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From Katoor to the World Stage

Posted on Friday, Apr 20th 2007

The time was pre-world war II. 1937 to be precise. A young boy was born into a reasonably well off family in a small village in South India. A third child, after two other boys. The father once had a car (Ford Model A), some horses, and a lot of land. By the time this boy arrived, he had however lost much of that affluence.

At 9, the boy was shipped off to the nearest village that had a school, where he stayed with some family friends, and studied. Eventually, he made it to Loyola College in Madras in 1952. When he arrived there, he understood little of what the professors said in their English and Irish accents. The saving grace was that there were text books. The boy, now a young man, taught himself, without any mentoring from his professors.

After Loyola, he entered the oldest engineering college in the South, Gindi, and from there, won a commonwealth scholarship to go to Australia, where he first encountered Computers. His parents understood nothing of the path he was following. They were not educated. But they did not hinder him either. There were two boys before him, who would look after the family’s properties and land, so if this third one goes elsewhere, it would be okay!

In Australia, the Computers he worked on, were designed by none other than Alan Turing himself, and Main Memory had not yet been invented! He did a Masters in Civil Engineering, and went to work for IBM in Australia in 1960.

A few years later, he applied for the PhD program in Stanford. There was no Computer Science department, but he was invited to join the Math program. Nonetheless, John McCarthy from MIT had just arrived at Stanford to design a CS department. This young man became the first Computer Science Phds from Stanford under Prof. McCarthy’s tutelage.

Later, he went on to win the Turing Award, the highest honor in Computer Science, the Padmabhushan, the highest honor that India bestows upon its Nationals for extraordinary achievement, and the French Legion of Honor.

Tell me, dear readers, who is this man?

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Dr Raj Reddy is that guy.

Sunder Friday, April 20, 2007 at 4:48 AM PT