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A HISTORY OF COMPUTER COMMUNICATIONS: 1968 -1988

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Robert Metcalfe

Robert Metcalfe

Robert “Bob” Metcalfe’s career in computer communications began in 1969 when, as a graduate student looking at a part-time job, he was offered the opportunity to connect one of the PDP-10 computers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). In one propitious moment, a motivated young scientist was thrust into the forefront of a technological paradigm shift that would engage his professional passions and to which he would make seminal technological and economic contributions. Metcalfe’s roles with ARPANET would expand, including becoming a member of the Networking Group and coordinating the Scenarios for the International Conference on Computer Communication (ICCC) demonstration. He based his PhD thesis on the ARPANET and landed ajob with Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) both because of the people he had met through his ARPANET experiences and because of competencies and skills acquired. Luck, as I would prove, struck again when his dissertation committee rejected his thesis for not being “sufficiently mathematical.” Metcalfe beefed up his thesis by studying the ALOHAnet. It worked and led directly to his understanding of how to create a new local area networking (LAN) technology for Xerox: Ethernet. In 1979, Metcalfe left Xerox to begin consulting to spread the word of computer networking and to find a way to free Ethernet from the proprietary grasp of Xerox. He again succeeded when Xerox agreed to work with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and Intel to make Ethernet a public standard. In June 1979, Metcalfe founded 3Com, a company that would become a leader in networking and an important participant in internetworking.

Keywords: Ethernet, Arpanet, NWG, ICCC demonstration, Xerox PARC, ALOHAnet

Robert Metcalfe Interviewed by James Pelkey 2/16/88 (pdf)

Robert Metcalfe Interviewed by James Pelkey 2/16/88 (audio)