The Mentor

September/October 2009

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The Mentor

Stanford News Service

Stanford professor Rajeev Motwani—the computer scientist who helped hundreds of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, notably mentoring the Google founders—was the type who'd go introduce himself to someone who appeared awkward at a graduate student mixer. "Rajeev suddenly came up to me, began a friendly conversation and started enthusiastically telling me about a research problem he was working on," blogged Aleksandra Korolova, who became one of Motwani's students.

Motwani, 47, died June 5. He drowned in his backyard swimming pool; friends said he did not know how to swim. Motwani earned his bachelor's degree at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and his PhD at UC-Berkeley. He made groundbreaking contributions to the realms of robotics, data mining, and search and information retrieval. He wrote Randomized Algorithms and co-authored the classic textbook Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages and Computation. He received several honors, including the illustrious Gödel Prize for outstanding papers in theoretical computer science.

Balaji Prabhakar, an associate professor of electrical engineering and of computer science, said the most striking thing about Motwani was his ability to see the potential in people and ideas. He was encouraging and generous with his time, making him a sought-after mentor. "The process of transforming a shy incoming graduate student to a mature, confident researcher is a delicate one and Rajeev did it very well over and over again," Moses Charikar, MS '98, PhD '01, blogged. A super connector who introduced innumerable entrepreneurs, Motwani was a board member or adviser to many companies, including Google, Dot Edu Ventures and Adchemy.

Motwani is survived by his wife, Asha Jadeja; daughters Naitra and Anya; and two brothers.

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