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This long-time Amazon exec left the company and is now recruiting tech workers to mentor students of color

Ian Freed is working with TAF, a Seattle area non-profit that runs a STEM-focused school.

Headshot of former Amazon executive Ian Freed.
Former Amazon executive Ian Freed.
Ian Freed

Ian Freed, a longtime Amazon executive best known for his roles leading its Kindle and Fire phone teams, recently left the company after a 12-year career there, Recode has learned.

Now, Freed is spending much of his time working with a Seattle area non-profit to build a pipeline of future techies from under-represented backgrounds, he said on Monday in an interview.

Freed has recently started working with TAF — formerly known as Technology Access Foundation — to revive an in-school tech mentorship program it ran several years ago. He is recruiting Seattle-area tech workers to volunteer to work side-by-side with students at TAF@Saghalie, a public school that TAF co-manages with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math coursework for grades 6 through 12.

“The reason I’m super interested in this is because most companies have really struggled to have engineering teams that have racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity — it’s an industry-wide problem,” he said. “One of the huge issues is just creating access — creating an opportunity for students of color to be exposed not only to the curriculum, but also to real-world examples of how it’s relevant.”

More than 70 percent of the kids at TAF@Saghalie are students of color, according to Trish Millines Dziko, who co-founded TAF 21 years ago and previously spent more than eight years at Microsoft. And more than 60 percent of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“I get very frustrated when I see companies talk about diversity and inclusion and you look at the lack of progress,” she said. “I get frustrated when I hear them say, ‘We can’t get enough talent.’ I want to educate more kids because I want to get to critical mass out there so people can’t say there’s not enough talent.”

The program will start off small, with a pilot test focused on 15 to 20 students, Millines Dziko said. The volunteers will work with the school’s staff to teach these students how to write code related to an annual STEM project each child takes on. The hope is that the program will expand to many more students for the 2018-19 school year — and, in an ideal world, to other schools down the line.

Freed believes his Amazon network will help attract volunteers. He joined the company in 2004 and was a vice president in the company’s devices group, where he led teams working on the Kindle, Fire phone and Echo projects. He also once worked as Jeff Bezos’ technical adviser — or “shadow” — a coveted role working side by side with the CEO on a daily basis.

Freed took a year-long sabbatical in 2015, before returning the next year to oversee Amazon’s young restaurant-delivery and ticket sale businesses. He said he is also advising startups and has no plans to retire.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.