Mark Dean’s Work on the PC Made Personal Computing Possible

This is the twenty-third entry in the series Honoring Black History.

Mark Dean’s name may not be part of the public consciousness that Jeff Bezos’ or Elon Musk’s is, but they actually owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Without his pioneering work at IBM, their big money-makers—Amazon and PayPal, respectively—might never have existed.

Dean grew up tinkering with machinery, building a tractor with his dad from scratch. An ace student, he graduated top of his class at the University of Tennessee in 1979 and joined IBM the next year. His first major project at IBM: chief engineer on the 12-person team developing the first IBM Personal Computer (PC). He was instrumental to the project and holds 3 of the 9 original patents for the device.

To say the World Wide Web might not have been possible without him may seem like hyperbole, but it was his pioneering work designing the Industry Standard Architecture bus that made it possible to connect other devices to the PC—stuff like printers and modems. No modem, no Internet.

Dean also made laid the groundwork for color monitors and helped create the first gigahertz processor. You may well be wondering Is Mark Dean Santa Claus? Perhaps.

Apple released the iPad in 2010. Dean was working on a tablet in 1999. And not just some Palm-like tablet, but a true tablet in the modern sense of the word. He saw this kind of device as being capable of streaming audio and video, connecting wirelessly to the Internet, making phone calls, recognize handwriting, and communicate verbally with its users. While Dean was certainly not the first to dream up or even build a tablet, his vision was pretty much dead-on a full twenty years before similar devices became widely available.

What an amazing career Mark Dean has had. His story only serves to underscore what’s possible when we embrace diversity and push for people from underrepresented communities to have a seat at the table. We need to do better.


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