Conceras Connect welcomes guest blogger, Jahni Lane-Foster. Jahni is an intern at Conceras. She attends Spelman College in GA, studying Political Science and Sociology.
When Eve Mercer, Conceras’ Recruiting & Human Resources Manager, first told me that she wanted me to write blog posts for Black History Month highlighting Black people who contributed to the technology field, I realized that not one person immediately came to mind. Besides knowing Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson from the movie Hidden Figures, I was oblivious. Both of my parents are in the IT field, but I never really made a mental connection between Black people and tech. However, after doing some research, I learned about a man that we should all know: Roy L. Clay Sr.
Known as “The Godfather of Silicon Valley”, Roy Clay is a Black American computer scientist and inventor who helped pave the way for Black people in the technology field. Born in Kinloch, Missouri, Clay attended a segregated school where he was eventually awarded a mathematics scholarship to attend St. Louis University. He was the first Black American to graduate from St. Louis University in 1951 where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics.
In 1956, Clay taught himself how to code and by 1958 was a programmer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Here he wrote software for the U.S Department of Energy that demonstrated how particles of radiation would spread after a nuclear explosion. After hearing about his amazing work, David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard (HP) encouraged Clay to apply for a job. Later, Clay was recruited to set up HP’s computer development business.
While working at HP, Clay led a team that created the HP 2116A, which was a part of a series of mini-computers that were produced from the mid-1960’s to early 1990’s, and was the first computer to be sold by the company. He also established the HP software development facility, managed the computer division, established programs to help Black Americans get into Silicon Valley, and guided the company’s emergence as a computer company.
In 1977, Clay formed his own company, Rod-L Electronics, where he manufactured electrical-safety test equipment. At one point, Clay’s company was the largest employer of Black American professionals in Silicon Valley. Rod-L Electronics remains in business today and Clay is the CEO. The company is recognized not only for its technological innovation but its community work as well. The company was also awarded the Dads Count Family Friendly Employer Award by San Mateo County.
In 2002, Clay was elected by the African American Museum and Library at Oakland as one of the most important Black Americans working in technology. He was also inducted into the Silicon Valley Hall of Fame in 2003.
Museum , Palto Alto. “Moments in History: Roy Clay Sr..” Palo Alto History Museum, https://paloaltohistorymuseum.org/moments-in-history-roy-clay-sr/.
“Roy Clay.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Feb. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Clay.
Henderson, Diedtra. “Before Bill Gates, There Was Roy L. Clay Sr..” The Root, The Root, 12 Jan. 2017, https://www.theroot.com/before-bill-gates-there-was-roy-l-clay-sr-1790890151