Amazon brings jobs and hi-tech skills to SA
Jeff Bezos's Amazon.com is on the hunt for talent in SA as it prepares to open its first African data centres in Cape Town.
During a visit to the country this week, the corporation's vice-president and chief technology officer, Werner Vogels, outlined big plans for the expansion of jobs, educational initiatives and technology roll-out in SA.
The thrust into Africa will be spearheaded by the company's cloud-computing arm, Amazon Web Services (AWS), which has had a development centre in Cape Town since 2004. AWS sets up its data centres in clusters, which it calls infrastructure regions, of which it now has 19 worldwide. The three data centres in Cape Town will comprise a new AWS region.
These, says Vogels, will drive innovation, speed up digital transformation and increase digital competitiveness across the continent.
"The new AWS region means more than just the arrival of advanced, secure computing hardware and services," he told Business Times. "It will also bring with it highly skilled, well-paid jobs to the local economy, and drive growth in cloud-technology jobs.
"The kind of roles AWS is hiring for includes data-centre engineers, support engineers, engineering-operations managers, security specialists, account managers, solution architects, partner-development managers, and more. We are constantly looking for top-quality candidates to join the AWS team in SA and around the world.
"Currently, we have dozens of open positions in SA, and we recommend people continue to look at the amazon.jobs website as we continue to add more roles."
The Amazon Development Centre in Cape Town, he said, already contributes to SA's technology community through supporting students.
"We are working with institutions such as the universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch to help train the next generation of cloud professionals through AWS Educate.
"AWS Academy is another programme, which provides AWS-authorised courses for students to acquire in-demand cloud-computing skills. The programme has attracted major academic institutions, including the University of Cape Town, University of Johannesburg and Durban University of Technology."
The educational initiatives are part of a broad-based strategy. Vogels was in Johannesburg to open the first AWS "Pop-up Loft" in Africa, running until March 29, offering a temporary, free co-working space where anyone can stop by to hang out, network, get technical advice from AWS experts or take part in a range of activities.
It's not charity: Amazon wants to show people how AWS can help to boost their business, in sessions covering a range of emerging technologies, from artificial intelligence (AI) to voice-controlled interfaces.
Nevertheless, the teams at the development centre take part in a number of philanthropic and charity activities, says Vogels.
Amazon supports organisations such as AfricaTeenGeeks, an NGO that teaches children to code; and several organisations focused on training girls and women in technology, including Code4CT, DjangoGirls, and GirlCode. Amazon engineers work with these and other charities to provide coaching, mentoring and AWS credits.
"In the education space, AWS supports the Explore Data Science Academy to educate students on data analytics."
Such initiatives are likely to expand once the data centres open with a vastly expanded workforce and skills range. Vogels says Amazon will continue to grow its investment in tandem with the expansion of its capabilities and customer base.
"We see great potential here and our investment will steadily grow, in teams to support our growing customer base, in infrastructure and services that power innovation, and in supporting the future of technological education through a variety of programmes and collaborations.
"The next ingredient is going to come from what we're enabling customers to do. We are excited to see what they will go and build now that they have AWS services on their doorstep, and I'm particularly interested to see the innovation come from Africa around AI and machine learning (ML)."
Vogels says the adoption of cloud services has been growing at an unprecedented pace in SA as businesses realise the agility, cost-saving and security benefits of moving to the cloud. It is almost ironic, then, that SA's embracing international cloud services has been the main driver of demand for a local presence. But it was also inevitable.
"Organisations across SA have been increasingly moving their applications and databases to AWS, and successfully running their technology infrastructure in our AWS regions around the world, especially in Germany, Ireland, France, the UK, and the US. [But] when you use a region in Europe, or the US, it means every time you want to access your application you need to do a round trip from SA to the destination server, and all the way back to SA again. This can be quite a large distance.
"Having data centres in the country means customer applications will experience a much faster response time. For your average person, it will mean the game they play will respond faster, and the video they are watching will load sooner.
"Bringing an AWS region to SA means our customers will be able to launch new services even faster, while leveraging advanced technologies such as AI, ML, Internet of Things, and mobile services, to drive innovation, speed up digital transformation and increase digital competitiveness."
The ultimate driver of local data-centre uptake, Vogels says, is that companies will be able to store their data in the country "with the assurance that their content will not leave SA unless they move it, while those looking to comply with the upcoming Protection of Personal Information Act or have data sovereignty needs will have access to secured infrastructure that meets the most rigorous international compliance standards".