Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, November 15, 2000
Orgish wins O'Neill award for staff contributions to research


"I've never had a single electronics or computer science course in my life."

That statement would not be unusual coming from most people. But it came from Charles M. Orgish, the man to whom Stanford's computer science professors and students turn when they need help with hardware, software or networks.

Orgish, manager of distributed systems in the Computer Systems Laboratory and technical manager for the Electrical Engineering Labs, is this year's winner of the Marshall D. O'Neill Award, with which faculty members acknowledge exceptional and enduring staff contributions to university research.

"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," Bruce Wooley, chair of the Electrical Engineering Department, wrote in one of the many faculty letters recommending Orgish for the 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. He was instrumental in securing major donations from Cisco to equip these buildings, says Mark Horowitz, the Yahoo! Founders Professor in the School of Engineering.

"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: "Stanford is fortunate to have Charlie's experience and knowledge working to further the mission of the faculty, students and staff and bring success to their endeavors."

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. He often puts in extra effort to help us make our project deadlines."

As security issues have grown, Orgish has become increasingly involved in tracking break-ins, repairing the damage and creating a safer computing environment. Electrical engineering Professor Giovanni De Micheli wrote in his recommendation: "Apart from the long hours and weekends he spends in the building, he is often available at home to solve critical problems. In the last few years, some faculty (including myself) called him at home at night to come back to work, to fight computer attacks, system instability and/or any other cause that would hamper the research and communication."

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," Horowitz said. "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."

Says Lam: "I am very thankful to Charlie, especially since I know very well that he could have made millions by now had he left to join the many startups that recruited him."

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.

Established in 1990, the award is named for its first recipient, Marshall O'Neill, former associate director of the W. W. Hansen Laboratories. The award is sponsored by the office of the dean of research. Charles Kruger, vice provost and dean of research and graduate policy, will present the award, which includes a plaque and $3,000 prize, to Orgish Friday, Nov. 17, at a Faculty Club reception.

"Our research programs at Stanford just couldn't happen without the support of many staff in many aspects of the research venture," Kruger says. "Often the staff do not get the recognition that others do. The Marshall O'Neill Award is intended in a small way to say to the community as a whole how important staff are to the research activities at Stanford."