Kamal helps build the studio of tomorrow while empowering the next generation of Black tech professionals
The senior software development engineer talks about how he found his career calling and a community that feels like home at Amazon Studios.
Before becoming an Amazonian in 2016, Kamal Ibrahim was often the only Black engineer on his team or in professional networking groups. Shortly after onboarding with Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a software developer, Kamal joined the Black Employee Network (BEN), one of Amazon’s 13 affinity groups. He immediately felt at home.
“It was what I’d been looking for my entire career,” recalls Kamal, now a senior software development engineer (SDE) at Amazon Studios. “Until that point, I had worked with only one other Black engineer, so being suddenly surrounded by tech colleagues with similar backgrounds and facing similar challenges felt like being part of a community.”
The network is a valuable forum for Black Amazonians to share knowledge and learnings, build connections, and gain personal and career development insights. “BEN is the frosting on the cake of the collaborative culture here,” Kamal adds. “It’s a group of engineers who prioritize being there for each other.”
Finding confidence and camaraderie through shared connections
A passionate believer in the power of mentorship, Kamal has coached several junior developers via the Amazon mentorship program and formed other connections organically through conversations with other BEN members. Most recently, a former manager introduced Kamal to a systems engineer and Kamal then helped coach them through a successful transition to a software development role.
“In a field like engineering, where experimentation and failure are part of your day-to-day work, hearing from someone who has been in your shoes and can validate your fears or struggles makes you realize you’re not alone,” Kamal says. “And that does a lot in terms of building self-confidence and eradicating imposter syndrome.”
Mentoring in a remote work environment–where Amazon Chime chats have largely replaced desk-side conversations or coffee meetups–mentors must proactively and consistently engage their mentees to build rapport.
When Kamal joined Amazon, the company’s mentorship program was still in its infancy. As a result, he was never formally assigned a mentor. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t learned from his experiences on the other side of the table. His mentees have helped him stay up-to-date on tech trends and emerging disciplines.
“They help me understand the changing engineering landscape and identify areas where I need to strengthen my aptitude,” Kamal says.
This knowledge, in turn, keeps him on his toes and shapes his evolving approach to mentorship. “I teach a mentee how to solve a problem in the most efficient and effective way based on the current landscape and available technologies,” he says.
Supporting the next generation of Black tech leaders
Kamal’s experiences as a mentor have also powered his passion for supporting Amazon’s recruiting and hiring efforts. As an Amazon Bar Raiser, Kamal sits on interview panels as an objective steward of the company’s 16 Leadership Principles.
“As a mentor, I learn about themes junior developers are interested in,” he explains. “And that informs my approach to the interview process and helps ensure we hire the best possible engineering talent.”
The trust Amazon Studios has in its engineers truly lends itself to innovation.
Kamal also participates in biweekly BEN conversations focused on addressing hiring gaps with underrepresented communities and adding more minority candidates to Amazon’s recruitment pipeline. He also represents Amazon Studios at recruiting workshops and industry events.
His passion for empowering future Black tech professionals extends beyond his day job. In his spare time, Kamal dabbles in cloud-based video game coding alongside some of the children in his life.
“I’ve been interested in gaming since I was kid,” he says. “My work at Amazon has enabled me to experiment and create some cool content to share with my nieces, nephews, cousins, and other kids who may be interested in video gaming–which is a great introduction to computer science.”
Building a cloud-based studio of the future at Amazon Studios
The seeds of Kamal’s career journey were planted during a Java programming course at Carnegie Mellon University. “I fell in love with computer science, a bit accidentally because I initially thought I wanted to study physics before the early-morning class convinced me to switch majors,” he says with a laugh.
After college, Kamal took a short-lived business analyst job. “I quickly decided it wasn’t for me because I was barely doing any coding,” he adds. He switched gears and was hired as a quality assurance engineer (QAE)–a role that immersed him in enterprise software engineering and paved a path to Amazon.
After 18 months with Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Virginia, he relocated to Los Angeles for a job at Amazon Studios. Over the last five-and-half years, Kamal has supported several value-added product builds–from access controls for film and video production, to a streamlined system for theaters to download Amazon-owned content, to using machine learning to shorten the delivery cycle for Amazon Original series and movies.
“The trust Amazon Studios has in its engineers truly lends itself to innovation,” Kamal concludes. “We are building a cloud-based studio of the future capable of producing and delivering a series or film end to end–with many people working remotely–which means it’s an incredibly exciting time to be an engineer here.”