Blog, Tech History

Radia Perlman, “The Mother of the Internet”

A graduate of MIT, Radia Perlman’s first major contribution to tech was to create a toddler-oriented version of the LOGO programming language, which she called TORTIS. After graduating with a Ph.D in Computer Science in 1988, she moved on to work for Digital Equipment Corporation, then one of the world’s largest computer hardware vendors. It was during her time there that she would write an algorithm that modern networks still lean on: Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). STP is one of the cornerstones of Ethernet networks and is critical in bridging operations.

While it’s stretching a bit far to say that she invented the Internet, it’s also true that the modern Internet (not to mention local area networks) would not exist as we know it without her work. STP prevents networks from creating bridging loops, which can eventually create a “broadcast storm” that can bring the entire network to a halt in seconds. While Radia will likely never be a household name with the general public, the legacy of her work is found in every device that uses the Ethernet protocol.

Members of the tech community who know their history recognize her contributions, however, with a number of them dubbing her “The Mother of the Internet.” She humbly rejects that title, telling The Atlantic in a 2014 interview that no one person should lay claim to having invented the Internet. Radia continues to work in the field, most recently as a fellow for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

She also continues to speak out about the need for greater diversity in the tech industry, and the stereotypes that women are still struggling to overcome to consistently gain stature and recognition equal to that of their male peers.

Is there a female tech pioneer or prominent woman in the modern industry you’d like to see featured?Save