Annie Easley was a geek pioneer and an actual rocket scientist in addition to being a mathematician and computer scientist. She worked for the Lewis Research Center of NASA (and its predecessor, NACA). She was a leader of the team who developed software for the Centaur rocket stage (where rockets launch from). She was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1933. Her parents encouraged her to do anything she wanted, and she graduated as valedictorian and moved on to Xavier University, where she majored in pharmacy. In 1954, she returned to Birmingham and helped black men and women prepare for the literacy test that was then required in order to vote (because of harsh Jim Crow laws).
In 1955, she applied for a job at NACA after reading a newspaper article about two sisters who worked for them as computers. She was hired, and became one of four African American employees (out of 2500). She started out as a Mathematician and Computer Engineer, and she worked for NASA for 35 years. During that time, her accomplishments included the following: “developed and implemented computer code that analyzed alternative power technologies; supported Centaur; determined solar, wind and energy projects; and identified energy conversion systems and alternative systems to solve energy problems.”
There’s a wonderful oral history with her on the NASA website. It’s an excellent overview of her life, and I really recommend reading it.
If you’re interested in more profiles of black men and women in science and technology, head over to Engadget. You can also read my profile of Jerry Lawson from last year.