Lawson was born in Queens, New York, in December 1940. He grew up with a fierce mother who ensured that her son received the best schooling possible, and a longshoreman father with an avid interest in science. It was under these various influences that Lawson was able to cultivate his natural interest in engineering, tinkering with various electronics and even creating his own amateur radio station at the age of 13.
He studied at Queens College and City College of New York (CCNY), but Lawson’s engineering skills were largely self-taught, and he made his way to California’s burgeoning Silicon Valley. He eventually landed in 1970 at Fairchild, a semiconductor company where he worked as a field engineer, one of the few Black men in the industry at the time.
In the mid-1970s, Lawson helped create the Fairchild Channel F, a home entertainment machine that was produced in 1976 by Fairchild Semiconductor, where he worked as director of engineering and marketing. (Only years earlier, Mike Markkula, co-founder of Apple Computers Inc., had headed marketing for the company.) Though basic by today’s standards, Lawson’s work allowed people to play a variety of games in their homes and paved the way for systems such as the Atatri 2600, Nintendo, Xbox and Playstation.