February 26, 2021 Celebrating Black History Month

Diversity and opportunity are core to Topcoder’s philosophy, and today we want to shine a special spotlight on Black technologists and innovators. In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting three notable Black technologists from history and three from today who are leading the way forward. 

3 Great Black Technologists From the Past

1. Frank Greene (1938 – 2009)

  • Greene was a pioneer in the semiconductor field and developed a high-speed semiconductor computer-memory system that earned him the rare honor of being one of only 63 inductees in the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame.
  • Greene was not only a scientist, but also a venture capitalist who founded New Vista Capital.
  • Greene was devoted to boosting the representation of African-Americans in America’s technological fields, and his venture capital firm was focused on supporting inventors and scientists who hailed from marginalized, underrepresented groups.
  • His academic career came first circle, starting as one of the first Black students at St. Louis’ Washington University, and becoming Santa Clara University’s first elected Black trustee.
2. Otis Boykin (1920 – 1982)

  • By the time he passed away in 1982, Boykin had registered nearly 30 patents, including technology used in U.S. military missiles, IBM computers, and televisions across America.
  • Boykin’s mother died from a heart attack when he was an infant, and he went on to invent a component in the modern pacemaker that improved the device’s accuracy.
  • While he might be better known for his work on computers and pacemakers, Boykin also invented a cash register that was burglar-proof.
3. Meredith Gourdine (1929 – 1998)

  • Gourdine was an electrogasdynamics expert, and invented the heat sinks used to keep computer chips from overheating.
  • Gourdine’s work has been instrumental in today’s energy world, especially the use of creating electrical energy out of ion wind.
  • Before Gourdine founded his two firms, Energy Innovations and Gourdine Laboratories, he was actually an Olympian (he won a silver medal at the 1952 Summer Olympics).

more recent notable Black technologists

1. Valerie Thomas

  • Thomas invented the illusion transmitter, and developed different image processing systems in the late 1960s.
  • She was foundational in developing NASA’s first satellite capable of broadcasting pictures from space.
  • NASA continues to use Thomas’ technology today, and the agency awarded Thomas its Equal Opportunity Medal and its Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit.
  • Thomas started her career at NASA in the ’60s as a data analyst, and by the time she retired in the mid-1990s, she was chair of the Space Science Data Operations Office Education Committee.
2. James West

  • West is a prolific inventor and holds more than 250 different patents.
  • He invented the technology used in nine out of 10 of today’s modern microphones.
  • One of West’s personal passions during his career was encouraging people of color, and women, to chase their dreams of having a career in technology and science.
3. Marc Regis Hannah

  • Hannah is an electrical engineer and computer graphics expert.
  • Hannah’s computer graphics innovations have been featured in most Hollywood films in the early 1990s, including blockbusters like Jurassic Park, Disney’s Aladdin, and Terminator 2.
  • Beyond work with Hollywood, Hannah’s design and engineering innovations have revolutionized the fields of medical research and engineering, assisting with everything from mapping gene sequences to designing aircraft.

At Topcoder, we celebrate these Black inventors and innovators. We believe firmly that more diverse teams are stronger in creativity and innovation, and help form much stronger organizational cultures. It is our hope that open talent models, crowdsourcing and the gig economy will render workplace bias and hiring inequality obsolete, providing opportunity for all.


Annika Nagy

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