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‘To achieve big things, get help from smarter people’

Vint Cerf, the man who helped create the internet, has some words of wisdom for engineers starting out in their careers.

Cerf, who alongside Bob Kahn is seen as the ‘father of the internet,’ offered some sage advice to young engineers as a part of an interview with the IEEE.

Cerf said: “If you really want to do something big, get help, and preferably from people who are smarter than you are.”

The 79-year-old also noted the importance of the humility in the interview which coincided with Cerf being awarded the 2023 IEEE Medal of Honor.

He said: “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.”

He added: “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.”

Cerf is most famous for his collaboration with Kahn on the development of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), the fundamental communication protocols at the heart of the internet.

Cerf and Kahn developed the protocols in the early 1970s and were jointly awarded the Turing Award in 2004 for their work.

Cerf told IEEE that aspiring engineers should “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.”