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!