Tag Archives: Computer Science

Jew of the Week: Evelyn Berezin

The Woman That Made Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Possible

Evelyn Berezin, “Godmother of the Word Processor”

Evelyn Berezin (1925-2018) was born in the Bronx to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants. Growing up, she loved reading science fiction and wished to study physics. She excelled at school and graduated two years early. Berezin had to wear make-up and fake her age to get a job at a research lab. She ended up studying economics because it was a more “fitting” subject for women at the time. During World War II, she finally received a scholarship to study physics at New York University. Berezin studied at night, while working full time at the International Printing Company during the day. She continued doing graduate work at New York University, with a fellowship from the US Atomic Energy Commission. In 1951, she joined the Electronic Computer Corporation, designing some of the world’s very first computers. At the time, computers were massive machines that could only do several specific functions. Berezin headed the Logic Design Department, and came up with a computer to manage the distribution of magazines, and to calculate firing distances for US Army artillery. In 1957, Berezin transferred to work at Teleregister, where she designed the first banking computer and the first computerized airline reservation system (linking computers in 60 cities, and never failing once in the 11 years that it ran). Her most famous feat was in 1968 when she created the world’s first personal word processor to ease the plight of secretaries (then making up 6% of the workforce). The following year, she founded her own company, Redactron Corporation, and built a mini-fridge-sized word processor, the “Data Secretary”, with a keyboard and printer, cassette tapes for memory storage, and no screen. With the ability to go back and edit text, cut and paste, and print multiple copies at once, Berezin’s computer freed the world “from the shackles of the typewriter”. The machine was an in instant hit, selling thousands of units around the world. Berezin’s word processor not only set the stage for future word processing software, like Microsoft Word, but for compact personal computers in general. It is credited with being the world’s first office computer. Not surprisingly, it has been said that without Evelyn Berezin “there would have been no Bill Gates, and no Steve Jobs”. Redactron grew to a public company with over 500 employees. As president, she was the only woman heading a corporation in the US at the time, and was described as the “Most Senior Businesswoman in the United States”. Redactron was eventually bought out by Burroughs Corporation, where Berezin worked for several more years. In 1980, she moved on to head a venture capital group investing in new technologies. Berezin served on the boards of a number of organizations, including Stony Brook University and the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and was a sought-after consultant for the world’s biggest tech companies. She was a key part of the American Women’s Economic Development Corporation for 25 years, training thousands of women in how to start businesses of their own, with a success rate of over 60%. In honour of her parents, she established the Sam and Rose Berezin Endowed Scholarship, paying tuition in full for an undergraduate science student each year. Sadly, Berezin passed away earlier this month. She left her estate to fund a new professorship or research centre at Stony Brook University. Berezin won multiple awards and honourary degrees, and was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.

Words of the Week

As much as I love, esteem, and admire the Greeks, I believe the Hebrews have done more to enlighten and civilize the world. Moses did more than all their legislators and philosophers.
– John Adams2nd president of the United States

An ad for Berezin’s new-and-improved Redactor II, typing as many as 60 letters per second!

Jew of the Week: Danny Lewin

The ‘Fighting Genius’ of 9/11

Danny Lewin

Danny Lewin

Daniel Mark Lewin (1970-2001) was born in Denver, Colorado. He spent his early childhood there, playing sports and the violin, and programming his first Apple II computer when he was just nine years old. His family made aliyah to Israel when he was 14. Living near Jerusalem, Lewin found school of little challenge and often skipped class to work out at a gym. It wasn’t long before he won the Mr. Teenage Israel bodybuilding competition. Not surprisingly, he joined the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit. After four years as an officer – attaining the rank of captain – Lewin went to study at Technion, while also working for IBM. From there, he got a full scholarship to MIT and studied towards a PhD in computer science. During this time, he came up with a new algorithm that had the potential to revolutionize the nascent internet. Others didn’t see it that way, and felt his concept wouldn’t go very far. Despite the opposition, he teamed up with one of his professors and started a new company, Akamai Technologies. In March of 1999, a series of events caused a surge in internet activity that crashed many websites. It appeared that only the sites served by Akamai had survived. Akamai Technologies became an overnight sensation. A successful IPO shortly after made Lewin a billionaire. On September 11, 2001, Lewin boarded American Airlines flight 11. According to air traffic control recordings, Lewin attacked two of the terrorists on board, but was surprised by a third knife-wielding terrorist from behind. He was killed about 30 minutes before the plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Lewin therefore carries the tragic distinction of being the first victim of 9/11. He left behind a wife and two small children. At just 31 years of age, he was expected to make big waves, with some predicting he could have become an Israeli prime minister (like fellow Sayeret Matkal graduates Barak and Netanyahu), or one of the world’s true tech titans. His Akamai Technologies is still a multi-billion dollar internet giant today. In his honour, Cambridge, Massachusetts has a Danny Lewin Square and Park, and the annual award for best student paper on computing is named after him, too.

Words of the Week

Long after we have forgiven you for killing our sons, we will be working to forgive you for turning our sons into killers.
– Golda Meir