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.
Internet Hall of Fame profile