February 2, 2023

Black History Month: The Tech Pioneers You Need To Know About

To commemorate Black History Month, we will be spotlighting the pioneers in tech who have paved the way for up-and-coming Black technologists. 

From completely revolutionizing the technology world to creating the everyday tech items we can’t live without today. As a collective, this group has helped inspire a whole generation of Black professionals in tech. So, let’s meet them. 

Gerald A. Lawson 

Gerald A. Lawson

You can’t think of game consoles without mentioning the legendary Gerald A. Lawson. The chief hardware engineer – who recently had a Google Doodle dedicated to him – has been described as ‘one of the founding fathers of modern gaming.’ 

Lawson’s influence on the video game industry cannot be ignored. The pioneer designed the first console using swappable video game cartridges, allowing users to play various games. 

Later in his career, Lawson launched the first Black-owned video game development company, Video Soft. The company created software for the home video game Atari 2600, which helped popularise the cartridge Lawson first developed. 

Lawson’s life-changing work has been memorialized at the World Video Game Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York. 

Dr. Gladys West 

Can you imagine a world without GPS? Nope, neither can we. But, thanks to Dr. Gladys West, navigating the world has never been easier. 

Dr. Gladys West – also known as the “human computer,” is widely known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth. In addition, West played a significant role in laying the foundations for the modern technology of GPS. 

According to reports, the American mathematician created an accurate geodetic model of the Earth, which helped pinpoint a person’s location through satellite tracking, which is how we can easily use GPS today. 

Like other legendary Black women in STEM, West has been recognized as one of history’s “hidden figures,” meaning her transformative findings went unrecognized due to her race and gender. 

In 2018, West was formally credited for her contribution to the development of GPS by the Virginia General Assembly.  

Marc Hannah 

3D special effects are taking over the film industry, thanks to pioneer Marc Hannah. The computer scientist and graphic designer is the brains behind the 3D graphic technology we’ve grown to love, especially in Hollywood movies. 

Hannah co-founded his own special graphics company Silicon Graphic (SGI), in 1982. During this time, he developed 3D special effects systems in popular films in the 90s, including Terminator 2, Beauty and The Beast, and Aladdin. SGI’s work was also heavily used to create games for the Nintendo 64. 

“There’s an inner activity that’s required. [It] is the ability to quickly define an object and tell the computer how you want it to move,” Hannah said in a HistoryMakers interview describing the process behind his work. 

At 66, Marc Hannah is responsible for SGI’s future direction and finding new ways to make 3D technology easily accessible for all. 

“My job is to look ahead two to three years and see what’s coming. To see what consumers want, what they will want, and then to figure out how we can deliver that – at what price.” 

Marian R. Croak 

Marian R. Croak is one of tech’s most influential Black women. According to reports, Croak has grown to become a prolific inventor in the voice and data communication sector. 

Croak’s career kickstarted in the late 90s when she joined AT&T Bell Laboratories. She spent over three decades working in various positions within the voice and data communication sector. After predicting the internet would take over from wire technology, Croak’s passion for technology was born. 

The tech expert decided to dedicate the next few years to building technology to help transform the internet. During this time, she invented the technology that allows people to send text-based donations to charities and the Voice Over Internet Protocols (VoIP), which enables us to make calls using the internet. 

This revolutionary finding helped create popular communication platforms like Skype and Zoom. 

Last year, Croak became one of the first Black women to be inducted into the National Investors Hall of Fame for her work in creating the VoIP. 

For the past six years, Croak has served as a VP at Google working on everything from bringing public Wi-Fi to India’s railroads to site reliability engineering.

Get to know more Black tech pioneers here!

Kumba Kpakima

Kumba Kpakima is a reporter at POCIT. A documentary about the knife crime epidemic in the UK got her a nomination for the UK's #30toWatch Young Journalists of the Year.