When Valerie Leong heard that a charity was seeking mentors for young persons with disabilities (PwD) to give them an edge in their careers, she did not hesitate to volunteer.

The AWS Education to Workforce program manager also called on two AWS colleagues - whom she befriended when they were all interns at AWS – to help out.

In three hour-long sessions spread over April and May this year, the trio worked with one student each. The program is run by TomoWork, a charity that equips PwD and special needs students such as those with autism or dyslexia, with business experience and skills.

Valerie’s job involves educating and equipping students with cloud computing skills. “When I was an AWS intern, I benefited from a lot of guidance and support. In a way, I am giving back to the community by mentoring other young people like me,” she said.

The AWS-TomoWork collaboration expanded in late September, with five more AWS mentors coming on board for the session.

The program involves mentors from other organizations and ultimately it aims to create employment opportunities for PwD in Singapore.

From tech opportunities to resume tips

During the three sessions, the mentors shared general career advice.

One of them, Tan Yew Jie, a program manager with the Singapore Public Sector Partner team, was speaking to a student who has an autism spectrum disorder.

Given his tech background, he shared with her about tech options that were open to her in her chosen field of study. He found out that she was taking courses in User Experience Design (UX) and User Interface Design (UI), which relate to how people interact with technology.

“She was keeping her options open and we had good conversations. I recommended available courses she could take, and advised her on how she could get more exposure to tech-related roles,” he said.

Yew Jie also helped her to go through her resume with a fine-toothed comb, so that it would better showcase her past experiences.

Mentoring has personal resonance for Yew Jie and it is something he strongly believes in. When he was in his final semester at Singapore’s Nanyang Technology University in late 2021, the accounting student started a mentoring program in the school that paired senior students in Years 3 and 4, with those in Years 1 and 2.

“It serves to help students who are unsure of their career path, and who might not be so comfortable with meeting mentors who are already working professionals. I found it a very meaningful experience,” he shared. “I hoped to do the same here, with those who are differently-abled.”

Amazonians standing in a group photo
AWS staff Valerie Leong, Ang Kai Hui and Tan Yew Jie volunteered to mentor the differently-abled in a program run by charity TomoWork.
Amazonians standing in a group photo
Valerie (right) with her mentee, Jemima Erin Miranda.
Amazonians standing in a group photo
Valerie (extreme right) with members from the TomoWork team that is organizing the program, and AWS partner solutions architect lead Lim Wei Wah (2nd from right) who introduced Valerie to TomoWork.

Receiving while giving

In the process of spending their time to help the students, the three AWS mentors learned a lot themselves.

“Mentorship is a two-way process. It was a little challenging to communicate with my mentee, especially over a virtual setting, but this gave me the opportunity to be an active listener and adjust my communication to her interests and passions,” said Yew Jie.

Valerie was impressed at how her mentee, Jemima Erin Miranda, was an advocate for inclusion, diversity and equity. Erin has a family member with special needs.

On her experience, Erin said, “I felt really comfortable sharing my struggles and my concerns when it comes to my upcoming university and career path, and she was also able to openly share with me her own journey from university to her role now in AWS.”

Valerie added, “Erin is a design student who is designing projects to educate primary-school students about special needs and how to interact with PwD, in order to create a more inclusive environment. I learned a lot from her. My advice to her was for her to follow her dream.”