UT professor helped invent the first PC

It's a fixture in our homes, work and schools that has evolved through the years. In 1981, IBM rolled out the first personal computer and our lives have never been the same.

"We never thought we would build a tool that essentially changed the world, changed how we work. It changed how we design things, build things. It changed how we communicate, share information. It helped connect the world," said Mark Dean

Dean was part of the IBM team who invented the first PC. Excelling is in his DNA and his roots are in East Tennessee. He grew up in Jefferson City in the midst of racial integration. Dean was an over-achiever which once prompted a fellow student to ask him a question.

"When somebody asked you, 'You aren't really black are you?' that's a stereotype. Breaking down stereotypes is what you have to do. Once people realize you are no different than they are then it starts to change."

Dean went on to the University of Tennessee. His imagination and innovation caught the eye of IBM even before he graduated in 1979.

"When I started with IBM, I was amazed they were paying me to do what I was doing," said Dean. "As long as they fed me and gave me a place to sleep I would have worked for free."

The PC was just the beginning of a technological revolution he helped launch at IBM. Dean's career path at IBM took him from coast to coast, to the Middle East and Africa. He holds three of the company's patents. He's in the National Inventors Hall of Fame among other honors. Still, it's another achievement that stands out.

"I'm proud of getting my PhD because my grandfather was so proud of that. It was just before he passed away," said Dean.

He wrapped up a life-long career at IBM and this fall made a decision that in his words "feels right". He moved back to East Tennessee with his wife and returned to his alma mater. Now he is a professor in the department of electrical engineering and computer science.

"The students have a deep imagination and they have very little fear of trying things. That is what you need if you are going to be innovative."

Now that he has returned to his roots, Dean says his life hasn't necessarily come full circle. Instead, he says it's been more like an arrow.

"This was on the path of where I wanted to go. I'm reaching that point of the arrow that I was to be. I've got some more things I want to get done, it's a good time in academia to make those things happen."


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