Clarence “Skip” Ellis


A Pioneer and Advocate for Cooperation and Coordination

  • In 1969, Clarence “Skip” Ellis became the first African American to earn a PhD in computer science. He is widely recognized for his pioneering work on the technology behind real-time collaborative editing. In the 1970s, he was part of the team responsible for developing innovative user interface technology, which was later incorporated into the early personal computers. In 1997, in recognition for his distinguished career, he became the first African American to be elected a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery.
  • Ellis’s interest in computers began as a teenager. At 15, he took a graveyard shift at a manufacturing plant, where he was tasked with standing watch over (but not touching) the company’s new computer. During the long nights, Ellis would read and re-read the computer manuals kept next to the machine. His hours of self-study paid off when Ellis was the only person at the company who knew how to solve a late-night crisis with the computer. Going forward, the company came to rely on him to solve computer problems and eventually to operate and program the machine, sparking a lifelong interest in computing.

Building a Trusted Future

  • Groupware, and Operational Transformation, the technology that forms the basis of real-time collaborative editing software. As much of the world transitioned to working from home during the COVID pandemic, many teams were able to continue to collaborate successfully due to Ellis’s work.
  • Ellis was committed to encouraging underrepresented students to pursue science and engineering. He created a summer research and training program for multicultural students at University of Colorado Boulder. Before his death, he spent his retirement years researching and teaching computer science at Ashesi University in Ghana.