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Naughton: The American dream turned sour, Part IV

From all outside appearances, Patrick Naughton seemed the personification of the American dream
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor on

See also Part III

Tall and well-presented, with square geek chic glasses and a pointy chin, Naughton is a far cry from the stereotypical pasty, ponytailed tech jock. But as an original member of the team that designed the versatile Web-based programming language Java, Naughton enjoyed cult-like status among the tech-savvy and had the ear of such powerful men as Sun's McNealy and Disney chief executive Michael Eisner. If Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had brought desktop computers to the masses, people like Naughton were part of a second generation of new media whizzes intent on doing the same with the Internet.

The youngest of eight children from a family of high achievers (his siblings have gone on to become engineers, physicists and accountants), Naughton grew up in a house with a vegetable garden and a large soccer field in the back, which doubled as a makeshift hockey rink in the winter. The Naughtons didn't have a lot of extras -- Patrick shared a room with his four brothers -- but there were enough hand-me-downs to go around. "It was a very normal upbringing for a family that large," Naughton's brother James has said.

Naughton's first PC was an Atari 400, which he bought in 1980 with money he had earned from odd jobs. Within a few years, he was writing code and working on three different computers. At one point, he boasted in a 1997 piece in Forbes, he wrote a computer program for his mother to help her manage the family restaurant's seating chart.

Naughton first went online in 1983, using the Internet mainly to talk to his siblings away at college. By 1985 the Net was part of his everyday life. Immediately after graduating from Clarkson University in New York with a BS in computer science, Naughton -- like so many others hoping to make their names and fortunes working with software and silicon -- moved to the west coast.

He joined Sun Microsystems in June 1988; two years later, at McNealy's behest, he launched the company's Java project. By 1994, however, Naughton had grown bored and frustrated with internal politics and with Sun's plans for Java. He left for Starwave, a Seattle company then owned by Paul Allen that would later become part of Infoseek and then Disney.

By last autumn, Naughton had become an Infoseek executive and was working as a vice president in charge of content-related technical development at Go Networks -- a portal that, at the time, was part owned by Infoseek and Disney. (Disney completed its acquisition of Infoseek in November 1999.) Naughton's duties included developing technology for a children's search engine and for GOGuardian, a Web filter for kids.

See also Part V

See also The trial of Patrick Naughton.

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