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In Memory of Rajeev Motwani

Posted by: Spencer Ante on June 8, 2009

This weekend, I was shocked to read the very sad news that Stanford computer science professor Rajeev Motwani passed away on Friday in an apparent accidental drowning at the pool of his home. 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 the tech industry, are like the superstars of Silicon Valley. This tribute below by well-known angel investor Ron Conway captures the importance of Rajeev and the unique role that he played in the lives of so many people.

They push Silicon Valley forward through their teaching, their brilliant 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.

- Spencer Ante also publishes the Creative Capital blog. Click here to see more.

Reader Comments

umang khetarpal

June 12, 2009 11:41 PM

I am writing this after what must seem a long time after Rajeev's death. I came to know of Rajeev's demise this evening thru a close friend Atul and we launched into a long discussion about all our friends from high school and where they are in life. Rajeev, Atul and I were in the same class at St Columba's school in New Delhi back in 77-79. We were all smart kids in an exceptional school that was perhaps in the top ten in the country at that time. That class had a great number of high acheivers that are currently in the US and elsewhere. I would often call him "Raju" or "Moti" endearingly, the latter meaning "a pearl" that he eventually turned out to be. Even then he had an incredible ability to understand math and physics. Our math teacher at that time would often turn to him or me for answers to questions that he couldn't answer. Rajeev had a true desire to understand physics not just for the purpose of exams. If I had a problem understanding any concept in physics, he would provide a list of books that gave beeter explanations about physical phenomena than our texts and certainly better than those of the teachers.He would be found reading books at the local British Council library. In a class of about 48 students sitting on tight wooden desks, he sat in the front row or close to it while I sat in the back. His enthusiasm for math was enormous as was his drive for joining IIT (the premier institutes of technology/engineering in India).I don't recall anyone in high school that read and studied a hard as he did. He took extra classes for the entrance exam and often studied 16 hours a day or more to get entrance into an IIT. While his desire was to be a mathematician he found himself in computer science in Kanpur. I don't think that was his chosen path, at least then. While I trudged towards medical school and made my way to the US East Coast, he made his way to the wrong coast!.

It was much later, perhaps 4 years back, that we finally touched base in several email communications when I attempted to contact him at Stanford. He apologized for not being able to meet and was busy the whole weekend in meetings with VCs and start-ups.And of course he couldn't miss his volleyball practice. It was then that I realized how much in demand he was. Having now read the testimonials and accolades that he received and the lives he touched, I am truly humbled by how much this old friend had accomplished in such a short time and in the large numbers of lives that he touched personally and thru the tools that he helped create. My heartfelt wishes go out to his family, friends and colleagues. He will be missed far and wide,

Goodbye old friend - and hope to see you on the other side.

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