Pioneers in Tech: Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler

“The Original Search Engine” (1931–Present)

Beginnings

Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler’s work has had a lasting impact. As one of the major contributors to the design and creation of ARPANET, her work laid the foundation for the modern internet. 

Feinler graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from West Liberty University and went on to study biochemistry at Purdue’s graduate school. Feinler, needing money to continue her schooling, got a job at Chemical Abstracts Services in Ohio sorting data. The breadth of information that Feinler encountered fascinated her, and she soon developed an interest in streamlining information sorting. 

Joining ARPANET

In 1960, she became an information scientist guiding the Information Research Department at SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute). Feinler worked in this position for over a decade before joining Douglas Engelbart’s team at SRI’s Augmentation Research Center (ARC) in 1972. ARC had been contracted by the U.S. Department of Defense to provide the first reference library service on the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), one of the internet’s early predecessors, while it was being designed.

Feinler was to write a Resource Handbook for the first demonstration of the ARPANET at the International Computer Communication Conference. At the time she joined, about 30 computers were connected to the network, meaning she had to document what computer resources were available on which sites so they could be used across the network. 

Leading the Network Information Center

By 1974, Feinler became the director of the new Network Information Center (NIC) for ARPANET. The NIC provided reference services to users by mail and phone and maintained a directory of people (white pages), a resource handbook (yellow pages), a list of services, and a protocol handbook. 

The NIC would later go on to provide services like registering domain names, providing access control for terminals, auditing trail and billing information, and distributing Request for Comments (RFCs). As part of this work, Feinler and her group developed the domain-naming scheme of .com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .org, and .net, which is still used today. NIC also created WHOIS, the first query-based network hostname and address server.

Feinler has won many honors for her achievements. Notably, she was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012 and awarded the Jonathon B. Postel Service Award in 2013.

Of her accomplishments, Feinler has said she took the most pride in being able to hire women. At a time when other industries would not give them a chance, Feinler was able to employ women and move them through the ranks. She serves as an inspiration to young women working in STEM fields and demonstrates the possibilities that can happen when you follow your passions in earnest.

Hear more on Feinler’s experience developing ARPANET here, and check out other leaders in technology through our blogs.

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Written by Tanner Rubino ‘22 // Professional Writing

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