African Americans have made countless valuable contributions over the years that have helped advance technology and define the tech industry as we know it today.

It is essential to incorporate the ideas and perspectives of individuals with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences into our communities and the workplace.

To further advance technology, we must start by acknowledging the accomplishments of African Americans and addressing current gaps in inclusion.

African Americans are underrepresented in IT. As of 2021, African Americans account for only 10.2% of tech workers and are typically offered the lowest salaries in the industry.

In honor of Black History Month, we’re shining a light on technology pioneers—past and present—whose contributions may have gone unrecognized.

Evelyn Boyd Granville

Evelyn Boyd Granville

Evelyn Boyd Granville was one of the first Black women to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale in 1949. Granville then joined IBM in 1956 as a computer programmer and mathematician, where she wrote software programs for the IBM 650 computer—the first mass-produced computer in the world.

While working for IBM, Granville learned of a contract IBM secured with NASA, which opened the door for her to work in astronomy. The contract allowed Granville to contribute to several research projects:

Roy L Clay

Roy L. Clay, Sr.

Roy L. Clay, Sr. was the Development and Research Director for Hewlett-Packard (HP), where he worked on the construction and design of the company’s first computer—the 2116A computer.

Clay later founded Rod-L Electronics, which tests for safety in electrical equipment. As a result of his profound success, the Silicon Valley Engineering Council’s Hall of Fame inducted Clay in 2003.

Mark Dean

Mark Dean

Mark Dean joined IBM in 1980 as an engineer and quickly became well-known, as Dean holds three of the original nine patents at IBM.

Dean is the co-creator of the IBM personal computer (PC) and has contributed to developing the color PC monitor, the first gigahertz chip, and the Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) systems bus, which allows other devices to connect to a PC. As a result, Dean was the first African American to become an IBM Fellow, representing the highest level of technical excellence.

Clarence Ellis

Clarence “Skip” Ellis

Clarence “Skip” Ellis was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois in 1969.

After graduating, Ellis led an impressive career in computer science as he contributed to the development of the ILLIAC IV supercomputer, icon-based graphical user interface (GUI), object-oriented programming languages, “groupware” technology, and Operational Transformation (OT).

Lisa Gelobter

Lisa Gelobter

Lisa Gelobter contributed to the development and release of Shockwave—the software that sparked the beginning of web animation—in 1995.

Over the years, Gelobter has worked with notable organizations like BET, Hulu, and The White House.
In 2017, Gelobter founded tEQuitable—an organization addressing bias, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace through technology.

Mary W. Jackson

Mary W. Jackson

Mary W. Jackson was the first Black woman to be a computer engineer at NASA in 1958. She contributed to research on aerodynamics, and was a strong advocate for the next generation of female engineers, mathematicians, and scientists at NASA.

The movie Hidden Figures portrays Jackson’s role at NASA

Due to Jackson’s groundbreaking aerodynamic research, NASA renamed its headquarters in her honor.

John Henry Thompson

John Henry Thompson

John Henry Thompson served as the chief scientist and engineer at Macromedia, where he developed Macromedia Director, a multimedia application authoring platform.

In 1989 Thompson invented Lingo, a scripting service that provides visuals in computer software, and implemented it into Macromedia Director and Shockwave. Combining these programs bridged the gap between art and technology, serving as the foundation for modern video games, web design, animation, and graphics.

Do Your Part

Although we highlight a few Black IT innovators, the discoveries and breakthroughs in technology made by African Americans are innumerable.

Educating our communities on current inclusion gaps in the tech industry informs leaders, organizations, and ourselves on how to move forward.

To learn more about Black leaders who define technology through innovation and what you can do to celebrate Black History Month, check out these resources:

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