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Meet the… director of global M&E

Samira Bakhtiar, director of global M&E at AWS, says that graduates and those new to the industry shouldn't let a lack of technology expertise be a roadblock to getting into the broadcast community

Talk us through an average day in your role.

As a director in the media & entertainment (M&E) business unit at Amazon Web Services (AWS), I have the privilege of leading a team of builders as they help customers achieve their desired visions in broadcast, content production, media supply chain and archive, direct to consumer, and data science and analytics. No day is the same, and depending upon the week, you may find me in the office coaching my team, or guiding discussions on topics like solutions architecture and business development. Other weeks I may be travelling, meeting with customers to discuss desired outcomes as they go to market or for executive briefings on AWS technologies. These trips also involve interactions with partners, independent software developers (ISVs), and global media systems integrators like Grass Valley, Amagi, PwC, and Accenture, which help determine how we can best support our shared customers in their cloud journey. I also attend major trade shows like NAB and IBC as well AWS events like re:Invent, re:MARS, and re:Inforce, and regional AWS summits, all of which give me an opportunity to further connect with customers and partners, as well as participate in panels and interviews. For example, I went to France for the Cannes Lions Festival in June, where AWS drove conversations around the technological components of content monetisation. 

Wherever I am, a key part of my day-to-day is engaging with customers, partners, and team members to extract insights that can help me anticipate future trends. Another constant is customer problem solving, which spans from envisioning a specific solution to assisting with legal documentation. I’m also always on the lookout for new team members who can bring something unique to the table and might make phenomenal Amazonians. I strive for equity in everything I do personally, with the goal of building a more diverse and inclusive work environment, and M&E industry overall. 

How did you get started in the media industry?

I graduated from the University of Arizona, with a major in finance and minor in political science. After interning for a prominent political figure, I quickly realised that it wasn’t the right fit for me and moved to North Carolina to pursue the Cisco Sales Associates Program (CSAP), a year-long graduate programme to receive certification as an associate sales engineer or representative. Upon completion, I took on a position in New York at Cisco working for Cablevision Systems Corporation, which was acquired by Altice. During this period, I worked with Cablevision subsidiary Rainbow Media Holdings, which eventually spun off as the publicly traded company now known as AMC Networks. There, I developed and enhanced my technical acumen in hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks working with cable modem termination systems, and realised the true stakes when working with a service provider. From there, I began working with NBCUniversal on broadcast, encoding, and statistical multiplexing workflows, until Cisco promoted me to an M&E director position. In 2018, I made the move to Amazon.  

In short, I began my career in the media industry through technical programs that introduced me to major media conglomerates. As I worked with these companies, the cloud provided unprecedented elasticity compared to on-premises technology. This realisation further fuelled my interest in the industry, and I still see it as a true enabler, a solution for scaling and innovation. 

What training did you have before entering the industry?

In addition to my undergraduate degree and pipeline expertise gained through certification and technical onboarding for various roles, I earned a Master of Business Administration from Fordham University. I also went through The WICT Network’s Betsy Magness programme which grew my network and leadership capabilities in the industry. That said, the most valuable training I received, however, came by learning in the field. Being present and tuned in when you’re in the trenches is a major contributing factor to professional training and growth. 

Why do you enjoy working in the industry? 

The M&E and technology industries are incredibly dynamic, and I love uncovering new ways to help customers engage and drive new experiences for their audiences. My role is focused on building technology solutions that allow them to scale on demand and create content faster and more efficiently, from anywhere in the world.

It’s also fun to watch my family’s reactions when they learn that there are intricate layers of technology behind the personalised content recommendations, advertisements, and highlight reels they see across on content platforms they watch every day. On a personal level, as mentioned, I’m incredibly passionate about inclusion, diversity, and equity (ID&E) initiatives. With talent acquisition part of my role at AWS, I get to play a part in creating a more diverse M&E landscape, which is truly rewarding. 

What piece of advice would you offer someone looking to explore a role similar to yours?

If you’re just getting started in this industry, don’t let a lack of technology expertise be a roadblock. Look for an opportunity to get your foot in the door, and the technical acumen will naturally follow as you gain experience in the field. Many women in the M&E and technology industries may also face imposter syndrome and miss out on great opportunities because they don’t feel particularly qualified for a job. My advice is to not sell yourself short! Even if you don’t tick all the initial qualification boxes, you can grow your skillset as you work in the field. 

I think it’s also worth adopting the mindset that obstacles are often opportunities in disguise; they present a chance to build deeper relationships and establish or strengthen trust with your clients and team. Networking is also crucial. Get to know as many people as possible, because you never know where those connections will take you.