Prof Paul Curzon is one of the guests on the latest (S6E5) episode of the Command LIne Heroes podcast, talking about the work of Dr Clarence Ellis who was the first Black man to earn a PhD in Computer Science (and whose CS4FN article by Paul you can read here). Dr Ellis developed ‘Operational Transformation’, a tool which lets multiple people edit a document all at the same time without interfering with each other’s work (we use this a lot in Google Docs). Paul also talks about his own approach to CS4FN (Computer Science For Fun) and inspiring young people to find out more about computer science and its history.
“A large part of my job involves helping inspire kids about computer science. The subject has always had this stereotype that computer scientists are very white, male, when that isn’t actually the reality. So, I started looking for role models that I could write about. And so I just stumbled across the story of Clarence Ellis and was really surprised that I hadn’t actually heard of him before. So I think he ought to be a lot more well-known. I mean, to be involved in both graphical user interfaces being designed, and collaborative editing tools, being at the forefront of both of those different technologies is in itself pretty amazing.” – Prof Paul Curzon, CS4FN / QMUL
Click to listen to “Dr. Clarence Ellis: The Developer Who Helped Us Collaborate” (~28 mins) and scroll down the page to find out more about Operational Transformation and about Dr Ellis. There’s also a transcript of the audio.
You can also subscribe to the podcast by clicking on the ‘subscribe’ button on the Command Lines Heroes front page.
For more on Black people’s contributions to the history of computing please see our Black history page which is part of our wider series of Diversity in Computing. Each of the 15 ‘vignettes’ also has some suggested classroom ideas (here’s Dr Ellis’ page).
By coincidence publication of this blog post about the podcast occurred just after Google recovered from a 15 minute outage. During that time people would not have been able to take advantage of Dr Ellis’s ‘groupware’ work but fortunately it all seems to be working well now.