As Black History Month celebrates its 20th anniversary in Canada and 40th in the USA, we here at FixMeStick would like to share with you some of the African-Americans who have made important contributions to the computer community.
Annie Easley was born in Alabama in 1933 and attended Xavier University in New Orleans. After graduation she helped other African-Americans study to pass the racist literacy test African-Americans were required to pass in order to vote in Alabama. After hearing of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1955 she quickly applied for the job and was subsequently hired as a Mathematician and Computer Engineer at the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory. She continued her studies at the Cleveland State University while working at the laboratory which was to become NASA in 1958.
During Easley’s career, she worked on computer code that analysed alternative forms of energy and the life storage of batteries. Her work also greatly helped support the creation of the Centaur rocket. The Centaur would be the rocket to launch the Cassini-Huygens, an unmanned spacecraft that was sent to Saturn in 1997.
Video game users have Jerry Lawson to thank for many innovations in the gaming world. Lawson would develop the Fairchild Channel F which, in 1976, was the first home gaming console to have interchangeable cartridges with different games. Prior to Lawson’s innovations on the Fairchild Channel F, games were directly built in to the console – think of Pong. He also would develop content that would then be used by the Atari 2600. Lawson would also be one of the two black members of the Homebrew Computer Club, a club for computer hobbyist that included Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. During his time at Fairchild, Lawson would be the sole black employee however, Lawson has been quoted saying he would keep a photograph of George Washington Carver, an African-American inventor born into slavery, to serve him as inspiration during his career.
Clarence “Skip” Ellis
Clarence “Skip” Ellis was born in Chicago in 1943. His interest in computers was piqued as a teenager when he was hired at a local insurance company as a safety guard to watch over the company’s new and expensive computer. Ellis spent his time reading the computer’s manual and learnt so much that he would begin to help the company’s employees use
the computer’s punch cards. He received a church scholarship to attend Beloit College where he and a professor set up the college’s first computer lab that housed an IBM 1620. He then went to do his graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he would work on the supercomputer ILLIAC IV. Upon his graduation in 1969, he would become the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in Computer Science.
Amongst his various positions teaching positions and careers at Bell Labs, IBM and Xerox, Ellis would also work at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) from 1976 to 1984. It was there that he would lead a team that would develop Officetalk. Officetalk was the first program that would use icons and an Ethernet connection to allow a group of people to collaborate on and edit a document remotely. His research has since been implemented in successful programs like Google Docs.
If you have ever used Windows, Mozilla Firefox or an iPhone you have Window Snyder to thank for the security of the browser or the phone! Snyder, who was the Chief SecurityOfficer at Mozilla Firefox until 2008, has said she was taught to code by her mother from a young age. She would then work at Microsoft, working on Windows’ security. After her time at Firefox, she was hired in 2010 by Apple to be work in their security department. Snyder is now continuing her security career as Chief Security Officer at thequickly growing Fastly (a content delivery network).