On February 10, Amazon Web Services (AWS), a division of the e-commerce company, Amazon, hosted an information session and workshop for the upcoming tri-campus case competition that’s open to all University of Toronto (U of T) students.

The competition, known as the Cloudy Day Challenge, is a test run open only to U of T students, with plans to host a North American-wide sales competition in the near future.

Cloud computing consists of a series of technical and computational tools used to efficiently carry out computing services in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world. This includes providing servers, software, and analytics, among other resources.

The host, AWS, is an independent department within the Amazon ecosystem, which manages the cloud computing resources for the rest of Amazon as well as its own clientele. It enables technology entrepreneurs to use its resources on-demand, like eliminating the need to pay upfront to start a project.

Dev’Roux Maharaj, vice-president of external affairs at UTM’s Undergraduate Economics Council (UEC), is also a representative for Amazon. He explained how AWS is borne from one of Amazon’s leading principles: “fail fast and learn.” The essence of this statement can be seen in the flexibility and adaptability that AWS allows.

In particular, it gives allowances for failure by letting entrepreneurs adapt their resources to the demand generated for their venture. This has been popular with large organizations, leading to clienteles like Adobe, Netflix, lululemon, and Wattpad.

Fahd Gulzar, the AWS’ programs lead, led the information session held on February 10. He presented the Cloudy Day Challenge as an initiative of AWS Educate, the teaching branch of AWS, and spoke to students about the common skill gap observed in the current era of technology and automation.

“AWS Educate is our response to ensuring that people are employed,” Gulzar said during the webinar presentation. “People can’t apply [to jobs] because they don’t have the competencies and the skill set.”

AWS Educate provides courses in various streams of interest, imparting the skill sets required to effectively utilise the more than 165 tools that AWS has to offer. Gulzar emphasized the necessity of this bridge to competitive job opportunities in order to “stay relevant in the future.”

Aside from simply offering courses, Gulzar explained, AWS Educate provides students with credit which can be put towards paying for its resources. This is because while the courses are free, the resources are charged, so earning credits from learning the required skill sets allows students to try their hand at actively engaging with the same tools as large corporations.

“When you’re using AWS, you’re using the same tech that […] our developers are using in Amazon, to develop the next Kindle, Alexa, you name it,” Gulzar said.

This desire to push for active engagement with up-to-date technology is what bore the Cloudy Day Challenge, Gulzar stated. The challenge itself involves choosing a social issue to address and developing a business model with AWS technology integrated within the solution. Teams consist of three to five members, who can register for free through agorize.com.

They had until February 28 to create a 10 to 15-slide PowerPoint explaining their social issue and demonstrating a viable solution that takes into account the geographical location and scale of the issue, among other logistical concerns. Special emphasis is placed on choosing corporate partners for the business models developed.

Five shortlisted teams will be contacted by March 7 to prepare their pitch, which will be presented on March 18 at the Amazon Canada headquarters on King Street West, Toronto.

These teams will be present in front of AWS executives as well as leaders in the tech industry and will receive a chance to network with recruiters from Fortune 500 companies. The winning team will also receive a mentorship at AWS, AWS Educate credits, and interviews for internship and job opportunities at AWS.

AWS encourages students from all backgrounds to participate, as certifications from AWS Educate demonstrate invaluable skill sets and experience.

“Quite practically speaking, the future is here,” Gulzar said as a wrap-up to the information session event, reminding students of the imperativeness of adapting to the rapidly changing job environment.

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