Rajeev Motwani, mentor to Google founders, dies at 47

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Rajeev Motwani, a leading computer scientist and Stanford University professor who developed new ways to search enormous databases and mentored the founders of Google, has died. He was 47.

Motwani apparently drowned in the pool at his Atherton, Calif., home, where his body was found Friday, the university announced. Friends said he did not know how to swim.

Atherton police are waiting for results of an autopsy before investigating what appears to be an accidental death, a police spokesman said Tuesday.

After learning of Motwani's death, Google co-founder Sergey Brin wrote on his blog: "Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it."

Motwani was a specialist in data mining, or developing ways to filter and organize the endless sea of information on the Internet. His work in the field of algorithms — the sets of instructions that computers follow to solve a specific problem — was considered groundbreaking.

In 1998, Motwani wrote a paper with Brin, Larry Page and another Stanford researcher that announced the quartet had developed a system to globally rank Web pages "to develop a novel search engine called Google."

That year, Google Inc. was founded by Brin and Page, Stanford graduate students who consistently gave Motwani credit for helping them create the search engine that has come to dominate the Internet.

Motwani's connection to Google made him feel like he "contributed a little bit" to history, he later said. "Now I have become a start-up junkie."

In Silicon Valley, he was known for nurturing and investing in many small, emerging companies.

Born in 1962 in Jammu, India, Motwani grew up in New Delhi. His father had a career in the Indian army.

Childhood reading on famous scientists and mathematicians triggered his interest in math, he later said, but he studied computer science because his parents didn't think he could make a living as a mathematician.

To his "wonderful surprise," computer science was "quite mathematical as a field," Motwani later recalled.

At the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Motwani earned a bachelor's degree in computer science in 1983. Five years later, he received his doctorate in the same field from the University of California, Berkeley, and joined the Stanford faculty.

Motwani's major contributions to the foundations of computer science included work on robotics and search and information retrieval, the university said in a statement.

"In addition to being a brilliant computer scientist," Brin wrote on his blog, "Rajeev was a very kind and amicable person and his door was always open. ... I could always stop by his office for an interesting conversation or a friendly smile."

Motwani is survived by his wife, Asha Jadeja; two daughters, Naitri and Anya; and two brothers.


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