Robert M. Metcalfe

Robert M. Metcalfe
Robert M. Metcalfe
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Associated organizations
Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), 3Com
Fields of study
IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal, IEEE Medal of Honor, Grace Murray Hopper Award


Robert M. Metcalfe was born in April 1946 in Brooklyn, New York. He received a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT, and a B.S. degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1969. He received an M.S. degree in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University in 1970. In 1973 he received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Harvard for research done at MIT's Project Mac on "packet switching" in the ARPA and Aloha computer networks.

In 1972, Dr. Metcalfe went to the Computer Science Laboratory at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) to join in the early development of personal computing. In 1973, he invented Ethernet, the local-area networking technology on which he shares four patents.

In 1976, Dr. Metcalfe moved to Xerox's Systems Development Division to manage microprocessor and communication developments that led, long after he left, to the Xerox Star workstation. While at PARC he began eight years of part-time teaching at Stanford University, finishing as a consulting Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering with a new course on distributed computing.

Dr. Metcalfe left Xerox in 1979 to promote a personal computer local-area networks (PC LANs) and especially Ethernet. He acted as a "marriage broker" in bringing together Digital Equipment, Intel, and Xerox Corporations to promote Ethernet as a standard. Now an international computer industry standard, Ethernet is by far the most widely installed LAN, with connected computers numbering 50 million.

Also in 1979, Dr. Metcalfe founded 3Com Corporation in Santa Clara, CA, a Fortune 500 computer networking company, where he held various positions including Chairman of the Board of Directors, Chief Executive Officer, President, Vice President of Engineering, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Chief Technical Officer, and General Manager, consecutively, of the software, workstation, and hardware divisions. He retired from 3Com in 1990. He's proud of his very own personal monument which still stands outside 3Com's headquarters. Afterwards, he took up writing for Infoworld.

Among many other awards, Dr. Metcalfe received the 1980 Grace Murray Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the 1988 IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal. His publications include the often cited "Ethernet: Distributed Packet Switching for Local Computer Networks", with David Boggs in the Communications of the ACM, July 1976, and "Local Networks of Personal Computers", at the Ninth World Computer Congress, Paris, 1983. He has served on the Executive Office of the President's Advisory Committee on Information Networks, the National Research Council's Computer Science and Technology Board, and as Chair of the Corporation for Open Systems, promoting worldwide computer and telephone networking standards. Dr. Metcalfe was a visiting fellow at Wolfson College in the Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge, England (1991-1992). In 1995, Metcalfe was awarded a prize for his journalism, from the San Francisco Exploratorium. He is Conference Chairman for ACM97: The Next 50 Years of Computing. He was awarded the 1996 IEEE Medal of Honor 'For exemplary and sustained leadership in the development, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet.'

Bob Metcalfe is married to author and shepherd, Robyn Shotwell. They, their two children, Julia and Max, and various animals, live on a farm in Maine and in a townhouse in Massachusetts.

Further Reading

Robert Metcalfe Oral History