Don’t Look At The Mountain. Look At The Next Five Steps.

Post by Allen Hillery; Photo by Sarah Nell-Rodriquez

December 1, 2022 would have been Gerald Lawson’s 82nd birthday. Gerald Lawson and his team developed the technology that made interchangeable cartridges on my Atari 2600 possible. This in turn gave me hours of endless fun playing pac-man and Donkey Kong as a kid. He was known as one of the fathers of modern gaming. Lawson led the team that developed the first home video gaming system with interchangeable game cartridges. He was one of the few Black engineers in Silicon Valley during the 1970’s. It’s bittersweet that I’m just finding out about his contributions now. Mr. Lawson’s achievements were brought to my attention via a couple of Tweets. Google had honored him with a Google Doodle. There were also a couple of articles celebrating his life and achievements. The more I learned about him, the more inspired I became. He was born December 1st 1940 in Brooklyn. Not that much older than my own father. He attended both Queens College and The City College of New York (CCNY). CCNY is my alma mater.

Go West, Young Man

Gerald Lawson left New York for Palo Alto, CA. The rest was history as they say. Lawson became Director of Engineering and Marketing at Fairchild Semiconductor where he helped build the technology for interchangeable cartridges. He then went on to start his own company, VideoSoft in 1980. VideoSoft was one of the earliest Black-owned video game development companies. 

Upon reading about Lawson I wanted to learn more about his legacy. That’s when I decided to reach out to his children. Having a video game pioneer as a father, I was interested in what their journeys were like. Lawson’s children were not that much older than me. As an advocate for data literacy and tech apprenticeships, I had to see if his career inspired a tech career for them.

Meet Anderson Lawson

I was able to contact Gerald Lawson’s son, Anderson Lawson. Anderson responded to an email I sent wanting to chat and invited me to give him a call a couple days later. I was excited for this opportunity to learn about this man and his journey. One of the first things I wanted to know about Anderson’s childhood was how he saw his father. While the industry knew him as the father of modern gaming, who did Anderson see him as? Anderson shared that he saw his father as “dad”. He described him as a frank person who really loved science. He went on to share that his father taught him how to be curious in all things that interested him and pursue them to the fullest. He recalled a time when he and his cousin were playing the video game Decathlon. It was a popular game given the 1984 Summer Olympics were taking place in Los Angeles. They had been playing Decathlon over and over again until his dad had gotten tired of them playing it. His dad handed them a book titled “101 Basic Video Games”. He then provided them with a portable laptop and said, “If you’re so interested in video games, why don’t you make one?” This stoked Anderson’s passion for video games even more. He noted having an affinity for video games because of growing up around them.

I learned a lot from my conversation with Anderson that aligns quite nicely with the Be Data Lit audience. Anderson Lawson is a Technical Project Manager. He builds products and comes up with features for customers to engage. I really connected with how he positions himself as an ambassador. He shares that he sits at the core of the business stakeholders. In addition to possessing this context, Anderson has knowledge of UI elements and software development experience. This brought us to another great moment in our conversation. While Anderson has obtained technical degrees from two prestigious schools, he maintains they are not the only path to a tech career. In fact he gives passion far more credit than academia. He credits passion for being the spark plug that drives success. The fuel that keeps endurance going. While he credits college for showing aptitude, longevity and endurance, he concludes that we learn from our interests and not our degrees. This is why he chose computer science. It was something that he was interested in. He added that it was the major he chose when he decided to study something he was willing to do for free. Anderson understands that college establishes credibility in the working world. He also understands that learning and consuming information happens everyday. 

Anderson has a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu JitSu (BJJ). BJJ is a martial arts form that revolves around the concept that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend themselves against a bigger, stronger and heavier opponent. BJJ has four fundamental stages that build on top of each other. They are survival, defense, control and offense. Anderson points out that just like BJJ we learn things in steps. As we go through the stages, curiosity allows the concepts to come together. His advice to us is when it comes to a challenge or learning a new thing, don’t look at the mountain. Instead look at the next five steps.

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