Google Inc. has hired Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf to float more ideas and develop new products, adding another weapon to the online search engine leader's rapidly growing arsenal of intellect.
Cerf's defection from MCI Inc., announced Thursday, represents the latest coup for Mountain View-based Google, which has been amassing more brainpower as its payroll nearly quadrupled to 4,200 workers during the past two years.
Along the way, Google has been raiding other companies, a tactic that has sparked a legal battle with one of its major rivals, software maker Microsoft Corp. The two high-tech titans battled in court this week over Kai Fu-Lee's July resignation from Microsoft to oversee Google's efforts to open a research center in China.
In an interview, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said few of the company's recent hires have been as significant as Cerf, widely regarded as one of the Internet's creators because of his seminal work developing the network's essential communications protocols, TCP/IP, at Stanford University in the 1970s.
"He is one of the most important people alive today," said Schmidt, who has been friends with Cerf for more than 20 years. "Vint has put his heart and soul into making the Internet happen. I know he is going to jump right in here and start shoveling out new ideas for Google."
When he starts work at Google on Oct. 3, Cerf's official title will be "chief Internet evangelist," but he is determined to be more than a figurehead or detached visionary.
"What I have done in the past is not going to be important at Google," Cerf said during an interview. "What's important at Google is what you are doing today and what you going to do tomorrow. That's the metric I will be measured by."
Cerf will remain chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the oversight agency for Internet domain names.
He also will continue as a visiting scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he has been focusing on a very Google-like project — trying to figure out a way to connect the Internet to outer space.
Cerf, 62, has spent the past 11 years at MCI, most recently as senior vice president of technology strategy. At MCI, he has worked on advanced networking technologies including services that combine data, voice and video and helped design MCI Mail, one of the Net's first commercial applications.
He said MCI's pending $8.5 billion sale to Verizon Communications Inc. didn't push him out the door. Instead, he said working at Google is "really my dream job."
Google didn't disclose Cerf's salary. When Google lured Lee away from Microsoft, it rewarded him with a $10 million compensation package, including a $2.5 million signing bonus, according to court documents.
Cerf expects to spend much of his time developing new applications as Google continues to supplement the search engine that is core to the 7-year-old company. In recent years, it has released free software to organize computer files, sort digital photos, generate maps and conduct Internet-based phone calls and text chats. It also launched a Web-based e-mail service called Gmail.
"What Google has really been doing is building an entirely new (computing) infrastructure and whenever you do that, it creates opportunities for new applications," Cerf said.
Cerf will be a graybeard in Google's youthful culture, which has been shaped by the company's 32-year-old founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But Cerf doesn't expect to have trouble fitting in, even though his penchant for wearing three-piece suits also figures to set him apart in Google's jeans-clad atmosphere.
"I'm 62 going on 12 anyway," Cerf said. "What's wonderful about (Google) is that as long as you bring ideas to the table, it doesn't matter what else is going on."
Although he will report to Google engineering chief Alan Eustace in Mountain View, Cerf won't be based in Silicon Valley. He will be working out of a Virginia office so he can stay close to his home.