As a young computer-science professor at Stanford in the early 1980s, John Hennessy helped pioneer a new computing concept called RISC, for “reduced instruction set computer.” He expected others to see the value of the idea and commercialize it. When no one did, Hennessy started a company called MIPS.
“We never intended to be entrepreneurs,” Hennessy says. “I thought what we were doing was so compelling our friends in industry would implement it. But there was too much of a ‘not invented here’ syndrome. That’s why we ended up doing it.”
Across San Francisco Bay, David Patterson was working on similar ideas at the University of California Berkeley. He later helped Sun Microsystems turn his team’s work into its flagship SPARC line of chips.
Wednesday, Hennessy and Patterson were awarded the Turing Award, computing’s equivalent of a Nobel Prize for their work on RISC. The two didn’t invent RISC themselves. They and their teams built on existing research, but they popularized the ideas and helped prove they were feasible, and Patterson’s team coined the term RISC.
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