In the early 90s, there was a woman leading the group of computer pioneers who developed the first Internet networks in Latin America. That was the Uruguayan Ida Holz, whose accomplishments in the arrival and boot-up of e-mail and the Internet in Uruguay got her to the Internet Hall of Fame.
Ida was one of the first generations of computer engineers from the Universidad de la República in Uruguay. Back in 1973, Uruguay was under a civic-military dictatorship. So, only some years after graduating Holz and her family sought refuge in the Mexican embassy out of fear of political persecution and eventually moved to Mexico where they lived for 12 years. It was during that time that Ida bought her first personal computer (a Commodore), worked at many different organisms of the Mexican State and became an expert in informatic networks.
Once democracy was re-established in Uruguay, Holz got a position as director of the Central Computer Service (SECIU) of the Universidad de la República. She was one of the many former professors that returned from exile in 1987. Ida directed the SECIU for over 20 years which ended up playing a significant role in the development of ICT in Uruguay and Latin-America.
The first access to the email was done by the Computer Institute of the School of Engineering, through long-distance calls to the Universidad de Buenos Aires. They would call a couple of times a day over the phone to send out the mail that was stored in their server and receive all the arriving mails. At the beginning, the email was used to exchange messages between engineers. Later, the existence of the possibility of getting online began to spread and teachers all over the university became interested in getting an email.
The users kept growing and the Computer Institute was overwhelmed. Then, Ida was asked by the SECIU to take over the function of email service provider. She created the Uruguayan Academic Network (RAU), which began to offer access to these new technologies to the entire national academic community. By 1991 they got the domain .uy and started working directly with UUNET (one of the largest Internet service providers at the time) reaching over 30 nodes. Holz rembers:
“Then we got excited and wanted to access the internet, but that required a direct link to the United States at that time, and it took us a few years to get it.”
Finally, Uruguay established its first link to the NSF network in 1994 and Internet was introduced to the Uruguayan society in 1995.
Before the first internet connection was ever done in Uruguay, Ida had a key role in the “First Interamerican Networking Workshop” held in Río de Janeiro in 1991.
“At a certain moment, an American and a European told us that we had to put together something Latin American, and that if it was ok they would choose us some authorities to form something, to unite us, and I told them I did not agree. If we could not govern ourselves and choose our own leaders there was no point in creating anything.”
She asked for the Latin Americans to have time to meet alone and by the time they had finished they had created the Latin America and Caribbean Network Forum, an organization that until recently has served to bring network representatives together.
“There was no technology, there was nothing, but with the forum we started working, we met once a year and years later we put all this together.”
“For developing countries like ours, the Internet is a means of collaborating and access to knowledge all around the world alike.”
Ida then continued to lead the developmente of many regional major organizational initiatives, such as the Internet Address Registry for Latin America and Caribbean (LACNIC), the Latin American and Caribbean ccTLDs Organization (LACTLD), and the Latin American Cooperation of Advanced Networks (RedCLARA).
Hall of Fame
Ida Holz was the first Latin-American to enter the Internet Hall of Fame in 2013. This is an award given by the Internet Society in recognition of individuals who have made significant contributions to the development and advancement of the Internet. She was awarded in the category of Global Connector and from that time Ida remembers a funny anecdote:
“It was amazing, and it happen in a weird way. I got and email saying, “Dear Ida, we congratulate you…” and I just delete it, because I thought it was one of those emails telling you are a millionaire. One week later, I got another email that called my attention because it was from AISOC (Ibero-American Association of Sociology of Organizations and Communication), asking why I haven’t replied. It was there when I found out about the Hall of Fame.”
Despite being exiled from her home country by a military dictatorship, Ida Holz returned to Uruguay with hope and a vision, understanding that access to information is crucial for the development of a society. Helping develop the Internet in Latin America was just the natural consequence to her ideas and beliefs. Is not a surprise that Vint Cerf calls her “mother of the Internet”.
Advent Calendar — Help us make it a book!
From December 1st until December 24th we plan to release one article each day, highlighting the life of one of the many women that have made today’s computing industry as amazing as it is: From early compilers to computer games, from chip design to distributed systems, we will revisit the lives of these pioneers.
Each article will come with an amazing illustration by @SebastianNavasF
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- Illustration: Sebastián Navas
- Tortt, Z., & Martín, J. (2003). El proceso de difusión de Internet en el Uruguay: un análisis de los actores involucrados.
- Aportes para la historia del Instituto de Computación [1967–2012]. Facultad de Ingeniería — Universidad de la República (https://www.fing.edu.uy/paginas/aportes-para-la-historia-del-instituto-de-computaci%C3%B3n-1967-2012)
- Interview with Ida Holz by Emiliano Cotelo (in Spanish) (https://www.espectador.com/tecnologia/268187/ingeniera-ida-holz-uruguay-es-avanzado-en-la-equidad-del-acceso-a-internet-pero-todavia-tiene-otras-cosas-que-arreglar)
- Ida Holz: The Uruguayan of the Internet (https://internethalloffame.org/blog/2017/01/16/ida-holz-uruguayan-internet)
- Wikipedia Profile (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_Holz)