Recently, research from CB Insights, has indicated that only around 1% of entrepreneurs in the tech world in Silicon Valley are Black. Many people believe that perhaps this is due to the education system in the United States and the fact that there's not an adequate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curriculum. On the other hand, some blame the lack of information to help students get started in the fields. However, regardless, many Black leaders in tech have made significant advancements in the industry.
Below are 19 important figures to celebrate this Black History Month. Some of them you may already know. Some of them you may not know, but you should. Others are up-and-coming in their fields. But one thing they all have in common - they've made significant contributions to the tech world.
Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list of all Black tech leaders. Many others have made contributions throughout history - and others are making contributions now.
Frank Greene was born in October 1938 in Washington, D.C. He is considered one of the first Black technologists. In the 1960s, he developed high-speed computer systems. In 1971, he founded Technology Development Corp, which grew to more than 300 employees by 1985. He founded Zero One Systems in 1985 as an offshoot of Technology Development Corp.
Roy Clay, Sr., was born in 1929 in Kinloch, Missouri. He is a pioneer in the tech world. He worked as the Research & Development Director of HP’s (Hewlett-Packard's) computer division. He was responsible for designing and constructing the first computers in the 1960s. Later, he founded Rod-L-Electronics, which tests the safety of electronic equipment. His research helped propel the tech industry forward and makes him an influential Black leader in tech.
Mark Dean was born in March 1957 in Jefferson City, Tennessee. He is known for helping with the development of the IBM PC, which was the only one on the market at that time. He holds three of the patents belonging to IBM. In 1999, he worked to create a voice-activated tablet. In 2011, he wrote that his primary computer was a tablet. Now, he is the CTO for IBM in Africa and the Middle East.
Guion Bluford, Jr. was born in November 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1983, he became the first Black man to travel in space. He is an engineer, and before participating in four space shuttle flights, he was a colonel in the United States Air Force.
Mae Jemison was born in October 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. In 1992, she became the first Black woman to travel in space. She is a physician by trade and has received multiple honorary doctorates and other awards.
James E. West was born in February 1931 in Farmville, Virginia. He is the inventor of the first practical electret microphone. Instead of requiring a polarizing power supply, this component uses a charged material. It's commonly used in various devices, including digital recorders, cellphones, and cameras. In 2010, the Franklin Institute awarded him the Benjamin Franklin Medal in electrical engineering.
Philip Emeagwali was born in August 1954 in Akure, Nigeria. In the 1980s, during his doctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan, he researched how to use computers to simulate the detection of oil reservoirs. Since he came from Nigeria, he knows more about oil drilling than most of his contemporaries. Instead of using the proposed 8 supercomputers in his research, he used over 65,000 microprocessors. This led to him breaking speed records in computation.
Al Zollar was born in 1954 in Kansas City, Missouri. For more than 30 years, he was employed with IBM. His most recent position was general manager of IBM Tivoli Software, and he was in charge of profit and loss management and strategy. He received his degree in applied mathematics from the University of California at San Diego, where he has been named one of 50 distinguished alumni.
John Thompson was born in April 1949 in Fort Dix, New Jersey. At one time, he held the position of chairman and CEO of Symantec, a computer security software company. He was the only African American to hold such a position at that time. Additionally, he is a member of the board of directors at Microsoft. At this time, he is the CEO of Virtual Instruments and an important Black leader in tech.
Emmitt J. McHenry was born in July 1943 in Forrest City, Arkansas. He co-founded one of the earliest Internet domain service providers, Network Solutions, Inc. In 1995, he founded NetCom Solutions International, a telecommunications/engineering company that has received numerous awards from NASA, IBM, and others.
Gerald Lawson was born in December 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. In the 1970s, at Fairchild Semiconductor, he created the first video game console with interchangeable cartridges, and his contribution paved the way for gaming as we know it today.
Wanda Austin was born in 1954 in The Bronx in New York. At this time, she is the president and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation, and this is a non-profit organization that offers assistance and contributes to national space programs. In the early 2000s, as senior vice president of the Engineering and Technology Group, she was in charge of a team of 1,000 scientists and engineers.
Lester Lyles was born in April 1946 in Washington, D.C. At this time, he is the chair of the National Academics Committee, which focuses on the goal and rationale of the United States civil space program. He has degrees in both nuclear and mechanical engineering. He once served as the chief of staff of the Air Force. Additionally, he was commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In 2009 he was appointed to the Intelligence Advisory Board under President Obama.
Dixie Garr was born in 1956 in Dubach, Louisiana. For 7 years, she served as vice president of customer success engineering at Cisco Systems. She worked to enact change throughout their engineering processes and business practices to ensure customer needs were met. She has been presented with several awards, including the Black Engineer of the Year award in 1997. Not only is she an influential woman in tech, but also an important figure for Black History Month.
Lori Perine once worked as president and CEO at InterpreTech. At this time, she's the managing principal. InterpreTech is a consultancy focused on economic innovation, science, technology, and energy. In addition, until 2001, she served as deputy to the associate director of the White House Office of Science and Tech policy.
Herman Chinery-Hesse was born in 1963 in Dublin, Ireland. He studied in the US and worked in England. However, he ultimately returned to his roots in Ghana to start a software company known as SOFTribe. He's often compared to Bill Gates and called "Africa's father of technology”.
Chad Womack is the fellowship program director and STEM education initiatives at the United Negro College Fund or UNCF. In addition, he is a biotech scientist and is a member of the board of directors at the National Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Association.
Robin Petgrave was born in April 1962 in the United States. He is the founder and director of Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum. This is where at-risk youth are brought into the world of aviation, math, and science. His students have broken several world records in the field of aviation.
Kimberly Bryant was born in January 1967 in Memphis, Tennessee. Not only is she a Black leader in tech, but also a known, influential woman in tech. In 2011, she launched Black Girls Code. This is an organization focused on teaching young Black girls computer coding/programming languages, including Ruby on Rails and Scratch. She and the rest of the team are hoping to increase the number of Black women in tech and provide better opportunities for these underprivileged girls.
Black tech leaders have made many contributions that have changed the face of the electronic world. There are so many important figures in Black History Month and tech, it’s hard to list them all.
Regardless, we love to take the time to appreciate all the intelligent and influential leaders in tech. Regardless of your face, gender, or preferences, we’re happy to celebrate achievements together.
At Advantis Global, racial equality and diversity are a top priority. Therefore, if you’re looking for the next leap in your tech career or promotion, you know we’ll always have your best interests in mind. Let us help you find your next IT job.