A Tale of Lambs, Preschoolers and Silicon Valley

Despite its contribution to the world economy, the technical community here in Silicon Valley is actually much smaller than most people believe. People end up making connections in strange ways and often these ties last for many years.

My wife and I went to dinner at the Flea Street Café in Menlo Park recently with a small group to hear a presentation on saving endangered species of domesticated animals such as the Cotswold Lamb.

You can find out more about these animals on the Web page of the Kelmscott Rare Breeds Foundation.

This farm and the organization that supports it was started by Robyn Shotwell Metcalfe. Though the organization has changed over time from non-profit to for-profit and no longer has public visitors on a regular basis.

Robyn’s husband is Bob Metcalfe, one of the two inventors of Ethernet. Bob and Dave Boggs invented Ethernet when they were scientists at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s. Ethernet is the fundamental technology that allows messages like this one to be sent, and it generally underpins Local Area Networks and most of the Internet as well.

Ethernet is also a huge factor in Finisar’s past successes, as well as our future growth prospects.

Bob went on to be the founder of 3Com, then to work as an insightful and articulate columnist for InfoWorld magazine. He recently became a venture capitalist with Polaris Ventures. Bob is witty, engaging, way smart, funny and an especially good writer. He is a technologist’s techie.

Dave Boggs (the other Ethernet inventor) was also at the Flea Street Café dinner with us. Currently, Dave is working on optical extensions for networks in the metropolitan area. He has steeped himself in the technology of networking since the 1970s.

Another dinner guest was Ron Crane. Ron was a key technical contributor for 3Com from the beginning of Ethernet. All of today’s Ethernet adapter cards installed in the tens of millions of PCs throughout the world are related to the first adapter cards built and tested by Ron, who is still very well connected in the networking industry.

You might think that I was invited to attend this dinner because Finisar is a major participant in the Ethernet industry through its Gigabit Ethernet transceivers and other Ethernet modules and because of a professional association I have with Bob.

But that’s not the reason we were there.

We were invited to this dinner because my cat loving daughter Alana attended preschool in the late 1980s with Julia Metcalfe, daughter of Robyn and Bob. My wife and Robyn also became friends. At the time our daughters first met, Bob was already an industry icon and I had to use my wife’s and daughter’s friendships to wedge my way in with the Silicon Valley geniuses behind Ethernet.

Bob and Robyn really liked my wife and Alana (and eventually me, too!), so our family would often be invited to their social occasions. During those times I would listen carefully for pearls of wisdom on how Finisar could grow and make its mark on the world.

One time years ago, Bob and I talked about Finisar’s early product line and he pointed out that since we were not supporting established standards, our appeal to the industry was being limited. Over the next few years Finisar changed our direction in line with Bob’s counsel and this was a major factor in our growth during the second half of the 1990s.

As Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story!

(originally published in November, 2001. Updated April, 2008)

Posted in Personal Stories

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