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Robert Garner

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Interview with Robert Garner

Robert Garner has 41 years of experience in management, architecture and design engineering across product development and research at Xerox Systems Development, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Sun Microsystems, Brocade Communications and IBM Research. From that remarkable career, he has preserved a slew of stories and an impressive collection of relics, and he’s thrilled to share them.

“I enjoyed it. I’d live it all again.”

Garner was working toward his master’s at Stanford University in 1977 when an on-campus interview with Bob Metcalfe led to his being hired into the Xerox Systems Development Division. Metcalfe was putting together a team to productize Ethernet and the experimental Alto workstation designed by Xerox PARC. In that heady environment, Garner co-designed the 10-Mbps Ethernet adapter and CPU hardware for the groundbreaking Xerox Star 8010 Profession Workstation, the first commercial personal computer incorporating the fundamental technologies that have come to be standard in mainstream PCs.

 

“It’s incalculable. Every computer-to-human, human-to-computer and computer-to-computer communication goes over Ethernet at some point.”

Robert Garner

It was an era of lively lunches and late nights among brilliant colleagues. “We were so passionate,” Garner said. “I would ride my bike to PARC and back to the apartment I was staying in, and I would ride back by a cemetery at 2 in the morning. It was pretty spooky.”

He went on to design or manage a tremendous list of innovations during his career—several of them milestone enablers in Ethernet’s evolution into the foundation of networking globally.

Along the way, Garner said, “One of the key things I learned was that it’s really important to listen to everybody. Sometimes you might get disillusioned; there might be problems. Frequently, a solution or an insight to a problem exists in your organization—people who are there. If you just take the time to listen to everybody, you’re amazed to find there’s a potential solution out there. It’s just that you hadn’t seen it… You really have to sit and listen.”

Garner marvels at the impact of the work he has gotten to be part of.

“It’s incalculable. Every computer-to-human, human-to-computer and computer-to-computer communication goes over Ethernet at some point.”

And he cherishes the stories.

“You can’t take your dollar bills to your grave with you, but you can take your good memories and your feelings of success.”

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