As Black History Month begins, this is an opportune moment for us to cast a spotlight on the often unsung brilliance and innovation that Black minds have brought to our industry. The groundbreaking work of Black scientists, inventors, innovators, and beyond has catalyzed powerful disruption and innovation in STEM fields. Their impact reaches far, driving evolution seen in our day-to-day lives and our roles as guides to the technology landscape. Keep reading to dive into the rich tapestry and history of our industry with a focus on recognizing and honoring the Black pioneers who have helped make the work we do today possible.
Leading Innovation in Technology
Marian Croak is one of the first two Black women to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. She received this honor for her patent on VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) Technology. This technology is revolutionary in furthering the technology landscape and creating more accessible opportunities for employees to conduct remote work and conferencing.
Inspired by her father to pursue a career in STEM, Croak earned her Bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in Quantitative Analysis and Psychology from the University of Southern California. After graduation, she began work at Bell Labs, now known as AT&T. Her work spanned several divisions, but typically focused on the positive impact technology could bring to human’s lives, with an emphasis on digital messaging applications. While at AT&T, Croak significantly advanced VoIP technologies. She has been awarded over 200 patents, almost half of which are in VoIP, and much of the widespread application and usage of today’s digital networks would not be possible without the foundation Croak developed.
Croak currently serves as the Vice President in the engineering group at Google, a title she’s held since 2014. Included in her role is the focus on expanding the capabilities and reach of the Internet, as well as the ethical development of AI technologies. Croak is also involved in racial justice efforts at Google and has set a continued goal to encourage and empower women and young girls entering the engineering field.
Inventors are just humans. Anyone can have innovative ideas. But we have to share those ideas and collaborate with each other so that they can be realized. – Marian Croak
Alan Emtage is a Bajan-Canadian computer scientist widely recognized as having conceived and implemented the world’s first Internet search engine. While studying at McGill University Emtage was part of the team that brought the first Internet link to eastern Canada. Shortly after this accomplishment is when he created and implemented the original version of the Archie search engine.
Emtage was born in Barbados and graduated from his high school at the top of his class in 1983. By 1991, he had earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In 1992, Emtage teamed up with a fellow McGill graduate to form Bunyip Information Systems in Montreal, the world’s first company specifically founded for and focused on providing Internet information services, leveraging Emtage’s Archie technologies. Emtage’s work was instrumental in setting a standard for several Internet practices. Alongside other key pioneers in the industry, he co-chaired the Uniform Resource Identifier group, which created the standard for Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). Emtage is currently the Chief Technical Officer at Mediapolis, a Web engineering company in New York City.
Empowering Diversity in STEM
Dr. Frank S. Greene
Dr. Frank. S. Greene is known as an educator, venture capitalist, engineer, scientist, and pioneer in Black representation in Silicon Valley workforces. He was one of the first African American students to study at Washington University in St. Louis. He was also the first African American cadet to graduate the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. Dr. Greene significantly contributed to the evolution of memory chip technology with the Fairchild Semiconductor team. Dr. Greene was the founding CEO or founder of multiple technological organizations. In addition, he founded scholarship programs and VC firms that promote opportunities for African Americans and/or marginalized groups in technology and beyond.
By 1962, Dr. Greene earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Washington University. This was followed by his master’s in electrical engineering from Purdue University. In addition, he also reached groundbreaking achievements in the Air Force. He reached the rank of Air Force captain and worked as an electrical officer, creating high performance computers for the National Security Agency. After his service, he returned to research and academia. His work with the Fairchild Semiconductor team resulted in the fastest memory chip speeds at the time. It has been instrumental in further development and innovation of these technologies. He also holds the patent for the integrated circuit. In 1970, Dr. Greene completed his doctorate in electrical engineering from Santa Clara University. He went on to become the first African American elected to their Board of Trustees.
Much of Dr. Greene’s focus was on creating more room for African American representation in technology and business. He was the founding CEO of the Technology Development Corporation, whose projects contributed to government avionics, the space shuttle program, and improved underwater communication. He founded ZeroOne Systems, a supercomputing system house, as well as a scholarship program for African American scholars in the San Jose area, and New Vista Capital, a VC firm providing support to marginalized groups.
All successful leaders meet their challenges by starting with a clear vision that creates value for others. – Dr. Frank S. Greene
Euphemia Haynes was a renowned educator and mathematician. In 1943, she became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. In addition to this notable achievement, Haynes made a strong impact on the Washington, D.C. education system. She created a ripple effect seen across the evolution of education and improvement of diversity in STEM.
After receiving her Ph.D. from The Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Haynes turned to teaching. She brought her experience and intelligence to each role she held in her 47-year teaching career. Throughout this span, she endeavored to continually introduce important changes to how students receive education and preparation for their futures. She was a strong critic of the D.C. “track system”. This was a system that often placed African American students into tracks that didn’t provide them with suitable future preparation. Her outspoken response helped lead to the end of this system in 1967. In general, her work empowered more African American students to pursue education and careers in STEM. Haynes helped pave the way for stronger diversity throughout our industry even to this day.
The impact and reach of Black pioneers and leaders in STEM are not just notable, but worthy of recognition. Yet, it can go under appreciated and unacknowledged, despite technologies and shifts that are a direct result of their work. These individuals and their influence on technological advancements, both past and present, are just a small subset of the innovators in our industry who should be praised and celebrated for their achievements.
As we continue into Black History Month this February, we encourage you to continue expanding your education of the Black trailblazers, disruptors, and leaders of change who have helped make the world we do today possible.