[Frank Heart] said that the thing he most remembers about building the early ARPANET was it was really an amazing effort by a few people. It shows what can happen when you put together a very talented group of focused people, and they can really accomplish an amazing amount of things.
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I ran into Vint Cerf, who didn’t know me of course, but I knew him. So I boldly introduced myself, and Vint said, “Hey, you wanna come to dinner?” And I said, “Well yes, please.” So he shoved me into a cab…
When I started, of course, there was no capital‑I Internet. There were, however, eventually a bunch of smaller networks that didn’t talk to each other, and I decided that they needed to talk to each other at least for email.
One of the things that we have discovered over and over again, as we build networks that move electrons around and photons around, is that human beings use those to connect with one another. We think we’re connecting computers together, it turns out we’re connecting human beings together.
I was hired to build a supercomputer access network. or a set of networks for supercomputer access. The reason I took the job was that I saw an opportunity to do something much bigger in that.
It’s an honor for me to be here. It’s an undeserved honor for me. But I am proud to be a tiny bit of this construction, this marvelous construction that the Internet is and keeps being.
When I started in 1991, I was a hired gun. I was brought in to create a network, a pan-European network, and I was going to do it for three years. Twenty-three years later I’m still involved in the same thing.
I want to just make a few remarks about mentors and protectors. Most of us here have needed either or both of those. So I want to talk about two people in particular without whom I wouldn’t be here. The first person you know, and the second person you almost surely don’t know.
I came along in the early 1990s to join the Internet development community, at a time when this work was cultivated by a mix of academia, government, and industry. And it was really starting to flourish, and the growth of the Net was starting to explode at that point with two to three new countries joining you know, every every month or two with their full TCP/IP connections.
Imagine a word before the World Wide Web. Imagine a time before you had smartphones. And imagine a life where you had to live at X.25. And this was the time I was dreaming of a research academic network for the Sri Lankan academic community.