In our increasingly digital world, most people are familiar with Ethernet, the most common cable used in connecting computers to the Internet. And while the RJ45 plugs on the end of each Ethernet cable may only be useful for about 1000 to 2000 insertions, the words of wisdom from Bob Metcalfe, a.k.a. “the Father of Ethernet”, are useful for a lifetime.
Metcalfe isn’t just responsible for one of the most essential pieces of modern technology, he was also a witness to the digital revolution’s earliest days. Speaking to CNBC, Metcalfe recently recalled his relationship with Apple founder Steve Jobs back in the 1970s. Metcalfe first began working with computers at Xerox’s team in Palo Alto, California.
In 1979, Metcalfe started a company called 3Com Corp. that was intended to sell Ethernet technology. The same year, Steve Jobs asked him to join Apple.
“I had never heard of Steve Jobs, and I had never heard of Apple, and I had just started my own company so I turned him down,” said Metcalfe. “And instead of getting angry with me, he helped me all all through the 1980s. My company benefited greatly from Steve’s support, and he’s one of my heroes.”
3Com went public five years later and peaked in sales in 1999. In 2010, the company merged with Hewlett Packard.
Reflecting on his career, the Father of Ethernet said he saw Jobs as a mentor.
“He was 10 years younger than me, so that was odd. I had a Ph.D. He dropped out his sophomore year in college, but he was my mentor anyway,” said Metcalfe. “He was a scary fellow. You get within a few feet of him and he could convince you of anything — and it’s famously called ‘Steve’s reality distortion field’ … as you walk further away you got about 10 or 15 feet away, then you came to your senses and you realize that maybe he was just being persuasive.”
However, Metcalfe did cite one negative aspect of being friends with Jobs. The average number of wedding guests is 165, but Metcalfe’s wedding in particular had a very special guest.
“Steve Jobs came to our wedding,” said Metcalfe. “And what’s wrong with having Steve Jobs at your wedding? No one remembers anything about the wedding except the fact that Steve Jobs was there.”