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Black History Month #2: Those making history today.

Black History Month is an important reminder of all the contributions that African American and Black citizens have made to the history and culture of the United States, and for our first post in this series, we highlighted some of the tech innovators and leaders who fundamentally changed tech, saved lives, and were scientific and social pioneers. To continue in this series, today we’d like to highlight the people who are making huge changes in the face of tech today.



Kimberly Bryant and Black Girls Code

It takes a special kind of person to stand up and change the world. It takes an even more special person to cash out a 401K to help support other peoples’ children to get education in tech. Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code, has dedicated herself to getting more young women of color into tech, and she’s making incredible progress. In 2015, there were just 5,000 CS majors who identified as Black and female in the US. In contrast, since the founding of Black Girls Code, they have helped over 14,000 young Black women take their first steps into tech and becoming software engineers. And the organization continues to look forward: They want to train over 1,000,000 young Black women to enter tech by 2040; a goal we know they can achieve.

Ne-Yo

Songwriter. Producer. Actor. Grammy winning singer. Education Philanthropist. Ne-Yo, born Shaffer Chimere Smith, is an advocate for increasing access to education in disadvantaged communities as well as many other positive causes: He’s listed as supporting over 21 charities and foundations! Here at Holberton, Ne-Yo goes a step further and is one of our trustees. As a result, his input, guidance, and leadership helps us make real changes in people’s lives.. In his own words,

“I want to introduce people to innovations that can help them reach their goals or otherwise improve their lives. I care a lot about expanding access to technology for groups that have been largely left out by the technology revolution. My involvement in Holberton supports that goal.”


Here at Holberton, he has helped us become a better program and help even more people with no prior tech experience; a goal driven by his own experience of growing up in an area that had limited access to tech resources. His support helps us offer a curriculum that requires no prior software engineering experience and trains people in both the knowledge, and the learning skills, to help them maintain a lifetime career in tech.

Hidden Genius Project

To push the representation envelope forward, it takes a realization of the human potential. Not only the realization that all of us are capable of success, but also in providing the catalyst that helps people realize internally that they can be a part of the future of tech. The Hidden Genius Project in Oakland is hard at work doing just that.

They provide two different programs to support Black males stepping into tech:

  • Immersion: A 15 month mentorship program that focuses on teaching high school aged Black males coding experience, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills.
  • Catalyst: Single and multi-day events designed specifically to help introduce young men into programming as a life path, the options that are available to them, and introducing them to mentors who can help them grow professionally.
Image result for hidden genius project

And best of all, they provide their services, introduction to tech, and access to mentors, for free and are currently running programs both in the San Francisco bay area and Los Angeles. Through their approach of giving opportunity and awareness of tech careers to young Black men, Hidden Genius Project is making a huge impact in young people’s lives, and hopefully soon, a huge impact in the demographics of the tech industry overall.

BAYCAT

Unlike the other organizations and leaders here, BAYCAT is not dedicated in getting young people of color into tech. BAYCAT is an organization hard at work in getting more representation into professional arts and media. From their own site, while 40% of the US population is people of color, less than 13% of the film directors are PoC. And even though women make up ~50% of the US population, less than 12% are creative directors. BAYCAT has recognized this, and they’re hard at work in solving representation in the professional creative arts.

Their program brings young people of color and women into the field of media creation through two programs. One is a series of free digital media classes that’s offered after school and through the summer for 11-17 year olds. They also offer a Paid Internship program, where students 18-25 can be trained with practical, hands on media production skills in an internship environment.

Through their hard work, BAYCAT is doing their part to expand academic opportunities to more people with careers in skilled, rewarding roles. And they’re showing amazing results: Iman Rodney, a Black student of BAYCAT who is now working for the San Francisco Giants, won his first (of several!) Emmys at the age of 25.

Black and African-American history continues to be made today. And it’s because of dreamers, innovators, leaders, and doers (just like the ones we highlighted in this post) doing what they do best: They’re using their talent, vision, and passion to make a better world. Thank you, and keep doing what you are doing: You are all making real changes in people’s futures.

Black History Month #1: Historic Innovators in Tech

Here at Holberton School we strive to improve the diversity and representation of everyone in tech, and for Black History Month, we will be highlighting the tech contributions and innovations that were driven by African American innovators. From the earliest days of our nation to the modern computing era, the innovations of Black engineers and leaders have pushed technology forward, saved lives, and set the stage for many of the technologies we rely on for today.

And make sure to stay tuned to our next blog post, where we will highlight organizations that are working hard today to encourage more young Black and African American people to step into the tech roles of tomorrow!


Granville Woods 

Born just a few years before the Civil War, Granville was a self-taught mechanical and electrical engineer who developed nearly 60 patents in his lifetime. One of his most famous patents, the “Multiplex telegraph”, or a system that allowed trains to communicate with train stations by both voice and telegraph, increasing safety throughout the railroads and by allowing telegraphs to also be sent from trains on the move. Not only did this patent both improve safety and utility, but Granville was able to successfully defend two attempts by Thomas Edison to claim his patent. Unable to secure the patent through legal means, Thomas Edison offered him a job, which Granville declined.

Frank Greene

One of the first Black men to graduate from Washington University in St Louis, an Air Force Captain, a PhD in Electrical Engineering, and semiconductor designer, he was one of the first people to crack open the color barrier in the 1960’s Silicon Valley. Among his innovations is the patent for the fastest memory chip of the 1970s, and the development of NewVista Capital in 1986, which helped launch many startups with an emphasis on supporting women and minority led startups.

Valerie Thomas

A scientist and astronomer, she bucked the trend of young women not being encouraged to step into STEM roles. Self-taught in her youth, she kicked off her path by checking out the book The Boys First Book on Electronics when she was 8 years old. And in her time at Morgan State University, she was one of two women who were majoring in Physics. From there, she went on to NASA, where she worked on everything from the LANDSAT image processing program to her patent for a 3D “Illusion Transmitter”, which is a unique system of mirrors that can project the illusion of a 3D object in space, and this technology continues to be used by NASA today.

Jerry Lawson

It’s hard to imagine a single idea that would become the ubiquitous tech for a hundred billion dollar industry, but Jerry Lawson was the first person to invent a video game cartridge. Previously, games would either run on dedicated devices or launched computer code, but Jerry was the first person to come up with a scalable, easy to use way for people to switch between software using a removable cartridge with programmed chips. Part of the Fairchild Channel F home console, his game cartridge allowed home users to swap out games without risk of being shocked, which fundamentally changed the concept of how people bought and played video games. While the Fairchild Channel F was not a commercial success, the Atari 2600, which came out the following year, used this same cartridge technology and the rest is gaming history.

Melba Roy Mouton

Just like the other women featured in the amazing movie Hidden Figures, Melba was a mathematician who worked at NASA to calculate out the complex trajectories of objects in space. Later in her career she became Head Computer Programmer, then Program Production Chief at the Goddard Space Flight Center. For her work at NASA she would also receive an Apollo Achievement Award and an Exceptional Performance Reward; both a testament to her incredible contribution to technology and space flight.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of Black and African American tech leaders: Black and African Americans have been at the forefront of technological innovation despite systemic violence (Granville Woods was physically assaulted by the employees of a railroad while traveling as a ticketed customer) or systematic oppression (Annie Easley, another Black female scientist at NASA, also worked to help other Black people prepare for the Jim Crow literacy tests designed to restrict African American voting rights). And while this history exists as part of our nation, it’s up to everyone to help us work towards a tomorrow where people of all races and backgrounds have a fair and equitable chance to be a part of our new high tech economy.

Stay tuned for our upcoming part 2, where we will look at organizations that are continuing to work hard to improve representation of Black and African American people in the world of tech!

Alan Turing’s Birthday

Alan Turing, Age 16

Born June 23rd, 1912, Alan Turing would have been 107 this week.

Although he’s been immortalized in media (The more biographical The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch, or more fictionalized and incredibly more technical novel Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson), this man’s vision for the future of computing, and passion for math, basically defined modern computing. He developed the Turing Machine, the idea of a computer that, through well-applied math and logic, could basically handle any computation required of it.

Basically, he envisioned the modern computer.

True Turing Machines were only hypothetical in his lifetime (EINAC, the first electronic general-purpose computer, considered “Turing Complete” and programmed by our namesake Betty Holberton, was not powered on until the year after his death), but they represented an important first step towards the future of computing, and one that we take for granted: That a machine could be programmed to handle different tasks, then compute those tasks logically. Or, even more radically, that a machine could be programmed with a program that resides in digital memory, and that program could be changed as needed.

Bletchy Park, where Alan Turing helped create a machine to decode Enigma transmissions, directly helping the Allied war effort in WWII

He was also an early proponent of Machine Learning, and effectively, AI. The “Turing Test” is the benchmark for AI performance: The development of an AI that communicates so well that humans would not be able to tell it is a computer. He also wrote the first videogame, Turbochamp, that was simply too complex for any computer at the time, but was the first time a computer could play (with albeit a low level capability) an entire game of chess. The program would observe the human move, compute the next step options, weigh out the next logical play through a weighted decision tree, then adapt to the next human move. His vision was then to add in the capability of the program to track its wins and losses, and compute the value of its moves to ever refine itself and become a more capable opponent. Or, as we know it know, Machine Learning. 

A statue of Alan Turing.

His vision to see what computers could be capable of basically any computation basically changed modern society, just as his codebreaking in WWII literally saved thousands of lives and directly contributed to the defeat of the Nazi regime. Unfortunately, Alan Turing, who was homosexual in a time that it was a criminal offense in the United Kingdom, committed suicide at the age of 41, just a few years after pleading guilty to “gross indecency”. During this Pride week, we hope everyone can see how far we’ve progressed in LGBTQ+ rights, and just as importantly, remember the contributions of a singular man who envisioned basic groundwork of the technology all of us use each and every day.

Women in Tech – Simone Giertz

To inspire millions, it takes a rare combination of ability, timing, and vision. This, the human endeavor, has led to putting a human on the moon. Exploring the very limits of our universe. And, to make this:

As part of Women’s History Month, we want to celebrate both the historical innovators who made modern technology possible (We’re looking at you, Betty Holberton), and the women of today who are making a bit of modern history themselves. This week, we’re celebrating the work of none other than the Internet’s very own “Queen of Shitty Robots”, Simone Giertz.

Simone’s path to her being an international technological inspiration may not have followed the most traditional path: As a college dropout, she discovered her love of madcap engineering while interacting with local open-source hardware enthusiasts during her time at Hyper Island. Immersing herself with other creators, she embraced the “Learning by doing” mentality by jumping straight in with almost no prior robotics knowledge. Using her enthusiasm with a liberal amount of Googling, she taught herself from the ground-up how to build and program her first robots. In fact, while attempting to launch a children’s TV show in Sweden, she developed her Toothbrush Machine: a helmet that, at best, assaulted one’s face with a plastic toothbrush. While unfortunately the show was never picked up, her career as an innovator in horrible machines took off after she uploaded her creation to YouTube for all to see:

Simone combines a natural inquisitiveness, deadpan delivery, and desire to embrace the ridiculous was just what the internet needed. Rapidly what started off as her sharing the results of her tinkering with technology ended up with her headlining Reddit’s /r/all (often from posts in the aptly-named shittyrobots subreddit), being featured on shows like The Ellen Show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and even one of the most enjoyable TED Talks in years.

Seriously, take a 12 minute pause break and watch her TED talk “Why You Should Make Useless Things” right now:

Not content to just make videos about machines that possibly only make your morning worse, she also documents her process for all of us to learn from, which are equal parts inspiring and amusing. This unique approach to curiosity and building whatever comes from it has led to joy, awkward laughter, and a newfound appreciation of tech among millions of fans across the internet.

Of course, beyond machines that assault with soup, she’s also launched a successfully backed Kickstarter to build The Everyday Calendar: A handsome device that helps everyone build good habits and get the grown up version of the Gold Star every day they achieve their personal, reasonable goal.

Simone’s path followed what we believe in most: The best way to develop new life skills is to jump in, learn with your peers, and to practically apply your learning throughout your self-driven education. And, most important of all, to never stop creating.

Recently, Simone announced that Brian, her brain tumor which she had previously sent on a vacation to Antarctica, has started to grow again. To this, we here at Holberton would like to say we’re rooting for you to successfully evict Brian for good, and that your videos, your enthusiasm for tech, and the very not-OSHA compliant robots that you bring into this world delight everyone here; student and staff alike.