Google’s Vinton G. Cerf Advises UCLA Engineering Grads: “Don’t Be Afraid of Failure”

Jun 19, 2006

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Nearly 6,500 guests and students from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science gathered at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood Saturday, June 17, to hear Internet pioneer and Google vice president Vinton G. Cerf deliver the 2006 commencement address.

By M. Abraham

Widely known as a “father of the Internet,” Cerf, who has led an illustrious career, encouraged graduates to “find an engineering career that you truly love. Such work can nourish and sustain in ways that must be experienced to appreciate.”

He also shared some very personal advice, telling students not to be afraid to take on a challenge that might result in failure.

“The challenging, risky road may also be the most productive and satisfying. If you have a choice, take the riskier one, you will not regret it for the experience if nothing else,” Cerf advised. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

As a humorous aside, Cerf, citing the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy and a Swedish warship called the VASA, which capsized after its impressive gunports filled with water, advised the future engineers of “another important, if perhaps dubious life lesson. If you are going to screw up in engineering, try to do it big time. The results will become a tourist attraction in the centuries to come and therefore contribute to the general economic welfare of the local population, if not to the reputation of the engineering profession.” Cerf’s remarks were met with laughter.

The approximately 1,000 combined undergraduate and graduate students celebrating graduation then received some final advice for the future from the nation’s most influential technology pioneers. On a serious note, Cerf reminded graduates that “with the occupation of engineer comes a moral responsibility, if not also a legal one, to do the best you can at the job and to be very cognizant of the side-effects of your work. People’s lives may depend on it.”

Throughout his career, Cerf has contributed significantly to the creation and the continued growth of the Internet. Cerf, together with Robert Kahn, co-designed the basic architecture of the Internet and the very first TCP/IP protocols. Both were awarded the U.S. National Medal of Technology in 1997, and in 2005 the pair received the highest civilian honor bestowed in the United States for their pioneering work: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now a vice president at Google, Cerf continues to identify new enabling technologies and applications on the Internet and other platforms for the company, and along with his VP post, holds the title of “chief Internet evangelist” for the company.

Cerf is himself a graduate of UCLA Engineering, and worked early in his career with UCLA professor Leonard Kleinrock on the development of ARPANET, the beginning of what is today’s Internet.

Share this article