Emily Shea


My blog on learning AWS cloud technology & building serverless apps 🌻

2023 in review

Personal Jan 01 2024

2023 has been a massive year. From getting married in Seattle in May to completing one year as a manager at Amazon, the experiences and milestones this year feel much more like three years jammed into one!

I've enjoyed taking some time at the end of 2023 to relax and reflect on it. I hope you are getting to do the same. Happy New Year! 💫

Jump to:
  1. Career
  2. Learnings from 7 years at Amazon and 1 year in management
  3. Speaking
  4. Personal projects
  5. Books
  6. Travel


I have always thought that my very first year at Amazon was the one in which I stretched and learned the most, but this year may just surpass it!

In fall of 2022, I had an unexpected but exciting opportunity to lead the Application Integration go-to-market team at AWS. While it helped that I've been doing go-to-market for serverless and integration services for several years now, management is such a different skill set and a daunting one to take the first step into. I set a goal for myself of completing one calendar year to see the full cycle and decide whether I enjoyed it.

Looking back at this year, I have learned so much. Stepping into a manager role has shifted my perspective on business strategy, pushed me to be more comfortable with productive conflict, and solidified my understanding of many things I've learned in my seven years at Amazon (more on these below).

I've also strongly felt the learning curve captured so well by the Dunning Kruger effect - from being overwhelmed by just how much there is to learn about management and leadership, to gathering experience through successes/failures and building confidence along the way.

It's been so helpful to me to have mentors and models with years of management experience, and to get to work with an awesome team on the coolest technology. I'm continually appreciative of the opportunities and the challenge that AWS offers. I'm ending this year out on a high note and have big ideas already brewing for 2024! 🚀

Learnings from 7 years at Amazon and 1 year in management

I mentioned that stepping into management helped solidify things I've been learning throughout my Amazon career. Here are a few of the biggest ones I've been thinking about recently. These are all in the context of Amazon, but the principles likely apply elsewhere, too.

Learning 1: Deliver results, communicate results

In my view, the most important ingredient to being successful at Amazon is delivering results - being a "get it done" kind of person where if you're given a problem, you quickly come up with a plan and reliably make it happen. You can learn any new technology or business domain, but this attitude is invaluable on any team.

The second most important step is being able to communicate those results. You can be doing amazing work but not able to share what you've done in a concise, data-driven way.

I recommend always being ready with a short summary the next time someone asks how things are going or wants to share what you are working on. Keep it short, four sentences max (since it's Amazon, you can always point them to a multi-page doc if they want to learn more 🙂). You should briefly describe your work, why it's impactful for customers, and your results so far against your timebound goals. One thing I often see missing is putting the results in context - are you happy with how it's progressing? Is there anything that you've learned or that's surprised you along the way? Help the reader know what to make of your results.

Here's a mock summary:

"This quarter, I'm working on an initiative to create reference architectures for customers building applications to manage moon landings. We heard from customers like Lunar Laboratories that they wanted AWS guidance on this topic, and we see an opportunity to help other customers in this industry. So far, we have published 3 architectures (50% to goal) which received 30 GitHub stars (120% to goal). While we expect to only reach 83% of our goal of publishing 6 artifacts this quarter, we are already exceeding our usage goal and have heard from customer Moon Marvels that the architectures helped them launch their application."

 Learning 2: Having opinions and ideas sparks productive conflict

When I first started at AWS, I was in awe of how my co-workers had such strong opinions around technology and business strategy and the intensity of discussions around them. In time, I've developed my own strong opinions, but my natural inclination is still to smooth out conflicts rather than stir them up. Taking on a manager role has helped me learn when conflict is productive and necessary and given me more exposure and comfort with it.

I also appreciated this book - I picked it up at the library because the title made me laugh, but it turned out to be a great read. It walks through examples of how disagreeing leads to better ideas, more effective teams, and stronger relationships.

This year I've observed that when there is a foundation of mutual respect for each other's intelligence and capabilities, disagreements are crucial to problem-solving.

How to Disagree

Learning 3: Find your focus

The awesome thing about AWS is there are so many interesting problems to go tackle. However, without focus this can be a distraction from what's most important (as mentioned above, delivering results). To help me, I write down 3 big things at the beginning of the year - I won't remember all the little things I did, but if I accomplish these 3, I'll feel it was a successful year. I keep these above my daily to-do list as a reminder. It can be easy to lose track of what's important but doesn't feel as urgent as daily tasks (more on important vs. urgent prioritization).

I also recommend finding a personal focus or "brand" to differentiate yourself. Listen for a customer challenge or an emerging trend that isn't being addressed yet. Once you've found one you're interested in, start learning, creating internal or external content, and finding other people working on it. You may soon find yourself the go-to person on that topic. Another great thing about AWS is that if you're going above and beyond, you will seldom be told, "stop doing that, that's not your job." There are so many unsolved problems, there is room for many contributors. You can never tell how you might use what you've learned or what opportunities it may open up for you.


I got to join the The Six Five podcast to speak about trends in application integration and event-driven architectures.

I spoke at re:Invent on getting started with serverless, this time joined by Naren Gakka presenting an Application Composer demo.

Personal projects

This year, I updated my getting started with serverless post (originally published in 2020) with new learning resources like the Serverless Learning Plan on AWS Skill Builder and service features like Step Functions Workflow Studio.

I added a small feature to my Chinese language learning application that I'm planning to continue building on top of. The app now tracks whether or not you've taken a daily practice quiz. I'd like to add the ability to track quiz completion over weeks and months and allow users to build up "streaks" of consistent practice.


I read 19 books this year (down from 25 in 2022). A few memorable ones were:

  • I Capture the Castle - I've stumbled upon some of my favorite books and authors from what's lying around at Airbnbs, and this was a great one to start the year with. It suited the moody January countryside perfectly.
  • Broken Horses - I love memoirs, and Brandi Carlile's was an incredible read. I picked this up as a souvenir from the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, but it was very cool to read about how she got her start in Seattle.
  • Vanity Fair - This one was more of a feat of endurance than anything else, but I had fun getting to know Becky Sharp!
  • White on White - A beautiful, atmospheric short read.


We got the chance to visit some beautiful new places this year!




The Mumbles, Wales


Bangalore to celebrate our good friends' wedding

Most importantly, Robert and I got married at our favorite Woodinville winery in May! 🥂

Happy holidays and happy 2024!


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