Interview with Susan Lammers

Butler Lampson


Citation: In Programmers at Work, Microsoft Press, 1986, pp 24-39.

Links: Abstract, Web page.

Email: This paper is at



Currently a senior engineer at the Systems Research Center of Digital Equipment Corporation in Palo Alto, California, Butler Lampson was an associate professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, a founder of the Berkeley Computer Corporation, and a senior research fellow at Xerox PARC's Computer Science Laboratory.

Lampson's many accomplishments in so many areas of computer design and research make him one of the most highly regarded professionals in the field. He has worked on hardware systems, such as the Ethernet local network and Alto and the Dorado personal computers; operating systems, such as the SDS 940 and Alto; programming languages, such as LISP and Mesa; application programs, such as the Bravo editor and the Star office system; and network servers, such as the Dover printer and the Grapevine mail system.

I met Butler Lampson in Palo Alto at the offices of Digital Equipment Corporation where he works one week out of a six-week cycle; the other five weeks he works in Philadelphia. He is what he calls a "tele-commuter," doing much of his work via telecommunication lines.

Unlike so many others in this fast-paced, quickly growing industry, Butler Lampson doesn't exhibit many entrepreneurial interests. His focus is singular: He is concerned with the successful design of a computer system, whether it be hardware, software applications, languages, or networks. Lampson writes very little source code today, he is a system designer, the person with the vision and expertise who lays the groundwork for a complex system. And he is undoubtedly one of the best.