Slideshow

Unsung fathers of technology

Who's your daddy?

  • Father of the iPod: Tony Fadell: Fadell had an idea, pitched it around, was hired by Apple and the rest is history. He started an outside consultant, became the first member of Apple's iPod hardware engineering team in 2001, and is now senior vice president of the iPod Division. So, why haven't you ever heard of Tony Fadell? Apparently the Apple PR machine wants to keep the spotlight on a certain you-know-who.

  • Father of spam: Gary Thuerk: In 1978, an overly aggressive sales rep from Digital Equipment sent out a pitch to several hundreds names on an early ARPANET mailing list. Not only did Gary Thuerk get flamed, the feds running ARPANET threatened to throw him in jail. How times have changed. Today, 80-90 per cent of all email is spam and nobody seems to know where it's coming from or how to stop it. As for Thuerk, he's at HP, still selling computer gear. Is Thuerk embarrassed about unleashing the scourge of spam on the world? Not really. "I'm the first one to do it, and I'm proud of it," he says.

  • Father of telecommuting: Jack Nilles: Nilles coined the term in the early 70s while working at the University of Southern California. He founded the management consulting firm, JALA International, in 1980 and left USC in 1989 to devote full time to JALA. Telecommuting isn't rocket science, but Nilles is, in fact, a rocket scientist who designed space vehicles for the US Air Force and NASA.

  • Father of FORTRAN: John Backus: The former IBM computer scientist developed FORTRAN (Formula Translator) in the 50s. FORTRAN is considered the world's first widely used computer programming language. Backus died last year at age 82. As a young man, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was removed and a plate was installed in his head. Later, a second plate was put in, one that Backus designed himself.

  • Father of the mobile phone: Marty Cooper: Cooper filed a patent for the 'radio telephone system' in 1973, while working at Motorola, and was the first person to make a call on a portable mobile phone. (He called a rival engineer at Bell Labs.) Cooper has stated that his inspiration came from watching Star Trek's Captain Kirk talk on his communicator device. Today, Cooper is the CEO and founder of ArrayComm.

  • Father of DSL: John Cioffi: Not one to blow his own horn, (see photo of cioffi playing a horn) Cioffi shies away from publicity. But, by all accounts, the Stanford professor was intent on coming up with a way to deploy broadband over copper wires and developed asymmetrical digital subscriber line (DSL) technology. He left Stanford in 1991 to found Amati Communications Inc. He has since returned to Stanford, where his research focuses on Dynamic Spectrum Management (DSM).

  • Father of Java: James Gosling: Canada-born Gosling was born to code. While working on a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie-Mellon, he wrote a multiprocessor version of Unix. At Sun, he is credited with inventing the Java programming language in 1991. In a blog posting in 2006, he noted that neither his wife nor his kids had ever seen him without a beard, which he had to shave off prior to having surgery for sleep apnea.

  • In the tech world, the inventor, originator or driving force behind a new product or technology is typically dubbed "father of the _______". As in Tim Berners-Lee, father of the Web. As in Vint Cerf, father of the Internet. As in Bob Metcalf, father of Ethernet. Here, in honor of fathers everywhere, are some industry "fathers" you may not have heard of...

  • Father of Wi-Fi: Vic Hayes: Hayes is a Dutch-born electrical engineer who worked at NCR and later Agere. He's known less for technological wizardry than for his diplomatic skills. As chairman of the IEEE 802.11 working group for wireless LANs, he was instrumental in developing the standards that led to the success of 802.11 wireless LANs. Today, he is Senior Research Fellow at Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands.

  • Father of the BlackBerry: Mike Lazaridis: Born in Turkey to Greek parents, Lazaridis was five years old when his family moved to Canada. At age 12, he won a prize for reading every science book in his public library. He dropped out of college to start Research in Motion in 1984 and subsequently developed the BlackBerry. In 2000, he put up $100 million to start an institute devoted to the study of theoretical physics.

  • Father of the mouse: Doug Engelbart: Engelbart is an early Internet pioneer. In 1969, ARPANET's first transmission was between nodes at Leonard Kleinrock's lab at UCLA and Engelbart's lab at Stanford. A philosopher, scientist and inventor, he'll always be known as the father of the mouse, which he patented in 1970. He never received any royalties however. His patent expired in 1987, before the personal computer revolution. Today, at 83, he heads the Bootstrap Institute.

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