Leading with empathy, Brooke Blair is engineering a more inclusive future
The Prime Video software development manager is passionate about building products, teams, and a more welcoming and diverse tomorrow for the tech industry.
Brooke Blair was more than a decade into her career in software development when she raised her hand to manage her first team.
“I realized I loved interacting and collaborating with people, which you don’t really get when coding with headphones on,” recalls the Prime Video software development manager. “Now I’m proud to say that I manage people who build really important stuff for Prime Video.”
The Microsoft and Expedia veteran joined Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2019 to support the AWS Cryptography’s CloudHSM service focused on hardware security modules and single-tenant encryption for banks and financial institutions. Brooke moved to Prime Video in 2020 and leads the Swift team, which owns two Tier-1 services that power the ability of all clients to render experiences for Prime Video customers. The wide impact of these services means that Brooke is laser-focused on latency and availability because these have the potential to directly impact customer experience.
The culture at Prime Video is different than anywhere I’ve ever worked…it’s a very familial environment where you feel like your voice and contributions are valued, and you’re encouraged to push back.
In 2021, Brooke’s team built and deployed a tool that enabled feature owners to independently engineer, build, and deploy their feature data through an API. The group also actively supported the Prime Video UI refresh and high-profile launches of NFL Thursday Night Football (TNF), and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
“I’m proud of this work because of where we sit in the tech stack,” Brooke says. “We’ve been able to accomplish goals we set out to support surges in traffic with increased throughput and reduced latency.”
An empowering, inclusive culture fuels Prime Video projects
Prime Video’s culture promotes a sense of camaraderie that paves the way for an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to implementing priority projects rife with challenges.
“Everyone–not just engineers–is all-in, plowing forward to make events like TNF a reality,” Brooke says. “It would be a much different scenario without the level of trust and support we have. The culture at Prime Video is different than anywhere I’ve ever worked … it’s a very familial environment where you feel like your voice and contributions are valued, and you’re encouraged to push back. That breeds safety, which breeds innovation, creativity, and productivity.”
Brooke aims to instill this same sense of respect and inclusion with her team, which is comprised of Amazonians based in Seattle, Colorado, Nevada, Chicago, and Virginia.
“You do better work when you feel connected to a team,” she explains. “We appreciate diversity of thought and empower each other to experiment and share ideas that are discussed and turned into action.”
A passionate advocate for leading with empathy, Brooke says she tailors her management approach for each of her direct reports. “Behind every project are humans doing the work, so I cater to individuals on my team by trying to understand their goals, what drives them, and how they communicate,” she continues. “I want to get to know them and put them on a path to achieve their goals…which is something modeled by my manager and my skip-level manager.”
Outside of her team, Brooke serves as a mentor to interns and junior tech professionals at Amazon. She also helps pair mentors with mentees and build connections through the company’s Black Employee Network (BEN), one of Amazon’s 13 affinity groups.
“I like to say I collect people,” Brooke says. “I believe it’s super important, especially as a minority in tech, to have a network of people who look like you to lean on for career advice and transparent conversations.”
Brooke learns as much from her mentees as they do from her, she says, stressing the importance of reciprocal conversation that creates a “push/pull” dynamic.
“They’re more willing to take risks and push the envelope,” she says. “At times when I was starting out, I’d make myself smaller…but they don’t do that. They’re comfortable taking up space, which is something that has inspired and reaffirmed me.”
From BASIC beginnings to programming a course for success
Brooke got her first computer when she was in the fourth grade growing up in Maryland. She played floppy disk-based games on her Apple computer and became interested in its inner workings.
In high school, Brooke took a high school programming course as her final required elective and learned the programming language, BASIC. “I wanted to drop it and switch to art class, but my teacher reached out to my mom saying I needed to stay,” Brooke recalls. “The subject matter didn’t come to most of my classmates, but I got it. While I understood how to program innately, I didn’t immediately put two and two together and realize it could be my future.”
We appreciate diversity of thought and empower each other to experiment and share ideas that are discussed and turned into action.
Brooke stuck with the class, and when it was time to declare a major at Boston University, her aunt–a mechanical engineer who’d studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)–suggested she consider engineering. “I liked math and physical sciences, but didn’t really know what ‘engineering’ was at the time because neither my parents nor anyone at my school were talking with me about it as a potential career path,” Brooke notes. “That conversation with my aunt was my first lesson in the importance of exposure.”
After graduating with a degree in computer systems engineering and a minor in computer science, she completed a master’s program across town at Northeastern University. Through a National Science Foundation fellowship, Brooke collaborated with high school science teachers in the Boston Public Schools system to build a holistic curriculum spanning civil, computer, mechanical, and electrical engineering.
“These kids came from diverse and underprivileged backgrounds, and many thought engineers were the conductors who drove the T (Boston’s subway system),” recalls Brooke, noting that several students she worked with ended up studying engineering in college. “Exposure was once again a theme that drove me … I wanted them to see what was possible and for them to feel like they belonged in engineering.”
Exposing others to brilliant possibilities
Brooke continues to pay it forward as an active member of a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) working group, which organizes town halls and events to serve underrepresented communities in tech. She recently shared her professional journey on a panel organized by Brilliant Black Minds, an organization focused on helping aspiring Black engineers enter the tech industry.
“It has been hard for me to find people I can relate to,” Brooke concludes. “So whenever I have made those connections, I’ve held on to them. Now, in a management-level role, I feel a responsibility to create a level of exposure to other people who look like me.”
Confident that Amazon can play an instrumental role in elevating underrepresented communities, Brooke looks forward to what’s next at Prime Video, as she continues to drive innovation, accelerate meaningful change, and help bridge the tech skills gap for communities of color–one high-profile launch or mentee meetup at a time.