Elise Gerich: Thank you very much for this recognition. I was so pleased and surprised to receive it, and I’m very very happy to see so many friends that I’ve worked with over the thirty years of my networking experience here today. I’m sorry for those that couldn’t make it, but for those of you who are here I’m really happy to be surrounded by friends.
When I started at Merit in 1987, I really didn’t know anything about networking at all. And I want to tell a small story, it’s about one of my long-time friends and colleagues who’s here. At the first meeting that Merit held for the regional network technical people, I was…very new. I’d probably only been on the job about three weeks. And at that time what was fashionable was to wear sweaters that had your initials on them. And we called them monograms. My initials on my sweater, for those of you who might be old-timers, were “EGP.”
So, that’s my initials so I didn’t worry about it. But this gentleman who’s in the audience—I can’t see him—came up to me and he said, “What’s your metric?”
And I looked at him, and I said, “Metric…?” I said it’s my initials.
Well, for those of you who aren’t informed, EGP is the exterior gateway protocol that was used in networks at that point in time. And I didn’t have a clue.
So, happily I’ve had some colleagues that were clueful. They helped me to learn, and to become part of the team that was better at building networks. And I progressed and my career progressed. So thank heavens for those colleagues. Some that I’ll name are Dave Katz and Hans-Werner Braun, and Bilal Chinoy. They were part of the team that helped me to find out what EGP was, and some of the other protocols.
But part of my networking experience as I grew as a networking person, and Internet person, people would come up and say, “Well what was it like to be a woman in a men’s field?” And I’ve gotta compliment the Merit folks who hired the NSFNET staff. They were gender-blind. So, I want to make a shoutout to all the women I worked with at Merit. In the Internet Engineering Group there were only seven of us, and four of us were women. There was Sue Hares. Some of you may have run across Sue, she’s done a lot in the Internet. Jessica Yu, another person who’s been very very active. Cathy Aronson; I’m sure many of you have run into Cathy also. And me. So we were part of the Internet Engineering team.
Then we had a network operations staff. They were very technical; managed to keep the network up at all times. The women that worked there were Sue Blair, Deb Boyer, Gartha Parrish, Sherri Repucci, and Serpil Bayraktar. They’ve all continued in their networking careers, and we never felt like we were outnumbered. Not at Merit, anyway. But if we went to other meetings that’s a different story. But having that core group of people to grow up with and to learn my networking really gave me the confidence I think to do what I was able to do later in my career.
So, I always saw my role as fostering collaboration and cooperation with other network operators and with other Internet colleagues. And I think that was the most fulfilling part, is making those connections. And I think Andrew spoke to that earlier tonight when he talked about networking isn’t just about the bits and bytes and the packets and the wires, it’s about the people we work with and the connections we make, and how we cross borders and cultures and become quite interconnected. So that was always a very important part for me.
And it was fun. And it was fun til I decided to retire. And then I’m probably still having fun but it’s a different kind of fun. But it really was a good time for the thirty years. NSFNET, went to a startup @Home, went to Juniper Networks, and I finished my career as the IANA at ICANN.
So now I’d like to do some thanks to some other folks. One of ’em is Cathy Aronson, I’ve already mentioned her. I didn’t know about it—it was unbeknownst to me but Cathy submitted my name for nomination. And I’m so pleased and proud and surprised. And I thank the ISOC chapter and committee and advisory board for selecting me. I really appreciate it.
And then most of all I’d like to thank my family. My husband John, our two daughters Jocelyn and Samantha, for supporting me in all the steps of the way. The Internet kind of consumed me. I became pretty much a workaholic about it. But they supported me every day and in every way so it allowed me to have this wonderful career. And in fact I’ll just finish on saying in 1987 my h—or, in the late 1980s my husband said to me, “You seem a little bored. Maybe you should get a job.” Well, the rest is history. I got a job, and here I am. Thank you very much.
Internet Hall of Fame profile