Google Inc. said yesterday that it had hired one of the technology industry's sages, luring Vinton G. Cerf from his longtime home at MCI Inc. to help the Internet search giant prepare for the future of Web systems and applications.
Cerf, 62, is known as a founding father of the Internet for his role in developing the Internet's basic communications protocol in the 1970s.
His hiring is the latest move to muscle up for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, which has been amassing money and talent as it tries to take on much larger software giants such as Microsoft Corp. From its origins only seven years ago as a plain search engine for finding content online, Google is reshaping itself into a powerful Internet brand that offers many services, such as desktop organization and instant messaging.
Cerf will assume the lofty title of "chief Internet evangelist," heading Google's efforts to build its network infrastructure and setting the standards for the next generation of Internet applications. He starts at Google on Oct. 3 but will work from Northern Virginia.
"Google is creating an information environment," with a growing suite of applications to perform any number of functions, Cerf said. By helping to design the way those programs fit together, he said, "all kinds of new ideas can be explored."
In appearance and reputation, Cerf is like the grandfather of the Internet generation, wearing bow ties and dapper three-piece suits among legions of youthful tech-heads who favor casual dress. At telephone giant MCI, he championed advanced networking technologies that combined voice, data and Internet. More recently, he worked on MCI's security applications.
He said he will continue to participate in a project to build what he calls an "interplanetary network" to transmit Internet traffic through space and to serve as chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages the Web's domains.
Cerf worked for Ashburn-based MCI for 15 years, most recently serving as senior vice president of technology strategy. MCI is set to be acquired by Verizon Communications Inc. later this year. Cerf and Google declined to discuss his compensation.
For Google, which has quadrupled its workforce in two years to more than 4,000 employees, Cerf is the latest high-profile raid from other big rivals. Earlier this year, Microsoft sued former executive Kai-Fu Lee, saying he violated an employment agreement when he defected to head Google's Chinese operations. A judge is expected to rule next week on the issue of whether Lee should be barred from doing work for Google that competes directly with Microsoft.
In an e-mail to MCI employees yesterday informing them of the news, MCI's executive vice president of strategy, Jonathan Crane, wrote: "In speaking with Vint Cerf, he has shared with me his desire to begin another chapter in his career. . . . Vint has been a revered visionary in all of his roles and this will never change. As he follows his lifelong interest and passion for the Internet and all its possibilities, I ask you to join me in thanking Vint for his many contributions to MCI."