Radia Perlman, The Mother Of The Internet
When Radia Perlman attended MIT in the late ’60s and ’70s, she was one of just a few dozen women out of a class of 1,000 students. There were so few other women around that she was no longer bothered by the gender imbalance — it became normal to her to never see another woman. It was not until she had a class with another female student, “that I’d notice that it kind of looked weird…this other gender person looking curiously out of place in the crowd. I’d have to remind myself that I was also that other gender.”
Growing up near Asbury Park, New Jersey, she always enjoyed logic puzzles and found math and science classes in school effortless and fascinating. She also loved classical music and played piano and French horn. Perlman loved writing, composing music, and practicing art. Although she loved writing, her obsession with grades drew her more towards science and math, because she could control what grades she earned just by knowing the right answer. English made her nervous because of the subjective grading.
Perlman went to MIT at a time when the number of females was strictly limited by the number that could fit into the single female dorm. When she was a sophomore most of the men’s dorms became co-ed, so she moved out of the women’s dorm and into a co-ed one instead. But with so few women, co-ed essentially meant she was the “resident female.” It was rare for her to work on something in a group that had other women. Despite these challenges, Perlman was a pioneer in computer science and network engineering, earning the title the Mother of the Internet.
Dr. Perlman’s work has had a profound impact on how networks self-organize and move data. Her innovations enable today’s link-state routing protocols to be robust, scalable, and easy to manage. The particular protocol she designed in the 1980s (IS-IS) continues to flourish for routing IP today. She designed the spanning tree algorithm that transformed Ethernet from the original limited-scalability, single-wire CSMA/CD, into a protocol that can handle large clouds. Later, she improved on spanning tree-based Ethernet by designing TRILL (TRansparent Interconnection of Lots of Links), which allows Ethernet to make optimal use of bandwidth. Her textbook Interconnections made a science out of the murky field of network protocols.
She is also co-author of Network Security, another very popular college textbook. Her contributions to network security include trust models for Public Key Infrastructure, data expiration, and distributed algorithms resilient despite malicious participants. She believes that designs should allow zero-configuration operation and that where the configuration is allowed, misconfiguration should not be possible. She has taught courses at the University of Washington, Harvard University, and MIT, and has been the keynote speaker at events all over the world. Perlman holds over 100 issued patents and is the recipient of awards such as Lifetime Achievement awards from Usenix and the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Data Communication (SIGCOMM). Her B.S and M.S. degrees were in mathematics from MIT, and her Ph.D. was in Computer Science from MIT.
Her greatest learnings
- “Life is unfair: it drives me crazy because I want it to be fair, but obnoxious backstabbing people do well for themselves while really nice deserving people don’t do as well as they should, but this will never change, and you have to not let it bother you too much. The best thing you can do is try to help other people by mentioning their contributions whenever you get a chance.
- “Everyone is insecure — especially pompous people. Really smart people are actually sweet and generous.”
- “It’s OK to ask for help. When doing a final exam, all the work must be yours, but in engineering, the point is to get the job done, and people are happy to help. Corollaries: You should be generous with credit, and you should be happy to help others.”
by Althea Ocomen
Rosen, R. (2014, March 05). Radia Perlman: Don’t call me the mother of the internet. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/03/radia-perlman-dont-call-me-the-mother-of-the-internet/284146/
Internet Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://internethalloffame.org/inductees/radia-perlman