Rapper, Producer And T5 Architect From Apple Gives Entrepreneurial Advice
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Tory. Brandon isn’t a celebrity today, but with his street smarts, business sense and innate talent as an emerging hip-hop artist, this 29-year-old senior software engineer for Apple Inc. at its Cupertino, CA headquarters has what it takes to make the leap to music stardom. Brandon’s dream of mixing his rapper/music producer ambitions and his daytime career as a T5 Software Architect is poised to come true. He got the attention of Timbaland, the Grammy-award winning producer/rapper, whose nationwide song competition in 2016 drew over 6,000 artists and writers. Brandon won. And now Jimmy Iovine, the music impresario who is chairman of Apple Music, has agreed to mentor Brandon (Iovine has advised some of the biggest acts in music, from John Lennon to Dr. Dre, from Stevie Nicks to Elton John to Gwen Stefani).
What is your “backstory”?
I’m a level 5 senior Apple engineer. I created an idea called Multidream Theory. It was about my experience in Hollywood as an up and coming artist under the wing of Timbaland. But what I didn’t tell my fans, friends or family, was that during the entire journey. I’ve been living a double life as a top engineer in Silicon Valley.
Since I was a kid, I’ve struggled with self-identity. I’ve struggled with expectations for myself. The engineer in me wants to focus on science, while the musician in me wants to focus on my culture and my art. The human in me, just wants to be accepted. The cost of maintaining an image, in order to protect my own insecurities about being a computer nerd — resulted in moments of intense joy, decorated with moments of intense self-doubt. For anyone who’s suffering from uncertainty in their lives, I can say one thing to you, there’s beauty in it.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began working at Apple?
One day I came into work and heard one of my songs playing from my phone, loudly. No one knew that I made music, so I rushed to shut my phone off. Couldn’t find it and I’m looking everywhere for my phone. The music was getting louder and louder. So, I finally found my phone and to my surprise — that’s not where the music was coming from.
So, I burst out of my office, and now I hear it even louder. I walk around the corner and my coworkers are playing my music on a HomePod.
Beyond the obvious, what do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Apple stands out for excellence in design. This might seem obvious, but I mean, it’s the very core of the company. My mind was blown from the minute I walked into orientation, learning what it meant to be a part of this culture as an engineer. I remember getting to corporate housing, after the anxiety and competitiveness of going through the entire interview process, once you’re in, you start to wonder — if it was as big of a deal as you made it. As my family and I settled in, I saw a note left on the kitchen counter written on folded stationary. It said “This is a big deal. Welcome to Apple — you’ve come to do the best work of your life.” For me, this was confirmation that the hard work and journey I had taken to get to Apple was recognized. And it reaffirmed that Apple is the #1 brand in the world for designing experiences that delight the user. Even when, in this case, the user is an employee.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
I’m working on some new and exciting projects that involve Swift, Python and big data analytics.
What advice would you give to CEOs or founders to help their employees thrive?
Commitment always precedes growth. Allow your team to commit, even before they’ve grown into the optimal skillset. We as humans have the most amazing capability to learn. And if we’re up front about agreements, there’s no limit to what we can achieve. Give others a chance to grow by being clear about responsibilities and trusting them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you where you are?
My grandfather Larry Johnson has always been my rock. At an early age, he took me to RadioShack to buy spare parts for my hobby electronics projects. He took me to get keyboard lessons when I told him, I loved music. When I was going through rough times in high school, he was my support system. As a man now, my moral compass, and my principles about providing and leading, come directly from him.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I wrote an article called Multidream . It’s about how to achieve excellence in multiple fields. I came to the conclusion that, how we treat each other individually, is mathematically the most important skill to focus on. In talking about my story publicly for the first time. Many kids reached out to me on Instagram and told me they were very inspired. Some were inspired to go back to school, inspired to keep fighting for their dreams, and others were inspired in knowing that — there doesn’t have to be a choice between art and science. I made a music video and I’m coding in it. I’m hoping to show other young black men that coding and hip hop aren’t mutually exclusive. That Silicon Valley can be cool. That in the future, our stories and our art will begin to blend with technology — and that we don’t need to give up our culture to be successful. When I was in high school I lived in a building called the Family Life Center in Brockton Massachusetts owned by the YMCA. When I went to college, they bought me my first laptop. So, I’m at a point where, I want to do the same for someone else. I’m hosting a MacBook giveaway right now on my Facebook page
Can you share the top five lessons that you have learned from your experience as a “Black Man In Tech”?
At the first company I worked for, I was in the presence of two powerful men. One black and the other white. I was wearing slacks, a dress shirt, and a tie. I was the only person in the building dressed this way. The white man was very kind and I still remember him. He looked at me and said “Brandon, you don’t need to wear a tie and slacks every day!” When he left the room, the older black man came to me and pointed at my arm. He then said “Yes you do.”
1. His point was that as a black man in tech, just as a black man in America, it’s a good idea to go a little above and beyond in order to break down some preconceived notions that, unfortunately exist in our society.
2. Get really good on your own time.
3. You can accomplish great things with people of all colors and backgrounds.
4. There are other really talented black engineers. The percentages are low. So, it’s not crazy to say, I haven’t met many black engineers. But working in the industry, it’s always refreshing to meet one and finding out they’re really good too. It changes your mindset.
5. Requirements gathering is still the most important part of a software project.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“A wise man loves to be corrected.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Kanye. I believe Kanye West has done in fashion, what I hope to do in music. Kanye’s foundation is rooted in music, and he was able to leverage that and create a top fashion brand in the world. He’s one of the pioneers of Multidream Theory. My foundation has been in software technology, and my objective is to leverage that experience into music. Ultimately proving that they are one and the same — music is software.