Black History Month gives us an opportunity to honor and celebrate the countless contributions Black Americans have made to society throughout history – many of whom are too often neglected. As a fully remote company, we are reliant on technology to allow us to do every aspect of our jobs. It’s become such a norm for us, it can be easy to lose sight of how much work it took to get us here. In reality, we couldn’t do many aspects of our job today without the contributions from several Black pioneers in technology.
So, as we wrap the month up, we wanted to highlight some of these contributions and how they’ve changed the way we operate today.
If you scroll through your social feeds, you’ll probably see several posts with GIFs (I’ve even seen a GIF debated how to correctly say “GIF”). You’ve also probably noticed that more and more people are posting videos online. Both are great ways to humanize a brand and to create more compelling and engaging content. None of that would be possible without the work of Lisa Gelobter.
She’s the computer scientist who pioneered and developed the animation used to create GIFs – effectively changing the way we communicate. The code she wrote for Schockwave’s ActiveX plugin has been used by millions of content creators to publish videos, animations, and other multimedia to the web. And if that wasn’t impressive enough – she was on the senior management team that helped launch Hulu.
Whether it’s for clients or in Slack conversations, our team creates and uses GIFs every day. Without Lisa, we wouldn’t have the creative freedom to tell stories online and build communities. We’d also be doing a lot less TV binging as we unwind from the workday.
Clarence ‘Skip’ Ellis
Another computer scientist, Clarence Ellis was also a pioneer throughout his career. He was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in computer science in 1969, he set up the first computer lab at Beloit College, and helped build software and hardware for the first “massively” parallel supercomputer.
His work continues to make an impact today. Arguably his most impactful “first” was his work at Xerox, where he created the first office application to allow office workers to communicate and collaborate online. That was essentially the predecessor of today’s Google Docs, which I’m using right now to write this blog.
Our team uses the Google Suite to write documents, make spreadsheets, create presentations and so much more. With the rise of remote work, these technologies continue to become increasingly more important – greater cemented Skip’s impact on our world. In his later year, he continued to make an impact educating the next wave of computer scientists at institutions like MIT and Stanford.
Marian R. Croak
One of the hottest technologies over the last few years has been Zoom. During the pandemic, it’s been the primary way geographically divided teams have kept in touch – including ours. While video conferencing plays a major role in that, it would be rendered useless without Voice over Internet Protocol, and we have Marian to thank for that. Essentially, her work enables us to talk over the internet.
With over 200 patents in her name, Marian has continued to play an integral role in our industry. She advocated for internet services over wired telephone technology and pioneered the use of phone network services to enable people to easily donate to humanitarian causes. Even today, her work at Google continues to push us forward.
We simply wouldn’t be able to effectively work remotely without Marian’s work and contributions. The best part of my day is usually hearing my team’s voices – something we have Marian to thank for.
Thomas “Tom” Burrell
We work a lot with our clients on paid social media advertising. It’s a great way to reach new audiences with messaging tailored to their needs.
Tom Burrell, an advertising pioneer, was the first Black person to work in a Chicago advertising agency. Starting as a mailroom clerk, he listened and learned about the industry before eventually pitching ideas to a director and earning a job as a copywriter. Eventually, he started his own agency, where he pioneered targeted advertising by producing ads for Black audiences that incorporated Black culture. Burrell mined the untapped potential of the Black market in America, and in the process, forever changed the marketing game by building the largest Black-owned advertising agency ever.
Our team strategically employs targeted advertising all the time on social media- it’s how we can be sure certain stories resonate with specific audiences. Tom’s work pushed us to think more intentionally about who we’re trying to reach and to tailor that message with those people in mind.
Keeping us connected
These pioneers are just the tip of the iceberg. Without contributions like these and countless others, our lives would be dramatically different. Social Tribe likely wouldn’t exist in the capacity it can today. It’s important to remember the contributions of others and how they played a part in our journeys.
As we recognize these pioneers and honor their contributions, it’s equally important to remember we still have a lot of work to do on their behalf. Here are a few daunting stats about the state of inequality in the tech and marketing industry:
- While Black people make up 13 percent of the U.S. labor force, just four percent of top earners in the tech sector were Black.
- One study found that among founders of tech projects who had received venture funding, just one percent were Black.
- When asked if unconscious bias plays a significant role in the hiring process at their company, 45% of Black respondents believe it plays a major role.
- An investigation by Wired magazine found that Apple, Microsoft, and Google had all increased Black employment company-wide by less than one percent over a five-year period.
Simply put, the industry needs to do better. While Black History Month may have an end date, Black history doesn’t. Our challenge: what impact can we make as a community to drive more diverse representation and inclusion into our industry?