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Carpenter was born in Leicester, England. He was educated at Wyggeston Boys' School, Leicester, Downing College, Cambridge (MA degree in physics) and The University of Manchester (MSc and PhD degree in computer science).
Brian Carpenter spent 10 years from 1985 to 1996 writing software for process control systems at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) as head of the networking group there, interrupted by three years teaching undergraduate computer science at Massey University in New Zealand.
When Carpenter left CERN, he joined IBM, where he was an IBM Distinguished Engineer working on Internet Standards and Technology between 1997 and 2007. From 1999 to 2001 he was at iCAIR, the international Center for Advanced Internet Research, sponsored by IBM at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Upon leaving iCAIR, he was based in Switzerland, first in Zurich, then Geneva.
In September 2007, Carpenter left IBM for academia, teaching data communication at the University of Auckland, from 2007 until his retirement in 2012. After his retirement, he spend a year as a visiting professor at the Computer Laboratory of Cambridge University, UK. Since then he has been an honorary academic at The University of Auckland and a consultant for Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd..
Carpenter published a professional memoir in 2013.
Carpenter has worked on IPv6 and on Differentiated Services, being chair of the DiffServ working group. He served from March 1994 to March 2002 on the Internet Architecture Board, which he chaired for five years. He also served as a Trustee of the Internet Society, and was Chairman of its Board of Trustees for two years until June 2002. In March 2005, he became IETF Chair, a position he held until March 2007.
Harald Tveit Alvestrand