Club History Moment: Hidden Figures of Innovation 4

Wednesday, February 24, 2021 By: Monica M Smith
Club Historian Monica Smith shares about a Hidden Figure of Innovation - Dr. Marian Rogers Croak, Vice President of Engineering at Google.

Thank you, President Nancy, for this opportunity to give a 4th talk as part of my Black History Month series “Hidden Figures of Innovation.” Last week, I spoke about an important historical figure Garrett Morgan. Today, I’d like to briefly share the story of a contemporary woman who deserves to be well known…but I confess I just learned about her myself.

Dr. Marian Rogers Croak is a Vice President of Engineering at Google where she is responsible for Google’s global expansion of internet access. She previously spent over 30 years at AT&T Labs, including serving as Senior Vice President of Research and Development, where she managed 2,000+ engineers, developers, and program managers. Dr. Croak is a key developer of Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, an integrated system for voice and data. You may have heard of the term because of VoIP telephones and videoconferencing. She is credited with creating most of the methods and features that make the system reliable, secure, and nearly universal, including paving the way for VoIP-based systems like Skype and Google Hangouts.

Croak was born in Pennsylvania in 1955 and grew up in New York City. Little is published about her personal life, although she has credited her father as an important influence in fostering her passion for science. She received a BA from Princeton University and then earned a PhD in social psychology and quantitative analysis at the University of Southern California in 1982.

That same year, she joined AT&T (then part of Bell Labs) and began advocating for switching from then-standard wired phone technology to using the internet. This is where she earned the bulk of over 200 patents, the majority of which are related to VoIP. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), she also developed text-to-donate technology inspired by Hurricane Katrina that revolutionized how people give to charitable organizations, as well as worked on the telephone network and voting system used for the popular TV talent competition show “American Idol.”

In 2014, she was hired by Google to serve as Vice President of Engineering to help expand service into emerging markets. For example, Dr. Croak apparently led the development of a system of WiFi across India’s extensive, complex railway system. The USPTO reports she has 100+ still-pending patent applications in the pipeline. If all of those are approved, she will have her name on over 300 patents, which is quite impressive.

Dr. Croak used to serve on the Board of Directors for the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education. In 2013, she was inducted into the Women in Technology Hall of Fame, and the following year she received the Black Engineer of the Year Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution–Industry. Again, not much is known about her personal life other than she has three adult children and enjoys mentoring women and minorities in her field.

If we can allow young people and society to have as much freedom of thought as possible and understand all different types of perspectives and disciplines, I think that really encourages invention.” – Marian R. Croak

To learn more about Dr. Croak:
More selected links about Black inventors and innovators from Monica Smith and the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation: