10 unsung fathers of technology

Here are some industry 'fathers' you may not have heard of

In the tech world, the inventor, originator, or driving force behind a new product or technology is typically dubbed "father of the _______". As in Tim Berners-Lee, father of the Web. As in Vint Cerf, father of the Internet. As in Bob Metcalfe, father of Ethernet.

Here, in honor of fathers everywhere, are 10 industry "fathers" you may not have heard of:

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1. Marty Cooper

Father of the mobile phone

Cooper filed a patent for the "radio telephone system" in 1973, while working at Motorola, and was the first person to make a call on a portable cell phone. (He called a rival engineer at Bell Labs.) Cooper has stated that his inspiration came from watching Star Trek's Captain Kirk talk on his communicator device. Today, Cooper is the CEO and founder of ArrayComm.

Find out about Cooper's Law

2. Mike Lazardidis

Father of the BlackBerry

Born in Turkey to Greek parents, Lazaridis was five years old when his family moved to Canada. At age 12, he won a prize for reading every science book in his public library. He dropped out of college to start Research in Motion in 1984 and subsequently developed the BlackBerry. In 2000, he put up $100 million to start an institute devoted to the study of theoretical physics.

Video of Mike Lazaridis

3. Tony Fadell

Father of the iPod

Fadell had an idea, pitched it around, was hired by Apple and the rest is history. He started as an outside consultant, became the first member of Apple's iPod hardware engineering team in 2001, and is now senior vice president of the iPod Division. So why haven't you ever heard of Tony Fadell? Apparently the Apple PR machine wants to keep the spotlight on a certain you-know-who.

Inside look at the birth of the iPod

4. John Backus

Father of Fortran

The former IBM computer scientist developed Fortran (Formula Translator) in the '50s. Fortran is considered the world's first widely used computer programming language. Backus died last year at age 82. As a young man, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was removed and a plate was installed in his head. Later, a second plate was put in, one that Backus designed himself.

5. Jack Nilles

Father of telecommuting

Nilles coined the term in the early '70s while working at the University of Southern California. He founded the management consulting firm, JALA International, Inc., in 1980 and left USC in 1989 to devote full time to JALA. Telecommuting isn't rocket science, but Nilles is, in fact, a rocket scientist who designed space vehicles for the U.S. Air Force and NASA.

Nilles blog

Related story: Father of telecommuting Jack Nilles says security, managing remote workers remain big hurdles

6. Doug Engelbart
Father of the mouse

Engelbart is an early Internet pioneer. In 1969, ARPANET's first transmission was between nodes at Leonard Kleinrock's lab at UCLA and Engelbart's lab at Stanford. A philosopher, scientist, and inventor, he'll always be known as the father of the mouse, which he patented in 1970. He never received any royalties however. His patent expired in 1987, before the personal computer revolution. Today, at 83, he heads the Bootstrap Institute.

Learn more about the Bootstrap Institute

7. Gary Thuerk
Father of spam

In 1978, an overly aggressive sales rep from Digital Equipment Corp. sent out a pitch to several hundred names on an early ARPANET mailing list. Not only did Gary Thuerk get flamed, the feds running ARPANET threatened to throw him in jail. How times have changed. Today, 80 to 90 percent of all email is spam and nobody seems to know where it's coming from or how to stop it. As for Thuerk, he's at HP, still selling computer gear. Is Thuerk embarrassed about unleashing the scourge of spam on the world? Not really. "I'm the first one to do it, and I'm proud of it," he says.

See the spam message that started it all

8. John Cioffi
Father of DSL

Not one to blow his own horn, Cioffi shies away from publicity. But by all accounts, the Stanford professor was intent on coming up with a way to deploy broadband over copper wires and developed asymmetrical digital subscriber line (DSL) technology. He left Stanford in 1991 to found Amati Communications Inc. He has since returned to Stanford, where his research focuses on Dynamic Spectrum Management (DSM).

Video interview with Cioffi on the occasion of his winning the 2006 Marconi Prize

9. James Gosling
Father of Java

Canada-born Gosling was born to code. While working on a doctorate in computer science from Carnegie-Mellon, he wrote a multiprocessor version of Unix. At Sun, he is credited with inventing the Java programming language in 1991. In a blog posting in 2006, he noted that neither his wife nor his kids had ever seen him without a beard, which he had to shave off prior to having surgery for sleep apnea.

Link to Gosling's blog

10. Vic Hayes
Father of Wi-Fi

Hayes is a Dutch-born electrical engineer who worked at NCR Corp. and later Agere. He's known less for technological wizardry than for his diplomatic skills. As chairman of the IEEE 802.11 working group for wireless LANs, he was instrumental in developing the standards that led to the success of 802.11 wireless LANs. Today, he is Senior Research Fellow at Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands.

Hayes' presentation on Wi-Fi delivered at the Global Information Infrastructure Symposium, Marrakech, Morocco, in 2007

This story, "10 unsung fathers of technology" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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