After receiving a degree in Mathematics from St. Louis University in 1951, Roy Clay’s first job was as a school teacher. Back then, teaching school was about the best job that African-Americans could reasonably hope to find in the U.S., and more than one of his early attempts to find work in the technology industry unfairly ended with comments like “Sorry Mr. Clay, but we have no jobs for professional Negroes.”
Despite the daunting challenges at the time, in 1956 Roy Clay eventually found work as a programmer of IBM and Burroughs computers in the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, which later became McDonnell Douglass, a leading aircraft manufacturer at the time. Back then universities didn’t offer Computer Science degrees so corporations often hired mathematics graduates for their software development positions instead.
In 1958, Roy Clay worked as a computer programmer for what is now known as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a leading physics research lab operated by U.C. Berkeley for the U.S. Department of Energy, where he wrote software that demonstrated how radiation particles would spread after above-ground nuclear explosions.
In 1962, Roy Clay worked as a software engineer for Control Data Corporation, the third largest mainframe computer manufacturer at the time (behind IBM and Sperry Rand), where he developed software languages for Control Data computers.
In 1965, after an intense day and a half interview, Roy Clay then landed a position as the software development manager and lead developer for the HP 2116A minicomputer, which was the first computer sold by HP and only the second 16-bit computer, after the Honeywell DDP-116, to enter the world market. While there, Roy Clay worked tirelessly to make the software ready for the market as quickly as the hardware, which defied the industry convention at the time. Roy Clay also went on to become the first director of the HP Research and Development Computer Group, a relentless promoter for the development of Hewlett-Packard’s computer division, and the interim General Manager of HP’s computer division following the departure of Tom Perkins, who went on to co-found the iconic venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In addition, as HP’s most senior African-American at the time, Roy Clay also helped a number of other minorities launch successful careers in the tech industry, such as industry notable Ken Coleman.
In 1971, Roy Clay worked as a consultant that specialized in identifiying and nurturing prospective investments in computer technology start-ups for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the premiere venture capital firm at the time. Three of those investments – Tandem Computers ($3B), Compaq ($22B), and Intel ($110B) – eventually attained a combined valuation of $135 billion dollars.
In 1973, Roy Clay became the first non-Caucasian to serve on the Palo Alto City Council. He served as a councilman for Palo Alto, CA, from 1973 until 1979 and he served as the first African-American Vice Mayor of Palo Alto in 1976 and 1977.
And in 1977 Roy Clay founded ROD-L Electronics, the hipot and electrical-safety test equipment manufacturer that he continues to serve as CEO today. Manufacturers such as HP and GE use such testers to validate the electrical-safety and integrity of the line power devices that they produce, from computers to dishwashers.
In 1988, Roy Clay became the first African-American member of the Olympic Club. The Olympic Club hosted the 1955, 1966, 1987, 1998, and 2012 U.S. Opens, as well as the 1958, 1981, and 2007 U.S. Amateur tournaments. And Clay – who had been an accomplished amateur competitor in the areas of golf, baseball, bowling, and billiards himself – eventually served as club president at one point as well. The Olympic Club is America’s oldest athletic club and it is an iconic powerhouse in multiple amateur sports.
In 1999, Roy Clay founded the Virginia Clay / Unity Care Annual Golf Classic to honor his wife’s memory and to promote success for young minorities. Much of the proceeds from the tournament help fund the Unity Care Group’s Pre-College Minority Engineering program, which is a program that encourages young minorities to design and build technology projects.
In 2003, Roy Clay was inducted into the Silicon Valley Engineering Council’s Hall of Fame, where he was honored for his pioneering professional accomplishments alongside such luminaries as Bill Hewlett and David Packard of HP and Robert Noyce the co-founder of Intel.
And for over 35 years, Roy Clay served as a leader in community organizations that help improve quality of life for many, such as the Girls’ Club of the Mid Peninsula, which provides a safe place for girls to reach their full potential as caring and productive citizens, and OICW (now JobTrain) which helps transform personal motivations into marketable skills that foster higher self-sufficiency and self-esteem.