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Who's who of Google hires

The search king lures doctors, Internet pioneers, renowned execs from Microsoft, and other rivals to its geek heaven.

Over the last two years, Google has lured some of the best and brightest minds in technology and science to join the search giant's lava lamp and snack-filled offices.

They include an award-winning physician, a pioneer of the Internet, the head of Amazon.com's A9 search unit, the former head of Microsoft's research group in China and an ex-top Windows architect.

If there's a master plan in recruiting all this top talent beyond the obvious benefit of having all that intelligence under the same figurative roof, Google isn't saying.

But the eclectic combination of world-class programmers, computer networking pioneers and even a famous epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox in India does offer insight into the strategic planning of Google's so-called leadership "triumvirate" of co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt. The new hires of Google's deepening talent pool make it apparent that they want to keep pushing the envelope on software and computer networking technology while expanding the business into China and, despite recent criticism, maintaining a laudable philanthropic attitude.

"They are basically like Microsoft was 15 years ago. People want to go there because it is the way it used to be," said Stephen Arnold, reiterating a refrain from his book "The Google Legacy." "They are identifying high-profile people who are influential centers and hiring them easily because Google is a magnet for talent."

As Arnold points out, it's not terribly difficult to figure out how Google is luring these big names. Despite its recent plunge, Google still has a stock price topping $370 a share, $8 billion in cash to spend, and a huge customer base. That's just the start. With a "20 percent time" policy for time set aside to allow engineers to work on pet projects, perks including free gourmet meals, and a reputation for being the best incubator for geeky projects since the days of Xerox's PARC, it's no surprise Google can hand-pick tech stars.

"Some of the hires are already successful and perhaps well-off, and are going to Google because they see it as a place where they can continue to make a mark. When you helped architect the Internet already, what do you do next?" said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch.

One the boldest hires and biggest names was Vint Cerf, who was one of those Internet architects. Google landed him in September 2005. Cerf, who co-designed TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), was hired to help Google develop architectures and standards for next-generation applications, the company said at the time. He is also working on a new set of communication protocols meant to be used in deep space for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory aimed at creating an Internet communications connection between planets.

Chart: Who's who of Google hires

Last week, Google announced another top science hire, Dr. Larry Brilliant. He will be executive director of Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the company that is investing more than $7 million on issues related to global poverty, health, energy and the environment. Brilliant is an award-winning physician, friend of '60s icon Wavy Gravy, and an epidemiologist who spent more than a decade in India and, by the way, was also co-founder of the pioneering online community known as The Well.

Google spokeswoman Lynn Fox said no executives were available to discuss Google's hiring strategy for this story on Friday. She declined to comment beyond this statement: "We are proud to have such a world-class staff at Google."

Andy Hertzfeld, who worked on Apple Computer's original Macintosh development team and was hired by Google in August 2005, said the potential for changing the world is what attracted him to the Mountain View, Calif., company.

"Google is tremendous for users and customers. Google is a fantastic company that's doing a lot of good in the world, and I wanted to help them out," he said. Hertzfeld's title is software engineer. He said he's working on "various projects I'm not at liberty to discuss."

His hiring and that of a few others have led some observers to feverishly speculate that Google is developing an operating system that would compete with Microsoft. Google also hired Mark Lucovsky, former Windows architect and distinguished engineer at Microsoft, as a technical director in November 2004.

Another former Microsoft engineer is Adam Bosworth, who left his job as BEA Systems chief architect to be a vice president of engineering at Google in July 2004. Before that, he was a senior manager at Microsoft where he worked on XML and Microsoft Access PC Database.

The most controversial hire for Google was also a former Microsoft executive named Kai-Fu Lee. Microsoft sued Google after he was named president of Google China in July, arguing that the move violated a noncompete agreement that was part of his contract. Lee had worked on speech recognition for Microsoft and founded its China research lab in the late 1990s. The two sides settled the case in December.

Google also has tapped the ranks of Amazon and eBay for search experts. Earlier this month, , formerly chief executive of Amazon's A9 online search unit, to be a vice president of engineering. And sometime before last July--Google won't say when--the company quietly hired Louis Monier away from eBay to be a member of its technical staff. Monier founded AltaVista, one of the earliest and best search engines at the time. "The main reason for me to leave is that eBay does not absorb innovation at the pace I enjoy, and its focus is narrower than Google," Monier told blogger John Battelle, author of "The Search," a book about the search giant. "And frankly, I'm dying to peek under the hood and see the infrastructure they have created. For someone like me, it's the ultimate Christmas toy."

After nearly a year without a head of public relations, Google finally hired one in October 2005. In classic "think big" fashion, it hired Elliot Schrage, formerly Bernard L. Schwarz senior fellow in business and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The company also has keyed into top university talent. In December, Google hired Andrew W. Moore, a professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, to be head of Google's new Pittsburgh engineering office.

And in May 2005, Google hired Alan Davidson, former associate director for advocacy group Center for Democracy & Technology, to handle its government relations in Washington, D.C.

Several noteworthy international hires were Nikesh Arora, formerly chief marketing officer at T-Mobile, as vice president of European operations in November 2004, and Jimmy Chou, former president of China operations for UTStarcom, as sales and business development for greater China in October 2005.

In addition, the company has hired plenty of open-source engineers, including Sean Egan, lead developer of the GAIM instant-messaging application, who was hired in October 2005 to work on making Google Talk interoperable with other chat software; Ben Goodger, a lead engineer on Mozilla's Firefox browser, hired in January 2005; and Brian Ryner, another Mozilla software developer, hired in March 2005. Another noteworthy hire was Guido van Rossum, author of the Python programming language, who was hired in December 2005.

That's not to mention executives and employees who come from companies Google acquires, like former Apple hardware designer Andy Rubin, whose mobile start-up Android was . Rubin also co-founded Danger, the maker of the Sidekick smart phone which Google co-founders Brin and Page were fond of.

While Google easily recruits high-profile executives, scientists and engineers, it puts most employees through a rigorous, multi-interview hiring process that can take months.

"It is hard to get in there unless you are a luminary and then they bring you right in," said Gary Stein, director of client services at consumer research and consulting firm BuzzMetrics.

"Interestingly," Sullivan added, "I think they're still trying to find a (chief) cook."