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Tales from a Woman in Tech

December 12, 2017
Radia Perlman

Radia Perlman is one the few female Internet pioneers in a field still largely dominated by men.

But, whatever you do, do not call her the ‘mother of the Internet.’ And she wants to make it perfectly clear that she is not a token woman in her field.

“People are very fascinated with this topic,” she says, sounding somewhat perplexed, when asked what it was like to be a woman in technology in the 70s, an era when many women still couldn’t even get credit cards without a husband’s signature.

The daughter of two engineers, “I was always sort of at the top of my school in the science and math thing,” she said. “I always sort of fantasized that some boy would do better than me, and my plan was to fall in love with him.”

When a boy finally did do better than her, she said, she was too shy to even talk to him. But her long list of successes and important contributions make it clear that shy or not, she held her own against boys and men from a very young age.

And, she says, she was not alone.

“When I was in graduate school the second time, my daughter, who was seven, was really proud of me,” Perlman said. “We were at the playground in Cambridge, Massachusetts – the only place this could have happened – and she said to the girl she was playing with, ‘My mommy is going to get a PhD from MIT.’ The other little girl said, ‘My mommy already has one.’ 

She had a PhD in chemistry and we got to be friends.”

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