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Vint Cerf

Vint Cerf

After graduating from Stanford University in 1965 with a B. S. in Mathematics, Vinton “Vint” Cerf, decided to pursue his interest in computers by going to work as a systems engineer for IBM in Los Angeles. In 1967, realizing he would benefit from more training, Cerf entered graduate school at UCLA. It was a fateful decision. For in 1968, Professor Leonard Kleinrock secured a contract from ARPA to build and run a Network Measurement Center (NMC) for the yet to be built Arpanet. Cerf and his friend, Steve Crocker, among others, were selected to build the operating system. Shortly after UCLA received the first IMP, in September 1969, Cerf was directed to help the two representatives from BBN: Robert Kahn and Dave Walden test the four-node network. Cerf and Kahn would form an important decades-long partnership. In addition to his work for the NMC, Cerf was a key member of the Network Working Group led by Steve Crocker, and a facilitator for the important ICCC demonstration. In 1972, after earning his PhD, he taught at Stanford (1972-1976). 1973 was a busy year as Cerf became Chairman of the International NWG, and was asked by Kahn to collaborate in designing a new Host-to-Host protocol that would support the interconnection of an arbitrary number of heterogeneous packet-switched networks. They published their results in May 1974 in a seminal paper that set forth the TCP protocol and Internet design. In September 1976, Cerf joined Kahn at the IPTO office of ARPA where he managed the re-design of TCP into TCP/IP. For personal reasons, as well as wanting to integrate a commercial email program and Internet, Cerf left ARPA for MCI (1982-1986) before rejoining Kahn once again as vice-president in the new not-for-profit corporation, Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), formed by Kahn.

February 8, 1988 is a day I will remember forever. First, Paul Baran had set up two interviews that he said I would both enjoy and were crucial to reconstructing the history of the Arpanet. Then a man, who had become my surrogate Father, the now deceased William (Bill) Houser, Vice Adm. Ret., drove me out to the CNRI headquarters in Reston, VA. The fact that Bob Kahn had to reschedule proved to be fortunate, for it left me with more time to interview Vint Cerf. We sat in a public space, where we were observed by others and even joined by Dick Karp. Cerf was an easy interview for he gave clear answers that delved into the details without my having to ask follow up questions. He always gave credit to others and was gracious and engaging. It was easy to see why others liked to work with and for him. Then Bill excused himself; only to quickly return saying there was a blizzard outside, and we had better leave while we could. We quickly left hoping we would see each other again.

Keywords: TCP/IP, INWG, ARPA, IPTO, CNRI, Robert Kahn,UCLA

Vint Cerf Interviewed by James Pelkey 2/8/88