Interview with David Harris

A Program Manager at TAF, David is passionate about helping equip students and adults of color succeed in the tech community.


Q: Who are you? Introduce yourself as you would at a dinner party.

A: Hi, I’m David. I’m a first year graduate student in the University of Washington’s Human Centered Design and Engineering program. I’m also a Program Manager at TAF (Technology Access Foundation) where I focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and entrepreneurial education. This past summer, I helped organize the first hackathon in the Central District of Seattle for the African American community - Hack the CD.


Q: What is your background? How does it differ from what you are doing now?

A: I graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and worked for Microsoft for a few years after that. While there, I started a tutoring business, and eventually left the tech industry to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors in education. Four years ago, my journey led me to TAF whose mission is to equip students of color for success in college and life through the power of a STEM education. Although I was able to graduate from college with an Engineering degree and work at a tech firm, there are still too many barriers for young people with similar backgrounds as mine. I have made it my life’s work to help change this.


Q: What are you working on right now?

A: I’m currently working on launching STEMbyTAF Lab, a social innovation incubator for kids, building TAF’s capacity for innovative hackspaces, quarterly lab courses, and experiential events. In fact, in November we held our first pitch event at the Impact Hub where 6th - 12th Grade students from TAF Academy presented innovative ideas to some of our most urgent social issues.

In addition to taking classes like User-Centered Design and Usability Studies at the University of Washington, I’m also working with other community leaders to create more education and ownership opportunities for the Black community in Seattle. In 2014, we held a hackathon with Startup Weekend, and design charrette at Lake Chad Cafe, and youth coding bootcamp with Coding Dojo at CAYA (Central Area Youth Assocation).  


Q: Why did you join Impact Hub?

A: When I first visited Impact Hub last year, I knew it was a community that I wanted to be a part of. I believe it is important for changemakers to surround themselves with like-minded people in order to build and retain energy. The Impact Hub is not only a physical place to do that, but also an invaluable network of people working to make positive change in the world. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that!?   


Q: How do you make money?

A: I work full time at TAF, and I also do some user experience projects when I can.


Q: What is something that really excites you right now (a trend, life development, time of year, food, etc.)?

A: About a year ago I discovered that design was a passion of mine and decided to further my knowledge through graduate studies. Tim Brown’s book, Change By Design, made me realize that design is more than aesthetics. Design thinking is a way of looking at the world from a human-centered perspective. What intrigues me most is that this empathetic way of thinking can be applied to products, services, software, business, and social endeavors. I’m excited about learning how design thinking can empower communities to develop the local built environment around them.


Q: You have $10M to spend in the next year, and you can’t spend it on you, your friends or your family. How do you spend it?

A: I would create an impact investment fund for youth in Detroit. That is the city I’m from and it is currently going through a lot of change. The Detroit of tomorrow depends on the investment in young people today. They should have the opportunity to help create the future city they would like to live in. I would love to fund a process to invest in their ideas for development.


Q: What’s on the horizon for you (a new project, career path, personal development)?

A: I’m getting married next Fall, and my fiance and I started a business with some of our friends that will help us through the process. HabeshaBrides is an online resource that connects Ethiopian and Eritrean brides with culturally relevant wedding vendors and community. Launching the website was a great learning process for us - we not only got to learn more about history and traditions of the culture, but we also got a chance to work on a entrepreneurial project with our friends and family!


Q: Where do you usually hang out when you are at Impact Hub? How often are you here?

A: I’m usually at the Impact Hub a couple of times a month. If I’m not there, I’m at Lake Chad Cafe on 17th and Jackson. That place has good food, wifi, and a comfortable environment. Its also a few blocks away from my house. I also hang out at the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation located on Martin Luther King Way and Alaska Street. I’m always able to meet great people there working in their fashion lab and makerspace.


Q: What is something we don’t know? (Either about you, or something else)

A: I was able to send in my DNA to the Genographic Project by National Geographic and I found out that most of my ancestors come from the Bantu-speaking people of the African continent. They spread from Central Africa to West Africa. The Bantu had an advanced farming culture, and were the first people in sub- Saharan Africa to work iron. Later expansions to the east and south introduced agriculture across the continent. There is a big gap in my family’s knowledge of our personal history because of the Atlantic Slave Trade, but I’m looking forward to discovering more!


Q: Give us your top three Seattle gems!

A: LUCID is a lounge located in the University District that has great live music and delicious drinks. I love that place because their friendly vibes and creativity are always consistent. I also like to go to the Taste of Caribbean near Seattle University. It is the only place I’ve found Jamaican patties like the ones I’ve had in New York. Another Seattle gem is the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. There are so many great events that happen there - from film festivals to open mic performances.


Contact David at [email protected]