I was given the opportunity to attend the Rolex Awards for Enterprise event in London this weekend to hear one of my favorite technologists, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, impart some wisdom. For those not familiar with Tim Berners-Lee, he is the inventor of the Web (1989), arguably the world’s most powerful communication medium. So, on behalf of Tim, you’re welcome. HERE is the first ever webpage in case you were interested.
HOW THE WEB CAME ABOUT
Tim began by mentioning his appreciation for organizations and managers that allotted time for employees to work on side projects, because this was the catalyst for the Web’s creation. As a software programmer for CERN, he and his peers were encouraged to work on and propose value-added projects that were outside of their scope areas. So, as you can imagine, they took advantage of this. His initial proposal for an Internet-based Web platform was described as “vague, but exciting” by his manager and subsequently he was not provided funding. The idea of the Web, then, seemed unfathomable…similar to today’s youth trying to imagine life without the Web. In Tim’s opinion, a paradigm shift was required before the Web could ever become a reality because CERN programmers, then, were more focused on creating the best applications, operating systems, documentation systems, etc., and not necessarily on integration, which the Web would later enable. Long story short, Tim’s proposal later garnered more interest and backing and the rest, as they say, is history. By creating and fostering an “inter-creative” and free platform as supposed to a purely interactive and royalty-driven one, a large amount of user-generated content and interest made the Web what it continues to be today.
A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
While Tim provided many insights into what was ahead for the Web and the Internet, there was one topic, in particular, that caught my attention: enabling a more open and free Web…one that is not primarily controlled by special-interest groups and governments. He mentioned existing plans for an Internet payment protocol that will enable websites to be more user-funded, rather than ad-funded. At a high-level, it would entail creating a far-reaching and direct channel for websites to automatically raise money from users without having to individually solicit users, as I’m sure some of you have experienced on sites like Wikipedia.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a “depth-first” person and while he acknowledges the value of both breadth and depth, he highlighted the importance of a balance. He suggested plotting one’s career plan in a T-shaped manner, where you horizontally plot the areas you want breadth in and vertically plot the areas you want depth in, and then working towards a balanced implementation, if you so wish. Simple and ingenious, in my opinion.
On the topic of risk-taking, which we’ve all talked and heard about ad nauseam, Tim encouraged eliminating the word “failure” from one’s mindset and focus on having fun and learning along the journey of risk-taking. Focus on the success percentage and celebrate that before going back to the drawing board.
The event’s other noteworthy speaker was Maggie Aderin-Pocock, PhD, a space scientist who spoke about her involvement on the Rosetta Mission that recently attempted to land a spacecraft on a comet and on new developments that came out of her participation at last week’s World Economic Forum in Dubai. More info on her can be found HERE. Exciting and inspiring!
The Rolex Awards is a STEM event celebrating the achievements of early-career technologists and scientists across many different areas, including portable medical devices, wildlife conservation, and geology.