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As a child growing up in California's San Fernando Valley, Vinton Cerf showed an early proclivity for science and experimentation. In those days, he was building rockets with shell casings and match heads, and crafting volcanos with 1950s-era chemistry sets that included powdered magnesium and glycerin. No injuries reported ("We would stand like 18 inches away, and there were several occasions when the thing would blow, and we never knew where it went," he recalls).
Eventually, however, Cerf's work would make an impact, a very big one, in fact, enabling one of the most important technologies in modern history. Cerf and collaborator Robert Kahn were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their contributions to the creation of the Internet.
[ Exclusive footage: Vint Cerf on inventing the Internet, defending Al Gore.]
This oral history, conducted by Daniel S. Morrow, then executive director at Computerworld Honors Program, was recorded at WorldCom headquarters in Ashburn, Va., on Nov. 1, 2001. Included in the 47-page transcript and accompanying video are Cerf's personal accounts of his interest in science fiction, a boyhood crush on Judy Garland, summer internships at the company that made F-1 engines for the Apollo program, his years at Stanford University, and the early days at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where some of his most important work would occur.
Said Cerf: "I don’t expect to be remembered in 100 years as Vint Cerf, or even at all, but I think people will remember that something happened in the mid to late 20th century that transformed telecommunications, and that thing’s the Internet. And I do believe they’ll remember that, even if I’m just a dim memory in somebody’s history book."
At the time of this interview, Cerf was senior vice president for Internet architecture and technology at WorldCom, and was recipient of the 1996 MCI WorldCom Leadership Award for Innovation and the 2002 JD Edwards Leadership Award for Collaborative Innovation. The interview was part of the Computerworld Honors Program and will be preserved in its archives.
Included in the interview:
• Early Years and Growing up in California
• Chemistry Sets and Rockets
• In Search of “X”
• Science Fiction and Judy Garland
• “The Trouble with Tribbles”...and Alligators
• From Van Nuys High to Rocketdyne
• To Stanford in ‘61
• Learning German with Hans and Hearing Aids
• Sea Level at Stanford
• Impressions of Nov 22, 1963 and Sept 11, 2001
• Meeting Gerald Estrin and the Snuper Computer
• Connecting via ARPANET
• People at IBM Wear White Shirts
• The Amazing Estrin Family
• Should I teach at Stanford?
• Getting the Flu from the “draft”
• Tangled Webs in 1973: Hooking up Packet-nets
• First Teacher Evaluation and Students at Stanford
• The Math Club and Dinner with Miss Reese
• Back to ARPA and the East Coast in 1976
• The Need for TCP/IP
• “Like Climbing Mt Everest”: Developing MCI Mail
• Back to R&D: The Corporation for National Research Initiatives
• Vice President Gore and the Internet
• TCP/IP vs. OSI
• The Internet Configuration Control Board and the IETF
• Starting the Internet Society
• The Value of the Internet
• Rejoining MCI in 1994
• The Miracle of Cochlear Implants
• The National Medal of Science and Technology dinner at the White House
• 1994: Focusing more on the Internet at MCI
• Into the Future
• Defining Integrity and Honor
• The Origins of Innovation
• Will Anyone Remember Vinton Cerf?
• Bindings: The Book
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