February is dedicated to Black History Month and is officially celebrated in the U.S., Canada, and more recently, in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Black History Month pays tribute to the generations of African Americans who reached many great accomplishments despite their struggles with adversity. While there have been countless black leaders in all industries, CPI would like to recognize some of the world’s greatest leaders in technology.
Technology is constantly changing and adapting due to the creative inventors and innovators that helped shape the industry into what it is today. In observance of Black History Month, here are some of the greatest African American leaders in technology.
Honoring Black Leaders in Tech
Born on August 20, 1920, Otis Frank Boykin was an American engineer and inventor. His inventions include electrical resistors that are used today in pacemakers, computers and missile guidance.
Boykin was born in Texas and later graduated from Fisk University. He soon after got a job as a laboratory assistant before working for the P.J. Nilsen Research Labs in Illinois. He later created his own business, called Boykin-Fruth Inc.
While working as a consultant in Chicago, Boykin came up with several variations of resistors that saw great success. He earned his first patent for a wire precision resistor in 1959, followed by a patent in 1961 for an electrical resistor that was easy to produce inexpensively. This allowed many electronic devices to be made inexpensively and reliably.
Katherine Johnson was a highly accomplished American mathematician who helped NASA put an astronaut into orbit and put a man on the moon. In her early life, she was very smart and started high school at just 10 years old. By 15 she started college from which she graduated at the age of 18.
After college, Johnson became a teacher to support her family. However, at the age of 34, she heard that NASA (then known as NACA) was hiring African American women to solve math problems. She was ultimately accepted for the position and worked with a large group of women who were called “computers.”
Katherine worked for NASA for more than 30 years. During this time, she studied how to use geometry for space travel and helped calculate the paths for a spacecraft to orbit around the earth and land on the moon. Her math helped many astronauts travel safely to the moon and back.
Roy Clay Sr.
Roy Clay Sr., commonly referred to as the “Godfather of Silicon Valley,” is an American computer scientist and inventor. Clay is a founding member of the computer division at Hewlett-Packard and the Chief Executive Officer at ROD-L electronics.
Clay is known as the first African American executive at HP and was the lead developer of the first HP micro-computer. He has also been credited with the development of electrical safety equipment.
Roy Clay Sr. was not only a pioneer in the computer software world in the 1950s but also a pioneer for African Americans entering the tech field. In addition to his technological achievements, Clay has worked to establish programs to help more African Americans get interested in technology.
John W. Thompson
Born in 1949, John Wendell Thompson is an American tech executive who was the chair of Microsoft from 2014 to mid-2021. He is also the former chief executive of Virtual Instruments, the former chief executive of Symantec, and a vice president at IBM.
During his long career in the technology field, Thompson earned the Pioneer Business Leader Award in 2010, presented at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s Pioneers & Purpose event, as well as the Technology and Business Award in 2015, presented by Black Entertainment Television.
Thompson has served on many boards, including Teach for America, Illumina, Liquid Robotics, Seismic Software, and others. He also became the chairman of Microsoft in 2014 where he succeeded Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates.
Valerie LaVerne Thomas was born in 1943 in Baltimore, Maryland. She is known as an American inventor and scientist who invented a way to transmit three-dimensional projections or holograms while working at NASA. She also helped develop processing software used to convert scientific data captured by satellites into useful information that scientists could use.
Thomas showed an interest in mathematics, electronics and physics from a young age. After completing high school, she attended Morgan State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1964. She is best known for her invention of the illusion transmitter for which she received a patent in 1980.
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