Today is a special day for computer scientists and programmers around the world, for it marks the date of birth of Vint Cerf. Credited as one of“the fathers of the Internet,” Cerf was a co-developer of Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), the basic communication protocol that dictates how data should be packeted for the Internet. If not for Cerf and TCP/IP co-inventor Bob Kahn, we wouldn’t have Wi-Fi, Ethernet, e-mail, or many of the other innovations that we currently enjoy.
Vinton Gray Cerf was born on July 23, 1943 in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was raised by Vinton Thurston Cerf, an aerospace executive, and Muriel (née Gray) Cerf, a housewife. Young Vint attended Van Nuys High School and in 1965 graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in mathematics.
After a stint as a systems engineer at IBM, Cerf studied computer science at UCLA, where he earned a master’s in 1970 and then a doctorate in 1972. While at UCLA, Cerf helped write the communication protocol for the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), an early forerunner to the modern Internet.
During this period, Cerf met Robert “Bob” Kahn, who was then a senior scientist at Bolt Beranek & Newman. In 1973, Kahn and Cerf collaborated on the new network that they called the ARPA Internet. A few years later Cerf joined Kahn at the Information Processing Techniques Office, a research agency under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Defense. Working alongside other government scientists and engineers, Cerf and Kahn created Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). The protocol operated in two layers: the higher TCP layer transmitted units of data into packets while the lower IP layer made sure the packets reached their intended destination.
Cerf left the Defense Department in 1982 to work for telecommunications giant MCI Communications Corporation (later known as WorldCom). As company vice president, Cerf was instrumental in the development and release of MCI Mail, one of the first commercial email services to operate in the U.S. Later, Cerf played an instrumental role in the founding of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit organization that maintains and moderates Internet domain namespaces. Cerf served as ICANN chairman from 2000-2007 and was founding president of the Internet Society from 1992-1995.
Since 2005, Cerf has been vice president and “chief Internet evangelist” at Google and is highly involved in organizations dedicated to finding web-based solutions for such concerns as cybersecurity and humanitarian aid. One of the projects currently consuming Cerf’s attention is the Interplanetary Internet, a project launched by NASA that would facilitate planet-to-planet communication. This recent role for Cerf is fitting given his interest in science fiction; for instance, he served as technical consultant for Earth: Final Conflict, a posthumous work from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
Cerf is chairman of the board of trustees of ARIN, the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) of IP addresses for United States, Canada, and part of the Caribbean. Until Fall 2015, Cerf chaired the board of directors of StopBadware, a non-profit anti-malware organization that started as a project at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Aside from the Internet, Cerf’s other passions include fine wine, gourmet cooking and stylish clothing. In fact, Cerf is well-renowned for his three-piece suits in an industry notorious for its lax approach to fashion. Cerf has been married to his wife Sigrid since 1996 and the couple has two sons, David and Bennett. While Cerf surely takes pride in his biological offspring, to the world at large he’ll always be recognized as the “father” (or one of them anyway) of the world’s largest communications network, which is why all of us probably owe him a happy birthday card today.