You’re a Senior Business Development Manager at Amazon Web Services, a Lecturer, and Advisor. What is your personal story and how did you rise to these positions of influence ?
I was born on the South Side of Chicago in the early 1980’s. I loved sports like basketball, baseball, and soccer. I wasn’t particularly social because I had a stutter and speech impediment that I struggled with until I was about 9 years old. So things like reading and playing chess (solitary activities) were very comfortable for me growing up. Out of this love of reading and strategy games came a love for STEM topics. I built my own tower computer from scratch with my uncle in my teens. I participated in a Cisco Systems Networking Academy at my high school and learned a bunch about computer networking. And that led me to study Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.
College was the hardest intellectual challenge of my life … I did terribly my first semester in college and considered quitting and changing my major. Instead of quitting I humbled myself, put my pride aside, and admitted that I needed help to my guidance counselors. That second semester I went to tutoring whether I felt I needed it or not every day and also spent my nights in the library from 10p-3a until it closed. I was able to turn it around and learned for myself what it would actually take to succeed at UIUC. I graduated from ECE at UIUC in 5 years and moved to the Bay Area afterwards to work my first job as a Software Engineer at Cisco Systems.
Since coming to Silicon Valley I’ve worked at Cisco, Google, Microsoft, Slalom Consulting, Stanford University, and Amazon in a variety of roles from engineering to business development to teaching design. I attribute my rise to influential positions to favor from God, an attitude of continuous learning and curiosity, and an eternal focus on building and giving back to the community as an output of all of my work. I received so much support, encouragement, and help growing up and I feel compelled to do the same for the next generation of students who grew up like me.
What struggles have you turned into successes, and how?
After graduating undergrad and moving to the Bay Area, I struggled to fit into Corporate America’s work culture initially and had a hard time getting used to a new life very far away from my family and what I knew as normal. Feeling like an impostor and like I didn’t belong was a daily challenge for me in the early days. People cared about different things, spoke different languages, ate different foods, and a number of other things that I immediately noticed. So instead of feeling intimidated by all of these differences, I committed to learning about and understanding different viewpoints and then focused on building strong relationships with the people from these different cultures so that I could grow a new local network of friends (all of my old friends were back in Chicago).
This curiosity around and embracing of difference is something I still hold on to today. It has helped me to be successful in my career, in my community, and in teaching and leading my family. Having diverse representation and perspectives is one of the top and most sought after things organizations are looking for these days so I was definitely fortunate to develop a muscle in this area early. Outside of the struggle to fit in I would say overcoming my stutter and speech impediments as a young man were pretty big for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to deliver talks, teach classes, and even be part of a hip hop group since moving to Silicon Valley so I’ve definitely leaned into creativity and communication since overcoming that early obstacle.
As an engineer and MBA, you have served on numerous boards supporting education, repertory theater, and the arts. What drives you to serve?
The realization that I was given a lot of alternative educational and life experiences growing up is the thing that drives me. A lady that my mother did taxes for had a son that sponsored me into my first real job as a caddie at Olympia Fields Country Club as a 13 year old. He put his good name and reputation on the line to allow this 95 lb skinny Black kid a chance at an opportunity. I would go on to caddie there for the next 8 years and pay for a lot of my UIUC education from money that I had saved from that job. An organization called INROADS in Chicago offered free workshops to high school students who wanted to learn about Corporate America and be considered for internships. Tavis Smiley had an organization called Youth 2 Leaders that flew a cohort of us to Washington DC to learn about civic solutions to social problems and the importance of grassroots community organizing to democracy. All of these were alternatives to the negative narratives of the downside of Chicago at the time (gangs, drugs, violence, etc.). So in my current work on boards and in supporting similar organizations in the Bay Area, I’m hoping to give back in a small way and provide similar opportunities for young people to learn about the world around them, begin thinking about solutions to create the futures they want, and to instill in them the responsibility to keep the attitude of gratitude and generosity rolling onto the next generation after them.
I most want to share my stories and be a role model for Black & Brown youth who may not come from means and/or are working on building their self-confidence in life right now. I want them to know that you can be imperfect but still successful, a great business leader but also a servant in your community, a polymath interested in many things but also a subject matter expert known for bringing value in specific areas. The sky is the limit for this next generation so long as we model the possibilities. One of my favorite 100 Black Men sayings is “if they see you they can be you” … that pretty much sums it up right there for me.
Bio: Hi, I'm Brandon Middleton. A lover of all things technical, musical, and educational. I'm based out of Silicon Valley in California and have worked for Amazon Web Services, Slalom Consulting, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, the Wounded Warrior Project, and Google over the last 15 years. I originally hail from the south side of the south side of Chicago but I left there and went West in 2005. At my day job, I daily bring my technical and business leadership skills to work to help my customers and clients digitally transform their businesses using cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and mobile technologies.
I received lots of helping hands as I grew up and developed. Because of this, I have a deep passion for K-12 education and for my community in both Chicago and the Bay Area. To affect change for underprivileged communities (like the one I come from), I have been a board member of the San Jose Repertory Theater, Silicon Valley Education Foundation, ALearn, and a board fellow at College Track and the Mural Music and Arts Project.
I proudly hold an M.B.A. from the University of California Berkeley (Go Bears) and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (I-L-L). In my spare time, I enjoy teaching at the Stanford School, traveling and eating great food, playing basketball and soccer, playing music with my band and spending quality time with my wife, 9 year old daughter, and 5 and 2 year old sons.