7 Blerds from history

STEM (science, tech, engineering, and mathematics) owes a great deal to Black pioneers. Here are 7 of them.

Through the hard work and tenacity of Blerds (Black nerds), we have home security systems, blood transfusions, refrigeration systems, and even GIFs.

In this article, I took a brief look at 7 such figures. Blerds unite!

1. Frederick McKinley Jones

Jones was a Black American inventor and winner of the National Medal of Technology who made significant contributions to the world of refrigeration. Ever heard of the Thermo King? That was his invention.

2. Window Snyder

9 November 2017; Window Snyder, CSO, Fastly, on the FullSTK Stage during day three of Web Summit 2017 at Altice Arena in Lisbon. Photo by Cody Glenn/Web Summit via Sportsfile

Window Snyder is a cybersecurity expert who has worked for the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Intel and Mozilla Corporation. She also co-wrote Threat Modeling, a “straightforward and practical guide” that outlines “the concepts and goals for threat modeling—a structured approach for identifying, evaluating, and mitigating risks to system security”.

Synder has also provided keynote speeches at HITBSecConf, Open Source Summit, and the Women in Tech Symposium.

3. Angela Benton

Angela Benton is an influential figure in tech, promoting diversity in the industry and helping minority-led tech companies raise venture capital. That vital work has won her a plethora of accolades including:

  • TheRoot 100 in 2010, 2011, and 2012
  • Ebony Magazine’s Power 150 in 2011 and 2012
  • Fast Company’s Most Influential Women In Technology
  • Business Insiders’ 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology
  • Goldman Sachs’ 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs

Benton is best known for launching NewME, a startup accelerator for minority founders. It was the first program of its kind in the US, and has helped founders generate more than $47m in funding.

4. Dr. Marc Regis Hannah

The first movie I ever saw in 3D was Terminator 2 and Dr. Marc Regis Hannah played a major part in making that happen.

He worked at Silicon Graphics Inc. for 16 years where he was one of the co-founders, developing 3D special effects systems used in films like Terminator 2 and in scientific settings. That alone makes him one of the most influential and unsung heroes of modern cinema.

5. Shirley Ann Jackson

Shirley Ann Jackson is a Black American woman of firsts. She was the first African-American woman to have earned a doctorate at MIT and the second African-American woman in the US to earn a doctorate in physics. In 1995, President Clinton made her Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and in 1999, she became the 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Her research led to advancements in the fields of quantum physics, having worked at CERN and AT&T Bell Laboratories.

6. Lisa Gelobter

GIF or JIF? No matter how you pronounce it, Lisa Gelobter was instrumental in its creation. The computer scientist was heavily involved in the development of video on the internet and helped to create the team behind the graphics interchange format or GIF.

Gelobter is now the CEO of tEQuitable, a tech company that focuses on inclusivity in the workplace by providing safe platforms to address discrimination. She also worked under the Obama adminsitration in various roles including the U.S. Digital Service where she contribute to the redesign and improvement of Healthcare.gov.

7. Roy Clay

Born in Missouri in 1929, Roy Clay Sr. is best known as being a founding member of Hewlett-Packard’s computer division. But before that, he grew up in the segregated South and battled racism in his early life, as he recounted in an essay for Mercury News:

I think of how close I came to being Michael Brown.

Fortunately, I survived my encounter with the Ferguson police. But it says a great deal that young Mr. Brown will not have the opportunity I had to attend college, build a career and raise a family. Hopefully, my story will help explain why that makes us all the poorer.

On one hot August day, I stopped to order a soft drink from the grocery store. I was not permitted to consume the drink inside the store, so I sat on the curb outside. A Ferguson police car drove up and the officers stepped out to ask what I was doing there. I told them that I stopped on my way home from work.

I was handcuffed, placed in the rear seat, and driven for approximately a mile, to the intersection of the city of Kinloch. The car stopped as many thoughts were going through my mind, including the fact that a body of water, called Baileys Pond, was at that location. I envisioned the worst, including how I would escape if I were taken toward the water.

He later became director of the team that created one of HP’s first mini-computers, the HP 2116A and developed initiatives to improve the racial diversity in Silicon Valley to allow more Black coders to join.

After leaving HP in 1971, Clay got involved in politics and was elected Vice Mayor of Palo Alto in 1976.

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