A woman in an 'industry of introverts'

Radia Perlman gives a talk on her thoughts and experiences as a network engineer and software designer at Weber State University on Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Liz Ruttenbur / The Signpost)
Radia Perlman shares her thoughts and experiences as a network engineer and software designer at Weber State University on Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Liz Ruttenbur / The Signpost)

Double-clicking your browser icon and bringing up the World Wide Web may seem like there’s nothing to it, but it took someone’s ingenuity to bring the Internet to where it is today.

Software designer and network engineer Radia Perlman is one of those minds that made large contributions to the network design and standardization. Perlman’s contributions helped shape the networks that students, faculty and staff use to access the Internet at Weber State University.

Thursday afternoon Perlman presented her thoughts and experiences with network technology and being one of the few females in what she called an “industry of introverts.”

Perlman described her experiences being the only woman in the workplace. She joked that one of the perks of this was you get your own private bathroom.

Perlman fell into programming after one of the teaching assistants in her college physics class asked her to help him with programming on a project. Although she told him she had little-to-no experience programming, the teaching assistant assured her that was okay.

Perlman recalled the memory with a laugh, “He said, ‘If you knew how to program, then I would have to pay you.’”

Perlman went on to get a job at Digital Equipment Corporation, where she came up with the spanning-tree protocol that helped network more computers than what was possible at that time. The project, which was thought of as difficult to solve, was solved by Perlman by the end of the weekend.

“It just astounds me, all the things people just came up with. All this is going through her head, maybe one day I could be like that,” said computer science major Teresa Ibarra who attended the event.

Perlman advised students to become more open to ask for help and being open to helping others who ask for it.

“It’s okay to ask for help. As students you get ingrained that the work must be your own, but in the industry, the point is to get the job done,” said Perlman.

Women in the STEM fields has become an important issue for many women across the country. Perlman wishes more women were in the technical path.

“It’s likely that women view things from a different angle,” said Perlman.

When queried by an attendee why she believed more women weren’t in the technical careers, she shared a stories of a friends that had taken a management path rather than continuing on in the technical field.

“Every single one of them said, ‘I’m not smart enough to stay on the technical path.’ And that was just tragic, because it simply wasn’t true,” said Perlman.

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at Weber State helped sponsor the event that brought Perlman to Weber State. The SWE also helps sponsor events such as Parent-Daughter Engineering Day annually with Weber State’s College of Applied Science and Technology.

If you are interested in joining SWE at Weber State, please contact [email protected] for more information.