Information Systems Management grad working as program manager at Amazon
Ashley Strand, 33, graduated from Dakota County Technical College in 2015 with her Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Information Systems Management. Ashley augmented her IT studies by taking a range of business courses at DCTC. Today, Ashley serves as a technical infrastructure program manager (TIPM) at Amazon. She started at Amazon in 2016 as an engineer building new Amazon sites throughout North America. Then she worked for three years as an IT manager at the Amazon location in Shakopee, Minnesota. She took on her expanded responsibilities just last year.
“My customers are local IT,” Ashley said. “I look for ways to make my old job easier and more cost effective for local IT personnel around the globe. I look for opportunities to incite change, create the process, and run the project from start to finish while partnering with my stakeholders and sponsors.”
Her typical day at Amazon varies depending on her role. She works virtually and spends a lot of time communicating via emails, workshops, Amazon’s native messenger apps, and meetings. She creates documentation, executes project assignments, delivers reports, and completes a variety of project-related tasks. She also travels extensively.
“The most rewarding thing about IT management is helping someone break into the field and watch them grow into top talent,” Ashley said. “I really enjoy helping people achieve their goals no matter how big or small. The hardest part is the politics once you get to a certain level.”
Ashley explained what attributes are required for success in an IT setting. “You need to have the ability to embrace change,” she said. “Amazon is rapidly changing every day, so something you are working now may be halted tomorrow or pushed forward or even dropped completely. You need to be able to adapt and thrive in that type of environment to be successful. If you are able to deliver results quickly before the changes arrive, you will be among the top individuals.”
After graduating from DCTC, Ashley went on to earn her Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Cloud and Systems Administration from Western Governors University in 2020. She’s currently studying to complete her Project Management Professional® (PMP) certification.
When asked about her long-range career plans, Ashley said, “I honestly don’t have any and really haven’t had any since I got into IT. I just find a task or responsibility that interests me, and I pursue that. So far, I’ve gone from desktop to engineering to management, and now I’m a program manager! You just never know where the wind will bring you next. I think it would be really cool to get into something technical with movies or video games. Maybe I’ll start leaning into that wind in a few years.”
A very eventful occupation…
Ashley worked as an event day support technician at U.S. Bank Stadium from 2016 to 2022. She looks back on that job with fond memories.
“I enjoyed going to all the major events,” she said. “I would have never gone to the Super Bowl had I not been working there. I was able to walk around the stadium the whole time, going to areas that cost more than I made in a year. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience that not everyone gets, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.”
Ashley’s IT career path…
Originally from Eagan, Minnesota, Ashley graduated from the School of Environmental Studies (SEC) in Apple Valley, Class of 2008. She was a very engaged student in high school, participating in Pond Squad and Steppers, serving on the Yucatan and Prom committees, and playing tennis.
Before starting at Amazon, Ashley worked as a supervisor at UPS and later as a technical intern and then a desktop administrator at United Bankers’ Bank in Bloomington, Minnesota, the latter position while going to school at DCTC.
“During my first semester at DCTC, I was burnt out from operational work at UPS,” she recalled, adding that a managerial decision at UPS persuaded her to head in a new direction. “I left that job without having any idea what to do or where to go.”
At the time, Ashley was taking IT courses at DCTC she really enjoyed. She decided to go all out trying to find an IT internship.
“I was one of the only women in most of my classes with no more than two women in any one class,” Ashley said. “My personality motivated me to stick it out and make IT work for me. I was able to find other IT individuals on LinkedIn, and I asked for their advice and assistance. I came across an IT guy named Rick Todd, who really coached me on how to find an internship.”
Rick helped Ashley track down an IT job posting and encouraged her to apply even though she had no IT experience. He insisted soft skills are sometimes more important than technical know-how because IT expertise can be taught over time.
“He was right,” Ashley reported. “I landed the job, and the boss told me he had two choices: the other applicant was very technical, but couldn’t hold a conversation or explain technical aspects to people without technical knowledge. That’s where I won out—I was very customer-driven and able to communicate technical information to nontechnical people. From then on, every role I’ve had in IT has been because I knew someone in the field. Networking is the most important thing you can do in your career. You never know who your next boss could be or who might help you with your next lead.”
More about Ashley…
Ashley and her wife, Cortney, have been married nine years—they’ve been together for 11, having met while attending SEC. Cortney works as an IT equipment coordinator at Amazon. Ashley and Cortney have a 9-month-old daughter named Violet. The family also has two dogs, Captain and Agent, both blue heeler Australian cattle dogs, and two cats, a long-haired Russian blue named Doctor and an orange long-haired tabby named Professor.
In her free time, Ashley enjoys scuba diving. So far her experience is limited mostly to Square Lake near Stillwater, Minnesota, but she dreams of diving on the Great Barrier Reef. She also likes watching movies with her family, traveling, learning more about different cultures, and eating different food.
“I like driving around and spotting things that look like they could be interesting or fun that I’ve never done before,” Ashley added.
Ashley and her family reside in Apple Valley.
Ashley family, work, and life gallery
One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:
Ashley Strand • Q & A
Why did you enroll in the Information Systems Management (ISM) program at DCTC?
When I left high school, I actually dreamed of being a chef. I moved to Las Vegas and got a job lined up at MGM Grand Hotel with Emeril Lagasse. I stayed with my sister while going to school at Le Cordon Bleu.
My dad got into a really bad motorcycle accident in Minnesota, so I had to decide between letting him try to figure things out for himself or moving back and taking care of him. Family means everything to me, so without hesitation I moved back to Minnesota and took care of my dad.
While taking care of him, I worked part-time at UPS as a supervisor. I knew I wouldn’t be a chef in Minnesota due to the lack of 5-star restaurants, so I decided to go to school at DCTC.
What did you like best about the ISM program?
The teachers really want you to succeed. They will point you in the right direction, but ultimately it is up to you and how much effort you are willing to put in. Take your technical classes seriously—all those trainings are 100 percent used in the field.
How did your education at DCTC prepare you for your management roles at Amazon?
DCTC really helped me understand technology, which let me land a role working with tech. Because of that experience and my ability to be comfortable with technology, I was able to shift gears as someone others looked at as a leader. From there, it was a natural progression into a management role.
Three words that describe you as an IT professional:
DRIVEN. TRUSTWORTHY. SKILLFUL.
What inspired you to start a women’s support group at Amazon?
As I gained recognition and developed my brand at Amazon, I became the only female IT manager in several regions. I was often asked to mentor women who were looking to move up in their regions. I soon had eight mentees across eight states.
In our one-on-one conversations, one common theme was how they felt lonely and didn’t see many other women in their field. To help them and myself feel more connected to other women, I asked them all to join a biweekly meeting in an open forum.
We are able to talk about work, life, personal outlooks, news, whatever is top of mind. I was also able to take my networked connections of female leaders at top levels and get them to join and talk with the women during our get-togethers. This allowed the women to directly connect with someone who could help them navigate their careers and talk through opportunities that might be out there.
I wanted these women to be seen by everyone who could make things happen for them. As a result, I am delighted to say all eight have either moved the next step up in their careers, advanced to roles they wanted, or have been promoted.
I am very proud and happy for these women. I was able to bring this model to my leadership, who asked me to help develop a global women’s group. We now have more than 500 members across multiple countries.
What advice would you give female high school and college students thinking about pursuing a career in IT management?
Do not give up and lean into your strengths. If you are good with people, you will travel miles. Do not let the fear of the unknown deter you; you belong here, and you will do well as long as you are motivated to learn and want to achieve.
Technology can be learned; soft skills are much harder to teach. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of bad stories, but you must push through it—and I promise it is worth it.
What are some important ways information technology has changed since you began your IT career nearly 10 years ago?
The base of technology doesn’t change much, but the end-user devices and software can adapt and grow rapidly. Amazon has gone through multiple ticketing systems, MDM [master data management] systems, hundreds of different devices and services. This field grows so rapidly it can be hard to keep your feet under you if you are not into continually learning.
What person has influenced your life the most and why?
It’s very hard to boil it down to one person, but in my technical career, Chad Gillick, my boss for five and a half years, was insanely influential. My career and growth is due to the guidance he provided. He showed me how to be a true leader in the field, how to care for people and be a servant leader, and how to grow skills while providing the best service possible to our customers.
Chad not only taught me about leadership, but he also ensured that I take news, politics, and finances seriously. Because of him, my daughter is setup very well for her life. When I was a motived worker with no clear direction, he helped me find direction, develop skills, and set myself loose. I owe more to him than he even gives himself credit. Chad is the reason I take mentorship and management so seriously. I want to pay forward what he was able to do for me.
Where do you hope to find yourself in 20 years?
I have a few dreams I am pursuing, I want to own my own business for fun money. I’d like to work in IT having to do with production studios or video games. I would enjoy being a manager for technical project managers.
Writers Club President at DCTC
Ashley served as president of the Writers Club (now the Creative Arts and Writing Club) while attending DCTC. She enjoys putting her thoughts on paper.
“Oftentimes when speaking, I’ll think, ‘Gosh, I wish I would have said this’ or ‘Darn, I missed this piece,'” she said. “With writing, you have time to really think about what you want to say, who you are saying it to, and why it should be important for anyone to care.”
Ashley mostly enjoys fantasy writing. “The creativity of turning nothing into something fantastical really speaks to me,” she related. “I mostly do write for myself. I think it’s a great way to peel yourself away from your own life to dive into someone else’s.”
When asked to name three of her favorite writers, Ashley said, “I might get some eye rolls here, but I do love J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series; it’s hard to not love something that you grew up with and was so much a part of your experience from elementary school into high school. I also enjoy Karen Lynch and her Relentless series as well as Sarah J. Maas. As you can tell these are all fantasy books!”
Ashley Strand • 12 Answers
- Favorite sport or physical activity: I enjoy watching football and playing basketball; I also love scuba diving
- Place you would most like to visit: Bahamas, Hawaii, Australia are all on my bucket list
- Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Having a child was very exciting; going to the Super Bowl was a once in a lifetime experience as well
- Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Invest my money to build generational wealth and live off the interest 2) Travel as often as I could 3) Develop my own nonprofit to help people (I have ideas)
- Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: I really enjoyed the Relentless series by Karen Lynch; I also thought the new Avatar was really good (though I’ll never watch it again)
- Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: I’d like to see the beginning of humans; I think it’s one of the greatest mysteries that would be fun to see
- One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: I just want my kids to be good people, happy and healthy, and set them up financially where they don’t have to worry
- Your national bird if you were your own country: Owls—they are my favorite animals—the snowy owl, great grey owl, and barn owl
- Dream occupation: Scuba instructor would be amazing; I love the ocean
- Person you would most like to meet: Melissa McCarthy—I think she’s wildly underrated, and I love her story on how she became famous; I enjoy watching women “buck the system”
- Skill you would most like to learn and master: Woodworking—I think it’s a valuable skill to be able to build what you need instead of paying someone else to build something that is not done very well
- Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Greed—it drives many powerful people to make very bad decisions that affect the masses
Learn more about the Information Systems Management program at DCTC by contacting:
Academic & Financial Aid Advisor
More about Information Systems Management at DCTC…
Information Systems Management is an interdisciplinary program that combines its courses with coursework from the college’s Networking Administration and Software Development programs to teach you a unique blend of networking, programming, and management skills.
As a graduate of the program, you will be prepared to thrive at a small business firm as the sole computer-resource person. You’ll also be equipped to merge your technical know-how with a base of entrepreneurial ability to start your own computer consulting business.
Computer and Information Systems Managers
Oversee information technology (IT) duties for an organization.
This career pays well above the statewide median of $23.81/hour
Seven-county Twin Cities metro
In Minnesota, there are 9,330 workers employed in this medium-sized career, which is currently seeing high growth compared to other careers. Growth rate is 8.3 percent, or above the statewide average.
There will be a need for about 9,283 new Computer and Information Systems Managers to meet market demand between 2020–2030 This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.
— Minnesota State CAREERwise Education (January 14, 2023)