5 Black Tech Leaders You Should Know

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Celebrating Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, GovCIO is spotlighting the remarkable Black leaders who have left a lasting mark on the technology landscape. These visionaries shape the past and present with their contributions and unwavering dedication.

Here are five tech leaders you should know about.

NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson is photographed at her desk at NASA Langley Research Center with a globe, or "Celestial Training Device."

1. Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020)

The achievements of Katherine Johnson gained widespread recognition through the film Hidden Figures, yet for those unfamiliar, she stands as a pioneering Black woman in technology. Enrolling in college at 15, Johnson faced limited employment prospects upon graduation, primarily in teaching or nursing. However, she ultimately secured a position at the Langley Research Center (later part of NASA). Beginning her role as a “human computer” in 1953, Johnson played a pivotal role in calculating the flight trajectory for NASA’s inaugural space mission. Her meticulous calculations proved indispensable to the success of many early missions, including Project Mercury and Apollo 11. Additionally, she provided critical validation for the accuracy of machine-generated computations.

In recognition of her outstanding contributions, President Obama honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.


2. Otis Boykin (1920 – 1982)

Otis Boykin stands out as another prolific inventor, boasting an impressive portfolio of 26 patents. Following his graduation from Fisk College in 1941, he embarked on a career with the Majestic Radio and TV Corporation, later joining P.J. Nilsen Research Laboratories. Boykin’s inventions included a wire precision resistor, integral to the operation of televisions, radios, IBM computers, and military missiles. Notably, he also developed a control unit for pacemakers. Boykin’s innovations played a significant role in enhancing the efficiency and affordability of everyday electronics, leaving a lasting impact on the field.


3. Frank Greene (1938 – 2009)

Frank Greene is widely celebrated as one of the trailblazing “first Black technologists.” His groundbreaking work unfolded in the 1960s at Fairchild Semiconductor R&D Labs, where he spearheaded the development of high-speed semiconductor computer-memory systems. Greene eventually ventured into entrepreneurship, founding two technology companies and establishing NewVista Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to supporting minority and female-led enterprises. Greene’s enduring legacy as both a technologist and an investor continues to resonate today. Notably, he is among the esteemed 63 inductees in the Silicon Valley Engineering Council’s Hall of Fame, further solidifying his profound impact on the tech industry.


4. Dr. Shirley Jackson (1946 – Present)

Dr. Shirley Jackson, a distinguished theoretical physicist, made history as the first African-American woman to achieve a doctorate degree in nuclear physics at MIT – the first African-American woman to attain a doctorate from MIT across all disciplines. Dr. Jackson’s groundbreaking research laid the foundation for significant advancements in the telecommunications sector including the development of transformative technologies such as the touch-tone telephone, caller ID, call waiting, and fiber-optic cable systems.

Dr. Jackson has been the recipient of numerous fellowships, honors, and awards, notably including the prestigious National Medal of Science. Recognizing her exceptional expertise, President Barack Obama nominated her to serve as a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.


5. Lisa Gelobter (1971 – Present)

Ever wonder how video and animation (often seen in the form of GIFs) came to be? Lisa Gelobter is the visionary computer scientist behind many of these transformative technologies. Renowned for her pioneering work, Gelobter was instrumental in creating Shockwave, a pivotal innovation that laid the groundwork for animation on the web. Beyond her contributions to technology, Gelobter’s expertise extends to policy, having served at the White House in the U.S. Digital Service and as the Chief Digital Service Officer for the Department of Education.

Currently, Gelobter serves as the CEO and Founder of tEQuitable, a groundbreaking platform dedicated to fostering safe, inclusive, and equitable workplaces.



Image Source: NASA. Katherine Johnson. Picryl. 1960. https://picryl.com/media/katherine-johnson-john-glenn-512d72.


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