Google mentor Rajeev Motwani dies

June 7th, 2009 - 8:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Facebook Washington, June 7 (IANS) Stanford University computer science professor from India, Rajeev Motwani, who mentored Google’s co-founders when they were graduate students, has died in a freak drowning accident at his home in Atherton in California, a media report said.
Motwani, 47, apparently drowned Friday in a backyard swimming pool of his home he purchased three years ago, the said Saturday citing officials.

His friends said he did not know how to swim, but was planning to take lessons. Friends speculated that Motwani may have slipped and fallen into the pool.

Paramedics were called when his body was found, and he was pronounced dead at the scene at 12.28 p.m. Friday, the San Mateo County office said.

He is survived by his wife, Asha Jadeja, and daughters Naitri and Anya.

The news of Motwani’s death struck like a thunderclap in Silicon Valley. Blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter communications were filled with testimonials to a brilliant, kind man who was never too busy to help a budding entrepreneur or struggling graduate student.

He helped many valley startups gain a foothold, but none so famous as Google, whose co-founder Sergey Brin mourned him Saturday.

Brin said the many conversations he had with Motwani helped inspire his thinking and research.

“I want him to really be remembered well. It’s a rare combination to have somebody who is so smart and also such a nice guy,” he added. “He had a lot of interest in computer science theory. He’s primarily a theoretician, and it’s incredible the amount of impact he has had directly on products and companies.”

Silicon Valley’s “ecosystem” has suffered a major blow with Motwani’s death, said a friend, Ron Conway.

“He’s a great example on how the Silicon Valley ecosystem works,” said Conway, “which is why everyone is so upset at this tragedy. We’ve lost one of the best contributors to the Silicon Valley ecosystem”.

“Everybody in Silicon Valley talked to him,” said David Hornik, a valley venture capitalist. “Rajeev was an incredible resource to everyone.”

Born March 26, 1962, in Jammu in India, Motwani grew up in New Delhi, earned a computer science degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, in 1983, and a doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley in 1988.

As a Stanford professor, he also served as the director of graduate studies for the computer science department and founded the Mining Data at Stanford project (MIDAS).

His work had a major impact on the field of algorithms. It was in the field of data mining that he made some of his seminal contributions. The field is the basis of much of modern Internet commerce and the operation of search engines such as Google.

Motwani won perhaps the highest honour for theoretical computer science, the Goedel Prize, as well as earning an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship. His contributions ranged over the computer science fields of search and information retrieval, streaming databases, data mining, robotics and even drug design.

In 1998, Google co-founders Brin and Larry Page, Motwani and Stanford computer science professor Terry Winograd wrote a paper titled “What You Can Do With A Web In Your Pocket”, describing the development of a global ranking of Web pages called PageRank and “a novel search engine called Google”.

Brin said when he became interested in data mining, a technology at the heart of Google’s enormous success, Motwani helped coordinate a regular meeting group on the subject. After Google’s founding, Motwani “remained a friend and adviser as he has with many people and startups since,” Brin wrote in his blog. “Of all the faculty at Stanford, it is with Rajeev that I have stayed the closest and I will miss him dearly.”

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