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: I 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.
Internet Hall of Fame profile