With hands in everything from online shopping to web services, online retail giant Amazon counts on the people behind the scenes to get the job done on a daily basis. Much of the company’s success is due, in part, to its ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Now AfroTech is speaking with seven men creating change and impact for those around them. They share their professional journeys, offer encouragement for aspiring Black professionals and discuss how they’re changing the game at Amazon.
The Black Men Making Waves at Amazon
Mark Hatcher, Global Sales Account Manager
As an industry leader and professional, this Detroit native found success through progressive responsibility at companies like Cintas, Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson Motor Company and the Seattle Seahawks. Since joining Amazon in 2017, he’s risen through the ranks from Sr. Strategic Account Manager to his current role as the Global Sales Account Manager for Turkey.
In addition to managing a vast portfolio, this proud family man serves as the Director of Community Involvement for Amazon’s Black Employee Network (BEN) and as an associate professor of leadership and management at Central Washington University.
Brandon Middleton, Sr. Business Development Manager, Amazon Web Services (AWS)
A lover of tech, music and education, Middleton has built a career that includes time at Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Stanford University, Slalom Consulting and the Wounded Warrior Project. Now, at AWS, he helps customers and partners transform their businesses with digital solutions such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, machine learning and mobile technologies.
Middleton has used his passion for education to impact communities in Chicago and the Bay Area by serving on the board of organizations like the San Jose Repertory Theater, Silicon Valley Education Foundation, ALearn and the College Track and Mural Music and Arts Project. Despite his hectic schedule, which includes teaching at Stanford University, the UC Berkeley and University of Illinois graduate still prioritizes time with his family.
Reggie Martin, Product Management Leader
Martin is a seasoned professional of designing and delivering technical products and services. A Long Beach native, he worked as a strategy consultant at Oliver Wyman, specializing in product, growth and operations strategies. Now the Dartmouth and Morehouse College graduate has found success building Alexa experiences and innovative mobile apps for Amazon.
Martin is actively involved with 100 Black Men of Long Beach, a platform created to mentor school-age boys and young men. A proud husband and father, he also serves on the leadership team for Amazon’s Irvine chapter of BEN.
Bradley Cannon, Senior Content Manager
With over a decade of experience as a brand strategist and storyteller, Cannon has worked in FinTech, print media and renewable energy. His expertise has now led him to brand communications within Amazon’s safety organization.
Cannon always flexes his writing skills by covering topics that explore equality and diversity, leading him to work with organizations — including Google and Verizon — to create change through equity initiatives and product launches.
Karl Jackson, Technical Program Manager
Jackson scales program initiatives for cross-functional Amazon teams to develop infrastructure and software solutions related to customers’ experiences.
Always looking to give back, Jackson created an internship program for students interested in marketing, software development and more. This entrepreneur also launched the Black Beard Brigade Men’s Grooming Co. and has worked with health- and wellness-focused nonprofits.
In the community, Jackson has collaborated with groups like C-STEM and Freedom Readers and consulted with Project Lead the Way to improve curriculum and assessment methods for K-12 students interested in STEM.
Craig Newell, Digital Transformation Strategist and Advisor
With more than 25 years of experience in IT strategies, Newell has worked in financial services, healthcare, higher education, government, tech and more. He led transformative results at companies like Deloitte Consulting and VMware before joining AWS.
An expert in cloud computing and virtualization, as well as the first certified EMC cloud computing architect, Newell is the Executive Director of the Giboney Foundation, an Atlanta-based organization delivering mentorship and resources for underserved students interested in underrepresented fields like aviation, STEM and others.
Alex Rigaud, Capacity Planning Lead
Rigaud has created an impressive career as a leading enterprise architect — skills that have taken him through more than 18 countries while developing technical solutions for Fortune 500 companies, NGOs and five government entities.
The Georgetown graduate has previously worked as an executive at Accenture and chief of staff for the CTO at Novartis, where he supported the development of the first cell-gene therapy to cure leukemia. With a degree in Science, Technology, International affairs and a concentration in nuclear science and international diplomacy, since joining Amazon Web Services, his unique skills have shined.
Rigaud is actively involved in his community, including time as a board member at the Fishing School, collaborating with NGOs to help refugees in Singapore and Malaysia to create donation distribution centers and being a member of the Knights of Columbus, where he’s helped increased volunteer efforts to complete repairs and improvements in low-income areas.
#BlackBoyJoy: Their Journeys to Finding Success At Amazon
As the Global Sales Manager and Seller Launch Lead for Amazon Turkey, I am responsible for creating growth opportunities for successful sellers on the Amazon Turkey Marketplace.
In my four years at Amazon, I’ve worked on several projects that have brought me joy — most recently [bringing] in Emmy-winning journalist Jemele Hill for a fireside chat. This involved hosting her photo shoot, two meet-and-greet sessions and a globally broadcast discussion about what it’s like to host “Sports Center,” bounce from ESPN and stare down the former President. I was also instrumental in hosting and interviewing Grammy-nominated artist Black Violin for an Amazon Global Fishbowl discussion.
My passions live at the intersection of technology, education and equity, partly because of my upbringing. I received a lot of support as a kid in the Southside of Chicago trying to make his way. Finding younger versions of myself and helping them thrive has always been a goal [for me]. At AWS, I’ve found amazing opportunities to integrate these passions through the Amazon Future Engineer Class Chats program.
It’s been really amazing to connect with students from schools in Hawaii, Washington, California, Texas, Illinois, New York and others. I’ve shared my story and other tidbits of knowledge, and in return, I’ve received so much more. Just knowing some of them will follow in my footsteps brings a smile to my face.
Outside of work, I love to create art, poetry and music. I’m working on a project that synthesizes [that love] and makes it tangible and enjoyable for viewers and listeners. This allows me to use the side of my brain that I’m typically not using for my day job, which helps me relate to colleagues and customers more genuinely and authentically.
When COVID-19 first hit, I had been furloughed from my previous company and wasn’t even looking at Amazon. But a former coworker that started in early 2020 told me to apply. I trusted his judgement and eventually started on June 29, 2020. Now I am a Technical Program Manager for the Global Marketing Products and Technology Org, which helps push initiatives that cut across teams.
There are a few projects to enhance the consumer experience that I’m really excited to see teams working on. I’ve also been speaking with students about their interests post-high school. Amazon has a Class Chats program that allows me to expand my work and knowledge to help underserved communities. I get to tell students how our teams create the experiences they get from the retail website. For those unfamiliar with the Amazon Teens program, we discuss [it] in detail and I tell them to watch out for new features. This helps them connect how we bring our work to life while helping spark ideas of their own.
I work within the AWS Professional Services (ProServe) organization as a Senior Customer Delivery Architect. AWS initially recruited me about four years ago [but] the timing wasn’t optimal for me. A couple years later, AWS reached out about another position, and I decided to pursue the opportunity.
As a part of the ProServe team, I’ve worked on a recently announced PGA Tour partnership. The PGA Tour is working with AWS to transform how they analyze, produce and deliver media content. Being an avid golfer, I’m very proud to have worked with PGA Tour to get them to this point in their transformation journey.
My current role at Amazon is the Capacity Planning Lead for the Americas Region at Amazon Web Services, where I’m responsible for planning for the capacity to support the commercial and government AWS cloud platforms.
I was chosen to establish a new team in the infrastructure organization working to implement a global asset lifecycle program for the AWS data centers. After three months, I was asked to take on another team handling capacity planning for the Americas. I was shocked to change roles so quickly, but I learned early in my career, when you do well at one job, don’t be surprised if another challenge is thrown your way quickly.
Paying It Forward: Tips for Tech and Aspiring Professionals
- Define your North Star. This allows you to continuously rehash and remember your purpose by staying engaged.
- Embrace intellectual curiosity. While you may indeed be smart and talented, you don’t know everything.
- Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Early in my career, I was a software engineer who was afraid to bring his Blackness, love for music, appreciation for design and passion for community to work. Today, I use each of the pieces of who I am to succeed at my job.
- Build bridges. Leading by example means being intentional about bringing together groups that historically haven’t been in communication. Getting used to facilitating vulnerable and uncomfortable interactions is something that has been very useful for me to foster mutual understanding and education for various stakeholders in past teams.
- Feel the fear and do it anyway. In 2016, a company I was working at merged with a smaller company, forcing me to relocate to Connecticut [and] leave a network I’d built in the DC area. I felt fear and anxiety, but I pushed through the challenges that came my way.
- Lift while you climb. At many companies I’ve worked at, diversity was just a talking point. But at Amazon, it feels different. At a previous company, I came up with an inclusive influencer campaign and decided to use Melinda Emerson, a Black influencer who had 300,000+ followers on Twitter. [It] ended up being one of the most successful multi-channel marketing campaigns in the company’s history, so I have a commitment to lift others up where I have previously climbed.
- Be passionate about technology and transformation. Passion will drive you to be successful in this industry.
- Find a mentor. Work with someone — preferably someone who looks like you. Learn from their experiences, failures and challenges. This will help you become better prepared when hitting bumps in your own career.
A Seat at the Table: How These Men Are Making Equity A Priority
As a Black man in tech, it’s my mission to help underserved communities by creating programs to drive recruiting, interview preparation, onboarding and advancement within Amazon and the tech community. I have also sought and developed allyship opportunities — like Amazon BEN, Asians@Amazon, and Amazon PWD (People with Disabilities) — for deeper engagement, development and acknowledgement.
I earned the first Amazon Minority Business Incubator Program Award and created an executive leadership symposium. I’ve also hosted a cadre of Black business owners to promote their products and services. Other plans include six diversity events to highlight businesses within underserved communities.
This past year has really underscored the importance of doing inclusion, diversity, and equity work now — not later. Our society has shown time after time why this should be treated with urgency, so my expectations around corporations making progress have been raised. The stakes are too high.
Recently I’ve been moderating discussions with our customers and partners on topics related to equity, diversity and inclusion. It’s a necessary, ongoing thread that I hope other Amazonians will replicate. I’ve also been recording one-on-one conversations with Black and brown senior leaders at organizations of all kinds. I’ve been sharing these amazing stories with professionals still early in their careers and youth who don’t necessarily have the access, opportunities, network or capital to get started. Thanks to partnerships with my Amazonian brothers and sisters — and [connections] from Stanford University — I’ve been able to make this a reality.
As a newer employee, being part of the Black Employee Network will allow me to continue advocating for the needs of my community. BEN allows Black employees to discuss issues we’re facing at work and outside of work. Through this group, we’re able to partner with leadership on solutions to bridge gaps. I am excited to get more involved as the year progresses.
I’ve had discussions with various people working on initiatives within Amazon to provide feedback. When new programs are created, I push those to my network, even if they aren’t programs created by Amazon.
My teams are diverse, but there is still progress to be made. As I talk to people interested in Amazon, they can see there are others where they want to be — including some who have struggled earlier in their careers, yet still managed to reach that next level. So I try to create and impact change inside and outside of the company.
I speak up and provide feedback to leadership, HR and my peers on what I have experienced and how their actions/communications can be perceived by Black men and women in tech, especially when they are just starting out in the field. I stress the fact that a Black associate not only feels pressure from completing their work (and being seen as a valuable member of the team), but also not being seen as one of many stereotypes put upon us by society. I equate it to walking on eggshells every minute of the day, while balancing a 1,000-pound weight on your shoulders.
I’m really excited to have the opportunity to establish a mentorship program in the AWS Infrastructure organization for our Black associates to be partnered with Black leaders in the same group.
Each of these men recognizes the unique hurdles and challenges they’ve faced to get where they are. This is why the talented group is both eager to support those coming up in tech behind them.
Newell explains, “There is still a lot of progress to be made. Black Americans make up roughly 14% of the U.S. population, but the representation in IT and leadership roles within most organizations can be less that half of that. I’m passionate about trying to level the playing field by providing exposure to young Black talent and employers so we no longer hear the false narrative of ‘There is a very limited pool of Black talent.’”
Find out how barriers are being removed by learning more about Amazon here.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Amazon.