February is Black History Month. Every February, we honour the contributions of Black Americans and Canadians from all walks of life, across diverse industries, throughout both countries' histories.
However, this year feels different. 2020 was a year unlike any we've seen before, with the onset of a global pandemic and a racial reckoning, precipitated by the killing of George Floyd and led by the Black Lives Matter movement. In June, CounterPath publicly advocated for anti-racism and came out in support of the Black community. We want to continue to embody a corporate culture that uplifts people from marginalized communities both in word and deed.
It's with this spirit that we're shining a spotlight on a Black woman who has made significant contributions to the field of unified communications: Dr. Marian Croak.
Who is Dr. Marian Croak?
Born in 1955 in Pennsylvania, Dr. Marian Croak is an innovator and pioneer in the world of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, currently serving as the Vice President of Engineering at Google. She is credited with inventing VoIP technology, which has paved the way for remote working as we know it today.
Dr. Croak has spoken about how her father was an influence in her success in that throughout her childhood, he pushed her to pursue her passion for science through as many creative ways as possible, such as building a chemistry lab in their home. Dr. Croak attended the University of California and Princeton University, graduating with a Ph.D. in Qualitative Analysis and Social Psychology in 1982.
What Are Dr. Croak's Contributions to UC?
In 1982, Dr. Croak joined AT&T Bell Laboratories where she served in various positions until she joined Google in September 2014. Within her positions, Dr. Croak completed a variety of assignments, including working with voice and data communication. She holds over 200 patents in several areas but the majority are in VoIP, where she has received about 100 patents. With this technology, Dr. Croak has been directly responsible for advancements in the areas of voice calling and text messaging. Altogether, Dr. Croak has applied for and been granted more than 350 patents.
Developed in the 1990s, Croak has stated that she faced a lot of internal resistance, as many people were sceptical of VoIP technology. Speaking on the perils of living through a global pandemic while being an innovator, Croak has said:
"In my own personal life, most of what I've done that has an impact on others is typically at times of stress and difficulty. I think we can benefit from this horrible time in history."
—Marian Croak, Vice President of Engineering at Google
During her time at AT&T Bell Labs, Dr. Croak was promoted to the rank of AT&T’s Senior Vice President of Applications & Services Infrastructure. With this title, her responsibilities grew to supervise over 2,000 computer scientists and engineers. The number of programs she helped manage grew from 200 to over 500.
In 2013, Dr. Marian R. Croak was inducted into the Women in Technology's International Hall of Fame. On top of her accomplishments, Dr. Croak also serves on the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center’s board, and is the chair of Google's Black Leadership Advisory Group.
On Challenges She Faced Due to Gender and Racial Bias
Despite her achievements, Dr. Croak's assent has not been without its challenges. During the 1990s, race relations in the U.S. were at a fever pitch. Notable events that generated public interest include the Rodney King police assault that precipitated the LA riots and the high profile O.J Simpson trial. Furthermore, issues to do with sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace, were being openly discussed more than they had been before, such as when Anita Hill testified during the confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the heels of this tension, it comes as no surprise that during her time at AT&T Bell Labs, Dr. Croak faced significant resistance when trying to develop VoIP technology. She remained steadfast and did not let the opinions of others determine her fate or dictate her worth.
When asked how race has affected her throughout her career, Dr. Croak has told this story:
"Years ago, when I was working at AT&T in New Jersey, I was hit by a car in the morning on my way to work. I was on my way to an important business meeting and this was a time when women would wear dresses and be in curls. I woke up, surrounded by first responders, and the first person I saw was a police officer asking if there was a warrant for my arrest. He said, “Have you fled bail?” and ordered me out of the car. This guy was relentless. I was driving a Toyota. It was a car where you wouldn’t think I was a criminal and I didn’t feel I looked like a criminal. I don’t remember being put into an ambulance."
In 2018, when there was an active shooter on a Google campus in San Bruno, California, Dr. Croak hid in her office, unwilling to raise her arms and open the door as instructed, incase police perceived her as a threat.
“I didn’t understand how anyone could feel safe doing that. My whole body felt like it was on fire,” Ms. Croak says. “That’s when I became aware that I was a black person in that situation. All kinds of fear and dissonance went through my head.”
Google security ended up escorting police to her office, where she was able to leave safely shortly after.
On The Impact of Her Accomplishments
Dr. Marian Croak's pioneering work in VoIP technology has created a billion dollar industry that major players like Microsoft, Google and Slack all benefit from. Dr. Croak's inventions have also enabled organizations like CounterPath to provide seamless enterprise and team communication solutions, that empower workers around the globe.
Stay tuned to our blog, as we'll be spotlighting another Black pioneer in UC. Additionally, we encourage you to show your support by donating to organizations that promote Black culture and protect the rights and freedoms of members of the Black community in North America:
In the US: to donate to the NAACP, visit the following link.
In BC, Canada: to donate to Hogan’s Alley Society, click here.