My Summer at Bell Labs (part 2)

My office mate for the summer was Bob Mitze, he was working on getting Steve Johnson’s portable C compiler working on the AT&T 3B (1 or 2?) computer. Across the hall from us was the inimitable Greg Chesson, rest his soul. Greg was a real networking pioneer and I was fortunate to see him numerous times through the years in Silicon Valley.  Greg was working with Sandy Fraser on Datakit networking, an early predecessor of ATM. Greg always had a funny story and a cheerful attitude. You can take a look at the Center127 org chart for all the amazing and famous people with whom I worked.

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-6,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YDennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan were that summer working on the first C Language book, and passed around copies to review. I kept mine and it is one of my prized possessions. Brian is an awesome guy and has been a Princeton professor for some time now, teaching incredibly popular classes. During  my 25th reunion weekend I dropped in to see him for the first time in 26 years.  He says “Tom Lyon! We were just talking about you at lunch!” (Another reunion-goer – Wendy – had brought up my name)

Another character at Bell was Bob Morris who looked to me like a hillbilly fresh from the Ozarks. He and Dennis were having some fun with the M-209 Cipher machine, and Bob went on to become Chief Scientist at the NSA. If his name sounds familiar, blame his son – who unleashed the first Internet worm.

It was the custom of a bunch of the UNIX gang to eat lunch together in the Murray Hill cafeteria – tending to go down just as lunch closed at 1:00. Dennis Ritchie would typically rush in at about 1:05 – just coming to work for the day after working till the wee hours.

The summer interns were housed at Fairleigh Dickinson University outside of Madison, NJ. There was nothing to do at FDU, so we were all happy to work 10 hour days.  Weekends were oppressive unless we managed to get a train to NYC.

I was in a suite with 5 roommates. One of them was Korean, and when he would open a can of kim-chee the suite would empty out in a hurry.  Another guy was from Puerto Rico and worked at the Whippany location, which he pronounced “Wheeepany”. But the one I remember most was Steve Kirsch of MIT – he taught me to juggle – which is a key trait of computer science culture, probably deriving from Claude Shannon.

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-6,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YSteve Kirsch went on to invent the optical mouse and start Mouse Systems Corp. which Sun Microsystems used as their mouse supplier for quite a while. But the curious part is that my brother Dick simultaneously and independently invented the optical mouse at Xerox PARC!

My brother Bob and his new wife Linda had both just graduated from Cornell and gotten jobs at Bell Labs through the OYOC (One Year On Campus) program. They were also working in New Jersey that summer, Bob in Holmdel and Linda in Piscataway(?). A couple of times I spent the weekend with them in Hazlet, NJ, taking the Bell Labs shuttle bus from Murray Hill to Holmdel and back.

The summer intern program ended a couple of weeks before the Princeton year began, but I was able to keep working thanks to help from a kind lady who let me stay in her attic room (I wish I could remember a name here!)  and Al Aho, who lent me his Volkswagen beetle. So you could say Al Aho found a bug for me.

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-6,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YI liked working so much that it was hard for me to take my senior year seriously. I would complain that school was interfering with my education! Thank you Ken, Dennis, Steve and the whole Bell System – it worked for me!



4 thoughts on “My Summer at Bell Labs (part 2)

  1. Re: Bob Morris. Back in the 1990s, he gave a talk in the Dartmouth CS department. Someone asked him what he thought of PGP. His answer: “It’s pretty good.”

  2. I resonated with your comment ‘How does it feel to be set for life’. I didn’t have the grades to get in through the normal route right after college in 1966 but I did come in at the MTS level as an RV in 1984. On my first day there my supervisor said: “Bill, you can have a career here if you want.” What I thought would be a short consulting gig lasted sixteen years, the best sixteen years of my career.

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