The Fool's Journey (through AWS)

Photo by Viva Luna Studios / Unsplash


Tarot cards are sometimes used as a form divination, but they are historically based on several suits or Arcana. Although you can study Tarot for quite a while and come up with different ways of interpreting a reading of Tarot, in Cartomancy Tarot the "main" suits, or Major Arcana, tell a life's journey. Numerically, the "0" or first card in the journey is called the Fool.

The fool card with a man standing on a cliff about to begin a journey with a small dog near his feet
The Fool Tarot card from Rider-Waite deck

The Fool

The Fool, contrary to English colloquialism, doesn't represent idiocy or stupidity, but rather ignorance. We all begin as a fool in life, lacking experience or going through the other Arcana. Indeed, most journeys start with a total lack of knowledge, but not a lack of common sense or will. The Fool starts the journey.

Your AWS cloud journey will start the same way and go through the various Major Arcana as you climb to total AWS knowledge - a literally impossible task, but a goal to strive for nonetheless. In tarot, this last step is known as The World. With the World, you have all the knowledge and experience possible. Quite a grand goal in life, let alone on your AWS journey.

(It should be noted that there are different interpretations of the cards, in various languages, and that I will mostly stick to the Rider-Waite terms, but in some, the World may be known as the Universe but have similar interpretations)

Going through all 22 Major Arcana and what they mean for your journey would be a book onto itself, but I'd like to highlight some places you will go and show you that it is definitely okay.

The Magician

The first card after the Fool in is the Magician. The Magician itself can represent a few things, but the focus here is on potential. The Magician represents focused potential in the field, and this is where everyone starts.

It doesn't matter if you've never opened a bash shell before or if you're able to do subnetting in your sleep. Every cloud journey begins with potential and having it focused on AWS learning is important.

Some tips to get started into The Magician step of your journey is to commit to a goal, whether it's attaining a certification (such as the Cloud Practitioner), doing a specific task (such as setting up a blog), or simply measuring your knowledge (such as teaching a friend about what you learned). This helps your potential have a solid focus which lets your journey begin.

The Emperor

The fifth card is called the Emperor. The Emperor represents authority and structure, which is a hard thing to accept on your journey. AWS specifically makes it a bit easier, as they offer white papers and blogs on specific topics or how things are supposed to be done, but accepting the "how things are done" step is important. Eventually, you might have a good reason to deviate from authority, but at this phase of your journey, learning, knowing, and following best practices is critical. For example, AWS recommends using accounts to isolate workloads. Instead of having all your cloud functions in one shared account, this isolation protects other workloads (in what is usually referred to as "blast radius"). Violating this best practice can lead to major issues when something starts to blow up or mutate over time and creates a potentially risky or fragile structure.


Strength Arcana, the 12th one, represents something a little different and something we all want - a success. Eventually, in your journey, you will overcome a series of obstacles and eventually deploy a project to production.

Enjoy it! It's a beautiful moment when you can see your work live, whether it's a certification, a website you can click on, watching metrics as others use what you've built, or something between. Your first major success is an incredibly fulfilling moment, knowing your journey has led there.

Personally, I recall deploying an EKS Cluster on AWS (back when EKS was still in preview!) and putting my first confluent control plane on it. Years and many deployments later, I still remember the moment an application did it's first message in a queue on the Kafka setup I deployed. It's an incredible step on your journey and one you should hold tightly to on your journey - but acknowledge your journey is far from done. One success does not unlock all AWS knowledge to you!


A Tarot card of an angel with red wings in a white robe pouring water from one chalice to another while flying and having one foot in a pond. The word "Temperance" is across the bottom.
Rider-Waite card of Temperance XIV

Temperance, the 15th Arcana, can be about many things, but primarily about moderation. At some point, you will architect beautiful, stable designs, following best practices and show them to reviewers that will complain about expense, cognitive load, engineering overhead, or straight up complexity. Even though your design is probably the ideal one for a theoretical situation and solution, it will need to be tempered by frugality, both fiscal and labor, as well as moderation of usage.

I've seen a number of web-based services use EC2 as their primary engine when ECS or even Lambdas would be a more elegant and faster solution. However, it will come to a point that the cost of an EC2 instance is worth it to an organization to reduce the engineering labor. Perhaps they have an excellent patching policy and don't yet have an understanding of how serverless truly works and worry about noisy neighbors or having their data left behind for another function to scoop up. There are also times where we might want a good service over another good one - such as leveraging Bedrock's models instead of making your own with SageMaker, but the fear of Generative AI forces usage of SageMaker instead.

On my journey, I spent a lot of time in Temperance, and honestly, probably come back to it the most for when I talk about the journey most people take. Don't expect to rush through your journey, the experience is more important than becoming the perfect architect or engineer. After all, journey before destination.

The Tower

Coming in at number 17, the Tower is an Arcana that represents upheaval or trouble. Eventually, you will own a solution and it will fail. Perhaps it simply goes down or failover fails or a malicious actor breaks it. Regardless of how it happens, your design will one day fail because you didn't consider something. This usually happens once you're more senior and can own complex architectures and designs.

This step in the journey is not one unique to your cloud journey, either. There's always the ongoing joke that you aren't a senior developer until you've taken down production environments. However, this is also the greatest learning experience on your journey - not only learning about why your implementation failed, but also learning how those around you act. What happens if your design broke something serious enough to involve a C-level officer or Legal? How the people interact with your failure is just as important, perhaps more, than your cloud service's failure.

The Tower is also one of the most stressful as it can lead to being removed from a project or being let go from a job. This is not the end of the journey! You not only can, but must learn how to recover from trouble to continue down the path you want to walk. The focus you learned during the Magician step of your journey should help you persist through the Tower, but it is never easy.

The Star

The Star, the 19th Arcana, is where I feel I am at - it represents hope and opportunity. As you walk your journey, there eventually comes a time where you've built the previous Arcana and what you've learned from them to a bright spot. Opportunities happen, whether they are careers or others, such as being an AWS Community Builder. It is here that you can truly hold great titles in Cloud and work on complex and overwhelming projects with success and deliver to expectations to others around you and also your self-held expectations.

The Star is an exciting part of your journey and one to definitely enjoy. I am not sure how long I will be on the Star step - hopefully longer than Temperance! - but I have yet to understand when you're stepping to the next part of the journey.

Beyond the Star

This is where I leave you.

There is more to learn and more things that need to happen with me to keep growing through the journey. Everyone's journey - yours, mine, your colleagues, your friends, everyone's - will be different. Perhaps you will move faster than I did. Or slower. Maybe you will have your great failure earlier than anyone else, but perhaps you will have years and years before the Tower calls for you. You don't really know until you get there.

In summary, your journey will have many steps and many things to learn at each juncture. There are upsides and downsides along the way, but they all build you to be a better engineer or architect.

Special Thanks

My knowledge of things such as tarot are limited, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to Dean of for help with understanding of such concepts. Dean is a pretty cool guy working on custom tooling for Shadowrun, discussions about things such as cyberpunk, and other super-interesting topics. His site is definitely worth checking out!

Marty Henderson

Marty Henderson

Marty is an Independent Consultant and an AWS Community Builder. Outside of work, he fixes the various 3D printers in his house, drinks copious amounts of iced tea, and tries to learn new things.
Madison, WI