Remembering Sam Blackman

In August, Sam Blackman, CEO of AWS Elemental, unexpectedly passed away at the age of 41, leaving the Portland community stunned and saddened. As a CEO, Sam grew his business from a small startup into the successful company that was sold to Amazon in 2015. But Sam was so much more; he was also a prominent leader in the Portland tech industry and an outspoken voice on civic issues, and a person who approached everything he did with the utmost integrity.

Sam is the reason TechTown Portland exists.  Five years ago he approached Prosper Portland with his concern that the Portland tech industry collectively faced a talent shortage. With Sam as the catalyst, that conversation sparked collaboration with tech executives which led to the founding of TechTownPDX. The first Techtown PDX recruitment video put a spotlight on the Portland tech scene that showcased Portland’s vibrant tech community and garnered national attention. A second video 18 months later presented Portland as a place with great urban and natural amenities that attract talent to a dynamic and growing industry.

During production of the second video Sam recognized an even larger challenge facing tech: the systematic lack of diversity in the industry and a less-than-inclusive culture. Sam believed Portland could do better. To make his point, Sam once stood in front of 150 reporters and members of the tech community and lamented that he was the only “black man” in the room, and that needed to change. That moment marked the shift in our focus from talent recruitment to workforce diversity and workplace inclusion.  AWS Elemental was one of the original signers of the diversity pledge, and Sam led the way by emailing and calling CEOs at tech companies across Portland to gain their commitment as well.

Without Sam, Portland tech would not be where it is today. He united industry leaders and public sector partners. He inspired the start of TechTown and was instrumental in the focus on diversity and inclusion.  We will miss his leadership as we continue to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace for all people in tech. TechTownPDX will carry on Sam’s values to strengthen the sense of inclusion and community throughout the Portland tech industry.

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