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Blog: Roy Clay: Increasing Diversity in the Software Engineering Profession

Roy Clay: Increasing Diversity in the Software Engineering Profession

Vault is committed to building a more diverse and inclusive workspace where employees are empowered and encouraged to bring their whole self to work.  In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting historical figures who pioneered progress in our industry. 

Roy Clay 

Vault provides software development support to nonprofit organizations and this week we share the remarkable career of Roy Clay, a black software development engineer who advanced the field of data processing and computing by leading the Hewlett-Packard team’s development of the first microcomputer.  

Clay was born in 1929 in Kinloch, Missouri, the first community in the state of Missouri established by African American freedmen. As a child, he attended a segregated school and showed a propensity for mathematics.  

Following high school, Clay was awarded a scholarship to study mathematics at Saint Louis University, which was in the early stages of integration at this time. Clay graduated in 1951 and took a position as a teacher after being turned away from several other positions due to racial bias. In his free time outside of teaching, he taught himself to code and in 1958 began working in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. His software script developed to analyze radiation in the aftermath of nuclear explosions caught the attention of Dave Packard in 1965 and became a turning point in Clay’s career.   

Expanding Bandwidth  

Clay moved to Palo Alto, California, in Silicon Valley, to accept a position from Hewlett-Packard leading the team that was developing and bringing the first micro-computer to market. He helped to launch the computer science division of HP and bring the model HP 2116A minicomputer to marker in 1966. The computer was revolutionary at the time for being the size of a typewriter and demonstrating the first use of integrated circuits in a commercial product.  

Following his leadership of the computer science division of HP, Clay became an avid proponent for accelerating the careers of other black software developers. For a period, he was the highest-ranking black member of staff at Hewlett-Packard, a company with an executive leadership team now (in 2021) composed of 54% total minorities, 23% women and 23% under-represented minorities.  

Clay is known as the “Godfather of Silicon Valley,” for his extensive work recruiting black software engineers to HP, championing recruitment from historically black colleges, for serving as the first African American on the Palo Alto City Council, as Vice Mayor of Palo Alto, and for his extensive work investing in Silicon Valley startups including Intel Computers.  

Clay began his own computer company, ROD-L Electronics, and currently resides in Palo Alto, California.  

Increasing Diversity in the Software Engineering Profession  

While Clay worked tirelessly to offer similar opportunities in tech and software development to other black computer scientists, Silicon Valley remains a community devoid of diversity.  

In 2018 only 1% of venture capital dollars in Silicon Valley went to black start-up founders. As a tech giant, Google guides technical advances and subsequently the social narrative of the industry. Yet black employees only made up 2.8% of Google’s technical roles and 4.8% of their entire workforce. Underrepresentation continues to prevail in the field of software engineering.   

Vault is committed to increasing diversity not only in the Software Development profession, but the workforce as a whole. Check out some of our recent blog posts highlighting pioneers in accounting and research professions.