new one

Nicolas: yeah that's that's the way it used to be uh in olders when there was only five certifications i don't know much if it's that today but i know that there's two way uh three ways of getting your certification if i'm correct the first one is to actually pass the entire certification when it expires you you know take it over or if you have an associate and a professional you can renew the professional renews the associate and then the third option would be that to pass only the amount of questions that were different from the previous version to the new version i'm not sure if that last point is still valid i would explore that so favorite website aws amazon com and there may be in the fau there question related to renewal or maybe questions related to renewal

Mohamad: i' gonna end on the last question actually which is yeah you've worked a lot ma don't you just like face burn out?

Nicolas: well when i was to be honest this is probably the first time and the only time i will say this but um when i was in the training team doing this eighty percent of the time traveling was just exhausting me from a professional perspective let me give you an idea of ideal week at the time uh monday in tunisia to do a training for about three hundred students uh tuesday in london to do a uh one day session as well and then the rest of the in germany to do a three day session for a private customer in some cases you know but back when i when when i was doing this i had my first child my son he's now almost twelve but he was very little and i didn't see him much right: so whenever we're was the weekend i was trying to spend a lot of time with him that's i think one of the other advices that i can give you work is important but it's not vital there are some things that are more important than work that will if you let that balance slip too much in one direction or in the other led to fatal things happening like burnout for example or you know you leaving the company because you don't recognize yourself in the load of work and the appreciation i think amazon or aws is great in that sense is that whenever i started to feel that feeling of uh of burnout my manager at the time gave me sensibly a lot less work right i wasn't doing so much traveling um there was a clear decline in workload where i was doing lot of on site sessions in the office of aws in france and maybe sessions around paris where i was living at the time so they've been really trying to help in making sure that we don't get in that spiral of being burnt out but again i do this with passion so i put the bar really high um whenever there is something to do organizing user groups delivering a training in india participating in reinvent and scoring back to back solutions architect associate and solutions a architect professional i'm all done for it this is some of the the the most fun moments professional moments that i've had in my life so yeah as long as i i'm having fun at work as long as i'm enjoying myself and innovating and learning new things um yeah that placing that limit is super hard but it's vital so much like spending time with your family and this is something that you have to learn to do and it's different for everyone i'm sure your limit is different than mine and and will be from somebody else so yeah i think this is something that you need to address on your own maybe going in the middle of the desert in algeria and give it a thinking

Mohamad: also yours you actually said about cooking

Nicolas: yeah yeah definitely or cooking finding some way to vent right um i found a couple of my my peers that were in aws one of them took he woodworking as a as a side gig just to make sure that he would do something uh because he felt like whenever he was building something in the cloud he couldn't touch it or feel it right so he needed to build something that he could be proud of much like the things that he builds in the cloud but touch and look at on a daily basis right there's very little cases where you look at an aws architecture on a daily basis maybe it's your project but building a bench or you know things with your hands is also very important so yeah side gig is a great way uh of venting if you have family friends see them regularly it would prevent burnout and and talk to

Mohamad: what i do i just like sit down like a small space i read some books on my kindle i read a lot of books by the way i have like a fifty two per year mark that i always do so it's a book book a week actually

Nicolas: nice

Mohamad: i journal i journal all my days down i've been doing it for three years so all of those adventures that i have let's say at work i document them down i go back to them i just like laugh on those days that i actually stuck on something and i solved it later on i have like a stack of notebooks i like to take my my time when i write it in a fountain pen i filled the pen with using an ink bottle i live the dream

Nicolas: it's like a ritual kind of thing right

Mohamad: yeah just my way of venting out for example

Nicolas: yeah know these things are not spoken often about but you know uh you have also to be able to count on your employer to to understand that you know you're going through something in particular if it's burn out it's important because it's it's also about your future and the company or your future in this domain in particular being able to continue doing it for a living

Mohamad: but the problem is some people just like suck it up and say like okay i'm fine just to not cause this kind of like confusion with the employer that they don't want to show that they're kind of struggling sometimes

Nicolas: you shouldn't be afraid of of discussing with this with your peers or your manager because it affects your performance at work and your personal life it affects everything so you want to make sure that you know you maintain this equilibrium between you know life and work life balance um you maintain all of that it's it's healthy but again it depends who you have on the other side of the the table who you're talking to what how how deep is this issue that is happening again those things that we talked about cooking woodworking writing a log of all of these experiences all of these memories that you have from specific events is a great way a great uh therapy for for that some people do yoga some people doing sports in general or in particular there's many ways of doing that but it all comes down to that balance between the two personal and professional life the traveling part when i was travelling between france and or or luxembourg initially and the rest of the world i became super super good at traveling i finding the best flight to where the connection was good enough i was raking enough points to be able to do whatever i wanted in in the future um it was cost efficient you know is this is good a good skill to have but if i am not able to perform at work it's not going to be useful that much so either that work that i was doing right now or at the time sorry or that new venture that i would want to go into there is clearly not too many people talk about this this thing and it needs to be a little bit more mainstream open up about those experiences open up about how you're feeling about work if you're feeling tired or if this job is just way over your head talk about it there's no shame in doing that everybody is at one point or another of their life going through the same thing

Mohamad: got it and thank you so much nicholas uh it was a pleasure having you on the podcast

Nicolas: thank you thank you for inviting me again a pleasure for uh having this discussion with you i hope this gives a lot of insights on working in the cloud and going from web developer to startups

Mohamad: who knows i might become a consultant later on

Nicolas: who knows

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