Silicon Valley’s Invisible Blacks

CNN's Black in America 4 ignores the history of African Americans in technology. Here's what it missed.

One of the Valley’s most famous startups was Silicon Graphics International, a company whose powerful workstations made possible the spectacular special effects that have become standard in today’s action films. SGI’s advantage was a specialized graphics chip largely based on the Stanford University doctoral thesis of Marc Hannah, an African American, and other students of engineering professor James Clark. Clark and his students left Stanford to found SGI, where Hannah became chief scientist. He now works in real estate development.

Frank Greene developed high-speed computer systems in the 1960s and ran ZeroOne, a provider of large systems and software. Greene founded Technology Development Corp. in 1971 and took it public in 1985. He was the founder of New Vista Capital, which managed some $50 million in investments. Greene died in 2009.

Gerald Lawson created the first game cartridge for Fairchild Semiconductor in the 1970s, making it possible for game consoles to handle many different games. Lawson died in April at age 70 shortly after being honored by the International Game Developers Association.

African Americans have often found opportunities in large technology companies. Kenneth Coleman rose to executive vice president at SGI after holding senior management roles at Hewlett-Packard and the game company Activision. He later launched his own startup. John Thompson, a former IBM executive, took Symantec, a security software provider, from $600 million in annual revenue to more than $6 billion. He is now CEO of Virtual Instruments, a startup that helps companies get greater efficiency from their technology assets.

David Drummond is the chief legal officer at Google. Morehouse Man Paul Q. Judge (No. 87 in The Root 100 for 2011) is the chief research officer at Barracuda Networks, a leading provider of security and anti-spam services for companies. 

Shellye Archambeau is a classic Silicon Valley startup entrepreneur whom Michael Arrington should know. Archambeau is the founder and CEO of MetricStream, whose software helps large financial, health care and insurance companies cope with governance, risk and regulatory compliance issues. Archambeau, a former IBM executive, has grown her 8-year-old Palo Alto company to more than 400 employees and could eventually take it public.