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Jnan Dash

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2010 Turing Award Goes To Microsoft's Thacker

This year's award goes to a hardware scientist for only the second time since 1967

This morning I read in the WSJ about the Turing award for this year given to Charles Thacker (pictured). I must admit I did not know much about Charles Thacker, he being mostly from the hardware side of the business.

For those not familiar with this award, it is the highest honor given to contributions in computer science. Some call it the equivalent of a Nobel prize. It comes with a check of $250K and a citation. The late Dr. Ted Codd, pioneer of relational database theory, received it back in 1981. The late Jim Gray got it in 1998 for his pioneering work on the “ACID properties of a database” and here is a short article by Mike Stonebraker on why Gray got it. Charles Bachman got it way back in 1973 for inventing the concept of a DBMS based on his work on IDS which became IDMS in Cullinet.

It is interesting to note that this year's award goes to a hardware scientist for only the second time since 1967 (Maurice Wilkins). All these years the award has gone to those known for software and other aspects of computing. Thacker is at Microsoft research. But his pioneering work dates back to the 1970s at Xerox PARC on the first personal computer called Alto. He is also known to be the father of  Ethernet. His alma mater is Berkeley (where else?) and he developed the Bee3 Berkeley Emulation Engine, a Microsoft-funded project to develop a circuit board with four FPGA chips that can be programmed to act like a parallel computer to allow students to develop and test computer designs.

This leads me to think of several such scientists of our industry hired by Microsoft – Gordon Bell, Charles Thacker, Butler Lampson, the late Jim Gray, and numerous others. It is heartening to see that research thrives in companies like Microsoft, HP and IBM. Sadly few other large software companies  are so short-term-focused that they almost deride the value of research. But research work like that of Charles Thacker is what keeps us going.

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Jnan Dash is Senior Advisor at EZShield Inc., Advisor at ScaleDB and Board Member at Compassites Software Solutions. He has lived in Silicon Valley since 1979. Formerly he was the Chief Strategy Officer (Consulting) at Curl Inc., before which he spent ten years at Oracle Corporation and was the Group Vice President, Systems Architecture and Technology till 2002. He was responsible for setting Oracle's core database and application server product directions and interacted with customers worldwide in translating future needs to product plans. Before that he spent 16 years at IBM. He blogs at http://jnandash.ulitzer.com.

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