Friday, August 29, 2014

Roy L. Clay Sr.: How a Silicon Valley tech pioneer came close to being Michael Brown

Mr. Clay
Thank you so much for this article. 
First it might help to know I am an African American male. In my late teens I was taken to the edge of town and dropped off here in California. Something strange to have in common with someone.
 As part of my 40 years in  media production, I spent about 10-15 in Silicon Valley working in various capacities for Oracle, Tandem, Compaq, HP and Apple Computer. My biggest thrill during this period was I got to  experience the transformation of media creation from inside of the companies that were inspiring it. After the downturn of 2000 I returned to full time broadcasting. My final job was Digital Master Control Operator at KQED. I was riding the wave of disruption in television. I went from being a graveyard operator of two stations to a prime time operator of six. 
It is hard to describe to anyone not in our business my amusement when one day when our server crashed I was talking to our vendors customer service, they told me to, what else, reboot As the system came up instead of our vendors logo and the shell of the app, we came up first in Oracle. What appeared to be a Windows app was in fact running on top of a hidden Oracle D/B. Oracle my last and largest client was the guts of the software that ran the stations that I had responsibility for—Small world. Why not Oracle they did huge mission critical databases and ours was huge. But MY mission? Who knew? I had completely forgotten that Oracle had a room on our floor in the late 90's testing the feasibility of multi-channel operation. 
For my work in the valley I had various video roles, producer, director, production manager and more. In the final years of my companies’ operation we did distance learning, customer profiles, teleconferences, and instructional video. I was described by several people independently from each other as a “chameleon” both for being able to blend in and to adapt to the situation at hand. My main goal of course was feeding my family a goal that I took seriously. I tried never to let my pride get in my way.
Many black people have helped me in my career and I have made it my job to reciprocate where I could by bringing on young blacks as apprentices. I have had many successes helping them focus on what they were really skilled at. My brother once told me to always show up so that you could maximize your possibilities.
Your article moved me because even though I wasn't in the first wave of blacks in technical positions, I was in the wave that leapt through the door when it had been cracked. Sir I applaud you for taking a stand on this topic in such a clear and reasoned way. I have two grand children who mean the world to me and I fear greatly that they could easily end up a statistic or a blip in he news cycle.  I realize as a business person you could actually suffer from covert racism  by taking such a clear stand. Rather it seems you chose to paint a clear allegory that caused one to think in an existential way, when a life is not allowed to grow to full maturity what could it have matured into. This theme also struck me when watching “Fruitvale Station.” If Oscar Grant had lived what would have become of his life?
I believe that your article was aimed at the majority culture rather than like minded people. This for me was one of the most refreshing things. The tendency to talk to the echo chamber rather than throw down the gauntlet and take a clear reasoned position is remarkable these days.
 Folks in my generation (I am 63) grew up in a time where the Civil Rights Movement had broken the stranglehold on opportunity. I was afforded the rewards because of the struggles of people before me. I knew a great many of the black men who were the first to work  in the broadcast industry in the Bay Area. They broke down the barriers to the admission of blacks because they were exemplars. To a person they were competent, hard working, disciplined and courageous. 
Perhaps you are still wondering why I have written all of this. I wanted to say to you directly not only am I proud of your achievements but I honor you as one of the trailblazers in our industry. My time in Silicon Valley was spent primarily working in the “picks and shovels” end I let others pan for gold. I provided a good service at a fair price. But even that was because of men like you who were able to turn insults into opportunity, and no into yes. Just so you know there are many of us out here who owe you a very serious debt. I for one am recently retired with a solid financial base. 
Here is my take home. The statistics of black participation in the strongholds of the valley and other tech centers—Boston metro area, or Austin are pitiful. We all must do what we can. I have been encouraging those in the Oakland area to get their kids to participate in STEM programs. Like in boxing you have to have the basic tools to make it through a multi round fight. I have partnered with a Tech Salon in Oakland called Tech Liminal they have put together several programs for young girls. Your article has caused me to wonder if there isn’t more that can be done. I got my start at KQED TV in a training program called TEACH. 40/per week for a year. Who knows when I settle into retirement I may give something like that a try.

Thank you Sir
Frederick Douglass Perry
to find out more about me 

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