Vice President, AWS BI and Analytic Services at Amazon
Taking Hold of Prime Opportunities: How Dorothy Li Created a Trailblazing Career at Amazon
Today, we know Amazon as a tech giant, but how did they get there? They got there with the help of seasoned innovators like Dorothy Li. When Dorothy first heard about Amazon from a friend in the late 90’s, it was merely an “online bookseller.” Little did she know, she would end up helping it develop into one of the Big Four technology companies.
Dorothy was always interested in math and science. Watching friends in high school who were experimenting with computer graphics, Dorothy was inspired by the beautiful things you could make with computer programming. This motivated her to leave her home country of China and pursue her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at Brigham Young University. While exploring Computer Science, she realized what a rewarding career choice it was. It provides such a wide variety of opportunities and tracks to explore, while being a stable and satisfying choice.
I want to encourage girls to think about technology, not as something that’s just about programming or this one track. I want them to think about it as something that has such a diverse set of applications and opportunities. It can be fulfilling and financially stable, providing women with independence and security, which is important.
After finishing her studies, Dorothy kickstarted her career at Oracle. She gained experience working with major clients and seeing the impact technology could have to help companies improve their business. When a friend introduced her to Amazon, Dorothy decided to give, what was then, a relatively young business a chance and joined as a Software Engineer. As Amazon grew, Dorothy grew as well, and started talking on more responsibilities. In 2004, Dorothy was the senior manager of a team that supported placing and receiving orders, a key element of Amazon’s success.
Later that same year, she faced her biggest challenge yet – being tasked with designing, implementing, and launching a “shipping subscription” service. She and her team had just over a month to implement this service, which was the first of its kind. Dorothy did not shy away from the challenge. She talked to her manager about extending the timeline by two weeks and about how to share some of her other responsibilities with others, making it possible for her to succeed. Dorothy stood up for herself to make sure she could handle the project with the detail and care she wanted to. That “shipping subscription” service was the birth of Amazon Prime, a service that has revolutionized e-commerce.
We pulled off something that seemed improbable. Pulling off something that seemed so unlikely got me noticed. I took it on. I pushed back on the timeline and I asked my manager for help with some of my daily tasks, but I took it on. I think that was a really pivotal moment for my career because I led it.
After the success of Amazon Prime, Dorothy had the opportunity to work on the teams for the Kindle and the Fire Tablet. Now Dorothy has pivoted from experience in consumer software to developing enterprise applications with Amazon Web Services. As the Vice President of Amazon Web Services, Business Intelligence & Analytic Services, she is fostering a world class team to build Big Data services.
Dorothy attributes her ongoing success at Amazon to the growth she experienced leading and launching Amazon Prime. Though the odds were against her, she took the risk and was able to use the opportunity to prove herself.
It’s important to lean in on opportunities. When opportunities appear, grab it. You never know if this is the thing that’ll accelerate your career. Don’t be afraid because that might make the difference between how your career can move.
This story was written by Natalia Gutierrez, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Connect with her on Linkedin. Support our mission to celebrate more amazing women in tech, like the one featured here, by donating to AnitaB.org.