Black History Month provides an opportunity to reflect on the critical contributions of Black Americans. It also reminds us that we should celebrate their achievements all year long—and highlight those making history as we speak.
Despite many groundbreaking contributions to technology, Black Americans continue to make up a small percentage of the tech workforce. Many companies have promised to ramp up diversity efforts, but there is still work to be done. This week, CMIT Solutions celebrates Black History Month and the important contributions made by leaders across the technology industry.
An electrical engineer who previously worked in the biotechnology field at Genentech, Novartis Vaccines, and Merck, Bryant founded Black Girls Code, a training course that teaches basic programming concepts to Black girls who are underrepresented in technology careers. Bryant was named by the White House as a Champion of Change for her work in tech inclusion and for her focus on bridging the digital divide for girls of color and received an Ingenuity Award in Social Progress from the Smithsonian Institute.
After learning how to code as a math major at St. Louis University, Clay was recruited to head HP’s computer development division, where he oversaw the team responsible for introducing the 2116A computer. He later led HP’s first Research and Development Computer Group and went on to found ROD-L Electronics, which focused on safety testing for electrical products. The company created the world’s first Safety Certified Hi-Pot and Ground Continuity Testers, and partnered with industry leaders, including HP and IBM, to further product safety testing. Also a political figure, Clay was the first African American to become Councilman and Vice Mayor of Palo Alto, California, where he became known as the “Godfather of Black Silicon Valley” thanks to his efforts to create opportunities for Black Americans.
A viral immunologist, Dr. Corbett led the research team that developed one of the first vaccines for COVID-19. A fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Corbett’s team collaborated with Moderna to conduct clinical trials that sped up the approval process and helped turn the corner on the global pandemic. Corbett attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore, as a Meyerhoff Scholar, an aggressive program that mentors minorities and women in science—critical since only 2% of students graduating with a STEM degree are Black.
A computer engineer and inventor, Dean was one of the 12 IBM employees who designed the first PC, for which he holds three of IBM’s original nine PC patents. Dean was also a member of the team that built the interior architecture enabling PCs to connect with printers and monitors. The first Black American to become an IBM Fellow, Dean served as VP of Worldwide Strategy and Operations for IBM Research before finishing his career as CTO for IBM Middle East and Africa. He currently teaches at the University of Tennessee, where he is the John Fisher Distinguished Professor in the school’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Shirley A. Jackson
A theoretical physicist and inventor, Jackson was the first African-American woman to earn a PhD from MIT. She worked as a theoretical physicist at Bell Labs and served as Chairwoman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Her work as a researcher laid the foundation for fiber optic cables, portable fax technology, and solar cells. A former co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, Jackson received the National Medal of Science, the highest honor for scientific achievement given by the US government, and currently serves as the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
A research mathematician and “human computer” who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and NASA, Johnson played a critical role in calculating launch and flight paths for the Mercury, Friendship, Freedom, Apollo, and Space Shuttle missions. Johnson was the star of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, and the subsequent film adaptation.
Although he grew up in New York City, Lawson moved to Silicon Valley in the 1970s, joining the nascent Homebrew Computer Club that helped to inculcate companies like Apple. After inventing early coin-operated arcade games like Demolition Derby, Lawson went to work at the computer firm Fairchild Semiconductor. There, he pioneered the technology that allowed users to insert different cartridges into video game consoles, paving the way for elaborate systems like Atari, Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation.
Spearheading diversity and equality, Prophet serves as Chief Equality and Recruiting Officer at Salesforce. He leads the international IT company’s Ethical & Humane Use of Technology Initiative, which drives positive social change and improves people’s lives around the world. Before joining Salesforce, Prophet held senior executive product marketing roles at Microsoft, served as a co-executive sponsor of Blacks at Microsoft, and founded BlackLight to empower Black marketers.
Van D. Richardson
Richardson got his start in tech in 1995 as a senior network and Windows Server admin at Citibank, working his way up to head of IT at popular food delivery app Grubhub. Today, Richardson is the CIO of document management and AI firm iManage. “Even now, I feel I have the burden of all Black folks,” he told CIO Magazine last year. “I need to make sure I lead by example [and] don’t mess up. Because I’m deathly afraid if I mess up, I’m going to ruin it for the next possible Black person to get into a leadership role.”
The former CEO of Virtual Instruments, Thompson worked for 28 years at IBM, where he held several leadership positions before becoming the general manager of IBM Americas. In 1999, he was appointed as president and CEO of Symantec—at the time, he was the only African-American to serve as the CEO of a major tech business. In 2012, he joined the board at Microsoft before taking over for founder Bill Gates as chairman in 2014.
James E. West
West began his career as an acoustic scientist at Bell Labs, where he developed a small and inexpensive foil electret microphone that went into mass production in 1968. After retiring from Bell in 2001, he became a research professor at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. During his career, West was named president-elect of the Acoustical Society of America and became a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He and fellow scientist Gerhard Sessler, who helped him build the microphone, joined the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2006, West received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for the invention of the foil electret microphone, which is still used in nearly 90% of the two billion microphones produced every year.
The CMIT Solutions team includes more than 900 business leaders and technical staff delivering the best IT support to local businesses across North America. Founded in 1996 as an IT training and support provider for individuals, CMIT embraced the managed service provider model in 2008 and focused on delivering support to local businesses across North America. Each year, we are motivated to exceed the expectations of our clients and go the extra mile, helping thousands of companies succeed. Contact CMIT Solutions today.