Father of CORBA – Not

April 21st, 2008  |  Published in CORBA, distributed systems  |  4 Comments  |  Bookmark on Pinboard.in

I see that at least one person on the planet believes I’m the “Father of CORBA.” I can certainly understand why people would think that, but I can definitely say that it’s inaccurate.

In 1989 Hewlett-Packard bought Apollo Computer, where I worked as a diagnostics engineer. Five years prior to that I started my career at Texas Instruments as an electrical engineer working on integrated circuits, and ended up having to write a lot of testing software despite having no software training whatsoever, except for a freshman class in BASIC required for all engineering majors. I found I really liked software, though, so I joined Apollo because the job there was half hardware and half software. By late 1990, though, Hewlett-Packard politics had just about killed the group I worked in, and my manager told me I’d be smart to find myself something else to work on before I was forced to do so. I had been developing a hardware debugger in C++ that involved distributed computing, so I looked around the former Apollo site for any groups using C++ in distributed systems. Turned out Jim Waldo was leading such a group — they were building the first Object Request Broker (ORB). I joined them in January 1991, which was 6 months before the first version of the CORBA spec was published. Ken Arnold was also part of that group. I joined just as they wrapped up the first ORB prototype.

One could argue, therefore, that Jim Waldo is the Father of CORBA, since he led the development of the first ORB. Alternatively, one could argue that Joe Sventek is the Father of CORBA, since he was the editor of the first CORBA specification (Joe was also at HP, though he worked in a different group located in California). However, while they both played important roles in initially defining CORBA, there is to the best of my knowledge no single person who can be called the Father of CORBA. Rather, it was definitely a “design by committee” effort, and I certainly don’t count as one of the fathers since at that time I wasn’t even part of the committee.

BTW, here’s a bit of trivia: for those of you who remember Cliff Stoll‘s “Stalking the Wily Hacker” and “Cuckoo’s Egg” publications, documenting his successful effort to identify who was hacking into computer systems at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Joe Sventek’s account was one that the hacker used to gain access. Joe explained to me that he had been away from the laboratory for quite awhile, residing in the U.K. I believe, so red flags went up when there was activity in his account.


  1. SteveL says:

    April 21st, 2008 at 4:00 am (#)

    …I was in HPL in the UK around this time; I remember Sventek. I was in cupertino for some HP NewWave bash when it was announced the Distributed NewWave and Sun’s Distributed Objects Everywhere architectures were going to be compatible. I asked if they were going to talk to each other -but no, DNW would use Apollo RPC, DOE would use SunOS RPC. There and then I felt despair…

    I have some of the early ANSA docs around in my office; these are the UK papers that argue that Distributed Objects will solve all our problems. I think they are a precursor to Corba; certainly an influence.

  2. steve says:

    April 21st, 2008 at 8:23 am (#)

    Steve: yes, Joe worked at ANSA, and the ANSA work definitely influenced CORBA. The CORBA Trading service, for example, came directly from Joe’s work at ANSA.

  3. Bill Burke says:

    April 24th, 2008 at 8:33 am (#)

    Steve, i think you CORBA’s crack baby.

  4. steve says:

    April 25th, 2008 at 8:25 am (#)

    Bill: actually, that might be the most accurate description. :-)