(Joy Buolamwini | Curteousy of poetofcode.com)
At CMD-IT, we celebrate Black innovators in tech year-round. For Black History Month, we want to recognize 8 pioneers who paved the way for a more equitable and diverse computing and tech workforce. Some are living legends, while others we have only read about. All have made soaring leaps for others to follow in their footsteps. Join us as we celebrate these dynamic barrier breakers.
In no particular order, here are Black Americans who have contributed to computing and IT.
Clarence “Skip” Ellis
Clarence Ellis changed the future of computer science when he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in the field. Ellis made history with his pioneering research on collaborative software as a Professor and Director at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Dorothy Vaughan served as the first Black manager at the NASA, formally the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA); and although she is a monumental pioneer, she’s often overlooked. As an employee she worked in a segreated unit for Black mathematicians and computers. However, she was known for advocating for both Blacks and whites on receiving higher pay. Vaughan contributed to several projects such as an algebraic methods for calculating machines handbook and other hard-to-solve problems for which she was specifically recommended to supervise. She retired from NASA in 1971.
In her work as a mathematician at NASA, Katherine Johnson will forever be remembered for her orbital mechanic’s calculations. These efforts were crucial to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. You may know her from “Hidden Figures,” a book and major motion picture. The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at NASA honors her contributions. She was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Brian Blake is a computer scientist, software engineer, and academic leader whose education initiatives at multiple universities have powered equity in STEM programs. He has received over $12 million in support of web-based services research and served on multiple National Academies’ committees as well as a National Science Foundation Advisory Committee. In 2021, Blake became Georgia State University’s eighth president.
Digital equity is computer scientist Joy Boulamwini’s passion. She founded her organization, Algorithmic Justice League, to reveal and remove digital racial bias from the Artificial Intelligence programs that influence company culture and behavior in the tech industry. Boulamwini has been recognized as the youngest Top 50 Women in Tech and was featured on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Her research has brought to light bias in major companies such as Amazon.
Mark E. Dean
The color PC monitor and the first gigahertz chip at IBM were brought to life with the help of computer scientist and engineer Mark Dean. His work, including three of IBM’s original nine patents, made personal computers more accessible with collaborative inventions such as the Industry Standard Architecture system for computer plug-ins.
Marie Van Brittan Brown
If your home has a security system, you can credit that increased safety to inventor Marie Van Brittan Brown. Her patent for the first closed-circuit television security system originated from her own desire to safeguard her family. She and her husband implemented unique elements like a two-way microphone that have become the norm in the U.S.
CEO David Steward grew up in segregation and surmounted numerous obstacles to found his breakthrough business, World Wide Technology Inc. His company provides technology services to the government and private sector.
Roy Clay Sr., the “Godfather of Silicon Valley,” was a pioneer for African Americans in technology and developed transformative computer software far before later innovators like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. He was a key thinker at HP, where he wrote the software for their first computer and helped make them a household name.
We continue to be inspired by and grateful for these changemakers in computing and technology. We are proud of their work as well as that of our own history-making pioneer, CMD-IT CEO and President, Dr. Valerie Taylor. Dr. Taylor also serves as the director of the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne National Library. Learn more about her work, and the impact of CMD-IT, by clicking here.