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Marian Croak, who has 200 patents to her name including the technology behind Zoom, became one of the first Black women to be inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame

Yoonji Han   

Marian Croak, who has 200 patents to her name including the technology behind Zoom, became one of the first Black women to be inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame
  • Marian Croak became one of the first two Black women to be inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • Her innovations in internet technology have enabled remote work, text donations, and voting for American Idol.

When Marian Croak was just five or six years old, she grew enchanted with electricians and plumbers who came to fix broken wires and pipes at her home. She followed them around to see how things were done, peppering them with questions.

"I still do that today!" Croak told Google in a recent interview.

Croak's fascination with engineering only grew over the years. Last year, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame — among the highest honors for inventors, including Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Wright brothers.

Croak became one of first two Black women to receive that honor, alongside the late Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist who created a device used during surgery to easily remove cataracts. (Of the Hall of Fame's 610 inductees, just 48 of them are women and 30 are Black, according to Rini Paiva, executive vice president for selection and recognition at the NIHF.)

A lifelong innovator with more than 200 patents to her name, Croak most notably developed Voice over Internet Protocol, a technology that has innumerable and important uses in our everyday lives, including making remote work, text voting for American Idol, and Hurricane Katrina donations possible.

"I have always been motivated by the desire to change the world, and to do that I try to change the world that I'm currently in," Croak told Google.

Developing groundbreaking technology

Croak was encouraged to pursue STEM from a young age: Her father built her a home chemistry set, offering her just a taste of things to come. After graduating from Princeton University and receiving her doctorate from the University of Southern California in 1982, Croak landed a job at AT&T Bell Laboratories, where other famed inventors like James West pioneered groundbreaking technologies.

At AT&T, Croak began working on Voice over Internet Protocol, which converts voice data into digital signals that can be transmitted over the internet, rather than through phone lines like in the early days of the internet.

Initially, the technology she helped develop wasn't very reliable, leading some critics to scoff at what they deemed a "toy like" technology, according to Croak.

But eventually, Croak and her team made so much progress that AT&T began to use it for its own core network. This technology has advanced the capabilities of online audio and video calls — enabling the likes of Zoom that are essential for remote work today.

Croak's innovations also revolutionized how people donate to charitable organizations after a natural disaster. They were used to create the text-to-donate system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that raised $130,000, as well as $43 million after Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake.

The same technology also enabled the text voting system used in American Idol.

A legacy of diverse representation

After 32 years at AT&T, Croak joined Google in 2014 to spearhead efforts to expand what the internet is capable of around the world. She led a team that brought broadband to developing countries in Asia and Africa, building, for example, public wi-fi in railroad stations in India.

Croak also works on racial justice efforts at Google, and continues to mentor women and young girls in engineering.

As one of the first-ever Black women to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Croak recognizes the importance of diversity in a historically homogenous industry.

"I find that it inspires people when they see someone who looks like themselves on some dimension, and I'm proud to offer that type of representation," Croak said in her interview with Google. "I want people to understand that it may be difficult but that they can overcome obstacles and that it will be so worth it."


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