Honoring black tech trailblazers for Black History Month!

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It’s February, and you know what that means – Black History Month in the USA! 

This whole month, coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, is dedicated to honoring the achievements and contributions of Black Americans.

Here at Snowplow we’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate 5 phenomenal black pioneers in the world of tech!

1) Katherine Johnson, Mathematician, NASA

“Like what you do, and then you will do your best.”

Immortalised in the movie Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson was a brilliant mathematician.

Dubbed a human computer, her calculations were instrumental in successfully sending John Glenn into space on the Friendship 7 mission; where he would become the first American to orbit the Earth.

NASA boasts a number of black pioneers including Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan who worked alongside Katherine Johnson, Valerie Thomas who revolutionised the study of space, and Guion Bluford Jr, an aerospace engineer who was the first black man to travel to space.

2) Jerry Lawson, Computer Engineer and Game Designer

To break new horizons, you had to break some rules.”

Jerry Lawson was a gaming pioneer, working for Fairchild in silicon valley in the 1970’s.

He and his team revolutionized the way that games are played today. In 1976, after just six months in development, they released the world’s first removable video game cartridges (games were previously pre-loaded); an idea later picked up by leading game brands at the time, Atari and Nintendo.

The Channel F console featured the first ever pause button on a games console, as well as a joystick. He later founded the first black-owned games software organisation, Videosoft. His story features in the Netflix documentary High Score, which documents the history of gaming.

3) John Henry Thompson, Chief Scientist, Macromedia

“I want to make it easy for people to use the computer as an expressive instrument, and to inspire people to learn about themselves and the world.”

John Henry Thompson was the inventor and developer of Lingo and XObjects.

Lingo is the computer scripting language used to create Flash and Shockwave programmes, which helped to render images in computer programmes. It has been used in animation, gaming and web design.

In his younger years, Thompson had a keen interest in Computer Programming languages. He learnt a number of languages, including COBOL, JCL and FORTRAN to name but a few, always with the ambition to invent a computer programming language of his own.

4) Marie Van Brittan Brown, Nurse and Innovator

“We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this must be obtained” Marie Curie, Scientist and Nobel Laureate.

Marie Van Brittan Brown, a nurse from Queens, New York, invented the first closed-circuit television security system in 1966.

Working as a nurse, and with a husband who also worked unusual hours, she wanted a safe way to see who was at the door when she was home alone. 

This original setup included multiple peepholes, a sliding camera allowing you to adjust the heights as well as an intercom system allowing her to communicate with the person outside. This original system also allowed her to unlock the door from a distance, and immediately call emergency services. Her patent has been cited in over 30 patent applications since, with her technology being the inspiration for CCTV as we know it today.

5) Henry Sampson, Nuclear Physicist

The U.S. Naval Ordinance Test Station was a godsend. When I graduated from Purdue, I found many companies wouldn’t hire an African-American engineer”

Henry Sampson, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering in the U.S, co-invented the gamma-electric cell.

It was designed to convert the energy generated from high-energy gamma radiation rays into electricity.

Whilst the first cell phone was invented by Martin Cooper at Motorola, impressively, Henry pioneered technology used in cell phones today.

The technological and innovative contributions of black Americans have been undeniable throughout history. Despite inequality and racial disparities, outstanding inventors, innovators and engineers have fought adversity to make their mark in history – with contributions that are still making an impact today. 

We appreciate the opportunity to celebrate these achievements during Black History Month!