Mark E. Dean
March 2, 1957 –
Mark E. Dean was born in Jefferson City, Tennessee to Barbara and James Dean. Dean developed a passion for building things and his father who was a dam supervisor at the Tennessee Valley Authority supported his interest. Together the pair worked on projects and built a tractor from scratch when Dean was still a child.
In school, Dean was a diligent student who stood out for his intelligence and athleticism. He enrolled as an electrical engineering major at the University of Tennessee from which he obtained a BS and graduated at the top of his class. Computers were on the brink of major changes and advances and after graduation, Dean explored career opportunities with various technology companies.
Dean accepted a position as an engineer at IBM, the company with which he would maintain a relationship for the rest of his career. His first project at IBM was a collaboration with Dennis Moeller on the personal computer project. The pair designed a system called the Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) systems bus. The ISA system bus was a series of wires within a personal computer that enabled memory, disk drives, and other accessories to be added or connected.
This improved usability and expanded the capabilities of computers which would become the foundation of the digital revolution. When IBM released its first personal computer it utilized the ISA bus. A modified version of the ISA system bus is still used by modern computers. Of the nine patents awarded to the first IBM PC, three were developed by Mark Dean.
By 1982, Dean, then only 25, was leading IBM’s PC design group and also managed to complete a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Florida Atlantic University. A decade later Dean completed a doctorate in electrical engineering at Stanford University that was sponsored by IBM while he continued to receive his full salary from the company.
Dean’s success at IBM and contributions to the personal computer continued into the 1990s. In 1995, Dean became the first Black American to be named an IBM Fellow, a prestigious honor within the company. A few years later he once again led an IBM team that would make history. This time it was working with a team of engineers to create the first gigahertz chip which went beyond what the industry thought was possible.
Spending his entire corporate career at IBM, Dean held various positions within the company. While Vice President of IBM’s San Jose research center he led a team that was working on flat mobile PC devices. In a 1999 interview, he foretold the future of computing and described a tablet-style device that would be held and used similarly to a newspaper or magazine. This was very similar to the design and capabilities of the iPad which would debut a decade later.
Given that Dean was an employee with IBM rather than the founder of a tech company he is less well-known in comparison to other tech visionaries. Yet, he has made tremendous contributions to the development and expansion of the personal computer. Patents attributed to Dean have grown from 3 to over 25 as of 2022. Over the years he has received numerous awards and been inducted in science and inventors halls of fame in recognition of his work.
Mark Dean retired from IBM in 2013 and returned to his alma mater, the University of Tennessee as the John Fisher Distinguished Professor at the Tickle College of Engineering.
- Diaz, Sara. 2007. “Mark Dean (1957- ).” Blackpast.org. March 6, 2007. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/dean-mark-1957/.
- Jackson, Lizzie. 2020. “Mark Dean: Co-Inventor of the PC.” National Centre for Computing Education. UK Department for Education. October 26, 2020. https://blog.teachcomputing.org/mark-dean/.
- “Mark Dean and Dennis Moeller.” n.d. Lemelson. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Accessed March 25, 2022. https://lemelson.mit.edu/resources/mark-dean-and-dennis-moeller.
- “Mark Dean.” 2021. Biography.com. A&E Networks Television. January 13, 2021. https://www.biography.com/inventor/mark-dean.
- “Mark E. Dean.” 2017. Our Tennessee. The University of Tennessee. January 28, 2017. https://our.tennessee.edu/100-distinguished-alumni/mark-dean/.
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