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Tim Berners-Lee as a Graduate Trainee and the Birth of the World Wide Web

Updated on January 10, 2012

I knew Sir Tim When he was a Graduate Trainee

Tim Berners-Lee is widely known as the inventor of the World-Wide Web and therefore the most significant Internet pioneer. Well, I worked with Tim when he was just a graduate trainee!

He and his then wife Jane joined Plessey Telecommunications in Poole, England in 1976 and. despite a First from Oxford in Physics, Tim was refreshingly down-to-earth in manner and appearance.

He was good looking with no horn-rimmed specs. Nor did he wear an anorak. Why someone so dazzlingly bright chose to work at Plessey is a bit of a mystery. The pay was modest and Plessey wasn't particularly entrepreneurial but Tim and Jane fitted in well in the thriving Plessey social scene.

Tim worked in the so called 'Maths Lab', a bit of a geeky backwater, where he messed about with distributed transaction systems, message relays, and bar code technology. This private venture stuff wasn't Plessey's forte and two years later Tim moved on to another local firm where he wrote typesetting software for intelligent printers, and a multitasking operating system.

The great Coder - Tim Berners-Lee
The great Coder - Tim Berners-Lee

Poole Harbour

Sunset Over Poole Harbour
Sunset Over Poole Harbour

The great Innovator

Tim was one of those people who never just follow in other people's footsteps but totally reinvent solutions to problems. He designed his own computer architecture from scratch while an undergraduate.

He hand-built the machine, based on the 6800 chip, using a soldering iron. It was this originality of approach which eventually led him to add a GUI interface to the Internet and invent HTML and the concept of the World Wide Web.

He then spent a year and a half as an independent consultant included a six month stint as consultant software engineer at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Hence Tim is probably the most famous software contractor ever!

Whilst there, he wrote, for his own private use, a program named "Enquire". Although never published, this program formed the conceptual basis for the future development of the World Wide Web.

World Wide Web

From 1981 until 1984, he was a founding Director of Image Computer Systems Ltd. Work here included real time control firmware, graphics and communications software, and a generic macro language.

In 1984, he took up a fellowship at CERN to work on distributed real-time systems for scientific data acquisition and system control.

In 1989, he proposed a global hypertext project, to be known as the World Wide Web. Based on the earlier "Enquire" work, it was designed to allow people to work together by combining their knowledge in a web of hypertext documents.

He wrote the first World Wide Web server and the first client, a wysiwyg hypertext browser, in 1990. The program "WorldWideWeb" was first made available on the Internet in the summer of 1991. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sopers Ln, Poole BH17 7, UK

get directions

The location of the Plessey factory where Tim was a Graduate Trainee

So where is Sir Tim today?

Tim Berners-Lee holds the 3Com Founders chair and is a Senior Research Scientist at the Laboratory for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He is co-Director of the new Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) and is a Chair in the Computer Science Department at the University of Southampton, UK. He also directs the World Wide Web Consortium, founded in 1994

In 1989 he invented the World Wide Web, an internet-based hypermedia initiative for global information sharing while at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory. He wrote the first web client and server in 1990. His specifications of URIs, HTTP and HTML were refined as Web technology spread.

In 2001 he became a fellow of the Royal Society. He has been the recipient of several international awards including the Japan Prize, the Prince of Asturias Foundation Prize, the Millennium Technology Prize and Germany's Die Quadriga award. In 2004 he was knighted by H.M. Queen Elizabeth.

Click to Image To Enlarge!

My wife's leaving card from Plessey - Complete with Sir Tim's signature
My wife's leaving card from Plessey - Complete with Sir Tim's signature

The only Momento

I only have one memento of my association with the Great Coder, now revered by net surfers world-wide. My wife is a horder (God bless her) and kept her Plessey leaving card.

There in the top left corner of the right hand page, amid 50 or so 'also rans' in the world of software, is written "Good luck! Tim and Jane Berners-Lee".

No HTML in sight. It's a shame that even software superstars seem to struggle to find anything significant to write on a leaving card!

Tim Berners Lee on the Web - Video


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice addition ! I worked with a quite a few of names on that card, 78/80, including Jane Berners-Lee, Tess, Milan Maric, Dave Gabb, Pete Nicholson. And take it from me, none of us were "also rans" as you put it. Great designers and great people to work and socialise with.

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 

      7 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Really enjoyed this. I wrote a Hub (WWW Birthday) in honor of Berners-Lee and the 21st birthday of the Web on December 25, 2011. I also included many of his quotations in another Hub (Quotes about the Internet). He has really changed the world.

    • dali48 profile image

      Wolfgang G. Greiner 

      9 years ago from Germany

      Thank you for your comment R.R. - It also changed my life when I started in Sep,2007 with an email to my relatives in Australia!(d.48)

    • Rik Ravado profile imageAUTHOR

      Rik Ravado 

      9 years ago from England

      Dali - Yes I agree - it has significantly changed the whole way we live, shop, learn and entertain ourselves.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Belated happy birthday Sir Tim.

    • Rik Ravado profile imageAUTHOR

      Rik Ravado 

      11 years ago from England

      Wow - I remember Chris Hopkins - I sat facing him for a while - he was a hardware designer - he was around at time Tim and Jane joined the company. What a small world!

    • The Indexer profile image

      John Welford 

      11 years ago from UK

      I've had a good look at the leaving card and do recognise one name - Chris Hopkins - although I knew him during my time at what became Marconi. I did once meet a former school colleague during a visit to the ex-Plessey site, name of Peter Aldous.

    • Rik Ravado profile imageAUTHOR

      Rik Ravado 

      11 years ago from England

      Indexer - interesting your links with Poole - quite possible someone was from the Grammar School although most were graduates and came from all over the country and overseas.

    • The Indexer profile image

      John Welford 

      11 years ago from UK

      I was interested to learn of Sir Tim's links with Poole. This is the town where I grew up and went to school, and many years later I ran the library service of the company that incorporated the former Plessey, and made several visits to the Poole site in that capacity. I wonder if that leaving card includes the names of any of my former schoolmates at Poole Grammar School?

    • Rik Ravado profile imageAUTHOR

      Rik Ravado 

      11 years ago from England

      Yes I was aware he was on the clever side but I had no idea he would have such an impact on the world! He hasn't made a huge amount of money either. He invented the web to help researchers (physicists in particular) share their data. He had no idea we would all use it one day or that we'd buy and sell things on the web.

    • oscarmecp4 profile image


      11 years ago from South Africa

      Where we would be without Sir Tim Berners Lee?

      Thank you Tim and thanks for Rik for the info Rik


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