William Robert "Bert" Sutherland (May 10, 1936 – February 18, 2020), was an American computer scientist who was the longtime manager of three prominent research labs, including Sun Microsystems Laboratories (1992–1998), the Systems Science Laboratory at Xerox PARC (1975–1981), and the Computer Science Division of Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Inc. which helped develop the ARPANET.
In these roles, Sutherland participated in the creation of the personal computer, the technology of advanced microprocessors, the Smalltalk programming language, the Java programming language and the Internet.
Unlike traditional corporate research managers, Sutherland added individuals from fields like psychology, cognitive science, and anthropology to enhance the work of his technology staff. He also directed his scientists to take their research, like the Xerox Alto "personal" computer, outside of the lab to allow people to use it in a corporate setting and to observe their interaction with it.
In addition, Sutherland fostered a collaboration between the Caltech researchers developing techniques of very large-scale integrated circuits (VLSI) – his brother Ivan and Carver Mead – and Lynn Conway of his PARC staff. With PARC resources made available by Sutherland, Mead and Conway developed a textbook and university syllabus that helped expedite the development and distribution of a technology whose impact is now immeasurable.
Sutherland said that a research lab is primarily a teaching institution, "teaching whatever is new so that the new can become familiar, old, and used widely."
Sutherland was born in Hastings, Nebraska on May 10, 1936, to a father from New Zealand; his mother was from Scotland. The family moved to Wilmette, Illinois, then Scarsdale, New York, for his father's career. Bert Sutherland graduated from Scarsdale High School, then received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and his master's degree and Ph.D. from MIT; his thesis advisor was Claude Shannon. During his military service in the United States Navy, he was awarded the Legion of Merit as a Carrier ASW plane commander. He was the older brother of Ivan Sutherland. Bert Sutherland died on February 20, 2020, aged 83.
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