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Jon Postel

Jon Postel

A secondary, yet no less important institution to the long-lasting import of Arpanet, was the documentation system called Request for Comments (RFC). Conceived by Steve Crocker in the early days of the Network Working Group (NWG) meetings, the RFC was to record unofficial communications on the development of the Arpanet. Later the RFC would become the official source of documentation of Internet specifications, communication protocols, procedures and events. RFC followed the evolution of the Arpanet organizational structure, and from the beginning Jon Postel was the Editor. Hence why I felt this interview was necessary.

Jonathan Bruce Postel, or Jon, decided to attend UCLA at a propitious time. He earned his B.S. (1967) and then M.S. (1968) in Engineering before entering graduate school in computer science. He soon began working on a project under the direction of Professor’s Kleinrock and Estrin and funded by ARPA, the goal being to measure computer performance. When Kleinrock secured an additional ARPA grant to become the first node of Arpanet, as well as the role of the Network Measurement Center, the project Postel was working on changed to measuring the Arpanet. As a founding member of the NWG, Postel volunteered to become the Editor of the RFCs. He earned his Ph.D. in 1974 with Dave Farber serving as his thesis advisor. On graduation, Jon went to work for MITRE in Washington D.C. He soon learned he wanted to be an engineer: MITRE only did studies. He left and over the summer fixed the networking access of the software of ARPAs offices’, an overhaul long over due. Next he joined Doug Englebart at SRI International, where he helped start the Network Information Center or (NIC) and contribute to the Network Software Works. In March 1977, he left to join the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) of the University of Southern California. Jon continued to be the RFC Editor as well as an invaluable member of many Internet committees

I could have eliminated a source of surprise when I called on Jon if I had only looked up his picture beforehand. On arriving at ISI, it was as I expected; a large rectangular-shaped box, of lifeless dark colors, and a few struggling trees framing the entranceway. Inside the heavily air-conditioned air was at first cold to breathe in. Although no one shared Jon’s office, other than a secretary, no one could have given the lack of free space. Jon suddenly emerged from behind cabinets and stacks of books. How incongruous, a full-bearded hippie inside a conservative think tank! Jon was a delight to interview and very helpful. Even so, as I drove away I couldn’t help but shake my head seeing Jon “inside.”

Keywords: UCLA, Network Working Group, RFC Editor, Douglas Engelbart, Information Sciences Institute (ISI)

Jon Postel Interviewed by James Pelkey 2/18/88