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Black leaders in technology


Graphic courtesy of Horseshoe Magazine/Jacey Ferraro.

By: Sanchita Rathi

Technology, science, engineering and math are the driving forces behind who we are, what we do and why we live. It’s easier than ever to solve problems instantly and to have the tools to live a better life. The ideas and inventions of many have paved the way for instant access, simple production and “basic” luxuries. If you looked around right now, you would be surprised to find that many of these technological advances came from the ingenuity of Black inventors, scientists and status quo-challengers. 

Black professionals occupy 7% of tech jobs where 3.7% of technical roles at large tech companies are held by Black individuals. Still, numbers alone do not tell the whole story. Black leaders who overcame obstacles to succeed in tech have continuously challenged stereotypes in the industry with their personalities, qualifications and abundant knowledge. 

Let us not forget the contribution of ‘Black Women in Tech,’ specifically. Being an influential woman in tech who is also Black is no small feat. Corporate and technical sectors lack diversity, and yet the influence of Black representation defies the odds by sharing experiences in these fields to create a domino effect of Black talent, meaning activating the chain reaction by inspiring the young peers who want to pursue tech and innovation by participating and making a difference in the society.  

Black leaders are attempting to overcome the diversity gap and build bridges to support communities of color. Entering the tech industry requires resources, mentorship and a strong support network. Networking is a pivotal resource for the forthcoming generation of Black leaders in tech. If you are a student in high school or college, it is highly recommended to utilize campus resources, professors and even classmates which is key to producing sturdy support networks. Start building and nurturing professional and industry relationships using tech itself to make connections through sites like LinkedIn. 

In honor of Black History month, let’s take a moment to remember the contributions, triumphs, struggles and offerings made by the generations of influential Black leaders in tech. 

Valerie Thomas  

Thomas was one of few women who pursued a career in physics in her time.  She worked for NASA as a mathematical data analyst and developed a real-time computer data system which allowed control centers to support satellite operations. Thomas worked for NASA from 1964 until 1995 and conducted many experiments such as creating a test in which she observed the position of a concave mirror affecting the real object that is reflected. Using this technology, she invented an optical device called the illusion transmitter. But, her biggest development was, “Landsat,” is still being used by NASA today. 

Guion Bluford 

Bluford was a decorated Air Force pilot in the Vietnam War, but he is best known as the first African American man in space. He flew 144 combat missions and received several medals including the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm. He became a NASA astronaut in August of 1979 and made history as a mission specialist for the Challenger launch in 1983. He returned to space in 1991, completing 134 orbits in 199 hours.  

Dr. Mark Dean 

Mark Dean is one of the most prominent Black inventors in computer science. With a bachelor’s, master’s and a doctorate in electrical engineering, he began his work at IBM in the 1980s and was instrumental in the creation of the Personal Computer (PC), he holds three of IBM’s original nine PC patents for being the co-creator of the IBM personal computer released in 1981. Throughout his career, he helped IBM make instrumental changes in the research and application of systems technology, he also led a design team for making its very first one-gigahertz computer processor chip in 1999. 

Christopher Young 

Young holds an A.B. degree from Princeton University, and an M.B.A. degree with distinction from the Harvard Business School. In his time as CEO of McAfee, the company protected data for 80% of all Fortune 100 companies. He is an executive vice president of business development, strategy and ventures at Microsoft. Young also serves on the boards of Snap Inc. and American Express.  

Marc Regis Hannah 

Regis Hannah was an electrical engineer and computer graphics designer. In 1982 he co-founded Silicon Graphics, Inc., ultimately becoming the company’s principal scientist. His computer graphics technology has been used in major motion films as well as commercials, such as Jurassic Park,  Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, the intro for Monday Night Football and more. The software was also used by George Lucas’s visual effects studio, Industrial Light & Magic. 

I hope this provided you with the opportunity to learn, reflect and appreciate all the benefits that these Black individuals have provided for us. Though the tech industry may often feel like an uncertain space for people of color, the  contributions of these individuals are helping to develop a safer environment for future Black professionals in the industry. 

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