While he has the distinction of being personally hired by Steve Jobs to work for Apple, Dr. Andrew B. Williams came from a disadvantaged home that struggled with poverty and mental illness.

With a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, he combines his pioneering research in robotics and artificial intelligence with a deep faith and purpose driven life as an ordained minister, bridging the traditional gulf between technology and religion.

“One of the highlights of my life was meeting Steve Jobs in the cafeteria at Apple. He brought up a conversation about the lack of black engineers at Apple, and it surprised me but it also delighted me that he cared. The fact that he was angry and upset that he only know of one black engineer at Apple, out of all the number of engineers they have. The thing that I liked about that was that he saw the value of having more under-represented engineers to bring about better products, better design. So when he hired me to become Apple’s first senior engineering diversity manager it was a big challenge trying to figure out how to help them become more diverse.”

“When I’m with young people I like to share my background because I want them to know that is not their environment that they grew up in that determines their destiny in their career and their life. Because I slept in a cardboard box as a baby. My dad was African-American and he met my mom in Korea during the Korean War. I had five siblings so I was the youngest of six kids. Because there weren’t enough beds my mom said she would put me in a box to sleep at night as a baby. So one of the things I learned growing up from a low-income family was that money wasn’t everything. I had parents that love me the best they could. I had brothers and sisters to play with. So even though being from a low-income family was an obstacle, I realized there were a lot of things that I could create with my imagination that didn’t rely on money.”

Dr. Williams offers more insights in his book, Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives, and the blog on his website, andrewbwilliams.com.

Milwaukee Independent
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