In 2018, we noticed we had a problem: only 6% of our AWS certifications at Slalom were held by women.
During AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, our CEO Brad Jackson publicly challenged us to do better. Right there in Vegas, Project Ada (“Ada”) was born. Ada is an initiative, in partnership with AWS, to achieve gender parity in these certifications (it’s named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer).
Spoiler alert: we did it. By 2020, Slalom employees achieved nearly 1,000 new certifications—more than 50% of them by women—and over 400 of these certifications were earned through Project Ada.
We're proud of these numbers. But they're just numbers. The real meaning of Project Ada is in the human impact on individual women—what they've been empowered to do for themselves, for our customers, and to enable broader social impact in the world.
After all, providing technology education, inspiration, and opportunity for underrepresented groups is our social responsibility.
Professional impact, growing confidence
Project Ada has enhanced participants’ professional prospects, as well as confidence in their own abilities.
Participant Molly Darr, an engineer in Slalom’s Houston office, says, “Project Ada has inspired my personal and professional growth, because so many women in technology battle impostor syndrome, and I’m definitely not immune to that. Whenever those feelings of doubt creep in, now I have this tangible certificate that serves as I reminder that, hey, I earned this.” Darr is now certificated as both an AWS Cloud Practitioner (CP) and a Solution Architect (SA).
Completing the program was done in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a lockdown that sometimes exacerbated the pressures many women already face in trying to balance family and professional responsibilities.
Ingrid Myers, Ada program lead and director of Talent Management on Slalom’s Global People Team says, “Let’s be real, the systems we work within are steeped in bias. Much of the childcare responsibilities still fall to women.”
Rekha Ramanathan, a senior consultant in Silicon Valley, signed up for the program when she was 37 weeks pregnant. That was followed in short order by a car accident, a move from Seattle to California, and a health scare with her newborn (everyone is okay now). Yet, with the support of her team and the Ada team leads, Ramanathan was still able to get her certification—and expand her own concept of what she was capable. “Where there is a will, there is a way,” she says. “Stay positive, and you can reach your goals. More women power!”
This is precisely the right time to catalyze a program like Ada. We want our clients and communities to experience the same excitement—and create opportunities and real value for women everywhere.
Alice Chen, a principal in Atlanta and newly minted CP and SA, marvels at the women who “aced their 40-hour delivery work, did their family duties, and still carved time to learning AWS. They’re truly inspirational.” She also sees room for improvement: “I hope one day we will have dedicated professional development time.”
Susan Libby, a principal in Slalom’s Seattle office, hones in on some of the specific benefits of getting certified. “Some of the women in the program can now potentially pursue DevOps or CDS careers that would not otherwise be open to them.”
As for why Ada focused exclusively on AWS Cloud Practitioner and Solution Architect certifications, Libby explains, “Cloud Practitioner is a prerequisite for almost any other AWS certification, so that was an obvious place to start. Solution Architect is the next more valuable certification, in terms of the broad but deep AWS knowledge it covers.” Libby also highlights the importance of the Slalom-AWS partnership: “Cloud architectures, and specifically AWS services, are integral to so many of our projects that this was just a natural fit.”
Lasting impact beyond our own walls
Ada grew naturally out of a simple ideal shared by Slalom and AWS: Mirroring the diversity of our customer’s customer, results in better, more inclusive products. Training is an obvious and crucial step to getting there.
Alice Chen says, “Slalom set the long-term goal of achieving gender parity across Slalom, and reflecting the rich racial and ethnic diversity of the communities where we live and work. I think Project Ada is a great start for us to get closer to meet these goals.”
Ingrid Myers says of the wider effects of Ada, “I believe the impact is greater than what we can fully measure and is multifaceted. There are financial and social impacts that can last generations. This is precisely the right time to catalyze a program like Ada. We want our clients and communities to experience the same excitement—and create opportunities and real value for women everywhere.”
The vision is to expand the program to ensure all underrepresented groups have the access to technology skill-building opportunities inside Slalom. Alice Chen says, “I hope we continue to expand the program by enrolling more people from all diversity groups, making the offering to our clients and local communities.”
This idea is taking off, says Ingrid Meyers. “Some participants have shared Ada with our clients and the groundswell of interest is already percolating.” While the specific plans are still evolving, Myers thinks the sky is the limit. “I envision Slalom working with our partners and local organizations across to world to provide skills, mentorship, and opportunities. We could reach a half-million women in the next decade.”
While we strive to mirror our communities, this all started with us holding a mirror up to ourselves. Starting with humility and honesty, we’ve built something remarkable, with real and measurable impact. Many of the women in the program learned that they’re capable of making a bigger impact with their new skills—but so have we. And as CEO Brad Jackson says, “We’re not stopping here!”