Black History Highlight: A Major Contribution to the Digital Revolution

Dr. Mark Dean

Dr. Mark Dean

You may not have heard of Dr. Mark Dean. And you aren’t alone. But almost everything in your life has been affected by his work.

Dean helped start a Digital Revolution that created people like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Dell Computer’s Michael Dell. Millions of jobs in information technology can be traced back directly to Dr. Mark Dean.

Although technically Dean can’t be credited with creating the computer (attributed to Alan Turing, a pioneering 20th-century English mathematician, widely considered to be the father of modern computer science) it is because of his patented technology that the personal computer has become part of our daily lives.

Not long after college, Dean landed a job at IBM, a company he would become associated with for the duration of his career as well as becoming Vice-President. As an engineer, Dean proved to be a rising star early on with his groundbreaking ingenuity to develop the new Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) systems bus, a new system that allowed peripheral devices like disk drives, printers and monitors to be plugged directly into computers. The end result was more efficiency and better integration.

But his groundbreaking work didn’t stop there. Dean’s research at IBM helped change the accessibility and power of the personal computer. His work led to the development of the color PC monitor and, in 1999, Dean led a team of engineers at IBM’s Austin, Texas, lab to create the first gigahertz chip—a revolutionary piece of technology that is able to do a billion calculations a second.

In all, Dean holds three of IBM’s original nine patents and, in total, has more 20 patents associated with his name and 30 patents pending.

While Dean’s name isn’t quite as well known as maybe other computer pioneers such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the inventor hasn’t gone completely unrecognized. In 1996, he was named an IBM fellow, the first African-American ever to receive the honor. A year later, he was honored with the Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was tapped to be a member of the National Academy of Engineers.

Dr. Dean isn’t the first Black inventor to be overlooked. Consider John Standard, inventor of the refrigerator, George Sampson, creator of the clothes dryer, Alexander Miles and his elevator, Lonnie Johnson, rocket scientist and super soaker inventor, Annie Easley, making modern spaceflight possible and yes, Jerry Lawson, the self-taught engineer that developed the video gaming system so many of us enjoy today.

All of these inventors share two things:

One, they changed the landscape of our society; and, two, society relegated them to the footnotes of history. Hopefully, Dr. Mark Dean won’t go away as quietly as they did. He certainly shouldn’t.

More important, stories like Dr. Mark Dean’s should serve as inspiration for African-American children. Already victims of the “Digital Divide” and failing school systems, young, Black kids might embrace technology with more enthusiasm if they knew someone like Dr. Dean already led the way.

Sources: Biography.com, Haitisurf.com, Wikipedia.org, Engadget.com

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