Who's Who in the Technology Boom: Careers in Engineering, Science and Math Allow African-Americans to Rise to the Top

By Henderson, Shirley | Ebony, October 2006 | Go to article overview

Who's Who in the Technology Boom: Careers in Engineering, Science and Math Allow African-Americans to Rise to the Top


Henderson, Shirley, Ebony


As promised, the millennium has been representative of a technology boom--complete with musical ring tones, wireless Web connections and supercomputers that stop short of leaping tall buildings.

Behind the bells and whistles are some key players who just happen to be African-American scientists, engineers and physicists who have paved the way for opportunities in information technology, gaming, wireless communication, education, entrepreneurship and consulting. So the next time you use your cell phone, launch a computer application, or play a game on Xbox, you may be using technology that an African-American helped to create.

One of the leaders in information technology is Kerrie L. Holley, who admits that when he was growing up, computers were an anomaly. At age 10, he was fascinated by his older brother's chemistry set. Holley later excelled in algebra and geometry at his Chicago South Side high school, where he also discovered something intriguing. "Computer classes were new when I started high school," says Holley, who is currently the worldwide chief technical officer for IBM's IGS Web Services and the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) Center for Excellence. "Our classes were small and we got a lot of computer time, and opportunities before and after class to simply play, or solve problems, that is."

In his current role at the information technology giant, the former soft ware engineer works closely with IBM's software and research groups. Holley, 52, an IBM Fellow and a past recipient of the Black Engineer of the Year Chairman's Award, influences thousands of professionals worldwide by making sure the company continues to evolve in a changing market. He also takes time to be a mentor and role model to young people.

"Encouraging more African-Americans to become scientists and engineers requires us to have more role models of all shapes and sizes," he says. "People need to know that science and engineering [are] rewarding, both professionally and financially ... If you had asked me as a kid growing up very poor, on welfare, [with a] single-parent grandmother who raised me, that I today would be traveling the world--Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh City, Calcutta, London, Barcelona, Guadalajara, Beijing, Melbourne, Lisbon, Paris, Rome ... and other cities, talking to people about how to become technical leaders, engaging with clients on how to solve business pain points through technology, I would have smiled, but never believed it."

John Terry, Ph.D., also dreamed of a better world outside of the housing project development where he grew up in Virginia. At 6-foot-3, Dr. Terry, once had dreams of becoming a professional basketball player. That was until he was bitten by the technology bug in school, where he eventually obtained a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1999, and later became the principal scientist at Nokia Research Center in Dallas, where he currently resides.

"I started out doing the typical cellular work at Nokia," says Dr. Terry, 39, who grew up in the Liberty Park housing projects in Norfolk, Va., with his mother, who was single, and a younger brother and sister. "My job was to improve upon the standard [uniformly accepted practice] and create new and more innovative ideas. The patents that I created at Nokia allowed a wireless carrier to handle more traffic, or callers, with fewer calls dropped."

In 2001 he wrote a research paper on spherical space-time codes, which later received a U.S. patent for wireless data transmission and helped to make technological innovations such as real-time video conferencing and instant messaging possible. Thanks to Dr. Terry's contributions in wireless technology, you can connect to the Internet from just about anywhere. He's also a senior member and frequent contributor to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. …

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