Radia Perlman

Radia Perlman

Born: 1951

Radia Perlman was drawn into programming while she was at MIT in the 1970s where less than 5% of students on her course were female. Radia’s mother was a computer programmer, although her job title in the 1950s when Radia was born was ‘mathematician’ and she had little influence on her daughter’s subsequent choice of career.

Radia was a pioneer in teaching young children computer programming. Working under the supervision of Seymour Papert at MIT, Radia developed a child-friendly version of the robotics language LOGO and in 1974-6 young children (from just 3ó years old) programmed a LOGO educational robot called a Turtle.

Following her years at MIT, Radia went on to become a leader in computer science, developing the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), an innovation that made today’s internet possible. Her employer, DEC, had wanted to network computers reliably and Radia’s solution did that and more; it also served to establish the rules for internet traffic. Her concept was adopted as an IEEE standard for bridge technology and remains in place to this day.

Radia’s take on the internet is that its success isn’t due to the specific technologies it involves, but rather the surprising ways it has come to be used. “It's astonishing that internet search is possible at all but it works amazingly well, and is probably one of the most important reasons that the internet is ubiquitous,” she says.

Radia Perlman was one of the women profiled in our Women in Computing Festival 2017 of entitled Where Did All the Women Go?. Click here for the Women in Computing timeline created for that event.




Photograph of Radia Perlman Click for a larger version

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