Black History Month: Giant Steps in STEM

Marian Rogers Croak, Vice President of Engineering at Google

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The phrase 'Standing on the shoulders of giants' describes our relationship with those who blazed a path before us. 

As a company that works at the intersection of the arts and technology, we keenly understand this idea. The field of digital technology, for example, is the bedrock for so much of our work, making possible the collaborations we undertake with artists, curators and technologists. 

The ingenuity of technology innovators like Otis Boykin, Jesse Russell and Marian Croak makes what we do possible. None is a household name, but each played a critical role in digital technology development.

Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate the many and varied achievements of African-American people like Boykin, Russell and Croak.

At Art Processors, we want to shine a light on the Black pioneers and trailblazers—like Boykin, Russell and Croak—who have helped pave the way for companies like ours to seek new ways of doing things and challenge the status quo. 

Minority groups, including Black Americans, face many hurdles in gaining entry and progressing within the STEM professions. Black inventors, scientists and engineers were historically shut out of educational opportunities and career paths. Negative racial stereotypes and systemic inequalities meant jobs were hard to come by, research funding was rare, and senior roles were kept out of reach. Things are improving, but there is a long way to go.

Otis Boykin

Born in Dallas, Texas, Boykin is most commonly known for inventing an electrical control unit that allowed for the heart pacemaker's practical development. 

However, Boykin also invented the wire precision resistor, which he patented in 1959 and refined in 1961. 

This breakthrough in solid-state technology enabled the precise regulation of electrical current within a circuit. It paved the way for cheaper and more reliable electronics in everything from consumer products like TVs, radios, and computers to military-grade applications. His small component had a big impact on electronics. 

Boykin patented 26 devices over his career, making a seminal impact on electronics. His innovations provided the building blocks for developing smaller, cheaper consumer products like the smartphones and other handheld devices we use today in our work at Art Processors.

Jesse Russell

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Jesse Russell is a pioneer in digital cellular communication through high power linear amplification and low bit-rate voice encoding technologies. 

He received a patent in 1992 for his work in digital cellular base station design and continues working to this day as an innovator in the field, as the Chairman and CEO of incNETWORKS, Inc. 

Elected in 1999 as IEC Fellow for contributions in the development of broadband technologies into the International Engineering Consortium (IEC), Russell's research and fieldwork in this area changed the way we communicate. 

Without Russell and his fellow engineers and technologists' innovations, it would be close to impossible to conceive of developing a piece of technology like The O

Marian Croak

Currently vice president of engineering at Google and the former senior vice president of research and development at AT&T Bell Labs, Dr Marian Croak is another Black American who has made a significant contribution to communications technology.

In her role at AT&T Bell, Croak oversaw a 2,000-strong workforce charged with transitioning the company's technological focus from wired telephony to IP-based services. Her work involved developing much of the technology underpinning the voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) we all use now for both internet-based communications like video calls. 

It's hard to imagine modern communications without the innovations Croak initiated at AT&T Bell and Google. Recently, she was appointed the head of the responsible artificial intelligence division within Google Research.

Boykin, Russell and Croak are just three examples of pioneering Black American individuals in STEM fields. There are many more.

Sadly, there are also the stories of those marginalized or shut out of their professions, their ambitions and potential thwarted by racism and injustice. 

At Art Processors, we're proud to honour the achievements of Black Americans in all walks of life. We value diversity and inclusion, and we're trying each day to become a company that upholds those values in all that we do.

"Diversity and inclusion is one of our core values," says Vanessa Doake, Chief People Officer. "We're endeavouring to build a company and a community at Art Processors that reflects our employees, the clients we serve, and the museum and gallery visitors who use our software and the things we build."

"Celebrating Black History Month is one way we can learn more about the past so that we can continually improve in the future."

Image: New America, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.