An Industry-Facing Master’s Program Leads to Career at Amazon Web Services
Sonia Mahankali worked at manufacturer Kennametal after completing her undergraduate mechanical engineering program at Acharya Institute of Technology in Bengalaru, India. Early on, she knew she wanted to be in tech. “I saw a lot of skillset gaps in the contemporary workforce and wanted to fill those gaps,” says Mahankali. She decided to take the plunge to pursue a Master of Science in Information Systems at Northeastern University’s College of Engineering based on the program’s incorporation of modern tech problems, mentoring, and industry co-ops. “A lot of master’s students have to start fresh after graduation, which is very stressful. For me, it was great to graduate and know I would have a job.”
After arriving at Northeastern, Mahankali selected coursework in network structures and cloud computing, web design, user experience and user interface, and business analytics. “You can try different courses to find your interests, and there is a lot of freedom to choose what you want to do.” In her cloud computing course, she worked on real life industry problems. “The assignments we got every week were applicable to real problems and prepared me for my current work at Amazon Web Services.” Mahankali mentions her frequent walk from Curry Student Center to Snell Library with a Starbucks coffee to drink and a cloud computing problem set to solve. “At Snell, I could stay as long as I wanted and study.”
She mentions Maricla Pirozzi, director of the multidisciplinary master’s co-op program, as a positive influence on her Northeastern University experience. “I took one of her courses, and she was highly supportive of my interests.” Later, Mahankali returned as a speaker to one of Pirozzi’s classes to talk about effective communication at the workplace. “It was an interactive class. I think a lot of times people were very focused on how they would be perceived at the workplace, so I shared that a lot of the work that you do is focused on the team or customers, not everything is on you. Every time I have meetings with my manager it’s about the customer. I wanted people to come out of the student mentality of grades and realize that the industry focus shifts from you to your work.”
Mahankali found a co-op that was customer facing from day one. She joined a team for the cybersecurity company Appgate as a sales engineer working with customers to meet their cybersecurity needs by helping them deploy the Appgate client on various cloud platforms. “I was jumping right into it.” Her team was remote, with colleagues across the United States including her manager in San Diego. Her manager visited Boston to work with her and made sure that she could meet her team by attending trade shows and conferences out of state in places like Washington, D.C., New York City, and Las Vegas. “He wanted me to have a team bonding experience.” Las Vegas was the host city of the Black Hat Briefings conference on cybersecurity. “It was my first time at Black Hat, and I didn’t know what to expect. It was like a party, but everyone was having these interesting tech conversations.” After graduating from Northeastern in 2020, Mahankali received a full time offer from Appgate and rejoined her team for a year before continuing to her longtime dream job at Amazon Web Services. She’s still in touch with the friends she made at Appgate, recently wishing one a happy birthday.
When Mahankali started at Amazon, she began their six-month crash course known as TechU, which covers all AWS domains, such as networking, security, databases, storage, and more. The program practices with real use-cases to be ready for customers in her new role. As a technical account manager, she is the single point of contact for assigned customers. She works with Enterprise Support customers to help with their specific business outcomes and provide technical expertise and best practices. “They always have questions about different services. My goal is to provide guidance and support so my customers can get the best value out of AWS.”
Mahankali believes that the MS in Information Systems program is well-rounded. “You can pick different domains to get exposure within information systems and can combine tech courses with business courses. This wide-ranging experience is attractive for businesses. Northeastern prepares you with the intensive coursework and co-op to give your career a head start,” she says. Mahankali now resides in West New York and works at AWS in Manhattan.