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Cerf's Up for Google

By Ben Elgin Google's (GOOG) recruiting rampage is raising eyebrows throughout techdom. But its latest addition, Vinton G. Cerf, could send especially strong reverberations across the telecom landscape. On Sept. 8 Google is expected to announce that it has hired the 62-year-old Web pioneer. Decades ago Cerf helped develop the Internet as a young engineer. Most recently he served as senior-vice president for technology strategy at long-distance provider MCI (MCIP).

Cerf's hiring comes on the heels of several moves that suggest Google is encroaching on telecom turf. In the past year, the Internet giant has dipped its toe in the Wi-Fi market, sponsoring hot zones in San Francisco and New York City.

HIGH AMBITIONS. Also, Google has been reported to be buying up chunks of dark, or unused, fiber-optic capacity employed to transmit calls and data at high speeds. And in August it joined the stampede of Internet companies looking to provide voice-over-Internet phone calls when it launched a new instant-messaging tool.

Indeed, it's beginning to look like Google harbors ambitions to use the Internet and search tools for delivering everything from voice and data communications to audio and video files. This would resonate with Cerf, who has often predicted voice-over-Internet services will dramatically reshape the phone industry.

Before becoming a strategist at MCI, Cerf led its efforts in designing Internet infrastructure to carry a combination of voice, data, and video for businesses and consumers.

HEAVYWEIGHT TALENT. A Google spokesperson declined to comment on Cerf's anticipated role at the search-engine giant. But his hiring signals the outfit's continued dominance in recruiting tech's brightest talent (see BW Online, 8/8/05, "Revenge of the Nerds -- Again").

Even with the easy money off the table, following Google's IPO and ensuing stock surge, the company has lured several heavyweights in the past year, including Louis Monier, the head of eBay's (EBAY) advanced research group; top Microsoft (MSFT) techies Kai-Fu Lee and Mark Lucovsky; and several key developers of the Firefox browser.

In addition, Google has brought in major talent through small acquisitions, such as its July purchase of mobile-phone software startup Android (see BW Online, 8/17/05, "Google Buys Android for Its Mobile Arsenal"), run by Danger founder Andy Rubin.

THREE ENGINEERS A DAY. Although these big-name hires represent a human-resources coup for Google, it sometimes puts in little work to attract top talent. Both Louis Monier and Kai-Fu Lee inquired about working at Google simply by e-mailing the top brass.

Managing this breakneck growth, however, won't be easy. In addition to well-known techies, Google has hired an estimated three engineers a day during its most recent quarter.

Employment has likely surged past 4,000, which could provide a difficult management task for a company that has long prided itself on a flat, if not somewhat chaotic, management structure. Nevertheless, as Cerf's career path suggests, the lure of Google appears to only be getting stronger.

Elgin is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau

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