CVP, U.S. Government Affairs, Microsoft
Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
- JD, Temple University, 1983-1986
- BA, Political Science, Morehouse College, 1979-1983
Selected Work History:
- Political Director, Democratic National Committee, 2000
- VP and Executive Director of Public Policy, Qwest, 1999-2000
- Senior Policy Adviser, Office of Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, 1997-1999
- Assistant Director of Congressional Affairs, American Medical Association, 1995-1997
- Southern Political Director, Democratic National Committee, 1994-1995
- Chief of Staff, Office of Rep. Sanford Bishop, 1993-1994
- Legislative Liaison, Office of Governor Ned Ray McWherter, 1993
- Director of Policy Planning, Tenn. Department of Mental Health, 1990-1993
If there’s a political job, Fred Humphries has likely held it—from aide to a governor, to chief of staff for a member of the House, to Democratic National Committee staff. But since 2000, he’s made his professional home at Microsoft’s D.C. office. Here, Humphries discusses his family, the importance of STEM education, and how the reaction to George Floyd’s death feels different than to past deaths of Black men at the hands of police. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What do you consider the landmark career moment for you?
It’s hard to have to put that into one thing, because, you know, your career is a compilation of many things. When I look at my professional journey, my life journey, I put them in buckets. Those things that really helped to form and shape me are my experience of working in campaigns—I was fortunate enough to work in four presidential campaigns—and my experiences working for a governor and then working on Capitol Hill, my private-sector experience working for two different companies. And I actually worked for a trade association as well. … And I was fortunate to have an incredible role model, my father, who became a university president at the age of 37 and became a president to HBCUs.
One of your big focuses is computer-science education for kids. Would you say that your Dad and his background as an educator influenced your current focus on education?
Absolutely. Let me give some context on why. … He was the first African American to get a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. All he talked about was science, technology, and engineering and math. And then, as a matter of fact, when he was president of Florida A&M University, he went out to different companies and said, “Hey, you say you can’t find African Americans in STEM. If you have funds for me for scholarships for STEM, I’ll go get the students.” And I used to be with him when he would go to different high schools and recruit. He’d get with the parents and say, “I’m going to give your son a full ride, he’s going to have a summer internship at Boeing or Honeywell or wherever, and I’m going to look after him, he’s going to graduate. And if he wants to go get a PhD, I’ve got a program, they’ll give him a full ride.” I was around STEM all my life. So that’s where that passion comes from, and the importance for those who are underrepresented minorities to have that opportunity.
Can you talk about some of Microsoft’s programs in schools?
I think our program that has had great exposure is our TEALS [Technology Education and Literacy in Schools] program. We go into a good number of high schools; we work with other tech companies, and people who have degrees in the STEM area [show] the teachers how to teach computer science. So students have an opportunity to take a course, and learn and learn more about it, and [have] an opportunity to choose to be in that field. For many, unfortunately, they don’t have that exposure. And a lot of times, it’s underrepresented minorities, it’s African Americans, It’s the Latinx community.
The newest one is our workforce initiative. As a result of the pandemic, there are a whole lot of jobs in the hospitality space, in the services space, that have been eliminated and probably, maybe permanently, eliminated. And so we kicked off a program with some global workforce training for 25 million—we’re presently at 10 million that have had this training.
What are the other big policy issues Microsoft is confronting right now?
Anything that we can be helpful on [related to] COVID. … We’re trying to coordinate and collaborate with many other tech companies, with the administration—they’re trying to deal with Operation Warp Speed, dealing with health care issues. And there’s a technology play, there’s a cloud play, there’s an AI aspect as well. Cybersecurity is always going to be an important issue, the issues dealing with misinformation, disinformation.
And what I will layer on top of the different pillars that I just talked about is trust. If there’s anything that companies in the tech space focus on, where there’s questions being raised about the tech industry, is trust. And you have to earn that.
How has the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests affected you personally and professionally?
Unfortunately, for me, I must start with the personal side first. I wish I could say that this is the first time that we’ve had moments like this, where horrific incidents have happened. As an African American male, there’s no question that on a personal note, it’s hard not to take note of them; it’s hard for me not to feel pain for the family. When I had a driver’s license at 16 [in Tennessee], it was natural that I got pulled over. I would be in a store, and officers followed me around. I mean, I wish I’m exaggerating. And I have a 27-year-old son who’s an African American male in L.A., that I just worry about, like, hey, “We get pulled over, you know, this is how you need to behave; this is what you need to do.”
At the same time, George Floyd feels different. It just feels different, the resolve and how people have responded, how this country has responded. And the sense of community, the community response has been great in giving me some hope of a commitment to try to address how law enforcement has a role. I believe in law enforcement—I truly do, even despite the fact that I’ve had mixed experiences.
When I look at it from Microsoft, one of the things I like about where I’m working is we focused on criminal-justice reform [since] the horrific incident and death of Michael Brown. So we’ve been working on justice reform for over four years—training and how to use data and technology. Urban broadband is another area. … And then we have a program on the HR side where we’re looking to double the numbers of African Americans in Microsoft. So we have a robust program. Some of this was already in the works, but the George Floyd incident has brought it into a sharper focus. And I think we’ve seen that with other companies.
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