Charles Orgish

Charles Orgish2000 Marsh O'Neill Award Winner

Charles Orgish, a man who says he's never taken a single electronics or computer science course in his life, is Stanford's manager of distributed systems in the Computer Systems Laboratory and technical manager for the Electrical Engineering Labs - and he is the winner of the Marshall D. O'Neill Award for 2000.

"Charlie Orgish's contributions as a computer and networking system administrator have been absolutely essential to the success of the academic and research missions of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science departments," wrote Bruce Wooley, chair of the Electrical Engineering Department, in one of the many faculty letters recommending Charlie for the 2000 Marsh O'Neill award.

Orgish has overseen an explosion in computing resources in these departments, contributing critically to the design of the networking infrastructure and managing the installation of the network and hundreds of computers in the Gates Computer Science building, the Allen Center for Integrated Systems extension and the Packard Electrical Engineering building.

"It would be impossible to overstate his contributions to the planning and building of these facilities," wrote Wooley, the Robert L. and Audrey S. Hancock Professor in the School of Engineering. "He has been instrumental in providing us with the finest academic networking and computing infrastructures in the world."

Orgish's technical expertise is "unparalleled in the School of Engineering," electrical engineering Professor Teresa Meng wrote in her recommendation. She praised Orgish for his leadership and problem-solving abilities, intelligence and intuition.

On a daily basis, Orgish provides calm solutions to the hurricane of problems that threaten to impede research. Students turn to Orgish to find special hardware to run their software, to locate color printers to create handouts for their oral exams or to find out why their computers are misbehaving. Researchers turn to him to debug networks, provide advice about purchases for new research projects or procure loans of special equipment from outside companies.

"His support has been vital to my research project," computer science Professor Monica Lam wrote in her recommendation. "He deals with everything, from handling security problems to taking the systems down at the crack of dawn before the scheduled power shutdowns."

Wooley said Orgish is "devoid of the bureaucratic idiosyncrasies and need for recognized authority that can compromise the effectiveness of people with large service responsibilities in highly diverse academic environments. He is instead absolutely dedicated to resolving problems, both large and small, immediate and long term, that impede our mission."

Over the years Orgish has earned professional respect outside of Stanford as well. "Networking and computer companies know Charlie very well - he has helped them debug problems with their systems to get them to work at Stanford - and are often happy to try to help him out," said Mark Horowitz, the Yahoo! Founders Professor in the School of Engineering. "As one would expect, he has been heavily recruited by a large number of startups, but has decided he likes working in the university environment and declined them all."

Orgish stays at Stanford, he said, because he is proud of the university and its research, faculty and students: "It's an honor to work with John Hennessy, Mark Horowitz, Jim Plummer, Bruce Wooley, Monica Lam, all these people who are stellar, too many people to mention really. I'm proud of the Jerry Yangs and the Dave Filos and Larry Pages [respectively, cofounders of Yahoo!; cofounder of Google] going off and doing what they do. They basically keep me running a hundred miles an hour trying to keep up with them."

Orgish started his academic career as a major in chemistry and psychology at San Jose State University but did not complete those degrees. When he was 21, he got a job through a friend at Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where he became fascinated with computers and worked from 1973 to 1985 in the Computer Science Laboratory and in the Integrated Circuit Laboratory. He learned about computers on the job and helped build prototypes of electronic hardware, including the Alto, one of the world's first personal computers. He came to Stanford in 1985.

How did Orgish feel when he heard he had won the O'Neill Award? "I'm very honored, no question about that, but it felt a little bit weird," he said. "It's a group effort of all of our pushing and trying to support the mission of the university, which is research and education." Orgish praised the critical contributions of the four people he directly manages: Patrick Burke, Jason Conroy, Kevin Colton and Joe Little.

From the Stanford Report, November 15, 2000

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