This morning I woke up and read the very sad news that Stanford computer science professor Rajeev Motwani passed away on Friday. He was only 45 and left behind a wife and children.
The tragic news hit me particularly hard because I had recently met with Rajeev and was actually working on a profile of him for BusinessWeek. It was only a few months ago that we connected over a cup of coffee at the University Cafe in Palo Alto and talked about all the great things he was doing at Stanford to help students advance their research and to help entrepreneurs to realize their dreams. I remember his kindness, his soulful eyes, and his deep desire to help others. Rajeev was one of those special individuals who, while not well known outside of Silicon Valley, represent the unsung heroes of the tech industry.
They push Silicon Valley forward through their teaching, their research, their financial support of entrepreneurs, and their tireless work as advisors to many, many startups. Most famously, Rajeev helped support the creation of Google through his tutelage of two young Stanford University grad students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. At Stanford, Rajeev started the Mining Data at Stanford project (MIDAS), a research group that provided the intellectual sandbox for Larry and Sergey to develop the underlying technology of Google.
“In addition to being a brilliant computer scientist, Rajeev was a very kind and amicable person and his door was always open,” wrote Sergey Brin on his blog. “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. When my interest turned to data mining, Rajeev helped to coordinate a regular meeting group on the subject. Even though I was just one of hundreds of graduate students in the department, he always made the time and effort to help. Later, when Larry and I began to work together on the research that would lead to Google, Rajeev was there to support us and guide us through challenges, both technical and organizational.”
Now more than ever, I feel an obligation to finish that story as a tribute to him and what he represented.