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Rajeev Motwani, Google founder's mentor, dead

June 08, 2009 12:14 IST

The celebrated Stanford professor, Rajeev Motwani, known worldwide for mentoring and advising founders of the companies like Google and PayPal, has died in a freak drowning incident.

The news of his death has sent shock waves throughout the Silicon Valley and the tech world globally, as he was known to be the master brain behind several of the key advancement in the world of internet including Google and PayPal.

The 47-year-old Motwani's body was found in the backyard swimming pool of his Palo Alto home in California on Friday. There was no official word about the cause of his death.

Paramedics were summoned when his body was found in the pool.

Describing Motwani as his friend and teacher, Google 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."

As Google emerged from Stanford, Brin wrote: "Rajeev remained a friend and advisor as he has with many people and startups since. Of all the faculty at Stanford, it is with Rajeev that I have stayed the closest and I will miss him dearly. Yet his legacy and personality lives on in the students, projects, and companies he has touched."

A student of the prestigious St Coloumba's School in New Delhi, Motwani was born in Jammu and Kashmir on March 26, 1962. After earning his Bachelors in Computer Science from IIT Kanpur in 1983, he came to the US to get his PhD in Computer Science from University of Berkeley in 1988. Soon thereafter he joined Stanford.

Ron Conway, a long time friend of Motwani, told a group of techies at a San Francisco event that he influenced hundreds of entrepreneurs and students, and never refused a meeting.

"For those of you who didn't know Rajeev, you might get the impression that he was your typical Silicon Valley insider -- loud, brash, full of bravado."

"Rajeev was soft spoken and gentle. He was self-confident but didn't feel the need to prove anything. He didn't speak to hear his own voice. And he didn't need to be the centre of attention.

Rajeev just wanted to be helpful. And he was. To so many of us," wrote Dave Hornik of August Capital, where Motwani regularly attended Monday meetings.

As founder of the Mining Data at Stanford Project (MIDAS) he helped developing innovative data and management concepts.

He was well known for his research in theoretical computer science, Motwani was a winner of the Godel Prize in 2001 for his work on the PCP theorem and its applications to hardness of approximation.

Motwani was one of the co-authors of an influential early paper on the PageRank algorithm, which became the basis for Google's search techniques. He also co-authored another seminal search paper What Can You Do With A Web In Your Pocket with Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Terry WinogradHe.

He wrote two books -- Randomized Algorithms and an undergraduate textbook published in 2001.

"Success never came in the way of Rajeev's quest for knowledge and innate desire to help others. There wasn't a startup he didn't love. Like his chosen specialization of search, Rajeev was searching for the unknown. He was still active as a professor and was teaching a couple of classes as recently as the last semester," wrote his close friend Om Malik on his blog.

"He helped us improve our algorithms and ideas and introduced us to Ron Conway and to other folks which led to the acquisition of our startup. I ran into him several times since and he was always both kind and brilliant. I had hoped to work with him on a future project. While that's not to be, I imagine dozens of other computer scientists-turned-entrepreneurs can tell the same story," wrote Dan Gould, co-founder of Newroo.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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