From the US Marine Corps to Big Tech: Take Aways from a Fireside Chat with Clayvis Rawlins, Software Engineer at Amazon


In August 2022, I had a wonderful opportunity to discuss with Clayvis Rawlins, a Software Engineer at Amazon, during Kibo School's Mentor Mingle. Here are a few key takeaways from our conversation.

Last week, six Try Kibo learners and I got to speak with Clayvis Rawlins during the Mentor Mingle, one of the components of learning at Kibo School. Clayvis is a Software Engineer at Amazon. Before joining Amazon, he worked as a Full-Stack developer and served in the United States Marine corps.

One thing that stands out when you look at Clayvis’s profile is how quickly he transitioned from serving in the army to working for a big tech company. Curious to know more, I asked him how he was able to make such a quick transition. Clayvis mentioned that a background in JavaScript from high school and his hobby of building robots gave him a headstart in making that transition. He also improved his programming skills by attending a coding bootcamp after he left the army. However, he believes the most significant factor that allowed him to become proficient enough to earn a spot at a top tech company is the fact that he “tinkered a lot with code by building personal projects and participating in hackathons.”

Further into the conversation, a Try Kibo learner asked, “Can one be a frontend and backend engineer at the same time, or is it better one focus on one particular path?” This question led us into an exciting discussion with Clayvis, who said, “it is important to focus on one of these initially before diving into the other because lots of the knowledge you gain from one will carry over to the other.” Clayvis has worked with a lot of programming languages. He has built games with Python, websites with HTML and JavaScript, and uses Java in his day-to-day work at Amazon. But despite being familiar with a lot of programming languages himself, he made sure to point out that “while it is good to be familiar with a lot of languages, it is more important to have in-depth knowledge in one language before heading on to learn a new language.”

Before speaking with Clayvis during the Try Kibo Mentor Mingle, I had taken a quick look at his GitHub profile. One thing that is easily noticeable from his GitHub profile is that he has worked on a number of games. So, during our conversation, I brought this up and asked Clayvis what made him so interested in building games. He replied that he enjoyed building games because it “forces one to think.” He continued, saying that building games requires one to build “logic that runs on its own.” And that statement was one that I totally agreed with because when creating a game, you have to think about how each object behaves, both by itself and as a result of its interaction with its environment.

Our conversation with Clayvis Rawlins during the Try Kibo Mentor Mingle was an insightful one. We talked about everything from robots, microwaves, and AI to data, software documentation, and Raspberry Pis. But one key thing that the Try Kibo learners and I took away was the emphasis Clayvis placed on a key part of getting ahead in the software industry: “focusing on having in-depth knowledge in one programming language before moving on to others.” He said a hiring manager would “rather employ a great front-end engineer and a great back-end engineer than two [just-good-enough] full-stack engineers.”