About cyber geeks, gurus and geniuses
On June 30, 1999, Palau, a small island
group in the West Pacific, issued a 25-stamp sheet titled “The Information Age:
Visionaries in the Twentieth Century” (Scott 512, Michel 1496-1520).
The sheet consists of five rows of five stamps (each having a 33c denomination) depicting well-known personalities in the Information Technology (IT) industry who, with
a few exceptions, have been portrayed for the first time ever on a stamp. Each
stamp shows the visionary’s name, portrait and the reason for inclusion in this
William Gibson, “Cyberspace”
(Row 1 : stamp
Gibson, who was born in 1948 near Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, USA, is a science fiction author. In his 1984 novel Neuromancer
he coined the word “cyberspace”. This remarkable book helped launch the
cyberpunk movement (a sub-genre in science fiction literature that focuses on
the growing intrusiveness of technology, especially computer technology).|
Today, the term
“cyberspace” is applied to the global conglomerate of computer systems, known
as the Internet, but in science fiction it originally meant the complete
integration between man and computer, where man could interact with objects and
data verbally and even physically.
Gibson’s Neuromancer, for which he received a
number of science fiction awards, was followed by Count Zero and Mona Lisa
Danny Hillis, Massively
(Danny) Hillis was born in 1956 in Baltimore,
Maryland, USA. He graduated from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of
Technology in Cambridge) where he designed computer–oriented toys and games. He
even built a computer composed entirely of Tinkertoys which could play
tic-tac-toe (it is now on display at the Boston Computer Museum).
known as “the Genius”, is an inventor, scientist, author and engineer. In 1985
he designed a massively parallel computer with 64,000 processors, which concept
is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also has designed RAID (Redundant
Array of Independent Disks) disk array technology and holds many patents. He
co-founded Thinking Machines Corp. which was the first company to build and
market such systems.
He has been
vice-president Research & Development at The Walt Disney Corporation since
1996 and has received numerous awards, including the Hopper Award for his
contributions to computer science.
Steve Wozniak, Apple Computer
Gary Wozniak was born in 1950 in San Jose, California, USA. He displayed an
early interest in computers, which was encouraged by his father, an electrical
engineer. After dropping out of college, he went to work for Hewlett-Packard in
1971, and in his spare time created computer graphics for video games. He did
this together with a former high school friend Steve Jobs. Jobs persuaded
Wozniak that they should work together on a marketable computer design. With
their revolutionary invention, Apple I, built in Job’s parents’ garage, the two
Steves formed the Apple Computer Company, which was launched on April 1, 1976.
The Apple I, of which only a few hundred were sold, was soon followed by the
Apple II, Lisa and Macintosh. Wozniak also played a major role in designing the
After a plane
crash in 1981, which caused him to suffer temporarily from amnesia, Wozniak
took a two-year sabbatical and left Apple, but he returned in 1983. After a
series of disagreements with Jobs, he left the company permanently in 1985.
Since leaving Apple, Woz (as he is called by his friends) has stepped out of
the limelight. He now teaches school kids how to use computers and introduces
them to the magic of the Internet. Woz is doing what he enjoys.
Steve Jobs, Apple Computer
Paul Jobs, who was born in 1955, attended Homestead High School in Cupertino,
California, where he befriended Steve Wozniak. After dropping out of college he
joined Atari, where he designed video games. After a few months he resigned and
trekked around India seeking spiritual enlightenment. Upon returning he found
Wozniak working at Hewlett-Packard and building computers in his spare time to
impress his friends in the Homebrew Computer Club. Jobs persuaded his friend to
launch a business based on his friend’s latest invention, the Apple I.
Computer Company, founded on April 1, 1976, quickly became a multi-million
dollar company, that dominated the market. However, when in 1981 IBM joined the
race with its IBM Personal Computer (PC), Apple began losing ground.
In 1979, on
visiting the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Jobs was shown a prototype
of the new Alto computer, featuring a graphical user interface and a mouse.
Back in the office, he modified the specifications for the Lisa (named after
his daughter), which was later launched with a mouse and a point-and-click
interface. Xerox unsuccessfully sued Apple for this breach of ethics. Later
Apple sued Microsoft for using a graphical interface on its Windows operating
system. Like Xerox before, Apple lost this time.
Jobs left Apple
in 1985 and founded NeXT Software. In 1996, when Apple bought NeXT for $400
million, Jobs was invited back to Apple and became its interim CEO. In January
2000, he was appointed permanent CEO of Apple Computers.
Nolan Bushnell, Atari, Inc.
Bushnell, who was born in 1943, is a legendary name in Silicon Valley. As an
engineering student at the University of Utah, Bushnell managed to get into the
university’s computer room at night to play Space War on its mainframe. “I
didn’t invent video games. They had already been invented on the $7 million
computer. I just commercialized them.”
In 1971 he set
up his own company, Atari, and designed and built a single tennis video game
“Pong” (1973). As his computer could be linked to a TV screen, Pong became a bestseller
and the video game explosion had started. At
Atari he introduced unconventional work traditions like casual Fridays, jeans,
T-shirts and beach sandals instead of a suit and tie.
Atari to Warner Communications in 1976, but stayed on as a consultant. When he
left Atari two years later, it was already on a downhill run as Warner was slow
to accommodate the new spreadsheet VisiCalc on Atari machines. Atari was sold
by Warner in 1984 and ultimately the rights to Atari‘s name and products were
sold to Hasbro, a toy manufacturer.
most of the eighties and nineties in a 15-year legal tussle with investment
house Merrill Lynch after getting into financial difficulties, and he has lost
virtually all his possessions. A settlement was reached in 1999. Since then,
Bushnell has been working on a few new ideas in the computer video games
John Warnock, Adobe, Inc.
E. Warnock, who was born in 1941, holds a Ph.D. in electrical enigineering from
the University of Utah. He has worked for Computer Sciences and IBM, after
which he joined Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Together with his colleague
Chuck Geschke, as they got frustrated when realizing that their inventions and
work in the lab were useless to real people, they left Xerox and founded Adobe
Systems in 1982. Since then, the two have worked closely together as pioneers
in the field of desktop publishing and electronic document technology.
brought PostScript to the market, it revolutionized the concept of electronic
publishing and took it from a printer’s art into the layman’s hands. Warnock
retired from Adobe in 2001.
Ken Thompson, Unix
Kenneth L. Thompson was born in 1943 in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
Having graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1966 with
B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering, he joined AT&T Bell
Laboratories Computing Research department. In 1969 he developed UNIX, a multi-user
multitasking operating system for use on minicomputers, that was easily
portable across different types of computers. He also wrote the B language,
precursor to his colleague Dennis Ritchie’s C language. In 1973 Thompson
rewrote UNIX in C and included the concept of pipes. He co-developed several
chess-playing machines, of which his “Belle” won the World Computing Chess
Championships in 1980. In 1999, Thompson and Ritchie received the National
Medal of Technology for their invention of the UNIX operating system and the C
programming language. Thompson retired from Bell Labs in 2000.|
Al Shugart, Seagate Technologies
Al Shugart was born in Los Angeles, California, USA in 1930. After graduating with a B.Sc. degree in engineering and physics from the University of Redlands, he
joined IBM as a field engineer (although other companies would use the term
“programmer” or “technician”, IBM called all its staff “engineer”), where he
was involved in the development of the first rigid disc drive, IBM’s 305 RAMAC (Random Access
memory), the first commercial disk drive with moving read/write heads. In 1969
he left IBM and joined Memorex to become responsible for product development.
In 1973 he founded Shugart Associates, a floppy-disk drive manufacturing
company. When he was ousted one year later he spent the next five years outside
IT, working as a commercial fisherman after having bought a salmon-fishing
In 1979, Shugart
co-founded Shugart Technology, to become the first manufacturer of small hard
drives for the PCs then coming onto the market. In 1985 the name of the company
was changed to Seagate Technology, Inc. Today, Shugart is president and CEO of
the largest disk-drive company in the world.
Rand + Robyn Miller, “Myst”
Rand Miller, born in 1962, and Robyn Miller, born in 1969, formed the company
Cyan Inc. in 1987. This company created the first entertainment game for
children on the new medium CD-ROM (Compact Disc – Read Only Memory), called The Manhole. The software for the games
was written by older brother Rand, while the art work was done by Robyn. In
1993 they released their smash hit Myst,
again on CD-ROM. Myst was the first
ever game for adults and in a short time reached hit status through mainly word
of mouth. This event catapulted the PC into a totally new realm: the world of
gaming. Myst is more than a game,
because there is ultimately the story that must be deciphered, while few if any
clues are given. Myst was followed by
Riven and together they are by far the
best-selling computer games in history. Robyn Miller left Cyan in 1998.|
Nicolas Negroponte, MIT Media Lab
Negroponte (spelled without the “h” on the stamp), who was born in 1966, is a
visionary, futurist and Internet guru. He graduated from MIT, where he
specialized in the field of computer-aided design. In 1985 he founded the MIT
Media Laboratory, a think-tank which does research in information technology
like digital TV, electronic publishing, artificial intelligence, and many other
fields. It has been the leader in the development of digital video and
multimedia. In 1995 Negroponte published his international bestseller Being Digital, in which he discusses the
future and how the digital revolution will affect our lives. The Internet plays
a major role in that future. Negroponte is a well-known lecturer and he
consults internationally to governments and industry.|
Bill Gates, Microsoft, Inc.
Gates is probably the only IT personality who is known by the man in the street.
Gates III was born in 1955 in Seattle, Washington, USA. He wrote his first
computer program at the age of 13 and although obviously talented in maths and
logic, he dropped out of Harvard University junior year. When Gates was shown
an Altair 8800 micro computer from MITS (Micro Instrumentation Telemetry
System) by his friend Paul Allen in 1974, they realized that the computer
lacked software. They offered MITS to write a version of BASIC for the Altair.
In 1975 they founded Micro-soft (the hyphen was dropped later). Initially the
company struggled but in 1980 IBM asked Gates to write a new operating system
for their soon to be launched IBM PC. Until then IBM saw itself as a computer
hardware company making little money out of software, but they would regret
this decision forever. Gates bought an operation system called QDOS (Quick and
Dirty Operating System) for $50,000, renamed it MS-DOS and licensed it to IBM,
and the rest is history. In 1986 he became a billionaire at age 31 when Microsoft
became a public company and in 1987 Gates introduced the Windows operating
system. By introducing applications like Word, Excel and later the browser
Internet Explorer, Gates pursued his vision of “a computer on every desk and in
every home” (using Microsoft software of course). Its Windows 95 version sold
more than 7 million copies in the first six weeks after its release.
Bill Gates is
still chairman of Microsoft. A true visionary.
Arthur C. Clarke, Orbiting Communications Satellite
Charles Clarke is a science fiction writer, born in 1917 in Minehead, Somerset,
UK. After serving as a radar instructor in World War II, he studied physics and
mathematics at King’s College, London.
In 1945 Clarke
wrote an article proposing the idea of a satellite that would orbit the earth
in 24 hours, so staying above the same spot on the earth’s surface. This has
become the basis of present-day satellite communications technology. Clarke has
always been a futurologist, exploring the near and distant future and
championing technological progress.
He published his
first book in 1951, Prelude to Space,
but his best-known work is 2001: a Space
Odyssey (1968) which became a very successful film. A number of sequels
were written: 2010: Space Odyssey II (1982),
2062: Odyssey III (1988) and 3001: the Final Odyssey (1997).
He has lived in
Sri Lanka since the 1950’s. In 1998 Clarke was knighted and became Sir Arthur.
Marshall Mcluhan, “The medium is the message”
Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian writer born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in
1911. He studied English literature at the universities of Manitoba and
Cambridge and has been teaching at several universities in Canada and the
United States. His views and theories on the effect of communication have been
controversial and unconventional. He claimed that the electronic media itself -
especially television - have a far greater impact on society than the
information and ideas they disseminate. He has written several books on this
subject, including Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) and The
Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects (1967). McLuhan died in 1980.
Thomas Watson, Jr., IBM
Thomas Watson Jr. was born in Dayton, Ohio, USA in 1914.
IBM started its
life in 1911 as the Computing Tabulating Recording Company (founded by Hermann
Hollerith, the inventor of the first counting machine using punched cards).
When in 1924 the company absorbed the International Business Machines
Corporation, the name of the newly formed company was changed to IBM. Watson’s
father joined the company that same year and began to build it into an
industrial giant. The company, which manufactured time clocks, typewriters and
tabulating machines, entered the computer field in 1951. Watson Jr. was destined
to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he initially rebelled against this.
During World War II he had joined the Air Force, but after the war he joined
IBM in 1946 as vice-president and became its president in 1952. That same year
IBM launched its first computer, the IBM 701. In 1956, Watson became chairman
after his father retired. By then, IBM had become the undisputed world leader
In the early 60s, IBM announced its third generation of computers, the IBM S/360, which was
extremely successful and made IBM even more dominant. “Big Blue” had arrived
(all its computers had a distinctive blue color).
Watson retired in 1971. In 1979, he was appointed as ambassador to Moscow, a position in which
he served for two years. He died in 1993.
Gordon Moore, Intel corporation, “Moore’s Law”
Gordon E. Moore was born in 1929 in San Francisco, California, USA. He has a Ph.D. in Chemistry and Physics from the California Institute of Technology. In 1986 he founded, together with Bob Noyce, a new company in Silicon Valley, Intel, which manufactured
microprocessors and integrated circuits. Intel developed the first
microprocessor, the 4004. It had a size of 0.42 cm x 0.32 cm and contained 2300
transistors. Its processing power was equivalent to the power of the first
electronic computer, the ENIAC (Electronic Number Indicator and Calculator),
which was built in 1946 with 18,000 vacuum tubes and had the size of a small
well-known for his “Moore’s Law”, a statement published in 1965 in Electronics magazine, which states that
computer power (the number of transistors that can be placed on a computer
chip) doubles each year to 18 months and he predicted that that trend would
continue for 10 years. In 1995, he updated his prediction to once every two
years. In the eighties and nineties his Law has proven to be remarkably
accurate and it has continued to describe the growth in the PC industry.
Moore retired as
chairman from Intel in 1989 and was named chairman-emeritus in 1997. He still
goes to work at Intel.
James Gosling, Java
Gosling, who was born in 1955, received a B.Sc. Comp. Science from the
University of Calgary, Canada in 1977. While working at Sun in the early 90s, a
group of employees was formed, called “The Green Project”, to come up with
solutions for connecting various electronic household appliances together.
Gosling created a language, initially called Oak, which was more portable than C++. As the Internet evolved, the
focus of the project team changed to allow programs in the new language to run
on multiple platforms. In 1995 the language was renamed Java. It is a platform-independent language that facilitates the
distribution of both data and application programs (called applets) over the
Internet. This “write once, run everywhere” capability has given it widespread
appeal amongst software developers.
Gosling has built several compilers, a multiprocessor version of UNIX, a few editors, one
of which is a WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) text editor. His current
position is vice-president of Sun Microsystems.
Sabeer Bathia + Jack Smith, Hotmail.com
Bathia was born in 1969 in Bangalore, India. Being an extremely bright learner,
he won a full scholarship in 1988 from the California Institute of Technology
in Pasadena. After graduating he started as a hardware engineer where he met a
colleague, Jack Smith, (1969- ).
In 1995, Bathia
and Smith decided to start their own company called JavaSoft (a name Sun would
later use for its Java division), with the purpose of creating easy to publish
and use personal databases for the Web. Then they came up with the idea of
adding e-mail to JavaSoft, in other words access to e-mail from any computer
anywhere in the world. Bathia saw its potential and coined its name “hotmail”,
it even included the letters “html” which is the programming language to author
Web pages. Hotmail.com was launched in July 1996. One year later it was used by
nearly 10 million users. Its success in that same year caused Microsoft to make
an offer of $160 million for it, and today hotmail.com is a Microsoft product
offering. Both Bathia and Smith still work at Microsoft’s Hotmail division.
Esther Dyson, “Release 2.0”
in 1952 in Princeton, New Jersey, USA, Esther Dyson is the only female in this
illustrious group. Although regarded as one of the most influential voices in
technology, she’s not a technical engineer or software developer. After
graduating from Harvard in 1972 with a
B.A. degree in economics, she started her career at Forbes as a fact-checker.
In 1977 she left journalism and became a market securities analyst specializing
in electronics and technology. In 1980 she founded EDventure Holdings and
started to publish the influential monthly computer-industry newsletter Release 1.0. In the late 80s, Dyson
became increasingly involved in public discussions about the future of the
Internet. In 1997, she wrote Release 2.0:
A Design for Living in the Digital Age, in which she describes in plain
English the impact the Internet has on individuals’ lives.
Jerry Yang / David Filo, Yahoo!
Yang was born in 1968 in Taiwan as Yang Chih-Yuan. He adopted the name Jerry
after moving to America. When he did his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at
Stanford University, he met fellow student David Filo, who was born in 1966,
studying for the same degree. Together the two students started surfing the net
and created an organized directory to assist their Stanford friends in locating
cool Web sites. They named the site Yahoo! and as it became more popular, they
founded their own company with the same name in 1995. Yahoo! has been a
phenomenal success as it brings order to millions of web sites. Yahoo!’s search
engine is used daily by millions of Internet users looking for information on
the Web. Today the two friends still work at the company they founded.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com
P. Bezos was born in 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He graduated from
Princeton University summa cum laude with a Computer Science degree in 1986. He
initially worked in the banking industry, but when he saw the Web grow in the
early nineties, he made a list of 20 products he thought would do well on the
Web. He settled on books because that market did not have a dominant player. In
1994 he resigned, rented a house in Seattle and set up Amazon.com, the world
largest bookstore, in his garage. By 1996 the site attracted more than 2,000
visitors. Sales grew to $147 million in 1997. Amazon.com showed that e-commerce
could be successful. Bezos made electronic shopping not only possible, but also
interesting. He added book reviews, bestseller lists and other interesting
features to his site. In December 1999, Time
magazine named him ‘Person of the Year’ and called him the “king of
Bob Kahn, TCP-IP
Kahn, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1938, is a graduate from Princeton. After
receiving his Ph.D. he joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor. In
1966 he joined BBN (Bolt Beranek & Newman in Cambridge) as a researcher
where he was responsible for overall system design and solving network
capability problems (BBN also introduced the @-symbol as separator in e-mail
addresses in 1971). Kahn defined open architecture networking and wrote BBN’s
proposal for ARPANET, the Internet’s predecessor, which was built in 1969. In
order to get different data transition protocols to work together, Kahn
invented TCP, which later became TCP/IP. TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control
Protocol/Internet Protocol and is a set of international standards enabling
different computers and networks on the Internet to communicate with each
Jaron Lanier, “Virtual Reality”
Lanier, who was born in a remote part of New Mexico in 1960, is a computer scientist,
artist, musician and author. He tried to combine his love for music with his
interest in science and research in computer graphics. He joined Atari where he
created sound and music for their video games. When Scientific America featured
him in 1984 in a cover story on
software, he was asked his company affiliation, he had none (by that time he
worked as an independent contractor) so he quickly invented one, VPL, standing
for Virtual Programming Language. When Lanier found that conventional screens
could not display the visualizations he wanted, he built a small head-mounted
display (called it EyePhones) and
combined this with a wired glove (called DataGlove). This was later extended to
Datasuits to enable more complete sensual immersion into “virtual reality”, a
term he invented in order to market his products.
Andy Grove, Intel Corporation
S. Grove was born in Budapest (as Andras Grof), Hungary in 1936. After the
Soviets invaded Hungary, he decided to leave and move to America, where he
changed his name to Andrew S. Grove. After obtaining his Ph.D. at the
University of California, Berkeley, Grove joined Fairchild Semiconductor where
he worked on semiconductor devices and technology.
In 1968 he left
Fairchild together with Gordon Moore (see 3:5) and Bob Noyce (the group was
called “the Fairchildren”) to found Intel (from integrated electronics).
Initially they focused on semiconductors that could replace the magnetic core
memory then used in computers. In 1971 Intel developed the first
microprocessor, the 4004. This was followed by the 8-bit 8080 processor in
1974. When IBM chose the 8088 chip for its new personal computers in 1980,
Intel’s future was secured. Intel continued to develop new chips with greater
speed and processing power. They introduced the 80286 in 1982, the 80386 in
1985, the 486 chip in 1989 and the Pentium chip in 1993. Each has become the
industry standard. In 1997 Intel introduced the Pentium II, a microprocessor
containing 7.5 million transistors. In 1998 Grove resigned from Intel as CEO,
but remained Chairman of the board.
Jim Clark, Silicon Graphics, Inc.
Netscape Communications Corporation
Clark, who was born in Plainsville, Texas in 1944, dropped out of high school
at age 16 to join the Navy where he completed his high school education. After
studying physics at the University of New Orleans he received a Ph.D. from the
University of Utah. After graduation he tried teaching as well as consulting
and became an associate professor at Stanford University. There he developed
the Geometry Engine Chip for use in three-dimensional computer graphics. He
left Stanford and founded Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI). By 1986, SGI had
revolutionized the design process for everything from airplanes and bridges to
special effects in films, like Terminator 2 (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993).
In 1994 he felt stifled at SGI and left the company. Together with Marc
Andreesen, he founded Netscape, to commercialize the Web. Andreesen had
developed a web browser, called ‘Mosaic’, which had an enormous impact and
popularity. Clark served as Chairman of Netscape Communications till 1999 when
it was purchased by AOL. By then Clark had already started a new company,
Healtheon, to create a virtual healthcare network using the Internet to link
all participants in the healthcare industry. Healtheon merged with WebMD in
1999. By now Clark had successfully guided three companies from inception to
going public with more than $1 billion in market capitalization in less than two
His most recent
venture is myCFO, an online financial service for high-net-worth customers, and
Shutterfly.com, an online digital photo printing service. He also develops
sophisticated navigation systems for his high-tech sailboat. He is a true
Silicon Valley legend.
Bob Metcalfe, Ethernet
M. Metcalfe was born in 1946 in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from MIT
with a degree in electrical engineering, he went to Harvard to complete his
Ph.D. In 1973 he joined Xerox Palo Alto Research Center where he invented
Ethernet which allowed computers to send packets of information to each other
resulting in the local area network (LAN) where data and resources could be
shared. Through LANs, individual PCs now had access to the Internet. Today it
is used to connect more than 100 million users to the Internet.
In 1979, Metcalfe left Xerox and founded 3Com, a company that sells commercial versions
of Ethernet and other networking products. Metcalfe retired from 3Com in 1990.
In 1992 he joined InfoWorld as CEO
and weekly columnist. In 1998, Internet Week named him “Geek of the Week”.
writes his weekly column which is read by millions of IT professionals. He
lives with his family on a conservation farm in Maine.
“We were called computer nerds. Anyone who spends his
life on a computer is pretty unusual.” (Bill Gates)
Some may be geeks, some may be gurus; but all of them are legends.
© Wobbe Vegter, 2001
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