A Quiet Force Behind Innovation
Date: Thursday , July 02, 2009
The death of Rajeev Motwani, the Indian-American Computer Science Professor at Stanford University who mentored Google’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they were graduate students, has sent to oblivion a genius, who contributed immensely to researches in theoretical computer science. Shockingly, Motwani died in a swimming pool accident at his home in Atherton, California on June 7th.
One can say, Motwani, 47, was a quiet force behind innovation in Silicon Valley. He always brought together entrepreneurs from the Indian community, graduate students from Stanford and venture capitalists from Sand Hill Road to give birth to innovative ideas and implement them. Apart from mentoring sitting on the board of Google, Motwani served as an advisor and supporter of online payment firm PayPal, and played the role of a special advisor to Sequoia Capital. He was an avid angel investor and had funded a number of successful startups to emerge from Stanford. He had also served on the boards of Kaboodle, Mimosa Systems, Adchemy, Baynote, Vuclip, NeoPath Networks – which was later acquired by Cisco Systems in 2007, Tapulous and Stanford Student Enterprises. He was active in the Business Association of Stanford Entrepeneurial Students (BASES). As a Stanford professor, he also served as Director of Graduate Studies for the Computer Science Department.
At Stanford University, Motwani’s research works basically encompassed such concepts as data privacy, web search, robotics, and computational drug design. He developed methods for searching almost infinite archives of data by randomly selecting subsets of the data. Prior to his involvement with Google, Motwani founded the Mining Data at Stanford project (MIDAS), an organization focusing on exploration of new and innovative data management concepts. His expertise in this field, which is the basis for much of modern Internet commerce and the operation of search engines, endeared him to the founders of Google. Along with Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Terry Winograd, he had co-authored an influential early paper on the PageRank algorithm, the basis for Google’s search techniques and another search paper titled ‘What Can You Do With A Web In Your Pocket’.
Motwani has left a mark in the publishing industry too. He co-authored two widely used theoretical computer science textbooks, Randomized Algorithms; and Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages, and Computation. He had also served on the editorial boards of SIAM Journal on Computing, Journal of Computer and System Sciences, ACM Transactions on Knowledge Discovery from Data, and IEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data Engineering. Motwani was a winner of several prestigious awards including the Godel Prize in 2001, Okawa Foundation Research Award, Arthur Sloan Research Fellowship, National Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, Distinguished Alumnus Award from IIT Kanpur, Bergmann Memorial Award from the US-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation and IBM Faculty Award.
Born on March 26, 1962, in Jammu, Motwani grew up in New Delhi, completed his B.Tech in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur in 1983, and got his Ph.D. in Computer Science from U.C. Berkeley in 1988 under the supervision of Richard Karp. Motwani is survived by his wife Asha Jadeja and daughters Naitri and Anya.
Google cofounder Sergey Brin wrote in his blog, “Officially, Rajeev was not my advisor, and yet he played just as big a role in my research, education, and professional development. In addition to being a brilliant computer scientist, Rajeev was a very kind and amicable person and his door was always open. No matter what was going on with my life or work, I could always stop by his office for an interesting conversation and a friendly smile.”