Cerf, 62, is expected to help Google build network infrastructure, architectures, systems and standards for the "next generation of Internet applications," the Mountain View, Calif., company said. He's scheduled to join the search giant Oct. 3 from telecommunications company MCI, where he has worked since 1982, except for an eight-year break to do research at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives.
"Vint Cerf is clearly one of the great technology leaders of our time," Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google, said in a statement. "His vision for technology helped create entire industries that have transformed many parts of our lives. We are honored to welcome him to Google."
Asked why Google? Cerf said in an interview with TechWeb, "Why not Google?"
"This is a place that's just full of creative energy, and I like places like that," he said. In addition, Cerf has known chief executive Eric Schmidt for decades.
"I feel very comfortable in the Google family already," he said.
As a researcher, Cerf said he has been increasingly interested in the Internet's evolution as a network of services that applications running on various devices can access. These applications go beyond the traditional web browser, and include, for example, Google's desktop search application.
Having these applications attached to Google services forms a kind of upper-level infrastructure, Cerf said.
"I'm very interested in sort of the context in which applications can be created that are able to make use of Google's functional capabilities, which continue to expand as each day goes by," Cerf said.
By hiring Cerf, Google has shown it's projects and research are interesting enough to attract some of the best talent in the industry, Gary Stein, analyst for JupiterResearch, said.
"For Cerf, this must be a good opportunity to do great projects," Stein said. "It's a win-win for both of them."
Besides Cerf's skills, Google also gets to market the fact that it has the "father of the Internet" on staff, which should help its brand and attract more talent, particularly new graduates from the top universities.
"People who are coming out of computer science departments probably have had photos of Vint Cerf up in their rooms since junior high school," Stein said. "It would be like going to work for Yoda (the Jedi teacher in "Star Wars"). It's pretty powerful."
Cerf co-designed the TCP/IP protocols used in developing the Internet's underling architecture while working at the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency. He worked for DARPA from 1976 to 1982.
As vice president of MCI Digitial Information Services, he led the development of MCI Mail, which was the first commercial email service connected to the Internet.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton presented Cerf with the National Medal of Technology.
Google has long gone after the best talent to help maintain its competitive edge. In the second quarter, Google led the market with 37 percent of all search queries on the Internet, according to web metrics firm ComScore Networks. Yahoo Inc. was second with 30.4 percent, and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN was third with 15.6 percent.
"Part of Google strategy is to widen the gap between them and their competitors by bringing in the best talent," Stein said.
That strategy, however, has had its costs. Google is battling a lawsuit filed by Microsoft for hiring a top executive from the software maker. Kai-Fu Lee was hired in July to lead Google's expansion in China. Microsoft claims the hiring violated Lee's non-compete agreement, which prohibits him from doing the same work for a rival.