Meet Roy Clay, the godfather of Silicon Valley who invented the software to measure nuclear bomb radiation

Stephen Nartey May 09, 2023
His contributions at ROD-L Electronics earned Roy Clay Sr. the moniker, the Godfather of Silicon Valley. Photo credit: Palo Alto History Museum

Many contemporaries and tech critics referred to Roy Clay Sr. as the Godfather of Silicon Valley as a result of the innovations he pioneered for the advancement of technology. One of such breakthroughs credited to his name is the development of new software for HP computers.

Clay taught himself how to code when coding was unpopular, and attained his first degree through a scholarship offered to him by St. Louis University. He was among the privileged few who graduated with degrees in 1951.

The first job he was offered at Silicon Valley was his breakthrough; he invented software to measure the extent of radiation after an atomic bomb explosion. When his name began making waves in the tech industry, he was offered a lucrative job by the co-founder of Hewlett Packard, David Packard, to lead the HP team in designing computer #2116A for the market in 1965.

He was also the genius behind the software these computers run on. Clay however left HP after a decade of service to start his own company, ROD-L Electronics, which produced the world’s first electrical safety testing equipment. Clay virtually set the bar for measuring electrical product safety testing through continuous partnerships with tech giants such as HP, AT&T, Xerox, and IBM, according to VC Solutions.

He started the business in a predominantly black community known as East Palo Alto. His contributions at ROD-L Electronics earned him the moniker, the Godfather of Silicon Valley.

Raised in the Missouri town of Kinloch, Clay started his career in Silicon Valley at a time when there weren’t many black tech enthusiasts. Before this, his application for employment at McDonnell Aircraft was rejected because the company did not hire professional African Americans. However, after a short stint in teaching, he reapplied to McDonnell and was successful.

He began asserting his purpose when he was employed by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory to analyze the possible implications of nuclear bombs on the Bay Area. However, what revolutionized his place in American history was his job opportunity at HP in 1965. He thrived there because the employers at HP never cared about the race of whoever they employed, what mattered most was the quality of their expertise and skills.

That experience meant a lot to Clay, and when he had the opportunity to be a trailblazer and open the door for other black tech aspirants, he opened it so wide to enable a generation of African American tech professionals to exhibit their talent, according to the nbc bay area.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: May 9, 2023

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