Computer Science Prof. Rajeev Motwani

Rajeev Motwani – Sindhi Brain Behind The Google


Computer Science Prof. Rajeev MotwaniProf. Rajeev Motwani was mentor to Google’s founders – Larry Page and Sergey Brin, when they were PhD students at Stanford University.

There was a Sindhi brain behind the invention of Google, as the US computer science professor Rajeev Motwani, who played a key role in the creation of the internet search giant Google, was a Sindhi.

Prof. Rajeev Motwani was mentor to Google’s founders – Larry Page and Sergey Brin, when they were PhD students at Stanford University. “Rajeev Motwani – the name doesn’t need any introduction. He is told to be one person behind Google.

Rajeev Motwani was found dead on June 05, 2009 at the age of 47 after apparently falling into his swimming pool at his home in Atherton, Calif, USA. His body was found at the bottom of his backyard swimming pool. He did not know swimming, the newspapers including The Guardian, New York Times, and the Indian dailies had reported.

Computer Science Prof. Rajeev Motwani (2)On his blog, Brin paid tributes to Motwani as the inspiration behind a number of computing advances. “Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it,” he wrote.

“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.”

A 1998 paper written by Page, Brin and Motwani, unearthed by the blog TechCrunch, discussed the development of Google. “We have developed a global ranking of web pages called PageRank based on the link structure of the web that has properties that are useful for search and navigation … We have used PageRank to develop a novel search engine called Google, which also makes heavy use of anchor text,” it said.

Stanford said Motwani’s work on data mining influenced the way algorithms are used in Google searches. It pointed out that he was also an influential investor who backed the initial development of what turned out to be a number of successful hi-tech companies and initiatives, including the internet payment giant PayPal.

“Rajeev’s connections to Silicon Valley were all important, but he will be remembered most for the personal friendships he had with students, faculty colleagues and staff in the department. We will all miss him tremendously,” Jim Plummer, the dean of the school of engineering, told the university’s news service.

Prof. Rajeev Motwani with wife Asha and others
Prof. Rajeev Motwani with wife Asha Jadeja and others


Rajeev Motwani was born in 1962 in Kashmir. His father, Hotchand Motwani, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian army. His mother was Namita Sushila and he had two brothers Sanjeev and Suneev. His father’s job meant that the family moved from place to place as Rajeev was growing up, never spending more than two years at any one place. However, education was important to the Motwani family and Rajeev always attended the best missionary school in the town in which they were living.

Those who knew Rajeev as a young boy remember him as an avid reader. When Rajeev was seven, his father was stationed in the scenic town of Devlali near Mumbai, India. His family would walk a kilometer to the local library to get books, and the seven-year-old Rajeev would be seen reading the books they had borrowed from the library as they walked home! His brothers recall that not a single day would pass when he did not read a whole book. Rajeev would read books of all types, including novels, comics, autobiographies and scientific books.

In 1974, when Rajeev was twelve years old, the family settled down in New Delhi. In an interview, Rajeev spoke about his love for mathematics. “My parents for some reason had a lot of these books – 10 great scientists or five famous mathematicians – their life story and so on. As a child, whatever heroes you read about you want to become.”

Rajeev Motwani in 2006
Rajeev Motwani in 2006

In 1978, he sat the entrance examinations for the Indian Institutes of Technology. He had wanted to study mathematics and become a mathematician but his parents had persuaded him that there was no money in mathematics but he should go into the new area of computer science. The Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, had been established in 1959, and was the first in India to offer courses in Computer Science. The first such courses were established in the Electrical Engineering department in 1963 and, in 1971, it began teaching a program of Computer Science and Engineering leading to a Master’s degree, the M.Tech. Motwani began studying for his B.Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering in 1978.

Motwani enjoyed himself at the Indian Institute of Technology. He had been sad not to be studying mathematics but this changed to happiness when he realized that mathematics featured in most things he was studying. He also enjoyed himself socially, playing bridge, playing volleyball, and partying with friends. He also read large numbers of science-fiction books and spent hours solving crossword puzzles. He graduated with a B.Tech in 1983 and was offered a scholarship by the University of California at Berkeley to read for a Ph.D. His thesis advisor at Berkeley was Richard Karp.

Motwani was awarded a Ph.D. in 1988 by Berkeley for his thesis Probabilistic Analysis of Matching and network flow Algorithms. Donald Knuth visited Berkeley around the time that Motwani was completing his thesis. After taking advice from Richard Karp, Knuth offered Motwani a one-year position at Stanford University. Motwani accepted and began teaching at Stanford in the autumn of 1988.

Rajeev Motwani's wife Asha Jadeja
Rajeev Motwani’s wife Asha Jadeja

Soon after arriving in Stanford, Motwani met Asha Jadeja who had moved to the San Francisco Bay area after graduating from the University of Southern California. They were married on 22 March 1990 in Delhi; they had two daughters Naitri and Anya. Motwani was happy at Stanford and the University was very pleased with his work during the year, so when they offered him a permanent position he was happy to accept. His papers which were published in these early years and were reviewed in Mathematical Reviews include the following multi-authored works: Deferred data structuring (1988); Covering orthogonal polygons with star polygons: the perfect graph approach (1988); Perfect graphs and orthogonally convex covers (1989); and A linear time approach to the set maxima problem (1992). In 1995, in collaboration with Prabhakar Raghavan, he published the book Randomized algorithms.

John Hopcroft and Jeff Ullman published their classic book Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages, and Computation in 1979. Motwani used this book in courses he taught at Stanford and he had made such excellent contributions to the areas that he was invited to join the two original authors in a rewritten second edition of the book. This appeared in 2000 with a third edition of the now three-author work appearing in 2006.

Motwani was an inspiring lecturer. Here are some quotes from some people who attended his lectures. Aleksandra Korolova writes:-

At the time when I started graduate school, I was somewhat unexcited about theoretical Computer Science, and it was Rajeev’s Randomized Algorithms class that made me fall in love with theory again. His lectures were so perfectly crafted, from the progression of describing a simple approach providing the intuition to generalizing it, to doing an impeccable formal analysis, to the perfect board technique, that I left every lecture excited about a new powerful topic that I have just learned and understood.

Neha Kumar writes:- As a researcher and technologist, Rajeev was brilliant – words could do little justice in describing his immense influence. As a teacher, he was awe-inspiring – carrying with him equanimity and cheerfulness that remained undisturbed through every lecture. As a student advisor, he was kind and supportive – never impatient or proud (though he may have had every reason to be so). As a supervisor, he was trusting and understanding. Most of all, however, his immense stature never came in the way of his friendly, smiling disposition.

Motwani is most famous for the contributions he made developing the search engine Google. He described in detail in how this came about. Here is a short extract:-

“We formed this research group called Midas which stood for Mining Data At Stanford. We did a lot of good work on data mining. Then there was this guy called Larry Page who wasn’t really a part of the Midas group but was a friend of Sergey Brin [who was part of the group] and would show up for these meetings. He was working on this very cool idea of doing random walks on the web. When I understood what the World Wide Web would look like, I knew I had to somehow force randomness into it. When Larry showed us what he was doing, it was like a complete epiphany, we thought it was absolutely the right thing to do. So Sergey got involved and it became a sub group inside Midas. I was really a good sounding board for Sergey and Larry and I could relate to what they were doing through randomness.”

Motwani, together with Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Terry Winograd, published the paper The PageRank Citation Ranking: Bringing Order to the Web in 1998. They explained in the paper:-

“In this paper, we take advantage of the link structure of the Web to produce a global “importance” ranking of every web page. This ranking, called PageRank helps search engines and users quickly make sense of the vast heterogeneity of the World Wide Web.”

Also in 1998, the same four authors published the paper ‘What can you do with a web in your pocket’. In it they announced that they have developed Google:-

“We have developed a global ranking of web pages called PageRank based on the link-structure of the web that has properties that are useful for search and navigation … We have used PageRank to develop a novel search engine called Google, which also makes heavy use of anchor text.”

Google was certainly not the only highly successful startup that Motwani assisted, with his technical skills, with his encouragement, and often with his financial support.

Motwani died in a tragic drowning accident in the swimming pool at his home. He was 47 years old and at the height of his career.

Rajeev Motwani-000


Motwani received many honors for his outstanding contribution and it is clear that, but for his premature death, he would have received many more. He received the Bergmann Memorial Award from the US-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation (1993), the IBM Faculty Development Award (1994), the IBM Faculty Partnership Award (1995), the Indian Institute of Technology Alumni Leadership Award (2001), the Gödel Prize (2001), and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (2006).

Personal Investments

Rajeev Motwani made 11 personal investments. His latest investment was Venture Round – Ankeena Networks. He invested $15.9M in Ankeena Networks.

His other ventures included Tapulous, Telly, Flowgram, TokBox, CastTV, Anchor Intelligence, Meraki, Simply Hired, Kaboodle and others with millions of dollars investment.


Source Material: The Guardian, The New York Times, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Mac Tutor, Crunchbase, NKJ-Live  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *