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

Klaas Wierenga: I was get­ting a bit annoyed with the fact that I was trav­el­ing to uni­ver­si­ties all over the coun­try and always had to go through all kinds of trou­ble to get online. You may not know this but back in the time you would have to reg­is­ter your MAC address at the IT cen­ter of the uni­ver­si­ty or get a card to stick into your lap­top. And it was such a has­sle and I thought, but why? We’re all part of this R&E com­mu­ni­ty, so why not share resources in the spir­it of the Internet. And well, by chance I came across a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies that togeth­er kind of built what is now called Eduroam.

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?

Wierenga: When you do some­thing like this— For those that don’t know, Eduroam is very much like a grass­roots move­ment where every uni­ver­si­ty that wants to par­tic­i­pate build their own infra­struc­ture and makes their own infra­struc­ture avail­able to the pool of resources Eduroam in the end is. And of course, for the first cou­ple of uni­ver­si­ties that par­tic­i­pat­ed, that’s almost like buy­ing the first tele­phone. Doesn’t make a lot of sense because there’s nobody you can call. And that was very much the case with Eduroam as well. And is to some extent still the case in some parts of the world where Eduroam is less pro­lif­ic. But at some point you reach that tip­ping point where instead of hav­ing to explain to your man­age­ment why you want to install Eduroam, you now have to explain why you are not using Eduroam. And that kind of…all of a sud­den it had sort of like a short, slow start, and then all of a sud­den it ramped up and now it’s mas­sive. Over 100 coun­tries, over 30,000 hotspots that sup­port Eduroam. 

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

Wierenga: This only could work because of hun­dreds, by now thou­sands of peo­ple believ­ing in the idea and togeth­er build­ing this. And that is for me a sign of true pow­er, that we man­aged to get to this whole com­mu­ni­ty (I some­times call it the Eduroam fam­i­ly) to build this togeth­er. It’s some­thing we did togeth­er. I had the ini­tial idea, but by no means am I the one that con­tributed most to Eduroam. There are many peo­ple that put so much vol­un­tary effort into it, and that is the true pow­er of Eduroam. 

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

Wierenga: The extent to which gov­ern­ments spy on their own and oth­er cit­i­zens is stag­ger­ing. And that is the sin­gle thing that most wor­ries me about the Internet. And I think we should all as an Internet com­mu­ni­ty work very hard on mak­ing sure that those gov­ern­ments are unable to pre­vent the Internet from being what it has been and should con­tin­ue to be, a place where when you have a good idea, you can make it hap­pen. And if it sur­vives in the mar­ket­place” of the Internet, then it’s a good thing.

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

Wierenga: Don’t always think about world dom­i­na­tion imme­di­ate­ly. That is again a ques­tion I get asked a lot. People come to me and say, How can I make sure that I invent some­thing that will be used all over the world?” And the short answer is, you can’t. Because that is some­thing that’s very hard to pre­dict. There’s a lot of luck involved. What you can do for your­self is try to come up with things that make the Internet just a bit bet­ter. A bit safer, a bit more user-friendly, etc. And that is what you should be work­ing toward, not think­ing about the suc­cess, the pot with gold at the end of the rainbow. 

And for those man­agers that get peo­ple that come to them with good ideas, I would say please don’t always talk in terms of billion-dollar mar­kets, pro­tect­ing your inven­tion, mak­ing mon­ey out of the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty, etc. But give these ideas the idea to grow, and see if it sticks, see if it leads any­where, more than just try­ing to make the next cash cow. Do some­thing that makes the world for every­body a lit­tle bit better. 

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

Wierenga: When I start­ed it was not any­more a play­thing, but it was very much an aca­d­e­m­ic thing. An R&E com­mu­ni­ty. And I still remem­ber the first time…friends that as far as I knew had noth­ing to do with tech­nol­o­gy all of a sud­den start­ed telling me that they now had an e‑mail address. And I think that that is the biggest sur­prise. That some­thing that we cre­at­ed for very dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es all of a sud­den became this com­mer­cial suc­cess and is now so per­va­sive in the whole world. And I don’t believe any­one could have pre­dict­ed this. 

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

Wierenga: Internet is in a way the great equal­iz­er. When you live some­where where you don’t have good nat­ur­al infrastructure—roads, access to water­ways, high GDP, what­ev­er, once you on the net, you can actu­al­ly become suc­cess­ful. And you can take part in the dig­i­tal soci­ety. And I think that is a very impor­tant and some­times under­es­ti­mat­ed effect of bring­ing the Internet to the whole world. 

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

Wierenga:do real­ly hope that the Internet remains this vehi­cle of what is called per­mis­sion­less inno­va­tion, as in nobody has to approve that you get access to the net­work. If you have an idea like Vint Cerf had an idea, like many people—Tim Berners-Lee had an idea, you just make it. And you will see if it suc­ceeds. And if we lose that, then I think we lose one of the most impor­tant char­ac­ter­is­tics of the Internet.

Intertitle: Did you ever expect Eduroam, which is now avail­able in more than 100 coun­tries, to spread as inter­na­tion­al­ly as it did?

Wierenga: No, of course not, of course not. No. And that is kind of one of my pri­vate opin­ions on how inno­va­tion works. I actu­al­ly think that inno­va­tion is almost always to as they say, scratch an itch. It is a prob­lem you are fac­ing, and a prob­lem you try to come up with a solu­tion for. 

Intertitle: You men­tioned that luck is nec­es­sary for any great glob­al suc­cess, what luck did you have when cre­at­ing Eduroam?

Wierenga: For this one Eduroam that became a big suc­cess, there are nine oth­er equal­ly good ideas that did­n’t make it because the time was not right, because the tech­nol­o­gy was not ready, because they did­n’t have the time to work on it, because they did­n’t have the oth­er peo­ple that could help them along the way, etc. So I believe for almost every­thing there is a large fac­tor of luck. And well, I guess I struck the pot with gold here. 

Intertitle: Where would the world be with­out Eduroam?

Wierenga: We have become a hyper­con­nect­ed world. And if you look at sci­ence, sci­ence does­n’t stop at the bor­ders of the uni­ver­si­ty any­more. All large sci­en­tif­ic projects now involve peo­ple from mul­ti­ple uni­ver­si­ties in mul­ti­ple coun­tries col­lab­o­rat­ing togeth­er. And if we did­n’t have the means to make these peo­ple col­lab­o­rate in an easy way, both in the sense that to get to give each oth­er access to each oth­ers’ mate­ri­als but also access to each oth­ers’ net­work, then I think sci­ence would strug­gle. And I think we would now be talk­ing very hard about how we could solve that problem. 

Intertitle: What’s the future of Eduroam? When does your job stop?

Wierenga: When every sin­gle school on the plan­et uses Eduroam, and I would be par­tic­u­lar­ly hap­py if it went a bit beyond that. We now already see that Eduroam is avail­able in like, air­ports and musea, etc. It would be real­ly nice if Eduroam would be a per­va­sive pres­ence so that mem­bers of the R&E com­mu­ni­ty can get online when­ev­er and wher­ev­er they want.

Further Reference

Internet Hall of Fame pro­file