To find out that the first computer built by Hewlett-Packard was designed and created by a Black man is great news and a high note to end the month of February. This is a definite icon and role model for all young people and an inspiration to people all around.
When Clay, now 82, learned how to program computer code in 1956, Bill Gates was in diapers. Universities didn't have computer science programs. And a computer stable enough to run for a full day without failing was the holy grail.
Packard heard about Clay from a friend who had worked on the Manhattan Project, the United States' answer to Germany's nuclear-development program during World War II. In 1958 Clay was a computer programmer at what is now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, turning the ethereal into something tangible: He wrote software that showed how particles of radiation would spread through the atmosphere after an atomic explosion.
Clay was born in Kinloch, the oldest African-American community incorporated in Missouri. He lived in a home with no indoor plumbing, a neighborhood with no streetlights, in an area with a tradition of police picking up black boys like Clay if they wandered outside of Kinloch after dark.
Clay, a Saint Louis University graduate who majored in mathematics, continued to seize every opportunity that came his way. Through hard work, intellect and a bit of luck, not only would he eventually became CEO of his own company, but he would advise a venture capital superstar whose investments gave life to Silicon Valley start-ups, beginning with Tandem Computers.
That computer Clay and colleagues designed in 1965 was named 2116A, and it was about the size of a typewriter. (By contrast, the computer in the radiation lab was the size of 100 refrigerators standing side by side, housed in an air-conditioned room because it wilted in heat or humidity.) In addition to shrinking the size of the computer, they improved its reliability.
In 1973 Clay became the first African American to serve as councilman for the city of Palo Alto. Galvanized by a Nixon-era policy proposal of "benign neglect," which aimed to withhold resources from urban neighborhoods, he helped organize networking events for black technology workers. The 2003 Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame inductee continues to lend his expertise and connections to the next generation of African-American leaders.
This is the most inspirational news and in time to celebrate Black History Month. Roy L. Clay Sr. is the definite "King of Geeks" and alongside Dr. Mark Dean, is probably the most Komplicated of them all.