Interview: Robert Metcalfe, recipient, National Medal of Technology

By Bruce Taylor, ITworld.com Voices |  Networking

Bruce Taylor spoke with Robert Metcalfe on the occasion of his receiving the National Medal of Technology for 2003 on March 14, 2005. This is an edited transcript of that conversation. You may also listen to the original interview here.


On March 14, Dr. Robert M. Metcalfe will receive the National Medal of Technology for 2003, presented by President Bush in ceremonies at the White House. The award is for his pioneering work while at the Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC as it is commonly known, that in 1973 resulted in the invention of Ethernet. Ethernet is the local area networking standard on which he shares four patents. In 2003, Ethernet's 30th year, 184 million new Ethernet connections were shipped globally for $12.5 billion in sales value.

Bob is an MIT graduate and received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Harvard in 1969. Today, Bob is a general partner in the venture capital firm Polaris Ventures. He specializes in Boston area based information technology startups. Prior to becoming a VC, Bob enjoyed three quite distinctly different careers. From 1965 - 1979, Bob was a research scientist and engineer. He was the founder of networking company 3Com where he served as Chairman and CEO. For the decade ending in the year 2000, Bob took a turn in the IT publishing world as both a publisher and an industry pundit, first as CEO of InfoWorld, and then for 8 years as an Internet column writer. He is co-founder and continues to be actively involved with one of the foremost global conferences on the intersection of people and technology, PopTech in Camden, Maine. He also serves on the boards of IDG, IDC, and MIT's Technology Review magazine.

Bruce Taylor: Bob, welcome to the program. And for all of us here at ITworld, congratulations.

Robert Metcalfe: Thank you very much.

Taylor: You're someone over the years who's been honored in so many ways for so many contributions that it may appear to be that this is just one more. But I promise you I don't see it that way. And so for you, what does it mean to receive the National Medal of Technology from the President?

Metcalfe: It means that my mom and dad get to go with me to the White House. That's actually the biggest thing it means to me. To my parents who have lived the American dream and worked hard to send their boy to college and now it's sort of coming full circle for them.

Taylor: The National Medal, according to the press announcement, and as we know, is to recognized innovation that has advanced the nation's global competitiveness. Have you ever tried to imagine the scale of what Ethernet has made technologically and economically possible? Has anyone?

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