-  Interview

France a nation of visionary technologists

Tariq Krim photographed by Kevin Abosch
France always had a great relation to technology. From the movie industry, the plane or even the automotive industry, the atom, we are a nation of pioneers and inspired technologists.

We have a similar history with computers and the internet. But this one is rarely told.

When the Minister of Digital, Fleur Pellerin, asked me a report on digital talent in France, I thought it was a great opportunity to tell that story.

French coders are already well known in the Valley, some of them have worked on the most prestigious projects and for the largest companies. When it comes to computers France has been a pioneer.

In the late fifties and sixties, well before computerized imaging was popularized in movies, two French engineers Pierre Bezier from Renault and Paul Faget de Casteljau from Citröen defined the base of modern Computer Aided Design. Due to the secrecy at the time of the companies they were working for, it took years for that story to reach out to the public.

France has been very active in creating widely used programming language. Alain Colmerauer is the father of Prolog, a language used in the early works on artificial intelligence and Jean Ichbiah is one of the main conceptor of ADA, that years before Java was the first language adopted by the US Departement of Defense to unify all of their software activies on different computer platforms.

In 1973, François Gernelle developed what is now considered as one of the first microcomputer the Micral. At the same time, Roland Moreno filled a patent for the smart card and Louis Pouzin, ignored by his hierarchy at the time, invented the datagram, opening the way later for the TCP/IP protocol. Jean Francois Groff was working with Tim Berners Lee on the early spec of what would become the World Wide Web when Jean Paoli, would become one of the creator of the XML language.

France and Silicon valley has always been a love story. Steve Jobs didn’t
only liked the south of France, he loved French engineers. It’s why he asked his longtime friend and CTO of Next, Jean-Marie Hullot, to work on a secret project in Paris, that would become the iPhone. Google has also a lot of frenchies in its teams, Ludovic Champenois working on Google App Engine, Romain Guy who was instrumental on the developpement of Android. There are so many exemples and other stories to be told.

But there’s also one other space where French developpers shines, open source.
Invented in Finland and distributed over the Internet Linux found a home in France. People like René Cougnenc, Loic Dachary or Remy card have contributed to make Free software an important part of the french digital culture. Top notch engineer Fabrice Bellard changed the world with his FFMPEG library by enabling the use of any video format in the browser.

And there are so many more exemples of French developers, who have made incredible contribution to the world.

France has not always been aware of this, and most of the names we have mentioned remained unknown by the general public.

But there’s one thing to be sure of, if France wants to be one of the leader of the digital world and nurture a great startup ecosystem, it can : it has one of the most underestimated talent pool of great engineers.

To succeed in that task there are a few things we could an should do (some of them are already being implemented):

  • promote its developer community and provide the technical expertise in the governement and larger companies.
  • involved developpers in ways to transform the governement (health, education, energy,…). There are tons of startups to be created in those spaces.
  • hire a CTO for France.
  • invest more in technology companies and founders.
  • Turn France into a nation of coder by facilitaing access to education and training.
  • Provide developer visa to facilitate some of the best developers in the world to come to France

About the Author

Tariq Krim photographed by Kevin Abosch

A serial entrepreneur and angel investor, Tariq has a passion for building highly disruptive new products. He is founder and CEO of Jolicloud, a pioneer in personal cloud computing. Prior to Jolicloud, Tariq founded Netvibes, the personal startpage used by millions around the world.

A thought leader and regular speaker at global technology and media conferences, he was recognized by MIT Technology Review as one of the world’s “Top Innovators Under 35” (2008), by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader, and most recently was honored by the President of France as Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.

As a former journalist for La Tribune, Tariq has been a keen observer of the Web since its genesis. He holds a degree in Physics from the University of Paris VII and a Master’s in Telecommunications from ENST (Telecom Paris).