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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Thomas Pinckney, 25


Let others perfect the programs that show up on our screens.

Thomas Pinckney says he loves the invisible infrastructure—the hidden underbelly of code and tools that undergirds the information

enterprise. His company, Exotec, is commercializing a novel idea for controlling how software deals with hardware.The computers we’re accustomed to all use an operating system (e.g.,Windows) as an intermediary.

But operating systems treat all applications about the same—adequately, not optimally. Exotec is developing “exokernels,” which let applications work directly with computer hardware,without letting the intermediary bog them down. The potential advantage is huge: Web servers using exokernels can operate 8 times faster than conventional ones, says M. Frans Kaashoek, who pioneered the concept at MIT’s Lab for Computer Science. Exokernels let apps be all that they can be.

As a student of his, says Kaashoek,Pinckney contributed a number of “crucial”ideas about taking exokernels from research project to practicality. In 1998, smelling a market, Pinckney took a leave of absence from his PhD work and enlisted several other students to join him in forming Exotec. Initially, the cash-strapped outfit all lived and worked in an apartment in Cambridge. Pinckney evangelized the concept and landed a major customer; in September, he concluded a venture capital deal bringing his company several million dollars.

Pinckney has been running on the fast track for a long time--he taught himself to program using a PC his parents gave him when he was 12, and left high school after ninth grade to enroll in a local two-year college. If exokernels take off,we’ll all be on a faster track.


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