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