Looking out the window as our flight from Seattle makes its approach to LaGuardia International Airport, the Atlantic Ocean transforms into a flatland of marshy earth and concrete. Filled with feelings of nervous anticipation as the airplane’s tires skid along the tarmac, I casually text my brothers and sisters: “just touched down in LaGuardia”—proud of being on this trip.
Our team of Seattle designers are finally arriving in New York for our much anticipated 3-day design challenge with Farmingdale State College in Long Island, New York. I feel especially responsible for the success of this trip. Is everyone ready? What will our encounter with the college, it’s faculty and students be like? For me, it’s a leap of faith: I need to trust in our preparation, our purpose, and the people travelling with me.
“That’s where we landed in 1971 when we moved from Chile.” I can only imagine what this intense feeling of anticipation, excitement and trepidation must have been like for my father and mother, arriving here with their five young children in tow.
My phone buzzes with my older brothers’ text response: “That’s where we landed in 1971 when we moved from Chile.” I can only imagine what this intense feeling of anticipation, excitement and trepidation must have been like for my father and mother, arriving here with their five young children in tow. They came to New York City, like so many immigrants before them, looking for a better, more secure way of life for their families. It’s so familiar, these complex feelings, the ocean turning into a concrete landing strip, the incredible impossibility of skyscrapers, and the awe and respect my parents had for this country. It’s as if I’m six years old again.
The trip to New York is on behalf of Amazon Design’s Diversity in Design initiative. This program stems from the firm belief that diversity is crucial for innovation, that products and services must reflect all of our customers. But in order to increase the pipeline of diverse design talent, we need to reach out to future creatives living in our underrepresented neighborhoods. And it starts by going out into the community and showing that “design” is a serious—and totally achievable—career path.
I often forget that I am an immigrant. Even though technically I speak English as a second language, my extremely slight accent rarely gives me away. I can walk down the street and no one assumes that I am Hispanic—that my name is Pablo. But culturally, I still had to convince my family that Architecture (my personal brand of design) wasn’t a frivolous area of study, that I didn’t need to be an Engineer or a Doctor to have a “proper career.” I know this is a familiar theme for underrepresented families like mine, and I can see it is a concern for these Farmingdale State College students.
Boys & Girls Club visits Day One studios
The next few days are intense. We challenge the teams to respond to an ambitious, open-ended prompt and they look at us wide-eyed and nervous. We share our personal journeys, we teach a little bit about our leadership principles, show how Amazon works back from the customer, and we craft relationships by making together. Our coaches expertly guide a diverse range of students, not just ethnically and socio-economically, but academically as well—from urban planning to psychology, engineering to chemistry, interaction and visual designers to business majors—and every single team makes it through the challenge with a 10-minute pitch and a one-page document.
Even more important than their wonderful ideas, though, is the confidence gained in the knowledge that an incredible amount can be accomplished in a short period of time through exploration, discovery, collaboration and iteration. That’s design thinking. I couldn’t be prouder.
Once the awards are handed out, thank yous and good byes exchanged and Linked-in invitations accepted, I make it a point to reflect on my own career path. The metaphorical journey of becoming a designer at Amazon as well as my literal journey through this very part of the world. While my parents took an incredible leap of faith—what some may consider a reckless and irresponsible leap, moving away from our beloved home country, our culture and language, and our comfortable lifestyle, without first obtaining a job, or even a home to live in—I now realize how incredibly privileged we were in comparison to many other immigrants to this country.
I take a train into Manhattan. I want to walk the same streets that I probably walked when I was a Spanish speaking boy of six. I had just spent three intense days with a diverse set of Amazon design professionals whom I can now proudly call friends. Most significantly, though, I also spent those days working alongside incredibly smart, curious, ambitious, extremely hard-working and diverse students.
Walking along towards the World Trade Center, I wonder what stories they have to share. All these students working their way through school, much like I had done. I wondered about their parents. Had they also taken the same leap of faith my parents took when coming to the United States? Had they also been immigrant children like me?
As a Hispanic immigrant with one foot in acceptance and the other as an outsider, I feel an extreme sense of responsibility and pride in the diversity of our country and this company. I am proud of these special friendships forged during this design challenge—especially with our fellow designer volunteers who worked so hard alongside each other to bring this message to the students and their faculty. We need to celebrate our differences and encourage the amazing richness in talent that this country and our company represent.
We’re a company of builders whose diverse backgrounds, ideas, and points of view are critical to helping us invent on behalf of all our customers. But it’s not only that diversity and inclusion are good for our business. It’s more fundamental than that—it’s simply right. These are enduring values for us, and nothing will change that. Jeff Bezos
The Designing Our Future video featured above was shot and produced by TAF (Technology Access Foundation) faculty and students.