Archive for May 14th, 2012

ISOC Hall of Fame and Grad School Memories

May 14th, 2012

After I posted the ISOC piece, I got an unexpected message from an old, old friend.  Apparently he was part of the Internet Society Hall of Fame process.  This brings back so many memories. The person in question has been deep in IETF related topics for many years.  In addition, he was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known about sharing his understanding of technology and his resources.  Many years ago when I was in grad school he gave me keys to his office, set aside an old piece of technology for me to use and provided the basic support I needed.

As a result, my graduate school notes were all taken on an old, otherwise-decommissioned CP/M machine with 8″ floppy drives.  As it turned out, my preferred study partner in grad school was also using such an ancient machine, and it mean we could share notes.  My study partner was used to preparing “briefing books” for governor – level public officials, our our law school notes increasingly took on the look of briefing books as years went by.  He was also the only other person I knew in my class to took 4 years to complete law school, so we both started together and finished together.   (I spent the extra year living and traveling in China, he spent it getting an additional Master’s degree.)    That extra year was pivotal for me, changing by worldview in so many ways.

Today the near-ubiquity of the network means it’s hard to imagine being far, far way from global communications systems.  My time traveling in China (including Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong), Burma, Thailand, and Nepal, before cell phones and before the Internet is something I treasure.    I came back from my longest trip to find both of us in our 4th year of law school (imagine being proud of that 🙂 ).  And to find the greatest measure of success:  we had each learned each other’s most effective techniques.  When a question came up, we would find him reasoning from the principles he remembered, and me leafing through the briefing book to find the materials we had already prepared.  This was one of our finest moments: we had taught each other a whole new set of tools.

And then I’d bicycle through Berkeley back to “my” office.  Sometimes I’d be alone there.  Sometimes my friend would have given a set of keys to others and I’d find new people there.  (If you happen to know “gumby” you’ll know what I mean.)    We were above the pizza parlor and the California Girls massage studio, where bats appeared each  evening off the fire-escape.    I saw my first Mac in this office.   I first came across email here (gumby, again!).  I first encountered the IETF (long before the Web) here.  I learned what an extraordinary place MIT is, especially at night during finals.  At some point the office moved to slightly more upscale setting (no pizza, no massage).    People came and went though, each bringing something.

I’m still not as generous as this friend with my personal space.  I need more privacy that he did.    But office space, and sharing resources, and connecting people, and wanting people to build on whatever resources I can bring to the party — I learned a lot about this from the friend in question.    It’s not what people think of as a “law school education.”

I went to grad school at Berkeley Law (known as Boalt Hall School of Law in my day); one of the great legal institutions in the US.  I was fortunate; the University and the State of California invested in me.   I’m proud of being a UC Berkeley grad.  I’m a little stunned by what I’ve been able to achieve with it.    And there, generally unseen but critical nonetheless, I learned to share.  In some ways this is the most rewarding.

I’ve found that sharing — sharing wildly, sharing boldly, and reveling in what others do with the sparks I send their way — is liberating.  It’s powerful.  And it makes me part of a community of people that gives me hope for the future.

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