In 2017, after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Corey Salzer was hired by Amazon to work in the company’s web services division dealing with “cloud” technology. Salzer’s work involves explaining highly technical concepts in a straightforward manner to the company’s customers. In 2018, she joined Amazon’s Toastmasters club, which draws members from multiple Amazon offices throughout San Francisco, California.
Last year, onstage in Houston, Texas, Salzer addressed more than 200 people at the Grace Hopper Celebration, an annual event for women who work in technology, held in honor of the late computer science pioneer and U.S. Navy rear admiral Grace Hopper. Salzer gave a 20-minute presentation about the Robocar, a project she worked on at Amazon, which led to the development of Amazon’s DeepRacer product—a 1/8 scale self-driving car that allows software developers to practice “reinforcement learning.”
Salzer, who has a degree in computer science engineering, as well as technical internship experience, was hired through the Amazon Web Services’ Tech U program designed to recruit early-career talent. When she’s not working or delivering speeches, the 24-year-old takes the stage to sing and play guitar.
What is it like to work at Amazon?
In my role as a solutions architect, I provide technical guidance to customers in executive roles. Earning customers’ trust is critical, and being a young woman in what still tends to be a male-dominated field, I’ve found that striving to be articulate, confident and professional goes a long way toward building trust and bridging the gap.
Describe your first experiences at Toastmasters.
I remember feeling uncomfortable with how structured the meeting and the speeches felt, and it made me realize that I needed to work on formality and coherency. Presenting a Table Topics speech can be very similar to communicating an idea in a business meeting, and this practice has helped me become more articulate.
Tell us about your corporate club at Amazon.
When I went to my first [Toastmasters] meeting at Amazon, I remember greatly enjoying the community—everybody giving support, encouragement and coaching. Amazon’s club members include people from various departments, like software engineering, program management and product development. Our club is peculiar—similar to Amazon’s culture—with some funny and interesting personalities. People are not afraid to disagree on topics, and there is often healthy discourse. The membership commitment, I would say, is more unstructured. People are coming to the meetings from different office locations and often can’t attend every week.
What makes your club unique?
At the end of every meeting, we hold a group discussion for members to provide thoughts on the meeting and what could be improved. We’ve gotten some good suggestions and made improvements following these discussions; for example, we decided to vary the formality of Table Topics and add introductions at the beginning of meetings to help with networking.
What kinds of speeches have you delivered?
A lot of my experience has been with short and impromptu speeches. I was randomly chosen to be interviewed by a news outlet when attending the second U.S. presidential debate in 2016, which just happened to be held at my university. And, in 2016, I gave a little introductory speech in celebration of my internship at Square [a software engineering company in San Francisco] at its “Town Square” meeting.
Going forward, I hope to become a regular public speaker and give professional presentations more frequently. The presentation I gave at the Grace Hopper Celebration in September 2018 was my first major public speech. So now, in Toastmasters, I am focused on learning to give formal talks, and my club accommodates and allows me to practice my 20-minute talks during club meetings.
What advice do you have for other young professionals?
Do what you can to elevate your professionalism and boost your confidence in the workplace. Learning how to communicate in a business-like manner is a skill that takes time and repetition to develop, and Toastmasters has significantly helped accelerate my professional growth.
Mary Nesfield is associate editor for Toastmaster magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.