Black Innovators That Paved the Way


Feb 22 2022

While diverse experiences and perspectives should be sought after and celebrated every day, Black History Month is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the many contributions of Black Americans. Recognizing the ingenuity of Black people in technology is incredibly important –  especially when a large diversity gap of historically overrepresented groups is so prevalent in the sector. Today, we are highlighting a few among the many incredible Black innovators that play a profound role in shaping the world’s technology.

Alan Emtage conceived of and implemented Archie, the world’s first Internet search engine in 1989 while he was student. In doing so, he pioneered many of the techniques used by public search engines today. In 2017, he was inducted into the Internet Society’s Internet Hall of Fame.

Marie Van Brittan Brown invented the first closed-circuit television security system and paved the way for modern home security systems used today. In 1969, Brown received a U.S. patent and her contribution to home security led her invention to be cited in 32 subsequent patent applications. Her invention formed a system that is still relevant in today’s society with use in places such as banks, office buildings, and apartment complexes.

Mark Dean spent his career working to make computers more accessible and powerful and played a pivotal role at IBM developing the personal computer (PC). He holds three of nine PC patents for being the co-creator of the IBM personal computer released in 1981. He is also responsible for creating the ISA bus technology that allows devices, such as keyboards, mice, and printers, to be plugged into a computer and communicate with each other.

Clarence Ellis was the first Black man to receive a Ph.D. in Computer Science (1969). After his Ph.D., he continued his work on supercomputers at Bell Telephone Laboratories and worked as a researcher and developer at IBM, Xerox, Microelectronics, and Computer Technology Corporation.

Dr. Marian Croak is best known for developing Voice Over Internet Protocols (VoIP). VoIP is technology that converts your voice into a digital signal, allowing you to make a call directly from a computer or other digital device, which she received the first of many patents for in 2006. She also invented the technology that allows people to send text-based donations to charity. She holds hundreds of patents that are still in use today and is currently the VP of Engineering at Google. 

Gerald A. Lawson pioneered home video gaming in the 1970s by helping create the Fairchild Channel F, the first home video game system with interchangeable games. Lawson was largely a self-taught engineer and the first major Black figure in the video game industry.

Janet E. Bashen is the first Black woman to hold a patent for a web-based software invention. The patented software, LinkLine, created in 1994, is a web-based application for Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) claims intake and tracking, claims management, and document management. As a result of her work with equal employment opportunity and diversity and inclusion, Bashen is regarded as a social justice advocate.

Black innovators that continue to lead the way 

Tope Awotona is the founder and CEO of Calendly, the scheduling platform for high-performing teams and individuals. Awotona grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and came to the US in 1996, where he eventually founded Calendly in 2013.  Docker is a proud customer of Calendly!

David Steward is the chairman and founder of World Wide Technology Inc., one of the largest Black-owned businesses in America. World Wide Technology Inc helps customers discover, evaluate, architect, and implement advanced technology lab testing. WWT even employs Docker with their own technology!

Kelsey Hightower is a principal engineer for Google Cloud Computing and an advocate for open-source software. In an even less diverse space within the tech industry, Hightower has become a leading voice on cloud computing and software infrastructure. In 2015, he co-founded the Kubernetes-focused conference KubeCon, and is one of the most well-known speakers on Kubernetes. 

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