Sometimes the most unlikely people are the ones who change the world. Those remarkable individuals who find the inner strength to remake themselves can remake the world around them. Tech giant and Texas native James Henry Clark is one such individual.
Clark was born in Plainview, a medium-sized Panhandle ranching community, in 1944. He was bright, but he was distracted by a troubled home life. His parents divorced in the 1950s, and his mother worked meager jobs to try to support the three children. He steadily got into more trouble at school. When he was in high school, his various misdeeds got him suspended. Frustrated, he dropped out at the age of 16. Needing work and looking for adventure, he joined the Navy.
The Navy changed his life. The service offered many educational opportunities, and Clark earned his high school equivalency diploma and became interested in electronics. After his stint in the Navy, he found himself in New Orleans and began making plans to restart his education. He went to night school at Tulane University hoping to gain enough credits to be admitted into a regular college program. Eventually, he gained admission to the University of New Orleans, majoring in physics. He earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree within a few years. Along the way, Clark married and had two daughters.
In 1974, he earned a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Utah and was quickly offered a teaching position at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The one-time high school dropout had in just over a decade earned a doctorate and become a college professor. While this turnaround in his life would by itself be an inspirational story, it was just the beginning of the journey for James Clark.
Clark wanted to do more than just teach. He started doing research and consulting work on the side. In 1978, he began work as a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University. Much of his doctoral work had focused on the emerging field of computer graphics, most of which were still very primitive and unsophisticated by modern standards. He continued his research into creating high-quality, three-dimensional computer images. Working with his students, they created a system called Geometry Engine.
In 1981, Clark left Stanford, borrowed $25,000 from a friend, and started Silicon Graphics, Inc., based on his Geometry Engine. Most of his team from Stanford followed, and the graphics firm became increasingly successful. The corporation worked not just with other corporations, but by the mid-1980s, also found a lot of success producing increasingly sophisticated graphics for movies.
The company was earning tens of millions of dollars by the early 1990s when he began clashing with investors who wanted to restrain his creative style. As a result, he quit and immediately formed a partnership with fellow programmer Marc Andreessen. In 1993, just as the Internet was starting to become widely accessible to the general public, the two announced the creation of Netscape, an extraordinarily successful web-browser program. The new company became a billion-dollar sensation by the time it was sold to America Online in 1999.
Clark continued with other ventures, including a collaboration that eventually became the medical information site WebMD. He has since been known for his charity work, including creating the James H. Clark Center for Biomedical Engineering at Stanford and a scholarship program at Tulane.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer, and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org