Dr. Pradeep Sindhu founded Juniper Networks in February 1996 and served as its CEO until September 1996. He has since served as the company’s vice chairman of the board and chief technical officer. From 1984 to 1996, he worked at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) as a member of the research staff. He earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, his master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Hawaii, and his PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon.
SM: Let’s start at the beginning of your story. Could you tell us some things about your early days, such as where you were raised and what kind of environment you grew up in? What elements contributed to the genesis of your career?
PS: I was born in Bombay, India. My dad was in the army, so we moved around quite a bit. We lived primarily in the northern parts of India. I spent a lot of time in the Delhi area and went to high school there at Mount St. Mary’s. I applied for a lot of different schools, such as IIT, because I really wanted to do something related to engineering. That was much to the chagrin of my dad, who wanted me to go into the IAS or IFS. That stuff did not interest me.
I got into IIT Kanpur and studied electrical engineering. Traditionally, the next step was to apply for higher education in the United States. At the time, each of the IITs was funded by a different country. Kanpur was funded by the United States. The curriculum was modeled after MIT’s. I applied to a bunch of different schools and got into several of them, but the only school that I received funding to attend was the University of Hawaii. That was nice! That was also my first exposure to networking and computing. That was in 1975.
SM: That was the very beginning of networking.
PS: You have probably heard about the Aloha system. I worked on a piece of the Aloha system that was implemented by the ATS-1 satellite. I worked on power control. At the same time there was a computer system at the University of Hawaii that was built by the Berkeley Computer Corporation. This is the company that was founded by Butler Lampson. That was where I learned about computers. It was an interesting time. The year and a half I spent there was heaven.
Berkeley Computer Corporation went bankrupt. Wayne Lichtenberger, who worked with Butler, took all the equipment that was there, brought it to the University of Hawaii, and kept it running. It is funny how small the world is. Wayne Lichtenberger was also employee number three or four at Cisco. He was one of my professors at the University of Hawaii.
After my time in Hawaii, I wanted to apply to a PhD program. The interdisciplinary program at Carnegie Mellon was very good. It was one of the best computer science programs. I joined the PhD program in 1976 with a focus on high-performance multiprocessors. I worked on the first large-scale multiprocessor system, and my particular focus was on the operating system. I received my PhD in distributed reliable operating systems.
My career has progressed from the academy to industry. The primary reason is that I find that the best work in the areas that interest me scientifically is carried out in industry, not academia.
SM: That deep technology underpinning must have served you well throughout your industry career.
PS: It has been absolutely, incredibly valuable. The theoretical background and breadth of knowledge [that I gained] have let me do things I otherwise would not have been able to do. I was fundamentally grounded in the sciences and engineering.
After my PhD, I applied to PARC and got in. I continued my work in high-performance computing at PARC, where they had a project to do a personal multiprocessor workstation. At that time, the standard computer system was two to three million instructions per second (MIPS). We were planning on building a 100-MIPS workstation called Dragon.