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2017 The Amazon Think Big Challenge

The Think Big Challenge, Oct 2017

23 October 2017, Newnham College

Female graduate students from across the University of Cambridge interested in embarking on technology careers came together on 23 October 2017 to compete in the Amazon Think Big Challenge. The participants came from a wide range of backgrounds, including business, engineering, biotechnology and medicine.

The event, organised by the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School, Newnham College and Amazon, invited students from STEM disciplines at the University of Cambridge and current students at Cambridge Judge and asked them to work on  a real and current business challenge facing Amazon's customers. The team members collectively formulated ideas and crafted a solution by combining technology and business aspects, facilitated by top executives from Amazon.

The session was followed by a networking reception and dinner with Amazon executives, senior academics and participants.

Women are underrepresented in the STEM industries and we have worked since Newnham’s foundation in 1871 to address this. We are delighted to collaborate with CJBS on this annual initiative to highlight potential STEM careers for women and the Amazon Think Big Challenge was an inspirational activity for everyone who took part.
Keynote speaker Professor Dame Carol Black, Principal of Newnham College
Carol Black
The Think Big Challenge is exactly the type of collaboration we need between universities and corporations to address the challenge of improving female representation in the tech industries.This was a great opportunity for our students from diverse fields including basic sciences, engineering and business interested in careers in technology industries to work on real cases, get close mentoring from experienced executives from Amazon and equally importantly, to learn from each other.
Professor Sucheta Nadkarni, Director of the Wo+Men's Leadership Centre
Sucheta Nadkarni
15:30-16:00 Arrival and registration Lucia Windsor Hall
16:00-18:45 Amazon Web Services – Think Big Challenge College Hall
18:45-19:30 Reception College Hall
19:30-21:00 Dinner, keynote speech and awards presentation College Hall

Keynote speaker

Professor Dame Carol Black DBE FRCP FMedSci
Principal, Newnham College

Organisers

Professor Sucheta Nadkarni
Sinyi Professor of Chinese Management and Director of the WLC, Cambridge Judge Business School
Professorial Fellow, Newnham College

Kathryn Xistris
Amazon Web Services Professional Services for World Wide Public Sector across EMEA, Latam, Canada and Asia Pacific

Tracey Horn
Head of Corporate Communications & Marketing and Associate Director of the WLC, Cambridge Judge Business School

Jo Tynan
Communications Director, Newnham College

Pete Barlow
Account Manager, Education, Amazon Web Services

Matthew Briggs
Senior Manager, Solutions Architecture, Amazon Web Services

Ryan Chung
Solutions Architect Manager, Amazon Web Services

Norm Driskell
Director, EMEA - Public Sector, Solutions Architecture, Amazon Web Services

Anya Epishcheva
Senior Consultant, Advisory, UK Public Sector, Amazon Web Services

Josh Ho
Senior Business Operations Manager, Public Sector – Professional Services & Solution Architects, Amazon Web Services

Ed Jackson
Education Lead, UK & Ireland, Amazon Web Services

Helen Lyashenko
Software Development Manager, Amazon

Michael Miley
National Security Tech Team Manager, Amazon Web Services

Larry Pizette
Head of WWPS, US Account Solutions Architecture, Amazon Web Services

Kevin Pryor
Recruiter, Amazon Web Services

Joanna Szwajgier
EMEA Talent Acquisition Lead, Amazon Web Services

Zaheer (Z) Tanveer
Head of US Public Sector Professional Services, Amazon Web Services

Photos

View the photos on Flickr

Videos

Read the transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] The Think Big challenge is a really important initiative that is between Newnham College, the Wo+Men's Leadership Centre in Cambridge Judge Business School, and Amazon. This brings together young graduates who are all in the STEM subjects or studying business. And they will, with executives from Amazon, take real-life problems. And together, they will solve them, or attempt to solve them, for the benefit of the customer. So it is a real opportunity for young women to use their business skills, their entrepreneurial skills, and their science skills, and apply it to the real problems that business faces today.

This is an exciting collaboration between Newnham College and the Wo+Men's Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School to really help our students from so many different parts of the University of Cambridge to really come together and work on exciting cases and challenges, and really prepare them for tech careers. The overall energy, the overall enthusiasm has been really, really exciting.

And this year, it has been really great working with Amazon and the Amazon team, who have taken so much effort to come all the way here to really help our students, work with them on challenges, and mentor them. This is the kind of collaboration between university and corporations that we really need in order to tackle the big challenges of getting female representation enhanced in the tech industry, which traditionally has had a lot of problems in terms of getting women in the industry.

We've been very humbled and honoured to participate in the Amazon Think Big Challenge here at Cambridge Judge Business School in collaboration with Newnham College and the Wo+Men's Leadership Centre. It's been a fascinating opportunity this afternoon to share our time and coach and mentor these young, bright minds. We've been extremely impressed by the calibre of the presentations and the work they've done.

It's a very unique opportunity for us to coach and mentor young leaders like we've seen today and share with them the leadership principles at Amazon. They've all demonstrated think big in a very big way.

Hi. My name is Norman Driskell. I'm a director for the public sector across EMEA for Amazon Web Services. I've been delighted to be a judge for the Think Big Challenge this afternoon. It's been absolutely incredible seeing the sheer ingenuity and depth of thought that the students have been able to come up with. It far outstripped our expectations. And now, I have the task of judging. And it's going to be a very difficult decision.

So today, we have the challenge itself. And we split the candidates. We had about 35 candidates. And we split them into groups of five or six people. And I was working with a group of candidates who were looking at the possibilities of thinking big using Amazon Prime Air or drones as they call them now. And I have to say, the level of initiative, the innovation, thinking big, the creativity, thinking about what this could really mean for society and the number of lives saved was absolutely astounding. I was so proud to be part of it today.

The amazing Think Big Challenge was an amazing opportunity for us. I was thrown into a group with engineers, mathematicians, PhD students. And it was just wonderful to see how brilliant people could connect with each other and come up with creative ideas to change the world and to empower the world.

We got Alexa for our tech, which I think was very intriguing. And the way we could use Alexa for everyday problems was just-- it just happened naturally. And the knowledge level at the event itself, I think, was very nicely done, having amazing mentors to help us think through the leading principles, as well as having the support from Newnham College and Judge Business School to bring in the academic and business aspects of things was just a perfect mixture for us to brainstorm through the problems and arrive at world-changing solutions.

Hi, I'm Gladys. I'm an MPhil student in computer science at Newnham here. And I applied for this Amazon Think Big Challenge because I thought that it was a good opportunity for me, who have all the technical skills but none of the business-related experience. And I thought that this was exactly what I got out of the programme today.

I found that the challenge itself was indeed very challenging. But it allows us to explore the problems in that area. And I thought that that was a very interesting experience. And we got to collaborate with lots of people from different disciplines. And it was a very fun and educational day.

Read the transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi, I'm Sirada. I'm studying the Master of Finance at Cambridge Judge Business School, and I applied for the Amazon Think Big challenge for women, because personally I'm a technology enthusiast. I was an engineer before I switched to finance. So working in problems involving technology and innovation, it's very intriguing to me. And finding out about all of the cool things that Amazon is up to is really interesting. I learned a lot today, especially Amazon's way of approaching problems and solving customers' problems with its very customer oriented way was really interesting.

So in overall it's a very thought provoking challenge, because it gets me thinking out of the box, and get really creative on developing new business solutions or coming up in the services for Amazon where it's really great experience. I learned a lot from discussing with other ladies on the team, a lot of them from PhD background and a lot of them has great in-depth knowledge on technology, such as machine learning and AI. So I learned a lot from just working with people in my team already.

And I also learned a lot from the Amazon staff who coached us during the session as well. So then yeah, I just learned a lot about Amazon culture, as well despite talking and discussing with people in the challenge. So in overall it's really an intriguing experience for me.

Hi, my name is Serte, and I'm a master student in mathematics. I applied because in my master it's very focused on doing PhD, whereas I think that as a technology oriented or technical oriented student there's also a lot of interesting and innovative things going on in business. And I think Amazon is especially one of the most innovative companies, and I've found it really fun to work in a sort of-- on a creative project. But with people all of a technological background, so it was really an interdisciplinary mix of people who are all very technical skills.

So I think we got some very creative results. And I also really like to go over all the other people. So I got to know Amazon a lot better, I got to meet some very interesting people. So it's a very exciting experience and was great with how good a solution you can come up with in just a few hours and some preparatory.

The Amazon Think Big challenge was an amazing opportunity for us. I was thrown into a group of engineers, mathematicians, PhD students, and it was just wonderful to see how brilliant people could connect with each other and come up with creative ideas to change the world and to empower the world. We got Alexa for health tech, which I think was very intriguing. And the way we could use Alexa for everyday problems was just-- it just happened naturally. And know the analogy to the event itself, I think, was very nicely done, having so many amazing mentors to help us think to the leading principles. As well as having the support from Newnham College and Cambridge Judge Business School to bring in the academic and business aspects of Think was just a perfect mixture for us to brainstorm through the problems, and arrive at world-changing solutions.

I experience the great diversity in my team. There were people from different countries. Basically everybody was from different country. We had different ages, different backgrounds, different courses. So it was great to meet new people and to actually confront my ideas with their ideas, and to do something great with them.

Hi, I'm Gladys, I'm an MPhil student in computer science at Newnham here. And I applied for this Amazon Think Big challenge because I thought it was a good opportunity for me who have all the technical skills, but none of the business related experience. And I thought that this was exactly what I got out of the programme today. I found that the challenge itself was indeed very challenging, but it allows us to sort of like explore the problems of that area, and I thought this was a very interesting experience and we got to collaborate with lots of people from different disciplines. And it was very fun and educational.

Hi, my name is Adya Jha, I am studying an MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School, and it's been a very exciting experience getting involved in this Amazon Think Big challenge. I'm very excited to meet my colleagues from different parts of the University of Cambridge and to work with the employees of Amazon. It's been a great experience. I would totally recommend this. It's great to see that Amazon actually think about leaders, women leaders in particular, and for most women leaders to grow and develop their potential. So I'm very excited to be here. I totally recommend in this programme for the future.

My name is Carla Bonnet. I did an undergraduate in international relations and I'm currently completing a MPhil in Management at Cambridge Judge Business School. I'm also a Newnham College member. And I applied to this event because I've always had in the back of my mind a desire to maybe apply to a tech company when I graduate. And I don't have a technical background, and I was reluctant to apply because I thought maybe that was a barrier to entry.

And this event allowed me to understand that there is definitely a space for individuals that only have a surface understanding of technology and business strategies are a good way-- are a good background to break into the tech industry. I was also excited to apply to this event because I was reluctant to apply to a tech company because I thought it might be male dominated, and this event reassured me in a sense that I understood that there was a space for women in tech, that there is definitely an interesting feminine perspective that is needed today.

Some people see Amazon as an online store, but ultimately we are a global technology company and the attendees really embodied the Amazon leadership principles during this task. We are looking forward to continuing to work with our mentees.
Kathryn Xistris, International Practice Manager, Amazon Web Services
Photo of Kathryn Xistris, Amazon Web Services
All of the members from our team came from different backgrounds – we had six people in the team and we were from six different countries. We had a really productive time brainstorming our idea and how to present it. We didn't have conflict – we had negotiations. The input from the mentors was extremely beneficial and I'm so pleased to have had the opportunity to take part in such an enriching experience.
Swati Kalra, participant (Cambridge MBA 2017)
Swati Kalra

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