Radia Perlman — Complete Biography, History and Inventions

Radia Perlman

Radia Perlman — Complete Biography, History and Inventions

Key Points

⦁ As a child, Radia excelled at mathematics and science.
⦁ In 1969 she enrolled at MIT to major in mathematics. She completed her master’s degree in 1976 and her Ph.D. in 1988.
⦁ In 1980, she joined Digital Equipment Corporation. There she designed the Intermediate System to Intermediate System protocol which serves as the basis for modern networking.

Radia Perlman giving a speech
Radia Perlman speaking at a convention. She is affectionately known as “The Mother of the Internet”.

Who is Radia Perlman?

Radia Perlman is an American computer science and mathematics expert known affectionately as “The Mother of the Internet”. Dr. Perlman believes this title does not belong to a single individual. However, she did invent Spanning Tree Protocol, transparent interconnection of lots of links (TRILL), and Link-State Routing which makes her responsible for transforming ethernet from single-unit use to a robust multi-unit communication. This meant increased bandwidth for network communications that eventually became the backbone of cloud and internet connections.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Radia Perlman
December 18, 1951
Net Worth
2018 – $500,000; 2021 – $1million
  • USENIX Lifetime Achievement
  • SIGCOMM Award
  • Internet Hall of Fame
  • National Inventors Hall of Fame
  • Anita Borg Institute of Women of Vision Award for Innovation
  • 2003 Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law Association Inventor of the Year
Dawn Perlman, Ray Perlman
Jewish American
Place of Birth
Portsmouth, Virginia
Fields of Expertise
[“Mathematics”,”Computer Science”]
MIT, BBN(Bolt, Beranek, Newman), Digital Equipment Corporation, Sun Microsystems, University of Washington, Harvard, Intel Labs, DELL
TORTIS, STP, TRILL, DECnet Protocol, Link-State Routing, “Network Security”, Ethernet Technology

Early Life

Radia Perlman was born on December 18th, 1951 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Her father, Julius Perlman, was an engineer. Her mother, Hope Rae Sonne, was a mathematician and computer programmer. Both of her parents worked for government contractors. Her parent’s abilities were passed down to her as well. She was a gifted student who especially excelled in mathematics and science. Dr. Perlman says she found both math and science to be “effortless and fascinating”.

Throughout her school years, Dr. Perlman took interest in the arts as well. She played piano and French horn as well as fostered an interest in poetry and literature. She was inspired by a computing class at Stevens Institute of Technology to consider a career in computer technology.

In 1969, Dr. Perlman began attending MIT majoring in mathematics. She continued her stewardship at the university until 1976 when she completed her Master’s. While at MIT, she was hired for her first job as a part-time programmer in the Logo group at the MIT AI lab. This was the position that pushed her to learn how to program.

After a short time of programming, she created a project she called Toddler’s Own Recursive Turtle Interpreter System or TORTIS. This project was aimed at creating a layer of LISP programming language that could be taught to children. Afraid of the effect a ‘cute target’ for a project would have on her public image as a female programmer, she later dropped this project.

Dr. Perlman found difficulty in completing graduate school. So she went to work for BBN Technologies in 1976. Her education did not complete until 1988 when she earned her Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT. Her doctoral thesis was on “routing in environments where malicious network failures are present”.


Bolts, Beranek, and Newman (BBN)

Dr. Perlman was having difficulty writing a thesis for graduate school. It was while she was trying to figure out what to do that an old friend asked her if she was enjoying grad school. Once she told him that she had no idea how to find an advisor or write a thesis, he offered her a job with him at BBN Technologies. She spent her time at BBN developing and designing network protocols as a software developer for network equipment.

Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)

In 1980, Dr. Perlman joined Digital Equipment Corporation. While at DEC, she was tasked with working on network protocols for DECnet. She designed a protocol known as Intermediate System to Intermediate System (IS-IS). Many of the DECnet and IS-IS protocols she wrote in 1980 are still the basis for network protocol today. Her biggest creation while working at DEC is what made home networking possible.

Dr. Perlman authored what is known as the basic traffic rules for the internet, security spanning tree protocol. Security spanning tree protocol is what allows computers to communicate in a network across bridges and switches without creating redundancies or loops. This is what allows your home network router to connect to your smart devices, computers, and the internet to quickly and efficiently transfer high bandwidths of information.

The invention of STP technology is what gave cause for others to call her “the mother of the internet”.


There isn’t much information publically known about what work Dr. Perlman completed while at Novell. However, she did file for a patent while employed for Novell on October 23, 1996, for “User presence verification with single password across applications”.

Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems

Dr. Perlman has amassed over 100 patents for networking protocols and methods. 40 of them were filed and created during her tenure at Sun Microsystems. She started as Sun Microsystems as what they called a Fellow. At the end of her time at Sun Microsystems, she was known as a Distinguished Engineer.

It was while she worked as a Distinguished Engineer that she further enhanced the security spanning tree protocol. The project’s name was TRILL for “transparent interconnection of lots of links”.

Intel Labs Fellow

In 2010, Dr. Perlman was appointed as an Intel Fellow. This is the highest position available at Intel. While in this position, she was the lead of Intel Labs’ network and security. She worked for Intel Labs until 2017 after filing for around 30 network and security protocol patents.

Dell EMC Fellow

Dr. Perlman continues to be an EMC Fellow to this day. She continues to work with network security and to support university learning in the field of computer science.

What Did Radia Perlman Invent?

Radia Perlman poster
A poster about the life and work of Radia Perlman. This is part of a poster series of inspiring computer scientists and mathematicians that celebrates the diversity of contributors to Computer Science, by Isabel Wagner.


Toddler’s Own Recursive Turtle Interpreter System. This was a creation of Dr. Perlman during her first attempt at grad school. It is a visual language interpreter meant to help children learn to program. She abandoned this project due to worries that it make her appear too feminine in a male dominant field.

TORTIS later became known as pioneer technology for tangible programming. It is a family-friendly learning tool for children to play with a physical turtle robot. They would then learn to control the turtle in a Logo programming language called TurtleTalk.


Intermediate system to intermediate system. This is the basic foundation of packet transfer protocol from one system to another. Dr. Perlman designed this basic set of rules that now act as a foundational technology for modern networking. She also designed another link-state protocol known as open shortest path first or OSPF.


Security spanning tree protocol has been described simply as “basic traffic rules” for network communications. This is the protocol that turned ethernet from a single-use connection to a multi-use high bandwidth pathway.


Perlman further increased the efficiency and stability of STP with a project known as TRILL. It stands for “transparent interconnections of lots of links”. It was intended to remove deficiencies of bridged Ethernet networks in large Layer 2 campuses. It was eventually taken by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to create a new standard.

DECnet Protocol

Aside from the creating of STP and OSPF, Dr. Perlman created many of the protocols and algorithms that make up the DECnet.

Radia Perlman Ethernet
A 3D rendering of the global internet connection concept, showing a computer network. The internet was made possible by work done by scientists like Radia Perlman.

Radia Perlman: Home Life

Net Worth

Radia Perlman has a net worth estimated to be between $1 million and $5 million in 2021. Only three years ago her net worth was $500,000.


Dr. Radia Perlman is married to Michael Speciner. Her husband is also an IT engineer and co-authored “Network Security: Private Communications in a Public World”. Together, they had a family with two children, both a son, Ray Perlman, and a daughter, Dawn Perlman.

Radia Perlman: Awards and Achievements

1992 and 1997 – One of the 20 most influential people in IT by Data Communications Magazine

Dr. Perlman was selected as one of the 20 most influential information technology individuals twice. She was first awarded it in 1992 and then again in 1997 for her network protocol contributions.

2000 Honorary doctorate from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm

She was given an honorary doctorate from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in recognition of her networking and security contributions to the internet.

2003 – Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law Association Inventor of the Year

She was also voted Inventor of the Year by Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law for network security contributions.

2005 – Women of Vision Award for Innovation from the Anita Borg Institute

As a pioneer for women in STEM fields of work, Dr. Perlman was one of three recipients of the Women of Vision Award from the Anita Borg Institute.

2006 & 2010 — USENIX Lifetime Achievement Award & SIGCOMM

Twice, Dr. Perlman was recognized for a Lifetime achievement award. In 2006, USENIX honored her as a major contributor to the modern era and “mother of the internet” with a Lifetime Achievement award. Then in 2010, SIGCOMM followed suit with another.

Hall of Fame and National Recognition

Dr. Perlman continues to receive praise for her contributions and technology patents. From 2014 to 2016, she was given honorary awards each year:

  • 2014 – Inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame
  • 2015 – Elected as Member of the National Academy of Engineering
  • 2016 – Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame
Radia Perlman discusses Internet evolution and shares thoughts on the status of the Internet and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. This interview was recorded in Hong Kong at the Internet Hall of Fame Induction.

Radia Perlman’s Published Works

Dr. Perlman is one of the co-authors of this book along with her husband, Michael Speciner, and Charlie Kaufman in April 2002. This is a staple book on network protocols and information technology security. It discusses everything from cryptography and authentication to general web and email security.

Dr. Perlman authored a book on her own that centered around networking equipment technology communications and protocol. It is used as a reference text in university settings.

  • Over 100 technology patents

Radia Perlman Quotes

  • “But the world would be a better place if more engineers, like me, hated technology. The stuff I design, if I’m successful, nobody will ever notice. Things will just work, and will be self-managing.”
  • “Start out with finding the right problem to solve. This is a combination of “what customers are asking for”, ”what customers don’t even know they want yet”, and “what can be solved with something simple to understand and manage”.”
  • “The kind of diversity that I think really matters isn’t skin shade and body shape, but different ways of thinking.”
  • “The Internet was not invented by any individual. There are lots of people who like to take credit for it, and it drives them crazy when anyone other than them seems to want credit, so it seems best to just stay out of their way.”
  • “I always thought it was a bad idea to forward Ethernet packets.”

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Radia Perlman famous for?

Radia Perlman is famous for creating STP and TRILL. These network protocols are what make high bandwidth ethernet communication possible.

When did Radia Perlman invent STP?

Radia created STP while working at DEC. Specifically, STP was created in 1985.

Did Radia Perlman invent the internet?

No. She did however make some of the largest contributions to networking protocol and communication that made the internet possible. She is referred to as “the mother of the internet” by others but believes that the internet formed naturally through the minds of many people.

How did Radia Perlman change the world?

Her protocols allow ethernet to be used for home and business networks. Before her secure spanning tree protocol, ethernet was only able to be used for one specific purpose at a time.

Is Radia Perlman still alive?

Radia Perlman is still alive in 2021.

Where does Radia Perlman live?

Radia Perlman currently resides in Redmond, Washington where she is employed as a DELL EMC Fellow.

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