Mani Thiru has worked all over the world, but it was only a few years ago that she started looking out to space.
Mani is the Space Industry Development Leader for the Asia Pacific region at Amazon Web Services, or AWS. AWS is best known for providing on-demand cloud computing services (like data storage and security). But they also offer over 200 cutting-edge services like robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and satellite communication. For example, the data needed to run NASA’s Perseverance mission to Mars is processed and hosted by AWS.
Mani’s job is to find the right combination of software services for each customer so they can reach their space program goals faster. Her customers include governments, universities, and start-ups like Myriota, HEO Robotics and Fleet Space. “We look at their space mission, and work out how we can accelerate it,” she says.
Born in the UK, Mani lived in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe before her family moved to New Zealand when she was 16. She finished high school there and opted for medicine at the University of Auckland.
“I struggled, though,” Mani says. “I couldn't handle the blood and gore; there was a lab dissection one day involving a pig heart that really did it for me. I transferred into biomedical sciences, and then into physiology so I could finish in three years.”
Working in a travel medicine clinic sparked Mani’s passion for technology. “The doctors and the clinic staff were not big on technology,” Mani says. She became the default IT support. “That's how I fell into IT. I was like, I really like being online. This is just like playing a game.”
Mani completed a postgraduate qualification in business and IT before heading to the UK to start her career. “Mum and dad always said that if you were a continuous learner, the world is yours. It felt like the right thing to do.” Not long after, she landed a job in the Netherlands that had her flying back and forth between Europe and Silicon Valley in the US.
“My job was translating business requirements into technology,” she says. “I was the middle man between the tech geniuses and the business leaders with the vision.”
After several years in Europe, Mani moved to Sydney to be closer to family (her parents had moved across from NZ). She worked at a number of technology companies before joining AWS.
The Australian Space Agency launched around the same time. Mani was working with educational technology firms at AWS, but realised that space was going to be the next big thing.
“Nobody at AWS was looking at space at that stage,” she says. “I wrote a business plan outlining how the industry had huge potential. Now, AWS has a global division called Aerospace and Satellite Solutions which is run by a retired Major General from the US Space Force.”
After looking after clients in the Australian space industry for several years, Mani now leads a team across Asia. She is always on the lookout for ways to connect expertise in different countries or bring products to new markets.
“A big part of my role is understanding the space ecosystem in each country,” she says. “Every country has a sweet spot, something they’re really good at. My job is to connect the dots.”
- Mani started off studying medicine, but fell in love with technology. She transferred to a Bachelor of Science (Physiology) so she could graduate faster. She completed her degree at the University of Auckland in 1999.
- While working at a travel medicine clinic, Mani discovered she enjoyed working with software. She decided to do postgraduate study in IT, which she finished in 2001.
- She then went to the UK and spent nearly a decade working across Europe and the US in various business technology roles.
- During that time, Mani also commenced a Masters in International Relations through Webster University in the Netherlands.
- Meanwhile, Mani’s family had moved to Australia. She joined them in Sydney in 2011.
- Mani worked in a number of technology roles before joining Amazon Web Services in 2018.
- Initially, Mani worked with edtech clients. She realised space held growth potential in Australia, and helped AWS start offering services to the industry.
- After working with the Australian space industry for several years, Mani now leads AWS’s space industry development across the Asia Pacific region.