True legends in any field are few and far between but Robert Taylor, who died last week at 85, was definitely was one in the field of computer networking.
A key figure on the development of the Internet and ubiquitous Ethernet, Taylor was also instrumental in developing the first personal computer known as the Alto and a host of other computer and networking advances throughout his career. And his career was dotted with major positions at Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Stanford Research Institute, NASA, the Pentagon, Xerox and Digital Equipment Corporation.
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An article penned on 2013 and posted on the Computer History Museum’s Website goes in-depth on Taylor’s industry influence and the man’s style:
“Warm, sarcastic and direct, with a wicked sense of humor, Taylor could be a wonderful companion or a formidable enemy. As a manager, he was both loved and feared. He was a big believer in frequent celebrations for team-building. For instance, weekly tea time, and water balloon slingshot contests and other whimsical games as part of the “SRC Olympics.” But he was also ruthless in his efforts to select – and maintain – the very best. He regularly let go the bottom performing 25% of his employees, based on confidential evaluations of each other. He felt that: people … are motivated by having other good people around them, and they’re discouraged if they have to work with someone who isn’t quite up to it. So, if you can get rid of people who are not so good, the spirit of the place is improved. You can see it just sort of pick up. The other good thing is it enables you to hire new people. If you don’t do this, then after a while, you will arrive at a state where you have no more head count, so there’s no way to improve your organization. Thus when you do hire someone, you try to hire them with a conscious effort to make your organization better. So all of this might—as we’re spieling it off like this—might seem pretty cold, cruel and calculating. If it is, so be it. I think it’s the way to run a good research center.”
Taylor was awarded the National Medal of Technology 1999 and the Charles Stark Draper Prize in 2004. He was inducted into the Computer History Museum Hall of Fellows in 2013.
In the Los Angeles Times, Taylor’s son Kurt Taylor, said the scientist died Thursday (April 13) at his home in Woodside, Calif.
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