Intertitle: Briefly describe your most vital con­tri­bu­tions; what led you to become an Internet Hall of Fame member?

Elise Gerich: The rea­son I was select­ed were for two rea­sons. One, the work I did on the National Science Foundation Network, and the fact that that was kind of the launch­pad for the pub­lic Internet that we know today. And it was a gov­ern­ment con­tract from National Science Foundation, and I was there when we built the net­work and I was also lead­ing the project when we retired the net­work. That was the T1 and the T3 NSFNET backbone. 

Then I end­ed my career as the IANA, and… Everyone I hope knows what that is who’s lis­ten­ing to this video. And that again was a gov­ern­ment con­tract that had been in place since 1990s. And when I was get­ting ready to leave, ICANN had led an activ­i­ty to help the US gov­ern­ment retire, or let that con­tract expire and the mul­ti­stake­hold­er com­mu­ni­ty to take over the run­ning of the IANA functions. 

So I think that’s why I real­ly was nom­i­nat­ed and was so hap­pi­ly inducted—I guess I’ll be induct­ed lat­er today. 

Intertitle: What are the biggest chal­lenges you had to over­come to achieve suc­cess; how did you over­come them? Was there an aha” moment, a peri­od of impact or a break­through real­iza­tion or a steady flow?

Gerich: Initially I’d say the the biggest hur­dle was lin­go, or lan­guage. Because when I joined the National Science Foundation team at Merit, which is a state-funded con­sor­tium of uni­ver­si­ties in Michigan, I did­n’t have any back­ground in net­work­ing. So every­one was talk­ing and acronyms all the time and I did­n’t know what they were say­ing. So I had to kin­da make a list of acronyms to real words, and it was like learn­ing a for­eign lan­guage to begin with. So that’s kin­da sil­ly, I know, but it took a while to get the right lingo. 

And then the oth­er was… I don’t think there was real­ly any big hur­dles, cause it was a very col­lab­o­ra­tive and coop­er­a­tive time. Nobody was think­ing of mon­e­tiz­ing the Internet at that point in time. 

Intertitle: Which peo­ple, expe­ri­ences or devel­op­ments were most cru­cial in your pro­fes­sion­al suc­cess and its impact?

Gerich: Some of the peo­ple that were par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to help­ing me devel­op and giv­ing me oppor­tu­ni­ties to become the per­son I became were Hans Werner-Braun and Eric Aupperle. Both of them were at Merit. they were a huge influ­ence in my get­ting start­ed. Rob Blokzijl, from the Netherlands for RIPE was anoth­er per­son who helped me to mature as a net­work­ing per­son and Internet per­son. And then there was Jack Drescher from IBM. He was a very big influ­ence in the ear­ly stages when we had a part­ner­ship with IBM and MCI to build the network. 

Intertitle: What are your hopes for the future Internet? Your fears? What action should be tak­en now for the best future?

Gerich: So I real­ly hope that the Internet can con­tin­ue to have con­nec­tiv­i­ty with­out bifur­ca­tion. That we don’t have lit­tle Internets every­where. That was kind of what net­work­ing was before we start­ed the TCP/IP net­work. That you know, you had a DECnet, you had an Energy Sciences Network and you had a NASA Sciences Network. And they did­n’t always com­mu­ni­cate. So the con­nec­tiv­i­ty was kind of chop­py. So I’m real­ly hop­ing for the future that the Internet can con­tin­ue to be this col­lab­o­ra­tive and coop­er­a­tive ven­ture, with open com­mu­ni­ca­tions. And I think some­times pol­i­tics gets in the way. So I hope that the politi­cians will be smart enough not to ruin that.

Intertitle: What advice do you have for the next gen­er­a­tion work­ing in your field?

Gerich: Be bold. Explore things. Be will­ing to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly like throw every­thing out. Not the baby with the bath­wa­ter, as we say. But don’t be afraid to exper­i­ment. You know, just because it’s always been done one way does­n’t mean that there might not be anoth­er way to approach the prob­lem. And don’t think things can’t be done. Think that you know, there’s prob­a­bly a solu­tion out there. Maybe you won’t find it. May you’ll fail. That’s okay. Because you’ll learn some­thing. So, that’s my advice for the future peo­ple who want to do what we were doing. 

Intertitle: What has sur­prised you most about the Internet as it has developed?

Gerich: Some of the appli­ca­tions that peo­ple have adopt­ed. I mean, who woul­da thought peo­ple would pay for ring­tones? Somebody told me that ear­ly on they were gonna make up this appli­ca­tion, and they said, Yeah, would­n’t you pay a pen­ny for a ring­tone?” I’m going no. Why would I pay a pen­ny for a ring­tone. Or Angry Birds. I mean, every­body wants to play Angry Birds. I just think some of the appli­ca­tions are adopt­ed and are used like, con­stant­ly. And it sur­pris­es me the things that I nev­er thought peo­ple would care about. 

Intertitle: What are the most pos­i­tive Internet trends emerg­ing today? What are the most wor­ri­some chal­lenges today?

Gerich: I think they’re both the same thing almost. Privacy I think is one of the most chal­leng­ing things that I’m con­cerned about, pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty on the Internet. But I also think it’s now some­thing that’s come to the fore­front, and peo­ple are begin­ning to wor­ry about it. I’m con­cerned that…you know, I’m an old­er per­son. But younger peo­ple some­times don’t seem to think pri­va­cy’s impor­tant. And I think they’ll learn as they get old­er that there’re some things you don’t want to have exposed lat­er in your life. But I think that’s becom­ing some­thing that’s more accept­able. People are say­ing, Oh yeah, well I don’t want my social secu­ri­ty num­ber known,” where­as before I think it was treat­ed sort of light­ly. And I think that’s still a—security is an issue. 

Intertitle: How do you hope to see the Internet evolve?

Gerich: I think that I still hope that it’ll be an open com­mu­ni­ca­tion mech­a­nism with con­nec­tiv­i­ty to every­one. That there’s no bor­ders or bar­ri­ers to peo­ple being able to com­mu­ni­cate using the Internet. But I think there has to be respect, and it’s a— How do you bal­ance that? How do you bal­ance the open­ness with peo­ple who abuse it. And that’s I think a chal­lenge, but I think it’s also that I hope it evolves so it some­how can find that bal­ance to con­tin­ue to have the con­nec­tiv­i­ty and show eth­i­cal behav­ior by peo­ple who are using it.

Further Reference

Internet Hall of Fame pro­file

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