I was lucky enough to be in college right as the Internet was moving from DARPA research project to something more "real world" in the form of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) NSFNet network backbone...the first comprehensive internet (small "i") network to traverse the whole of the US. I was hired by the University of Washington to be part of the team that built and eventually commercialized the northwest's portion of this network across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana and North Dakota. That network was known as NorthWestNet. Eventually I became part of the team which worked with the NSF to transition NSFNet to the commercial Internet (big "I") that we use today. Helping build both the technical infrastructure as well as the business of NorthWestNet gave me my first taste of entrepreneurship.
As part of the NSFNet and NorthWestNet projects I was also able to be part of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) working groups responsible for development of Classless Interdomain Routing (CIDR) and the Border Gateway Protocol 4 (BGP-4) routing protocol...both still the basis of today's Internet routing and addressing.
For you routing geeks out there: The first cisco router I touched had IOS version 7.x on it (let's not talk about how long ago that was) and I was one of the original beta testers for cisco's implemention of the Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) routing protocol.
In 1996, after the NSFNet transition to a fully commercial Internet, let's just say things were a bit screwed up. The way the transition worked, many telecommunications companies created their own national networks and then the NSF funded a couple (DC, Bay Area initially) of Network Access Points (NAPs) which linked these new national networks to one another. Users, websites, regional Internet service providers then moved to these new networks. The problem was that the NAPs quickly became serious performance choke points because all the nation's (and eventually world's) Internet traffic was flowing across them as users and websites dispersed to the different carriers but needed to communicate with each other. Enter the idea of Private Network Access Points (PNAPs) to interconnect users and websites to all of the national networks directly. The PNAP was patented technology created by Internap (NASDAQ:INAP), one of the companies I have co-founded and served as it's chief technology and chief operating executive until 2002. The company went public in September 1999 and I am proud to say, survived the dot-com meltdown of 2001 and continues our original mission to this day on its own.
While at Internap, not only did we receive patents for our technology, but I also received the Computerworld/Smithsonian award for networking technology advancement in 2000.
Click here to check out what I am doing with myself nowadays.