Google hires `father of Internet'

Cerf's role at company still unclear, officials say

September 09, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Adding to its all-star roster of engineering talent, Google has hired Vinton G. Cerf, often referred to as the "father of the Internet."

Cerf, who was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Bill Clinton in 1997, joins Google from MCI Corp., where he is senior vice president of technology strategy.

Cerf's role at Google is unclear. But Google executives said they expect "great things" from the Internet pioneer.

"It's true Vint has broad interests, and exactly what he'll do, we'll see," said Bill Coughran, a vice president of engineering at Google.

Cerf, 62, will join Google in early October, along with his chief of staff from MCI. He'll work from his McLean, Va., home. However, Coughran said he expected Cerf to make frequent visits to Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.

At MCI for the past 11 years, Cerf has focused on public policy issues. In an interview, Cerf said he has hungered to return to developing applications.

"What I wanted was to turn my attention to a much higher level of applications, and Google offered me that," Cerf said.

Cerf said the job opportunity arose out of a conversation he had with Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, whom he knew from Schmidt's days at Sun Microsystems.

"I said, `Do you want some help?' And he said yes," Cerf said.

Cerf stressed that he doesn't have "deep knowledge of what Google is up to."

But he rattled off a list of personal technological interests - "half-baked ideas," he called them - including being able to index information based on geography and building sophisticated applications related to voice communications on the Internet.

Cerf is a giant to Internet history buffs.

In the 1970s, he was an assistant professor at Stanford University and a scientist for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Defense agency responsible for developing new technologies.

While there, he joined Robert Kahn on a project to design the next-generation networking protocol for the ARPANET, the forerunner to today's Internet. The result was a networking protocol called TCP/IP. It's the underlying technology that allows packets of information to move across the Internet.

Fittingly for someone who helped create the Internet, Cerf will be joining a company that has built one of the largest networks in the world - tens of thousands of servers distributed across many countries.

The pairing of Cerf and Google will likely fuel speculation that the company is planning to build its own worldwide broadband network, possibly as the backbone for a free WiFi service. Others are convinced Google is building a network capable of carrying vast amounts of video programming.

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