Radia Perlman: Don't Call Me The Mother Of The Internet

Rebecca J. Rosen | The Atlantic | March 3, 2014

The woman who developed the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol reflects on her illustrious career in math, computer science, and networking.

When Radia Perlman attended MIT in the late '60s and '70s, she was one of just a few dozen women (about 50) out of a class of 1,000. There were so few other women around, she told me, that she often didn't even notice the gender imbalance—it became normal to her to never see another woman. It wasn't until she had class with another female, "that I’d notice that it kind of looked weird…this other gender person looking curiously out of place in the crowd. I’d have to remind myself that I was also that 'other gender.' "

Following her years at MIT, Perlman went on to become a leader in the field of computer science, developing the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), an innovation that made today's Internet possible. Today she is a fellow at Intel.

I recently corresponded with Perlman to learn more about her career, what it was like being a woman in the early days of computer science, and why she disapproves of a title sometimes given to her, The Mother of the Internet.