Black History Month 2021: 20 Black Tech Pioneers

To celebrate Black History Month and to educate ourselves on technologists who have led, and continue to lead the way for future generations — we share 20 pioneers of Tech.

Marian Croak | Image Courtesy of Wall Street Journal
Marian Croak | Image Courtesy of Wall Street Journal

Melba Roy Mouton

Former Assistant Chief of Research Programs at NASA. Mouton’s impeccable mathematical mind saw her manage all the human computers at NASA ensuring their work enabled the US’s space programmes.

Clarence Ellis

The first African American to obtain a PhD in computer science. Emeritus Professor of Computer Science and Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado

Lisa Gelobter

Former Chief Digital Service Officer for the United States Department of Education during Obama’s administration.

Founder and CEO of tEQuitable, a place for employees to address issues of bias, discrimination and harassment, and for companies to make workplaces more inclusive.

Herman Chinery-Hesse

Founder of the largest software company in Ghana, SOFTtribe — affectionately known as the “Bill Gates of Ghana”.

Rediet Abebe

Current Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley and a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Co-founder of Black in AI working to increase the presence of Black people in the field of artificial intelligence.

John Thompson

Chair of Microsoft until June 2021 and previously a General Manager at IBM. It’s hard to beat a resume like that! Thompson is now a Venture Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners.

James E. West

A serial inventor with over 250 patents in the US. Co-inventor of the foil electret microphone, an invention that the majority of microphones used today are based on. Now a professor of electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering JHU.

Tony Effik

Managing Director at Google. Effik, alongside his wife, Perky Noah-Effik, founded The Black and Brilliant Advocacy Network — a professional network with volunteers working to advance Black and Brilliant individuals across the globe.

Charlene Hunter

CEO and founder of Coding Black Females — a community to support and develop Black female developers. The Technical Director at Black Codher Bootcamp — a technical bootcamp developed to enable Black women to develop the necessary skills to enter the tech industry.

Frank Greene

Founded two hugely successful companies, one of which publicly traded. After his business successes, he founded New Vista Capital, a venture capital firm that focussed on investing in minoritised groups. In 2001 the Dr. Frank S. Green Scholars Programme was founded to mentor and develop young minority STEM students.

Dr Gladys West

Known as the hidden figure who helped invent GPS. West was inducted into US air force hall of fame for her contributions — cementing her place in history and paving the way for young black women wanting to work in technology.⁠

Ed Smith

One of the first African-American electronics engineers in the video game industry.⁠ Smith’s story has now been told in his autobiography, ‘Imagine That!’.⁠

Katherine Johnson

A key figure in the Space Race. Developed mathematical solutions vital for getting us to the moon. Her story, and that of other women working at NASA during her time, has been told in the movie Hidden Figures. A true pioneer.⁠


Angela Benton

Founder of NewMe, the first global startup accelerator for minorities that has helped secure over $47 million in venture capital funding for minority-founded companies.⁠

Roy Clay

American computer scientist and inventor known as the Godfather of Silicon Valley. Clay developed ground-breaking software for Hewlett-Packard and has helped pave the way for African-Americans in silicon valley.

Marian Croak

The Vice President of Engineering at Google. Croak, with a Ph.D. in quantitative analysis, has driven the development of Voice Over Internet Protocol technologies that power many of the ways we interact with software today. She currently leads the engineering efforts at Google with a focus on responsible and sustainable development.

Mary Jackson

The first African-American female engineer at NASA, Jackson dealt with the common-day segregation and became one of the ‘Hidden Figures’ who drove multiple developments at NASA.

Kimberly Bryant

Founder of Black Girls Code. The nonprofit organisation provides technology and computer programming education to African-American girls and has empowered over 20k girls to date.

Mark Dean

Inventor, computer engineer and the co-creator of the IBM personal computer. Dean developed revolutionary hardware including the one-gigahertz computer processor chip.

Latanya Sweeney

Current Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Technology at the Harvard Kennedy School. Founder of the Data Privacy Lab that researches the impact and instances of discrimination in areas such as online ads and face recognition.

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