Alumni Spotlight: Phil Anderson

By Chineme Obiefune (Q25)

As college students, it can be hard to imagine starting a new job right after graduation. Beginning a new chapter in our lives with new responsibilities is no small feat. Some people choose to stay in the area, others relocate to different parts of the country, and a courageous group of people dare to travel beyond the borders.

I recently spoke with Phil Anderson, a QUEST Cohort 17 alumnus, regarding his time with Amazon Web Services in South Africa. We talked about the work he does for Amazon, how QUEST helped him adapt to his new surroundings, and what he would do differently if he had the chance.

What exactly do you do for Amazon? 

I’m a software development engineer for Amazon Web Services. I was a Computer Science and Math major at the University of Maryland and now I work on their Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) product. I work with around 100 engineers and have a hand in the design and building process of the product. I also have a strong role in regards to talking with customers to better understand their needs and develop different features.

How did QUEST help you get your job?

QUEST was outside my comfort zone and gave me the chance to get involved with things I wasn’t completely familiar with. Working on uneven footing is something I quickly became familiar with, especially at Amazon. I initially worked at Amazon Seattle for a couple years out of college and QUEST really helped me get comfortable working in random environments with diverse people and cultures.

How has it been adjusting to the new environment in South Africa?

When I first got here, it was the small subtleties that shocked me initially. Working in an environment where everyone speaks Afrikaans and not English took some time to adjust. It was initially very daunting but after some time I was able to adjust and gain a better understanding of the culture. It was also interesting to see the impact that apartheid had left on the country. Seeing the impact on the culture was definitely eye-opening.

If you could do things over again, what would you do differently?

I would take things quicker. It took me about four years after college to move to Cape Town and in retrospect I shouldn’t have been so intimidated by the challenge of moving abroad. I should have been more confident in taking the new job and jumping into the deep end, even though I wasn’t entirely sure of it.

What words of wisdom do you have for fellow QUEST students?

 Follow what you want to do, not just the safe option or what you think others would expect you to do.

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