There’s no question that the tech and engineering sectors must become more diverse, equitable and inclusive. One important step towards greater inclusion is to recognise and amplify the achievements of the Black community. With Black Leaders Awareness Day coming up on 18th July, we thought we’d highlight some of the many Black leaders and innovators – past and present – at the cutting edge of technology and engineering.
Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls Code
Kimberly Bryant was a successful electrical engineer before she founded the non-profit Black Girls Code in 2011 – a move inspired by her daughter’s experience of non-inclusive computer programming education. Today, Black Girls Code provides young and pre-teen girls of colour opportunities to learn in-demand technology skills, and the organisation is on a mission to teach 1 million girls how to code by 2040.
Stacy Brown-Philpot, former CEO of TaskRabbit and founding member of SB Opportunity Fund
As CEO of TaskRabbit, Stacy Brown-Philpot steered the problem-solving platform through global expansion and eventual acquisition by IKEA. After announcing that she would transition out of the CEO role in 2020, Brown-Philpot went on to co-found Softbank’s Opportunity Fund, a $100 million venture fund that supports Black, Latinx and Native American founders. She is also a board director for HP and board member for Black Girls Code.
Jessica O. Matthews, co-founder of Unchartered Power
After inventing Soccket, a football that doubles up as a portable power generator, Jessica Matthews went on to co-found Unchartered Power – an award-winning platform-as-a-service company that helps cities reduce the cost and complexities of sustainable city infrastructure. In 2016 she raised the largest (at that time) Series A round by a Black female founder.
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO and co-founder of Promise
A passionate advocate for criminal justice reform, Ellis-Lamkins originally founded Promise as a bail reform startup, designed to reduce the number of low-risk people held in jail because they couldn’t pay bail. The ‘modern government payment solution’ has since expanded its focus to help people make payments for parking and traffic tickets, child support, court fees and utilities.
Christopher Young, executive VP, business development, strategy and ventures at Microsoft
Young joined Microsoft in 2020, after nearly two decades at the forefront of software development and cybersecurity. Most notably, he was CEO of McAfee and led the initiative to spin McAfee out of Intel to become a standalone company. Now, Young is responsible for setting Microsoft’s corporate strategy, driving growth through strategic partnerships, and identifying investments for the company’s venture arm.
Ime Archibong, head of new product experimentation at Facebook
Facebook’s ‘unofficial Black leader’, Ime Archibong has the tricky task of finding Facebook’s next big hit product. After working as a software engineer at IBM, he joined Facebook in 2010, originally working on the business side before transitioning to new products. Archibong has strong inventor chops and more than a dozen patents to his name.
Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Physicist Shirley Ann Jackson was the first Black woman to receive a doctorate from MIT, and the second Black woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in physics. Jackson went on to serve as Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, after being appointed by President Clinton. And in 1999, she became the 18th president of private research university Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – the first woman and Black woman to hold the position.
Guion Bluford Jr, aerospace engineer and former NASA astronaut
The first African American to go into space, and the second person of African descent in Space, Guion Bluford participated in four NASA Space Shuttle flights between 1983 and 1992. Prior to becoming an astronaut, Bluford was a fighter pilot in the US Air Force – where he remained even while on assignment to NASA, ultimately rising to the rank of Colonel.
Mae Jemison, engineer, doctor and former NASA astronaut
As mission specialist on NASA’s 1992 Endeavor mission, Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to travel into space, where she spent nearly eight days orbiting the Earth. It was to be her only space mission, as Jemison – also a medical doctor – resigned from NASA in 1993. She went on to form her own tech research company and non-profit foundation.
Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician
As a ‘human computer’ at NASA, Katherine Johnson’s work enabled the launch of astronaut John Glen into orbit in 1962 and played a pivotal role in NASA winning the Space Race. Johnson’s remarkable achievements – along with those of fellow African American mathematicians Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – were immortalised in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. She died in 2020 at the age of 101.
Here at Roc Search, we’re excited about the future of technology and engineering – a future that is more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Learn more about our passion for engineering and technology.