x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Computer scientist and Google's uncle

Rajeev Motwani, who has died in a swimming pool accident in California's Silicon Valley, was a self-confessed "start-up junkie".

Computer science professor Rajeev Motwani was involved in the establishment of Google.
Computer science professor Rajeev Motwani was involved in the establishment of Google.

Rajeev Motwani, who has died in a swimming pool accident in California's Silicon Valley, was a self-confessed "start-up junkie". A highly skilled computer scientist who taught at Stanford University, he was one of the major consultative forces behind the creation of Google, conceived by two of his graduate students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. He also owned an undisclosed amount of the company's stock.

He acted as an angel investor and technical adviser for numerous successful online businesses, including the payment goliath PayPal, accruing a personal fortune along the way. A kind, approachable individual, reputedly generous with his time and expertise, Motwani never refused a meeting with any potential technological wunderkind who requested an audience. Randomized Algorithms, of which he was co-author, became a seminal text for would-be internet entrepreneurs, while his 2001 textbook is a core volume for computer science undergraduates. He founded the Mining Data at Stanford project (Midas), an umbrella organisation comprising several groups exploring innovative data management concepts.

Born in Jammu, India, to a father in the army, Motwani had a peripatetic childhood. His dream was to become a mathematician: his idol, the 18th-century highly influential German, Carl Friedrich Gauss. He left St Columba's school in Delhi hoping to continue his mathematical studies, but his parents doubted he could make a reasonable living. Instead Motwani applied for an undergraduate degree in computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. Surprised at the high incidence of mathematical theory within the discipline of computer science, he went on to take a master's at the University of California, Berkeley. There his research topics spanned a diverse range within the discipline: from web search and information retrieval to computational drug design.

In 2001, Motwani won the Gödel Prize, which is awarded for excellence in the field of theoretical computer science. He was also the recipient of the Okawa Foundation Research Award and the Arthur Sloan Research Fellowship, among others. On hearing of the death of his mentor, 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."

Rajeev Motwani was born on March 26, 1962. He died on June 5. He is survived by his wife Asha Jadeja and two daughters. * The National