Who is Radia Perlman?
Radia Perlman Radia Perlman is an American computer programmer and network engineer, who is mostly known for her work in network security. In 1985, while working for ‘Digital Equipment Corporation’ (DEC), she invented the ‘Spanning-Tree Protocol’ (STP), which became the base of network operations. The development of ‘STP’ brought her worldwide fame and made her name eternal in the field of internet. Perlman invented wireless network bridges, which transformed ethernet from a limited single-unit technology into a robust multi-unit one. Later, she developed a modified version of ‘STP,’ called the ‘Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links’ (TRILL), which is currently used by the majority of internet service providers. Her work in network security was pioneering at her time and has earned her the title “The Mother of the Internet.” In her career of nearly 40 years Perlman has worked for some of the biggest companies in the field of information technology, such as ‘DEC,’ ‘Sun Microsystems Inc.,’ ‘Intel Labs,’ and ‘DELL.’ She has also delivered lectures at prestigious universities such as ‘Harvard’ and ‘Massachusetts Institute of Technology’ (MIT). Apart from being a legendary computer scientist, Perlman enjoys reading literature, writing poetry, and playing the piano.
Childhood & Early Life
Radia Perlman was born on December 18, 1951, in Portsmouth, Virginia, but spent most of her childhood in New Jersey.
Both her parents, Julius Perlman and Hope Rae Sonne, were engineers who worked for the US government. Her father worked on radars, and her mother was a mathematician and computer programmer.
Perlman was an outstanding student in school and was keenly interested in science and mathematics.
Radia was raised in a progressive household, which helped her develop a moral and social conscience. She once said “The kind of diversity that I think really matters isn’t skin shade and body shape, but different ways of thinking.”
Though she grew up in a family that was involved in science and technology, Perlman also developed a keen interest in literature and music. She wrote poetry and enjoyed playing the piano.
In 1973, she received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and in 1976, she obtained her master’s degree in the same field (from ‘MIT’).
Perlman completed her PhD in computer science from ‘MIT’ in 1988. Her PhD thesis was on “Routing in the presence of malicious network failures.” The thesis focused on designing a computer network that would be resistant to malfunctions to help it become more stable and robust.
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Radia Perlman’s first job was as a part-time programmer for the ‘LOGO Lab’ at the ‘MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory’ in 1971.
Under the supervision of Seymour Papert, one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, Perlman developed a child-friendly version of ‘LOGO,’ an educational robotics language, called ‘TORTIS’ (Toddler’s Own Recursive Turtle Interpreter System). ‘TORTIS’ could perform the behavior of a physical turtle robot.
In 1980, she joined ‘Digital Equipment Corporation’ (DEC) as a consulting engineer.
At that time, ‘DEC’ was trying to solve the problem of file sharing between computers. Perlman invented ‘STP,’ which provided a solution to this problem by enabling the connection between multiple computers and preventing bridging loops.
The major concern about building large networks was loops, as multiple paths could lead to the same destination, which could cause the network to collapse.
The algorithm on which ‘STP’ was based allowed all the bridges in the network to lead to one root bridge. Due to this, if one link failed, there would always be another link that would be active, and the flow of data would not be interrupted.
The development of ‘STP’ enabled the ethernet to transform from a limited-scalability, single-wire ‘CSMA’/‘CD’ into a robust protocol that could handle large clouds.
Perlman later developed a modified version of ‘STP,’ called ‘TRILL,’ to overcome the shortcomings of ‘STP,’ and to allow ethernet to make optimal use of bandwidth.
The ‘TRILL’ protocol has become the base for most of the internet service providers today and has been standardized by the ‘International Organization for Standardization’ (ISO).
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Radia Perlman moved to ‘Sun Microsystems Inc.’ in 1997, where she worked as a fellow.
From 2010 to 2014, Perlman worked for ‘Intel Labs,’ again as a fellow. During this time, she worked on designing various network routing and security protocols.
Perlman has also been an affiliate professor at the ‘University of Washington’ and has delivered lectures at ‘Harvard’ and ‘MIT.’
Since 2014, she has been working for ‘DELL EMC.’ She currently lives in Redmond, Washington, U.S.
Awards & Achievements
Radia Perlman was inducted into the ‘National Inventors Hall of Fame’ in 2016.
She was inducted into the ‘Internet Hall of Fame’ in 2014.
In 2006, she received the ‘USENIX Lifetime Achievement Award.’
She was awarded with the ‘Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award for Innovation’ in 2005.
Perlman was named the ‘Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law Association Inventor of the Year’ in 2003.
She was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the ‘KTH Royal Institute of Technology,’ Sweden.
Family & Personal Life
Perlman lives in Redmond, Washington, where she works for ‘DELL ENC’ as a fellow.
She has two children, Dawn and Ray, and both are ‘MIT’ alumni.