The Internet and Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf

"You don't have to be young to learn about technology. You have to feel young."

- Vint Cerf

Widely known as one of the "Fathers of the Internet," Vint Cerf is the co-inventor of the architecture and basic protocols of the internet.

Sharing the title with American computer scientist Bob Kahn, they had received numerous awards and commendations, both nationally and internationally, in connection with their work on the internet.

Early Life

Vinton Gray Cerf was born on June 23rd, 1943 in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Muriel, a homemaker, and Vinton Thurston Cerf, an aerospace executive. Cerf grew up in Los Angeles where he did very well in school and showed a strong aptitude for math. Cerf had an unusual style of dress for a school student. He wore a jacket and tie most days, and usually seen in three-piece suits.

Cerf also went to Van Nuys High School along with Jon Postel and Steve Crocker

At an early age, Cerf already began developing his interest in computers. "There was something amazingly enticing about programming," said Cerf. "You created your own universe and you were master of it. The computer would do anything you programmed it to do. It was this unbelievable sandbox in which every grain of sand was under your control."

In 1965, Cerf's obtained his B.S. degree in Mathematics from Stanford University and worked first job at IBM for less than two years as a systems engineer supporting QUIKTRAN.

Cerf left IBM to attend graduate school at UCLA where he earned his M.S. degree in 1970 and his Ph.D degree in 1972. His thesis was based on work he did on an ARPA-funded project for the "Snuper Computer" - a computer that was designed to remotely observe the execution of programs on another computer. The Snuper Computer project got Cerf interested in the field of computer networking. In 1968, ARPA set up another program at UCLA in anticipation of building the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). It was called the Network Measurement Center. It was responsible for performance testing and analysis, a sort of testing ground. Cerf was one of the senior members of the team.

During his graduate student years, he studied under Professor Gerald Estrin, worked in Leonard Kleinrock's data packet networking group that connected the first two nodes of the ARPANET, and "contributed to a host-to-host protocol" for the ARPANET.

By the end of 1968, a small group of graduate students from four schools that were slated to be the first four nodes on the ARPANET (UCLA, Stanford, the University of Utah, and UC Santa Barbara) began meeting regularly to discuss the new network and problems related to its development. They called themselves the Network Working Group (NWG). The NWG proved to be instrumental in solving many of the problems that would arrive during the design and implementation of the ARPANET, but they did not realize their importance at the time.

In August 1969, BBN delivered the first IMP to UCLA. A month later, the second was delivered to SRI. UCLA lab had the honor of being ARPANET's first node; the second was at the Stanford Research Institute. On the October 29, 1969, the first host-to-host message was sent, from the first node to the second. In effect, they were the first hosts on what would one day become the internet.

The first message sent across the network was supposed to be "Login", but reportedly, the link between the two colleges crashed on the letter "g".

The ARPANET continued to grow quickly from that point. Cerf was present when the first IMP was delivered to UCLA. He was involved with the IMP immediately performing various tests on the new hardware. It was during this testing that he met Bob Kahn who was working on the ARPANET hardware architecture. They enjoyed a good working relationship.


Within ARPANET's early years, other computers networks were deployed. They were all independent self-contained networks. Cerf recalls, "Around this time Bob started saying , 'Look, my problem is how I get a computer that's on a satellite and a computer on a radio net and a computer on ARPANET to communicate uniformly with each other without realizing what's going on in between?'"

They decided that there needed to be a "gateway" computer between each network to route packets. The gateway computers would not care about the various complexities of each network. They would simply be in charge of passing packets back and forth. But all of the networks transmitted packets in different ways, using their own protocols. A new standard was needed to link all of the networks and allow inter-network communication.

In September 1973, Vint Cerf and and Bob Kahn presented a paper outlining their ideas to the International Networking Group. In May 1974, they complete their paper entitled, "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication." They described a new protocol they called the transmission-control protocol (TCP). The main idea was to enclose packets in "datagrams." These datagrams were to act something like envelopes containing letters. The content and format of the letter is not important for its delivery. The information on the envelope is standardized to facilitate delivery. Gateway computers would simply read only the delivery information contained in the datagrams and deliver the contents to host computers. Only the host computers would actually "open" the envelope and read the actual contents of the packet. TCP allowed networks to be joined into a network of networks, or what we now call the internet.

Cerf continued to refine TCP. In 1976, he accepted a job as program manager responsible for what was then called the "ARPA internet" at ARPA. In 1978, Cerf and several of his colleagues made a major refinement in 1978. They split TCP into two parts. They took the part of TCP that is responsible for routing packages and formed a separate protocol called the internet Protocol (IP).TCP would remain responsible for dividing messages into datagrams, reassembling messages, detecting errors, putting packets in the right order, and resending lost packets. The new protocol was called TCP/IP. It went on to become the standard for all internet communication.

Cerf then moved to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) in 1976, where he stayed until 1982.

Further Works

As vice president of MCI Digital Information Services from 1982–1986, Cerf led the engineering of MCI Mail, the first commercial email service to be connected to the internet. Cerf rejoined MCI during 1994 and served as Senior Vice President of Technology Strategy, and helped guiding the corporate strategy development from a technical perspective. Cerf and Kahn founded The Internet Society in 1992 to provide leadership in internet related standards, education and policy. A few years later, Cerf joined the Board of Trustees of Gallaudet University, a university for the education of the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Cerf joined the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 1999, and worked for Google as a Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist since September 2005. He is responsible for identifying new enabling technologies to support the development of advanced, internet-based products and services from Google. He is also an active public face for Google in the internet world. Cerf has become known for his predictions on how technology will affect future society, encompassing such areas as artificial intelligence, environmentalism, the advent of IPv6 and the transformation of the television industry and its delivery model. Cerf served ICANN until the end of 2007.

Vint Cerf served and worked in many places that concern technology and the internet. Some of them are:

  1. A Commissioner for the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, a UN body which aims to make broadband internet technologies more widely available (Since 2010).
  2. A member of the Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov's IT Advisory Council (2002-2012).
  3. A member of the Advisory Board of Eurasia Group, the political risk consultancy.
  4. Worked on the Interplanetary Internet, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  5. Serves on the board of advisors of Scientists and Engineers for America.
  6. Serves on the advisory council of CRDF Global.
  7. Member of the board at the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel governing board and the Intaba Institute.
  8. Member of the board of trustees of ARIN, the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) of IP addresses for United States, Canada, and part of the Caribbean.
  9. Member of the board of directors of StopBadware, a non-profit anti-malware organization supported by Google.
  10. Member of the board of advisors of The Hyperwords Company Ltd of the UK, which works to make the web more usefully interactive and which has produced the free Firefox Add-On called 'Hyperwords'.
  11. Serves the IDNAbis working group of the IETF.
  12. A major contender to be designated the nation's first Chief Technology Officer by President Barack Obama.
  13. A co-chair of Campus Party Silicon Valley, the U.S. edition of one of the largest technology festivals in the world, along with Al Gore and Tim Berners-Lee.
  14. Cerf also has authored and co-authored partial bibliography in subjects that evolve around the internet, networking architecture and communication protocol.

Awards And Honors

Vint Cerf has received numerous awards and honors from his work and dedication, notably from the internet and TCP/IP. These include a number of honorary degrees, including doctorates, from universities worldwide.

Further awards and honors include:

  • Edward A. Dickson Alumnus of the Year Award from UCLA.
  • Prince of Asturias award for science and technology.
  • Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery in 1994.
  • Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Award in 1996.
  • SIGCOMM Award.
  • Certificate of Merit from The Franklin Institute in 1996.
  • The National Medal of Technology by President Bill Clinton in December 1997.
  • The Charles Stark Draper Award of the National Academy of Engineering.
  • The Living Legend Medal from the Library of Congress in April 2000.
  • Fellow of the Computer History Museum in November 2000.
  • Fellow of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) in 2000.
  • Turing Award for 2004 with Bob Kahn.
  • The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in November 2005.
  • The National Inventors Hall of Fame in May 2006 with Bob Kahn.
  • The National Medal of Science from Tunisia and the St. Cyril and St. Methodius Order (Grand Cross) of Bulgaria.
  • Honorary Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) in May 2006 with Bob Kahn.
  • The IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal, the IEEE Third Millennium Medal, the Eminent Member of the IEEE Eta Kappa Nu (HKN) honor society of the IEEE.
  • The Yankee Group/Interop/Network World Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • The George R. Stibitz Award.
  • The Werner Wolter Award.
  • The Andrew Saks Engineering Award.
  • The Computerworld/Smithsonian Leadership Award.
  • The J.D. Edwards Leadership Award for Collaboration.
  • The World Institute on Disability Annual Award.
  • The Japan Prize in January 2008 with Bob Kahn.
  • The Rotary Club International Paul P. Harris Medal.
  • The Freedom of the City of London in April 2008, and inducted into the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.
  • Honorary membership in the Yale Political Union.
  • A Lifetime Webby Award in 2010
  • The HPI Fellowship in May 2011.
  • A distinguished fellow of British Computer Society in 2011.
  • 2012 Internet Hall of Fame.
  • 2014 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering with Tim Berners-Lee, Bob Kahn, Mark Andreessen and Louis Pouzin.

Personal Life

Vint Cerf is married to his wife, Sigrid, since 1966. Vint met his future wife who was a recipient of a cochlear implant at a hearing aid instrument practitioners office. Both Vint and Sigrid have lost their hearings from an early age.

Previously on the board of Gallaudet University, Vint has demonstrated sensitivity to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students through actions such as supporting computer-building programs for deaf students.

As a family man, Vint likes to go wine tasting and gourmet cooking together with his wife. Together they have two sons, David and Bennett. Currently, the family lives in Virginia.