Robert Metcalfe Biography

Mathematician, Inventor (1946–)
Brooklyn-born Robert Metcalfe is an engineer, technology executive and venture capitalist best known for inventing Ethernet.


Robert Metcalfe,engineer, technology executive and venture capitalist, invented the Ethernet. He attended MIT and Harvard University, studying mathematics and computer science, before joining Xerox's Palo Alto Research center. It was there that he was inspired to invent the Ethernet in 1973, which allowed computers to send packets of information and avoid collisions with incoming packets.

Jack of All Tech Trades

Engineer, technology executive, venture capitalist. Born April 7, 1946 in Brooklyn, New York.

It's hard to guess just what Robert Metcalfe might be up to in a given year. From inventing Ethernet, the networking system which allowed personal computers to communicate with each other in the 1970s, he went on to found the multibillion-dollar company 3Com, then later quit to become a technology pundit. These days, when not writing his nationally syndicated InfoWorld column or making brash predictions about the future of the Net at industry conferences, you might find him with his wife, Robyn, tending to 200-pound rare pigs on the couple's 450-acre Kelmscott Farms in Maine.

Early Life

Born in Brooklyn, Metcalfe grew up on Long Island, New York, the son of an engineering technician. As an electrical engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Metcalfe showed little inclination to sleep. He paid for college by working nights as a computer programmer, from midnight to 8:00 a.m. Then he'd hit the tennis courts for several hours a day, as captain of the tennis team. After graduating from M.I.T in 1967, he enrolled as a graduate student in applied mathematics. However, this solid middle-class student found the elitist attitude at the school grating, and he spent his free hours working in a computer lab at M.I.T. There, he was assigned the task of building an interface allowing early Internet servers to talk to each other.

Tech Ventures

After completing his Ph.D. in computer science at Harvard University, Metcalfe was hired to join Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). There, he was charged with tying together prototypes of a new personal computer called the Alto which used a graphic interface and mouse. Fortunately, Metcalfe accidentally ran across a paper at a friend's house, detailing the workings of the Aloha Net in Hawaii. Although Metcalfe spotted several errors, he was inspired by the network, and flew to Hawaii to study it. In 1973, he invented Ethernet, which allowed computers to send packets of information and avoid collisions with incoming packets.

In 1979, Metcalfe left Xerox PARC to launch 3Com, a firm devoted to selling commercial versions of Ethernet and other networking products. When the company went public in 1984, he became a multimillionaire. At 3Com, he continued the relentless pace he'd kept since college, frequently working all night on new projects, and assembling a group of fellow all-night engineers who became known as Metcalfe's Midnight Pizza Team.


Metcalfe left 3Com in 1990 after he was passed over by the board of directors to become CEO. He spent a year as a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge, and in 1992, joined InfoWorld as publisher, CEO, and weekly columnist. As vice president of technology at InfoWorld's parent company, International Data Group, Metcalfe continued to write his widely read column and also produced two influential technology conferences. He later shifted gears to enter the world of venture capital. In 2007, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Metcalfe and his wife started their farm in 1993 and raise rare breeds of pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, horses, and cows.

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