In this thought-provoking and heartbreaking memoir, an award-winning writer tells the story of his father, John Stanley Ford, the first black software engineer at IBM, revealing how racism insidiously affected his father’s view of himself and their relationship.
In 1947, Thomas J. Watson set out to find the best and brightest minds for IBM. At City College he met young accounting student John Stanley Ford and hired him to become IBM’s first black software engineer. But not all of the company’s white employees refused to accept a black colleague and did everything in their power to humiliate, subvert, and undermine Ford.
Yet Ford would not quit. Viewing the job as the opportunity of a lifetime, he comported himself with dignity and professionalism, and relied on his community and his "street smarts" to succeed. He did not know that his hiring was meant to distract from IBM’s dubious business practices, including its involvement in the Holocaust, eugenics, and apartheid.
While Ford remained at IBM, it came at great emotional cost to himself and his family, especially his son Clyde. Overlooked for promotions he deserved, the embittered Ford began blaming his fate on his skin color and the notion that darker-skinned people like him were less intelligent and less capable—beliefs that painfully divided him and Clyde, who followed him to IBM two decades later.
From his first day of work—with his wide-lapelled suit, bright red turtleneck, and huge afro—Clyde made clear he was different. Only IBM hadn’t changed. As he, too, experienced the same institutional racism, Clyde began to better understand the subtle yet daring ways his father had fought back.
The Sexy Nerd's Review...
One of the reasons I enjoy reading memoirs is because you learn so much about a person and their journey, their trials and tribulations, what made them who they are and the like. I’ve read just about every type of memoir from all walks of life and I was so excited when this little jewel entered my inbox from BookBub. This is a story I knew nothing about and I was quite intrigued to find out more.
Before I delve into the jaw-dropping information I gleamed from Clyde Ford’s book, let me just say that I was absolutely in love with the IBM Selectric typewriters back in the day. I burned out quite a few in my time. Those electric typewriters were all the rave and it was so fun reading about the history of how those little machines came to be. But what was more interesting was finding out about the first black software engineer to ever work for the iconic IBM, John Stanley Ford. And you already know that Mr. Ford being the first also met with some rather challenging times while working for the pioneering giant.
As much as I’d love for racism to up and disappear, unfortunately for John Stanley Ford, it was literally just beginning with all the shenanigans his colleagues pulled on him while employed at IBM. Because of his skin color, he had to work harder and better than his white counterparts and Mr. Ford was here for it. From giving him the smallest work space, to try and hook him up with white women in seedy hotels and pretend like he was supposed to be going to meet up with other IBM execs, were just a couple things that he had to endure. But the one thing IBM’s tricks could not do was take away his intelligence. John Stanley Ford was a genius when it came to programming computers and you can also give him thanks for the very cell phones and computer devices you use today, for it not for his wisdom of programming, we wouldn’t have the technology we take for granted today. Remember, IBM was before Apple and Microsoft. IBM was the leader in technology.
Imagine watching your father as a young child writing computer programming and then teaching it to you so that you, too, could one day become a software engineer and work for the very company that threw all types of shade at you at every turn. Yes, Clyde Ford, the author of this book, became an engineer for IBM as his father once had. Trust and believe learning code and how to program it isn’t an easy feat. For young Clyde, how he managed to understand binary mathematics and different type of code writing, was mind boggling in and of itself. I was struggling to understand it as he demonstrated the different types of programming his father and he worked with. Those damn punch cards were enough to give me headaches from a reader’s standpoint, so I can’t begin to imagine how Clyde ever learned it. I tried using some of his examples to see if I could decipher the code and every time I thought I was right, it turns out there was one variable that ended up being different, but at least I tried to understand the concept behind the technology.
What really blew me away was learning of IBMs involvement in the Holocaust. Yes, you read that right! The Holocaust. I gobbled up those chapters quickly because I couldn’t believe what I was reading. To know that IBM sent their computers to Germany and helped train Hitler’s staff to learn how to use them so that they could “track” the Jewish people was earth-shattering to me. I mean, I’ve loved IBM products for most of my life and to learn about this made me feel some type of way. In fact, just typing this out in my review makes my skin crawl. I’ve read many books and watched movies on the Holocaust and I always wondered how Hitler came up with those horrible ‘numbers’ that he’d brand on Jewish people. Well, wonder no more because he used IBM’s software and computers to help him do it. OMG, I literally fell off my chair as I read Clyde’s words. I so do not want to believe this is true, but I believe every word Clyde stated. And of course, he gives plenty of receipts. There are several references throughout the Kindle version wherein all you had to do was hit the highlighted number and it would take you to websites and documents that Clyde offers the reader for you to do your own research in which I most certainly availed myself. All I can say is, WOW!!!!
For me, what I found most interesting is how many times Clyde went to IBM to ask for his employee records and his father’s records for his book and IBM refused to answer him. After learning of their involvement in not only the Holocaust, but in other sinister activities regarding race relations, I soon understood why they declined to speak with him. I can only imagine the backlash he’s received for having written a book this detailed. When I tell you it felt as though Clyde left nothing out, you better believe it! I was just mind-blown by this entire book. He goes into detail about his parents’ marriage and infidelities. He talks about his personal struggles with his father having to live up to shoes he couldn’t possibly fill. This memoir was very educational to say the least.
Some other poignant sections I found intellectually stimulating was his detail on how technology impacted the elections and the seriousness of technology and being a programmer and what that means for humans. Artificial Intelligence is very real and extremely dangerous when put into the wrong hands and when he talked about Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and how that impacted the country, a whole multitude of things truly opened up in my mind’s eye. Needless to say, I fell in love with this book. This, by far, was the best memoir I’ve read for 2020. I appreciated Clyde’s words and his hard work in researching material to bring forth truth and dignity to the reader.
The Sexy Nerd gives Think Black five plus computer codes and counting. Clyde Ford did an amazing job in outlining his father’s life and history at IBM, as well as chronicling his own. If you’re a memoir fan, I highly recommend giving this book a try. What you learn throughout the pages will leave you in shock, but in a good way! Outstanding read! Until next time, Nerds, open a book and get mind blown!
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