Computers permeate nearly every aspect of our existence. According to the 2018 National Urban League Equality Index ™, a computer is in 93.6% of white homes and 89.3% of Black homes in the United States. The prevalence of digital experiences has also created a significant increase in tech industry jobs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics collectively defines the tech industry as any industry in which at least 14.5% of jobs are in STEM occupations. STEM workers include engineers, IT, scientists, and the managers of those employees. In the 2015-2016 academic calendar year, only 8.2% of all degrees conferred to Blacks in STEM fields compared to 12.8% of degrees and certificates conferred to whites. Not surprisingly, just 5.7% of total Black employment was in the STEM field compared to 8.5% of white workers.
The tech industry has a diversity problem.
Black Impact on Technology
During Black History Month, we want to bring the technologists who helped shape MarTech as we know it today to the forefront. Despite significant roadblocks and oppression at every turn, Black Americans have had an incredible impact.
Here are 8 notable Black Americans that have made a difference in the tech industry:
John Henry Thompson
If you’ve ever watched an animated video, played a video game, or visited a website, you have John Henry Thompson to thank. Known as the “Father of Lingo programming,” Thompson created a scripting language to render visuals in computer programs. Flash and shockwave programs found in animation, video games, and website design are all thanks to this object-oriented programming language known as Lingo.
James Edward West
Carrying over 200 foreign and 47 United States patents, James Edward West is responsible for creating a more compact and cost-effective version of the microphone. By placing polymer electret film on one side, he was able to convert sound into high fidelity electrical signals. His invention is still used in most phones and tape recorders today. At age 88, he is still an active inventor.
Janet Emerson Bashen
The first Black woman to receive a patent for a web-based software invention was Janet Emerson Bashen for LinkLine. The web-based Equal Employment Opportunity case management and tracking software was invented by Bashen and she obtained a patent in December 2007. Since 2007, she’s earned many more patents and continues to innovate in software today.
One of technology’s top innovators, Dr. Mark Dean is a computer engineer who helped design the IBM personal computer. Dr. Dean led multiple teams throughout his time at IBM, creating the first color computer monitor, the world’s first gigahertz chip, and the Industry Standard Architecture systems bus, a component that allows multiple devices such as modems, keyboards, and printers to be plugged into a computer. Today, Dr. Dean still holds three of IBMs original patents, and over 20 patents overall.
In 1970, Valerie Thomas worked on the image processing systems for the first ever images of space to be sent to earth via satellite. By 1980, Valerie Thomas invented the illusion transmitter. The device creates optical illusion images that appear to be real and in front of the two concave mirrors used to create them. As one of only two women to major in physics at Morgan State University, Thomas’ work with NASA contributed to research on the ozone layer, satellite technology, and Halley’s Comet. She retired in 1995 with numerous NASA awards under her belt.
Marian R. Croak
With over 200 patents under her belt, Dr. Marian R. Croak is a leading expert in voice over internet protocol (VoIP). Dr. Croak also pioneered the way that people donate to charity via text-based donation. In 2005, she filed the patent for text-based donations to charity, revolutionizing charity donations forever. In 2013, she was inducted to the Women in Technology hall of fame and in 2014, she became the VP of Engineering at Google. At Google, she led the team for Project Loon which used balloons to extend network coverage and led the deployment of wifi across India’s railway system.
You can thank Lisa Gelobter for the above gif as she was integral in the creation of Shockwave Flash, the technology that blazed a trail for web animation. Later, she was a member of the senior management team for the launch of Hulu, playing a major role in the emergence of online video. During Barack Obama’s presidency, she served as Chief Digital Service Officer.
Kimberly Bryant launched Black Girls Code in 2011 as an organization devoted to teaching young women of color computer coding and programming languages. The six-week program focuses on giving an underrepresented population the chance to learn about a wide range of technology concepts including robotics. Bryant is an advocate as well, stating to Fast Company, “[our organization is] unapologetically black. My goal is to make sure the girls understand there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. This is about taking pride in our culture and advancing our culture.”
The Future of MarTech
As the importance of a diverse workforce comes in to focus, it is vital for companies to stand up and recognize the contributions of marginalized communities and to create new opportunities for these voices to be heard. With amazing contributions like the ones outlined above, MarTech—and the world—depends on the innovation and contribution of Black Americans.
Who would you add to this list and why? I’d love to hear about change-makers and innovators in the comments below.