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Retiring from IBM

By Noah | April 7, 2010

Today, April 7th 2010, I retired from my position as a Distinguished Engineer at IBM. Readers of this blog know that computing is just one of my many interests, and in the coming months I intend to take an extended break to play music, read, travel, work on our house, spend time with my children, and also to explore some computing technologies that I have not had the opportunity to investigate while working.

IBM has been kind enough to give me the honorary position of Distinguished Engineer Emeritus: although I am no longer an employee, this gives me the opportunity to remain part of the community with my many friends at IBM, and occasionally to use some of their facilities.

I’m also pleased to be continuing as chair of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Technical Architecture Group (TAG), which is the senior technical body responsible for the World Wide Web.  I remain an invited expert on the W3C XML Schema Working Group too.

During the past week or two, I have mentioned this news to some friends and colleagues, and the most common reaction I have gotten is: you seem a bit young to be retiring, and you look way to young to have a title with the word “emeritus” in it. What’s going on? Well, I may be just a bit older than I look, but not much, and I have every intention of doing much more work in the computer field.  I started working as a professional programmer nearly 40 years ago when I was still a teenager, before heading to MIT for my bachelor’s degree;  I first joined IBM 4 years later, in 1974. When you leave a company like IBM after so many years, it’s officially a retirement, no matter how many years of creative work you have ahead of you. So, I’ve retired!

The next question is, typically, how could anyone spend so much of a long career in one place? The answer is: I really haven’t. During my first 18 years with IBM, I had multi-year assignments with the Computer Science department at Stanford University and at MIT Project Athena, and I also spent nearly three years working in partnership with startup Locus Computing Corp. I also took several years off to do graduate work at Stanford, and in 1992 I left IBM to join Lotus Development Corp., where I remained until IBM bought Lotus in 1995. During that first stint at IBM, I also worked on a number of exciting internal projects, the best known of which was the VM Pass-through networking system. I wrote the core code for that (in IBM 360 Assembler language!) within a year or two of joining the company in 1974; it became very popular with users of the VM Virtual Machine operating system and, amazingly, it’s still being offered to customers of IBM zSeries mainframes, 35 years later. From 1988 to 1992, I led the software team for Datacube, a hardware/software prototype of a fault-tolerant massively parallel data processing computer, using commodity parts;  it in some significant ways anticipated the systems that a decade later were deployed to provide Internet-scale services like search.

Since rejoining IBM in 1995, I have had one exciting opportunity after another: first, working for several years representing IBM in a partnership with Sun Microsystems to create the specification for JavaBeans; then, joining teams of world-class experts at the W3C to create the specifications first for XML Schemas and after that, as the technical lead for IBM’s contributions to SOAP; and finally, being appointed by Tim Berners-Lee as a member and recently as chair of the TAG.  After nearly 40 years of work in computing, my participation with the W3C has helped me achieve one of my original goals: to make at least a small contribution to systems that make a difference, not just in the computing field, but for everyone.

As this retirement day has approached, I’ve become more and more aware of how exciting it has been to work in such a young field, on such a broad range of state-of-the art technologies, and with some of the best computer scientists, systems designers, linguists, and teachers in the world. I expect to be doing much more of that, and also to be teaching, consulting, “speaking”, and perhaps doing some community work. For now though, springtime in Boston is beautiful, and I’m looking forward to spending some more time with my wife and my boys.  My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has made the first 40 years of my career so much fun!

Topics: Web, Internet, Computing | 9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Retiring from IBM”

  1. Amy van der Hiel Says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 4:04 PM

    Hi Noah,

    (saw this link via twitter)

    It sounds like your post-IBM plans are varied and exciting so congratulations seem very much in order — many congratulations! I’m relieved you’ll be staying as Chair of the TAG and continue in W3C work. I will look forward to seeing you as part of those meetings and as an always welcome visitor – for eg: we have regular Tuesday lunches and you’d be most welcome to join us any time you like.

    Wishing you all the best as you enjoy your family, the beautiful weather currently in Boston and considering what you’ll do next.


  2. Jacek Kopecky Says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 5:01 PM

    Dear Noah, it was great pleasure for me to meet you in the W3C, and I wish you the most enjoyable retirement. I’m happy to hear you’re staying on the TAG, that gives me a better chance of seeing you again! 😎
    Best regards, Jacek

  3. Teresa Says:
    April 7th, 2010 at 8:35 PM

    Congratulations! How very very exciting to have such an open world in front of you and the next adventure waiting. W3C has always sounded very interesting. I know you’ll enjoy whatever comes your way. Have a terrific time!

  4. Phil Stanhope Says:
    April 8th, 2010 at 7:11 AM

    Congratulations and best of luck Noah in this new phase of your career.

    It was (and I am sure will continue to be) great to have conversations with you about emerging technologies and their potential impact.

    I’m curious to learn about the computing technologies that you are interested in. Given what’s interested you in the past, I am sure that it will touch us all in some way in the years to come.


  5. Abraham Heifets Says:
    April 8th, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    Cheers Noah!

    Good luck on the next leg of your adventure. And you *do* look too young to be retiring.

  6. Noah Says:
    April 8th, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    Thank you all for the good wishes, both here and in email! I’ll be taking a few days to relax, and there’s still some paperwork to sort out, but I’ll be trying to answer more properly soon. In the meantime, all the kind words are very much appreciated!

  7. Frank Tung Says:
    April 9th, 2010 at 5:17 AM


    I was going to ask why you retired so early until I read your blog. Sad that you are also old :=).

    I do have very fond memory of working with you on Locus at the PASC and I thank you for that. Nowadays, I can proudly tell people of cloud computing that I was involved in a predecessor of this technology.

    Happy retirement!


  8. Dick Dunbar Says:
    April 10th, 2010 at 5:14 PM

    So many fond memories this entry brings up.

    I agree, Boston is wonderful in the spring.
    Was just there last week.

    Spring in California at Monterey Bay ain’t bad either.

  9. Mitch Says:
    May 10th, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    Noah, I just heard that you had retired from a mutual friend and since I was there at the beginning, sharing an office with you in 1977 until you left for grad school, I thought I’d add my congratulations. It is hard to believe how much things have changed, but every once in awhile I still use some of the concepts we developed for the various online debugging tools. I wish you well, and hope that you’ll come down to visit the next time you visit the T.J. Watson Center.

    Take care,


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