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AWS Public Sector Immersion Day in Seattle on May 2 at the AWS Skills Center

On May 2nd, Tech Reformers and AWS hosted a Public Sector Immersion Day at the AWS Skills Center in Seattle. The audience that filled two adjoining classrooms included representatives from school districts, a conservation district, a public utility, a city, and others from EdTech and commercial sectors. They all came to learn about how Amazon Web Services is used in the public sector.

Skills Center Exhibit

Despite traffic and a 9:00 am start, we began promptly with an introduction from Tech Reformers. Maria Petrova from AWS then briefly introduced the Skills Center and its mission. Participants later got to spend time with the exhibits at the Skill Center. These exhibits cover robots, machine learning, internet of things (IoT), gaming, and space. AWS Skills Center Seattle is a free training center for anyone in the Seattle community who is curious about cloud computing and future job possibilities in the cloud. The center is designed to help people with little to no technology background.

Security on AWS

John from Tech Reformers started the presentations with Getting Started – Security and Architecture. It began with the drawbacks of using the root account created with the email address from the account setup. From Identity and Access Management (IAM), we moved to AWS Organizations and AWS IAM Identity Center. We covered the advantages of a multi-account architecture and using Single Sign-On (SSO). The presentation wrapped up with adding security, governance, and compliance controls with Control Tower.

Next, Venkat, an AWS Solutions Architect, dug more deeply into Advanced Security Features that should be considered when architecting an AWS infrastructure – particularly a multi-account architecture. He started out with Guard Duty, a threat detection service that monitors your AWS accounts for malicious activity. Guard Duty then delivers security findings for visibility and remediation. Venkat then went on to give an overview of Security Hub, which centralizes and aggregates security alerts into a single “pane of glass.” He showed how it helps with overall security posture across all AWS accounts under governance.

Venkat presenting

Hands-On Lab – Elastic Disaster Recovery

No Immersion Day is complete with a hands-on lab. Muni, another AWS Solutions Architect, led the lab Disaster Recovery on AWS. AWS Elastic Disaster Recovery (AWS DRS) minimizes downtime and data loss with fast, reliable recovery of on-premises and cloud-based applications using affordable storage, minimal compute, and point-in-time recovery. There was a lot to cover here, and the group did a great job (especially coming in with different skill levels and experience with AWS). In the end, we recovered two servers in a new region with literally the push of a button.

Immersion Day classroom with students. View from back of the room.

Visit to The Spheres

No visit to Amazon HQ1 is complete without a trip to The Spheres. Amazon describes it as:

A space to think and work differently, surrounded by nature and the wellness benefits it provides. The Spheres are a result of innovative thinking about the character of a workplace and an extended conversation about what is typically missing from urban offices–a direct link to nature. The Spheres are home to more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions of over 30 countries.


We headed there in two groups. Since The Spheres is an Amazon office space, it is generally not open to the public. Visitors must be accompanied by an Amazon employee, who can escort as many as six guests.

Group of attendees posing at the top of The Spheres
interior of The Sphres
The Spheres as the sun is setting.

Finished Up With Desktop Computing and AI

We finished our AWS Immersion Day with two areas of interest in the public sector: Desktop Computing in the cloud and Generative AI (Gen AI). After briefly discussing AWS Workspaces and AWS AppStream 2.0, we heard from attendees how they use App Stream in their environments. We passed around the new WorkSpaces Thin Client.

Muni teaching Gen AI

It was too bad we didn’t have more time for Gen AI. After hearing a little about what attendees are doing with Gen AI, Muni did an excellent overview of the concepts and introduced Amazon Bedrock. AWS is holding another Immersion Day in Seattle on June 7 that will dig deeper into Bedrock.

Be sure to sign up for our mailing list to learn more about our upcoming AWS events.

AWS Public Sector Immersion Day in Seattle on May 2 at the AWS Skills Center
cpu types

When I was studying for my Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology at the University of Rio Grande I had in-person classes and I recall us visiting server rooms in the college to see in person what we were learning about in class. Seeing something tangible in person can help improve engagement and understanding of the topics. This can help with cloud architecture as well.

When teaching (and learning) about concepts related to cloud computing, an area of struggle is not having that tangibility factor when we are learning about concepts such as Regions, Availability Zones, Subnets, and IP addresses as fundamentals. Learning about cloud computing concepts requires a lot of analytical processes. In my classes, we use multiple resources such as documentation, labs, blogs, podcasts, etc. I believe that even in highly analytical areas, there’s a place for creative learners who learn best via visual representation and creation.

Options for the Visual Learners

AWS documentation and labs provide schematics to give a visual aid of how VPCs provide AWS customers a segmented portion of the AWS cloud services to build in. To develop a good understanding (and not just regurgitation) of the relationship between these foundational topics I have my learners draw out the schematics using pen and paper. We go through the process of drawing out and labeling (labeling is important) the structure in the schematic. 

A great example of this can be found in AWS Educate.  The short video below describes how I have my learners spend time developing an understanding of the infrastructure they will be building in a lab assignment. If you don’t have an AWS Educate yet and aren’t sure how to start, check out our article Create an AWS Educate account in 10 Minutes.

Reviewing Schematics to Improve Understanding – Watch Video

Drawing out the infrastructure by hand is great for building cognitive skills and understanding of concepts. Using digital drawing tools can take the visual learning experience to a new level.

How to Create a Digital Drawing of Cloud Architecture

After practicing manually drawing out the schematics, I encourage my learners to check out digital platforms such as Figma to draw out the schematics using AWS icons to build cloud architectures. There are a variety of other platforms that learners can select from at AWS Architecture Icons

The advantages of utilizing these digital platforms go beyond understanding the virtual infrastructure. In addition to developing and improving cognitive, using these platforms can provide the following benefits:

  1. Familiarity with the icons when they are not labeled. Larger infrastructure maps may not label all services.
  2. Creating layouts that can be used in presentations when communicating with others.
  3. A creative outlet to build use cases of services on services (sample shown below)
Sketch of CloudWatch alarm using SNS to send messages to subscribers. Created using Figma.

If you are new to cloud architecture, I recommend spending a little time before the lab reviewing the schematic (if provided). Review it, draw it out, label it, and build connections and relationships in the services. Pen and paper are great to start with, then challenge yourself by creating a use-case scenario and using Figma (or a similar service) to create a diagram using appropriate services.

Tasha Penwell photo. She write about cloud and Artificial Intelligence.

Tasha Penwell is an AWS Educator, Authorized Instructor, and a Certified Solutions Architect. She is also a subject matter expert (SME) in web development, cloud security, and cloud computing. As a speaker, she talks about AWS education and AR technologies.

Tasha Penwell image

We want to welcome and congratulate Tasha Penwell for recently earning her AWS Authorized Instructor (AAI) Certification. The AAI Program is a global program that supports instructors authorized to deliver the AWS curriculum. 

Who is Tasha Penwell?

Tasha Penwell is one of the newest Tech Reformers instructors and brings with her several years of experience as an educator. Tasha brings to Tech Reformers over 8 years of experience as a higher ed instructors teaching classes ranging from web development, data analytics, and cloud computing. She lives in Southeast Ohio with her husband and son. She loves to travel and hosts computer science workshops at her local high schools to introduce exciting new concepts such as augmented reality, AI/ML, and NLP (natural language processing). Her experience was made evident in her feedback from AWS after the three-day process which tested not only her knowledge of AWS services but also her skills as an educator. 

The feedback Tasha received showed her background as an educator and her use of tools such as Figma to help build visuals and to provide communication and explanation on specific AWS services such as the global infrastructure that supports AWS to specific services such as DynamoDB, API Gateway, and Lambda

Tasha was also recognized for her ability to go the extra mile to follow up with learners who had questions that were not answered or explained fully during her 20-minute presentations. She went above and beyond by providing not only supplemental links but using Loom to record her review of the links and resources she shared to ensure that the learners had the information they needed.

Additional Facts about Tasha Penwell

  • Led the creation of one of the first AWS Academies in the state of Ohio
  • Inaugural AWS Educate Cloud Ambassador
  • She’s a frequent blogger for us sharing great resources and tips
  • She is an Associate Solutions Architect
  • Her areas of interest are cloud security, AI/ML, and augmented reality
  • She is a Snapchat Lens developer and is presenting at Stir Trek in May

You can find one of Tasha’s recent articles about AWS Educate and other services below. If you haven’t checked out AWS Educate yet, we’d highly recommend checking those out. If you have questions about AWS Educate or her Computer Science Workshops, you can email her at tasha@techreformers.com.

Tasha will be teaching virtual classes in July 2023. Sign up here to receive an email and register for her next class!

aws educate sign-up form

In 2022, AWS Educate transitioned from a platform for high school and college students to one open to anyone. It allows individuals who are beginning their cloud careers to learn cloud computing skills at their own pace for free. You can learn more about AWS Educate in our article How Can AWS Educate Help Me Start My Cloud Career?

Creating an AWS Educate is free and relatively simple but sometimes, learners in my classes do not receive the email to finish creating the account. In this article, I’ll walk you step-by-step through how to create an AWS Educate account so you can start learning in a lab environment in 10 minutes or less. 

Follow the steps provided below or watch the video to create your free AWS Educate, complete with training, labs, and earning digital badges. 

progressive gif showing AWS Educate classes

Create an AWS Educate Account in 7 Steps

AWS sign-up graphic
AWS Educate registration form
  1. Go to https://aws.amazon.com/education/awseducate/ 
  2. Click on the Register Now button
  3. Complete the short form
  4. You will receive an email to Verify Your Email. (Check your spam if you don’t see it) You will go to a page confirming your email was verified.
  5. Go back to https://aws.amazon.com/education/awseducate/, but this time click on Sign in to AWS Educate.
  6. Enter the email you used to sign-up and click “Forgot Password”. This will trigger a password reset.
  7. You will receive an email to reset your password. Follow the steps and create a new password.

You’re in! Explore the courses and labs.


How to Create Your Free AWS Educate Account – Watch Video

key frame for AWS Educate sign up

Not sure where to begin? My recommended training plan if you are new to AWS cloud computing is

  • Introduction to Cloud 101 (Labs)
  • Getting Started with Storage (Lab)
  • Getting Started with Cloud Operations (Lab)
intro to cloud 101
Introduction to Cloud 101 (Labs)
getting started with storage
Getting Started with Storage (Lab)
getting started with cloud ops
Getting Started with Cloud Operations (Lab)
Tasha Penwell photo. She write about cloud and Artificial Intelligence.

Tasha Penwell is an AWS Educator, Authorized Instructor, and a Certified Solutions Architect. She is also a subject matter expert (SME) in web development, cloud security, and cloud computing. As a speaker, she talks about AWS education and AR technologies.

cloud market graph showing AWS with highest market share

Cloud computing is one of the fastest-growing tech industries in today’s job market. Synergy Research Group reported AWS still continues to hold steady as the market leader in cloud computing services. These services are Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and private cloud models.

Cloud Infrastructure Services Market

As an AWS Educator, I often try to prepare my learners that learning cloud computing skills is not a “one-and-done” learning experience. In fact, as I go through the orientation of resources and expectations, I ask my class to raise their hand if they are a lifelong learner. If they don’t raise their hand – they are in the wrong class and need to reconsider their career choice. Thankfully, the response is typically one where they all raise their hands and affirm they are in the class to start their learning journey with the cloud – but not end it there. 

Lifelong learning is where you take personal responsibility for your own continued education. As my sons decided what their subsequent paths would be after high school, I reminded them that it is up to them to go beyond what they learn in the classroom. I was a college instructor for eight years. I understand the challenges of what can be taught in the classroom. This is especially true in rapidly growing fields like technology. There are limits to time and resources that require learners to take more responsibility for their own educational experiences outside the classroom. A mentality to embrace lifelong learning is not optional in today’s day and age. 

AWS, not surprisingly, is well aware of the need for opportunities to help these lifelong learners. AWS is educating as many people as possible to become AWS cloud professionals. That is why resources such as AWS Skillbuilder and AWS Educate exist. 

What is AWS Educate?

AWS Educate was formed in 2015. The goal was to provide resources and hands-on lab experiences to high school and college students who wouldn’t have had access to the lab experiences otherwise. Initially, it was limited to individuals 13 and older who were in high school or college. This limited access required an application and verification process. 

In March 2022, AWS announced that AWS Education was going to be accessible to the general public, which I was thrilled to see. This expansion has allowed me to include this as a supplemental resource when teaching AWS Academy or AWS re/Start courses. AWS Educate continues to provide resources to help learners get started on their cloud journey without providing a credit card as you would need to with an AWS account. (It is important to note that the labs in AWS Educate are temporarily provisioned, which means work is lost and resources are terminated.) 

What are the Benefits of AWS Educate?

In addition to the coursework and hands-on lab experiences, AWS Educate also provides the following benefits:

  • Learners can explore recommended courses based on seven different topics: Analytics, Cloud Computing, Development, Machine Learning & AI, Network & Infrastructure, Professional Skills, Security
  • Learners can choose at what level they want to learn: Foundational, Intermediate, or Advanced
  • Learners only need an email address to begin using the AWS Management Console. 
  • An Explore option on the homepage features supplementary content, such as new courses, Twitch videos, blogs, and white papers.
  • Learners will be able to access a job board for AWS Educate learners

What are AWS Educate Badges?

One of my favorite features that I encourage my learners to utilize to start building their professional profile today is the badge opportunities. AWS Educate badges are not a new concept for the platform. They had them when it was exclusive for high schools and colleges, and I had many students who were motivated to go beyond the assignment simply because they wanted to collect the badges. This was when the Pokemon “gotta catch them all” game was popular, and they compared it to the same motivation. 

In 2022, when AWS Educate became offered as a public learning resource and not limited to targeted demographics of 14 – 24, the platform adopted a new look – which is what we see today. With the new look have come new badges to showcase. 

AWS Educate has seven different courses that, after successful completion, will award the learner with a badge to share this accomplishment on platforms like LinkedIn or with your current employer as evidence that you are focused and investing in your own education to grow in your career. 

The labs and badges available are diverse and include the following:

  • Getting Started with Databases
  • Getting Started with Cloud Operations
  • Getting Started with Networking
  • Getting Started with Compute
  • Getting Started with Storage
    • AWS DeepRacer Primer
  • Introduction to Cloud 101

You can see from the above list that the fundamentals of AWS cloud computing (Databases, Networking, Compute, and Storage) are provided. These are also specific lesson modules in AWS Academy’s Cloud Foundations course to prepare learners for their AWS Cloud Practitioner certification. To provide a more well-rounded educational experience and additional learning opportunities, I assign these labs to complete and encourage them to share their badges on their social media platforms (specifically LinkedIn and Twitter) and, if appropriate, provide a copy of the badge verification to their human resources departments and supervisor. 

While the ultimate goal is to prepare and earn their AWS Cloud Practitioner certification, smaller achievements along the way can help continue to motivate the learner to continue on their journey. Motivation tactics such as these badges can help propel the learners to continue on their journey as things get more challenging (because they do) when learning about the AWeSome world of AWS. 

Tasha Penwell is an AWS Educator and a Certified Solutions Architect. She is also a subject matter expert (SME) in web development, cloud security, and cloud computing. As a speaker, she talks about AWS education and AR technologies.

project tomorrow logo

Late in 2021, Project Tomorrow released a report, 2021 Project Tomorrow – iboss National K-12 Education Cybersecurity Research Study. Project Tomorrow is a nonprofit whose mission is to support the effective implementation of research-based learning experiences for K-12. This research points to how security and the cloud can shape student learning.

Researchers interviewed nearly 600 district administrators and technology leaders from a cross-section of school districts across the country. The results call for a national response for greater awareness and actions in K-12 cybersecurity. Most importantly, research showed that security is not the job of just the technology department. We need greater awareness. And, particularly, all district personnel, students, and families must act.

There has indeed been negative press on the effects of remote learning. Nevertheless, the pandemic looks like it cemented districts’ commitment to devices, digital resources, and internet connectivity. With this increased usage, the vulnerabilities of school districts have increased. We all hear the reports of ransomware, hacking, data breaches, and other cybersecurity incidents. They have hit school districts with increasing regularity.

The report findings do not reveal technical specifics for protection. Results offer areas of misalignment that need to change. Three key areas surfaced.

  • An effective cybersecurity plan must have shared responsibility across the district.
  • District leaders must reassess the approach to the management of technology.
  • Funding must increase for cybersecurity for both readiness and mitigation efforts.

Share Responsibility for Cybersecurity

The readiness of District Leadership to implement effective methods for protection or response to a ransomware attack or hack to district systems depends first upon the Superintendent. And his or her cabinet must have an understanding of their district’s vulnerabilities and response planning. Unfortunately, the study shows that there is a mismatch in the commitment across leadership.

Chart of Cloud adoption
Perceived use of Cloud

The pandemic showed that district staff needed to adjust their jobs to meet the needs of the moment. This change, or transformation, must continue. Tech staff may need to learn more about cybersecurity and the cloud and less about servers and copy machines. Teachers may need to address digital citizenship and online safety more actively.

Reassess Needs to Focus on the Cloud

Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud are widespread even before the pandemic. That’s only increasing. But Leaders need to ensure training on new technologies. Staff now should spend less time running a data center rather than running cloud applications. Staff to focus on this new landscape. Time is needed for practices and procedures to evolve. Vet SaaS and cloud providers to hone skills. Spend less time spent on, say, testing shrink-wrapped software.

Increase Funding for Cybersecurity and Cloud

Finally, the Project Tomorrow research points to the need for more funding for cybersecurity. These investments should go to awareness training, locking down vulnerabilities, updating security and student safety software, cloud adoption, and having a robust business continuity and disaster recovery plan.

Download the full report.