A memoir/social history of a trailblazing father, his headstrong son, and their struggles with racism in the tech industry.
In 1971, Ford (Whiskey Gulf, 2009, etc.) followed his pioneering father’s footsteps through the doors of IBM. Nearly three decades earlier, the elder Ford had become the company’s first black systems engineer, handpicked by the president and founder of the company, Thomas J. Watson Sr. But where his father was a conformist, seemingly unwilling to challenge the racism at the ultraconservative company, the rebellious author, then 19, showed up for work with “a ballooned Afro, pork chop sideburns [and] a blue zoot suit with red pinstripes.” Ford chronicles both his and his father’s careers, from the dawn of the digital age that his father's expertise helped usher in. Frequently at odds, the two men disagreed about Clyde’s future, the war in Vietnam, and the civil rights movement. A masterful storyteller, Ford interweaves his personal story with the backdrop of the social movements unfolding at that time, providing a revealing insider’s view of the tech industry. IBM’s storied past is not without blemish. Ford details the company’s involvement with the Nazis during the Holocaust and with the South African government under apartheid. Whether recounting the domestic drama that played out between his parents or how his father taught him to program IBM’s first computer as a kid, Ford provides a simultaneously informative and entertaining narrative. He delves into historical and contemporary intersections of race, history, and technology to show that technical advancements are never completely bias-free because they are driven by humans, who are inherently biased. Ultimately, Ford learned that his father did challenge the system at IBM in covert but lasting ways. He also gives a call to action to readers to challenge the current lack of diversity in tech as well as the racism that technology is used to perpetuate in society at large.
A powerful, engrossing look at race and technology.