John Hennessy’s ongoing lessons in leading people as service, and shaping the future.
On March 21st, 2018 it was announced that former Stanford President John Hennessy was to be the recipient, along with David Patterson, of the A.M. Turing Award. This is “the most prestigious technical award, given for major contributions of lasting importance to computing.” Their work at MIPS Computer Systems in the development of microprocessors that operate at a faster speed while using less energy was certainly transformational in the field. While the technology itself that resulted is ubiquitous—its form appears in almost all smartphones, tablets, and computers today—it is the development process that is of even greater note. John and David pioneered a quantitative approach to design and evaluation that provided repeatable principles for computer architecture. This methodology is now used by generations of engineers and scientists.
By sheer coincidence, March 21 happened to be the day I met John. Stanford University Press had just signed his new book, Leading Matters: Lessons from My Journey, and SUP Director Alan Harvey and I were meeting him for lunch to discuss the book. Before we even sat down, his colleagues at the Faculty Club were congratulating him; we thought it was because he had just been named Chairman of Alphabet (the parent company of Google). He quietly mentioned that it was announced that day that he’d just received the Turing Award for 2018.