From Coding to Ultramarathons – A Leadership Talk with Jamie Duemo
Last month, Founder and CEO of FUTURE NOW, Peggy Kim, sat down with the Media and Entertainment Business Development Leader for Global Accounts at Amazon Web Services (AWS), Jamie Duemo—though Duemo shortened the title to “Worldwide Strategy Leader,” much easier to digest. In her role, she focuses on broadcast, streaming, and direct-to-consumer media at AWS, which was founded in 2006 initially to support Amazon’s internal technology needs, but has since become one of the largest hyperscale global cloud providers with revenues exceeding $62 billion in 2021.
When Duemo started her career in media, the cloud market did not exist, but she was bound to catch the technology wave. The seeds of Duemo’s career journey were planted when she received a radio cassette player for Christmas as a child. She fell in love with radio and would create and record her own ‘broadcasts.’ But, when she went to college at the University of Florida, she found a new love--television. “The equipment was cooler, the studios were a lot cooler,” she explained.
Duemo decided to study telecommunications, specializing in television production, and took part in productions for local sports and news shows as the master control operator, putting in graphics, closed captions, and monitoring feeds during the live programs.
Her first job after graduation was as a master control operator for Cartoon Network, though she would branch out into other things like baseball as well. “It was fun, especially when we did live events,” Duemo said, but it was definitely a stressful job.“Anyone who’s ever worked master control has the same nightmare where in your dream, you can’t get to your switcher to go into a commercial break…. Therapy! Make sure you negotiate therapy when you sign up for that role,” she joked.
After five years at Cartoon Network, Duemo moved to Discovery Communications as QA Manager and Technical Project Manager, and then, a few years later, onto one of Discovery’s vendors as a technical director. She has steadily advanced in technical solutions roles, working at many companies over the course of her career and never staying in one place too long.
She didn’t plan to pursue a career in technology and didn’t have formal training as an engineer or coder. But each open door led her to where she is today, a global leader at the intersection of tech and media, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Give it a try, figure it out, and you usually will” has always been her philosophy, and it has served her well.
She would love to see more future leaders pursuing careers in media and tech. “One of the challenges is that when people hear ‘media and entertainment’ they only think of the creative side,” Duemo lamented. “There are so many other roles that are there, which is why I’ve had so many roles…there’s sales, program management, project management, marketing, event management, software engineering, web designer, graphic designers…these are definitely hot roles that are paying twice as much as the conventional roles of being a producer, being a writer.”
Even if it may seem daunting to pivot to technology, skills are transferrable. Duemo shared that if one has managed a team in any way, one can become a project manager, and from that, one can apply those skills to another technology-oriented job, and so on. Plus, there are many bootcamps out there to learn technological skills, and organizations like Women in Tech and Girls Who Code provide free courses.
For Duemo, it was a lot of reading manuals and punching buttons at two in the morning. But, she encouraged the audience to read, Google, and directly reach out to those with knowledge in order to determine the area that best resonates with them—whether it be software development, architecture, or software architecture, and go from there.
“Just start asking questions… People are inherently phenomenal at sharing knowledge,” Duemo said. “You’re never going to make a wrong mistake. Knowledge is knowledge is knowledge.”
Not only has Duemo taken a hands-on approach to her education in tech, she also does the same with the teams she leads, always making sure that she can also perform the tasks she asks of her employees. “When a leader can do it,” she explained, “it’s immediate trust… Not only can I do the work with them, I’m also there to invest in them so they can move on to something beyond that.”
Duemo loves to learn new things, both about technology and leadership. She cites Gimlet Media’s StartUp as one of her favorite podcasts and Ben Horowitz’s What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business as a book full of sage advice. Most of all, however, Duemo emphasizes the importance of failure, and of owning up to and learning from your mistakes.
Some of these lessons have come from outside of work. Duemo is an avid athlete. She has competed in multiple marathons, Ironman triathlons, and even ultramarathons. “It’s the challenge of it. It’s the fact that you got to the end of something,” she explains. Even though an Ironman triathlon—or learning how to code—may seem impossible, “you just start with a step, and then the next one, and the next one.” Standing still, whether professionally or personally, can be deadly. “Inaction is one of the worst things we do as humans,” Duemo said. “At the minimum, just start.” Failure is only a steppingstone.