A little before 9am on Tuesday 29th January, I filed into ANU’s Llewellyn Hall along with approximately 700 other Linux.conf.au delegates to listen to the daily keynote speech. I’m now a little embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Radia Perlman. A little over an hour later, I was a fangirl.
Radia delivered an engaging, funny, and highly-technical keynote address at LCA2013, and the audience of IT professionals and enthusiasts present lapped it up. In it, she placed the technical details of the network protocols she and her colleagues developed in an historical context. She half-jokingly explained that this was the only way in which anyone could hope to understand why the protocols we work with today include ‘features’ in their design that would otherwise seem crazy to an outside observer.
In delivering her keynote, Radia gave us not just the technical detail behind the development of networking protocols, but also wove in details from her creative side, as well as tidbits about her children’s involvement in her technical life. The crowd was delighted as Radia shared with us the poem that she created (an ‘Algorhyme’) shortly after devising the Spanning Tree Protocol in 1985 while at DEC. For as she says, “Every algorithm deserves an algorhyme…” (You can hear Radia reciting her AlgoRhyme in Dan’s video interview with Radia over at Australian Science, and read the text here.) There is also a recording of Radia’s daughter, Dawn Perlner, singing the Algorhyme set to music by Radia’s son, Ray Perlner. Radia also mentioned her son Ray’s involvement in the creation of an AlgoRhyme V2 to mark the creation of her most recent network protocol, TRILL.