Robert Metcalfe

Computing and Telecommunications

Robert M. "Bob" Metcalfe, developer of Ethernet and other Internet-related technologies, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1946. Fascinated by technology and gadgets as a child, he already knew at the age of ten that he wanted to become an electrical engineer and attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Metcalfe did attend MIT eventually, and he graduated in 1969 with bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and business management. In 1970, he received a master’s degree in applied mathematics from Harvard University, and he completed his PhD in computer science at Harvard in 1973.

At Harvard, Metcalfe wrote his doctoral dissertation based on research that he did on packet switching in the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) and Aloha computer networks in MIT's project MAC. Meanwhile, in 1972, Metcalfe began working at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), where he met D.R. Boggs. With Boggs, Metcalfe invented what has come to be known as Ethernet, the local area networking (LAN) technology that turns PCs into communication tools by linking them together. Eventually, the technology would be used to link together more than 50 million PCs worldwide.

In 1976, Metcalfe moved to the Xerox Systems Development Division, where he was responsible for a series of developments that led to the Xerox Star workstation. Star was the first PC to include a bit-map screen, mouse, word processing, Ethernet, and software that included text and graphics in the same document.

In 1979, Metcalfe left Xerox and founded 3Com Corporation in Santa Clara, California. At 3Com, Metcalfe aimed to promote PC LANs and Ethernet as the standard. Although he was unable to persuade IBM to use Ethernet as a standard, he did bring together Digital Equipment, Intel, and Xerox and made Ethernet the most widely used LAN.

At 3Com, Metcalfe served as CEO, President, Chairman of the Board, and Division General Manager. He has said, however, that his greatest accomplishment there was when, as head of sales and marketing, he increased sales from zero to $1 million per month. Under his guidance, 3Com, which he named for three words – computer, communication, and compatibility – became a Fortune 500 corporation.

In 1990, Metcalfe retired from 3Com. A year later, he traveled to Wolfson College at Oxford University in England, where he spent a year as a visiting fellow. He began his career in journalism when he returned, writing for Computerworld, Communications Week, Digital Media, Network Computing, and Technology Review. In 1993, he became vice president of technology for the International Data Group, the parent company of InfoWorld Magazine.

Metcalfe is still very active on the technology scene, advising and mentoring others involved in computer-related technology.  He holds the position of Professor of Innovation and the Murchison Fellow of Free Enterprise at the University of Texas at Austin.