Silicon Valley Grieves Rajeev Motwani's Passing

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2009 TechFellow Awards: The Winners

The news of Professor Rajeev Motwani’s untimely death on Friday afternoon spread quickly throughout the couple of hundred attendees of tonight’s TechFellow event in San Francisco. The mood of the event turned from cheerful cocktail sipping banter to stunned silence.

Most everyone who was there is his friend. And most everyone there had a story to tell about how Motwani had helped them at one time or another, asking nothing in return. I have a couple of those stories myself.

Ron Conway, a long time friend of Motwani, was visibly shaken. We asked Ron to make a few remarks to honor Motwani before the event started. His talk was not scripted or prepared. He was in a state of shock before, during and after his talk. And it clearly came directly from the heart. He talked about a man who loved entrepreneurs and who would meet with anyone to at least give them advice. Motwani influenced hundreds of entrepreneurs and students, Conway said, and never refused a meeting. We’ve included the video of Conway’s tribute to Motwani above.

Google founder Sergey Brin, who describes Motwani as his “friend and teacher,” also wrote a tribute on his blog:

Remembering Rajeev

It has been a long time since I have updated this blog. In fact, I have been doing some research for what I thought would be my next post.

Unfortunately, life does not always give you the luxury to plan what may be close to your heart next. It is with great sadness that I write about the passing of my teacher and good friend Professor Rajeev Motwani. But I would rather not dwell on the sorrow of his death and instead celebrate his life.

Officially, Rajeev was not my advisor, and yet he played just as big a role in my research, education, and professional development. In addition to being a brilliant computer scientist, Rajeev was a very kind and amicable person and his door was always open. 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.

Eventually, as Google emerged from Stanford, Rajeev remained a friend and advisor as he has with many people and startups since. Of all the faculty at Stanford, it is with Rajeev that I have stayed the closest and I will miss him dearly. Yet his legacy and personality lives on in the students, projects, and companies he has touched. Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it.

Goodbye, Rajeev. You will be missed. What a sad, sad day.

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