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June/July 2003
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June/July 2003
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Judy Lin manages two VeriSign business units

She's been with the company since it was a startup. "If we disappeared the Internet might stop functioning,"
she says - and she's serious
Judy Lin of VeriSign, "a company at the infrastructure level."

Judy Lin of VeriSign, "a company at the infrastructure level."

Growing up, math was my least favorite subject,"confesses Judy Lin of VeriSign, Inc (Mountain View, CA). Lin was born in Taiwan, raised in California, and started at the University of California-Berkeley in 1983 as a history major.

But college is the place for change. "I had a lot of friends interested in computer science, and I started tagging along," she says. "I took some courses because they sounded interesting, and I really got into it."

It was the logical problem-solving tools she encountered in the CS courses that appealed to her. Lin ended up graduating in 1987 with a double major in history and CS.

"It was a great balance. I was exposed to two very different groups of people," she reminisces. "I got the technical background and also learned how to be analytical, how to reason and be persuasive, and how to communicate orally and in writing.

"There comes a point in your career when you stop doing the hands-on work, and those other skills are key," she reflects. As senior VP of engineering and general manager for two of VeriSign's four major business units, Lin has certainly reached that point. And she's doing fine with it.

Working at Apple
After college, Lin found an internship with the networking division of Hewlett-Packard Co (Palo Alto, CA). "I worked with some incredible people who went on to become founding members of Silicon Graphics," she says.

But her interest in the Mac tugged at her, and in 1989 she took a position with Apple Computer, Inc (Cupertino, CA) in the Macintosh systems group, the company's software division. "We focused on making things easy to use for people in general, rather than for technology people. It was great training, because it developed my whole affinity for user interface."

Apple's brainstorming sessions, says Lin, weren't as high tech as you might expect. "We wrote things on blue, pink and red cards," she says. "Blue was for features to be added in the next year or so, pink was two to five years down the road, and the red cards were for research-oriented projects. I was part of the pink group, working on system architecture for the next generation Macintosh."

The group became part of Taligent, an Apple/IBM joint venture. "It was all about creating a completely object-oriented operating system. We developed tremendous technology, but it was a colossal failure," she admits. "Then Windows came along and we were history."

On to VeriSign
By then it was 1995, and Lin decided to try a startup. "My background at Apple was working on visual things, so the logical choice would have been for me to go to Macromedia or one of the companies writing browsers. But I thought it was time for a change of pace," she says with a smile.

"I felt that the Internet, to really be transformational, needed to be something like the telephone network. It needed to enable people to do things in ways they hadn't been able to before. So I was looking for a company at the infrastructure level rather than at the content level."

Lin joined VeriSign, which had only fifteen or twenty people at the time. She became part of VeriSign's original development team.

Today VeriSign has three major business units: Network Solutions, Telecom Services Group, and Internet Services group. Lin is general manager for the security and the payments business units within the Internet Services Group. She's held that job since the beginning of the year; before that she was responsible for the group's R&D activities.

She's also been in charge of operations and MIS. "I've done a lot of things at the company, but eventually I focused on R&D and now general management," she says.

From the original group of twenty, the company has grown to over 3,000 employees across the country. "We did numerous acquisitions in two years," Lin notes.

"It's exciting, because the functions we perform are so critical. If we disappeared the Internet might stop functioning." That's literally true, since VeriSign's domain registration function is essential to the databases that direct Internet users worldwide to the correct URLs.

Intimidating at times
As a manager of such mission-critical technologies, "I can be a little intimidating at times," Lin says "I'm pretty analytical and objective in my approach.

"I used to have a really bad temper, but I've mellowed in my old age,"she adds with a smile. "In my management work, I remember that in Silicon Valley we expect people to take the learning and experience from their mistakes and really apply them to the next effort.

"I think people by and large like working for me. A lot of the people who work for me now also worked for me in other places."

The pressure, obviously, is intense, and Lin misses some of the hands-on work she did earlier in her career. But she enjoys seeing - and influencing - the big picture.



– Kate Colborn & Abbi Perets