Vint Cerf’s Career Advice for Engineers

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Internet architect Vint Cerf, shown here in his Google office in Reston, Va., is currently working on protocols for an Interplanetary Internet.

Peter Adams

Vint Cerf, recipient of the 2023 IEEE Medal of Honor, has this advice to engineers starting out their careers:

  • “If you really want to do something big, get help, and preferably from people who are smarter than you are.”
  • “Be humble, because unless you approach things with the understanding that you really don’t know exactly how to make it all work, you may overlook possibilities.”
  • “Listen to other people. I tell my engineers that if they know I’m about to do something stupid, they have to tell me, so I don’t do it. And if they knew and didn’t tell me, that’s going to be reflected in their end-of-year fitness report. When you’re in a position of responsibility and authority, people may assume you’ve already figured out where the hazards are, but you may not have.”
  • “Try hard to stay on good terms with everybody. Civility is an important property, and burning bridges is generally a bad idea; you never know who you’re going to work with again, who you might work for, or who might work for you.”
  • “You can learn something from virtually everybody. One example: I was being driven in a limousine in Palm Springs by a white-haired guy. And I remember thinking, ‘This poor guy, it’s too bad. Here he is driving a limo. It’s nine o’clock at night. He ought to be just out there on the links playing golf and having a nice time.’ We struck up a conversation, and I find out that he actually did retire—from being the chief financial officer of one of the largest insurance companies in Chicago. He got bored playing golf, so he decided to drive a limo three times a week because he knew he was going to meet interesting people.”
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