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Rest In Peace « Remembering Rajeev Motwani

Rest In Peace

rajeev2Rajeev Motwani, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, passed away on June 5, 2009. He is survived by his wife, Asha Jadeja, and daughters, Naitri and Anya.

Rajeev was a luminary in many academic disciplines.  He made fundamental contributions to the foundations of computer science, search and information retrieval, streaming databases and data mining, and robotics.   In these areas, he considered questions as philosophical as what makes problems inherently intractable, and as practical as finding similar images and documents from a database.  His text book, Randomized Algorithms, with Prabhakar Raghavan, epitomizes this meeting of the abstract and the concrete, and has been a source of inspiration to countless students. He has received many awards for his research; notably, the del Prize, and the Arthur P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship. Rajeev’s academic legacy extends to teaching and advising a large number of students,  many of whom have gone on to successful academic careers.

In addition to his academic accomplishments, Rajeev was a legendary figure in Silicon Valley. He was an early investor and technical advisor for many ventures, and mentored dozens of young entrepreneurs.  In the words of one of those young entrepreneurs, Sergey Brin, “Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it.”

Please send an email to ashishg at stanford dot edu  if you wish to comment and share your personal experiences  about Rajeev’s extraordinary life and legacy.

195 Responses to “Rest In Peace”

  1. Sameer Marathe says:

    My deep condolence to the Motwani family. I pray God to give them strength and courage. Not a student of Stanford, I know Motwani through word of mouth from some of my friends at Stanford. I feel very sorry for his loss.

    May his soul rest in peace.

  2. Rama Balakrishnan says:

    I don’t know Rajeev personally nor am I a computer scientist to understand the depth of his work. I have heard great, great things about him and what an impact he has had on his students/the CS community, through my husband and many of my friends. I am deeply saddened by this news. May he rest in peace. My heartfelt condolences to his family.

  3. Jiten Motwani says:

    The Only Thing that connects me with him is our Last Name .All that I can say is that I never heard of him until today’s news papers mentioned his great achievements .Though he has left this world to his heavenly abode but he has for sure inspired many including me with his achievements…Lastly I never felt proud about my last name until today.May his soul rest in peace.

  4. A great loss for the world priding itself on the successes of information technology. May you always continue to inspire the human race.

  5. Richard Karp says:

    I was honored to have Rajeev as my collaborator and Ph.D. student. It was wonderful to know him and work with him. He had an outstanding career. I greatly appreciated the gracious invitation that Rajeev and Prabhakar Raghavan extended to me years ago, asking me to collaborate with them on the Randomized Algorithms book. My condolences to his family and his many friends and colleagues.

  6. Rajeev was unique; this is a terrible loss. I first got to know him while TAing his automata theory class, and I was immediately impressed by his brilliance, and by his clarity of mind — he went directly to the heart of each problem, with a speed and efficiency I had never seen before. Rajeev was always ready to listen to ideas and provide advice, incredibly kind and patient, and his advice was most insightful. I am still in disbelief that this could have happened. My heartfelt condolences to the family.

  7. Jay Nath says:

    Too tragic and shocking for words….his life and achievements were one of the motivating factors behind me being able to gather enough courage to switch to Computer Science for my MS before coming to the US….he was a cream among the creams, and one of the very few who excelled equally as an academician as well as an entrepreneur/angel investor. Am praying for him to continue to be the inspiration that he is, and for his family to emerge out of this utterly unthinkable tragedy….a great, irrepearable loss to Silicon Valley, Stanford CS, India, and anybody who ever had anything to do with Computer Science.

  8. Jan Jannink says:

    Rajeev’s courses were the best theory courses I took at Stanford. More than anyone, Rajeev supported my foray into entrepreneurship, and made time to talk to me about my progress whenever I asked. I owe him at the very least some of the courage it took to start out on my own, and would not have persisted without his continued encouragement. I miss him already.

  9. Narayanan Shivakumar says:

    I remember Rajeev as a genuinely nice person, very generous with his time and advice. He wasnt my formal adviser but he spent lots of time with me over the past 15 years @grad school, @startup and over many cups of coffee.

    His advice and memories will remain with me forever.

  10. Sondra Horn says:

    It was truly an honor to work as an Administrative Assistant for Rajeev for close to 3 years. He was truly one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever had the opportunity to know. I was always amazed at the dedication he had towards his students. His passing is a tremendous loss to the campus community. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time.

  11. G.D. Ramkumar says:

    Rajeev’s passing is a crushing blow. The sense of loss is hard to communicate in words. Rajeev was a mentor and an advisor and had a big impact on my professional life over the years I was a graduate student at Stanford and later an industry professional. He was truly amazing in the positive impact he had on the lives of so many members of the community. Rajeev’s legacy will far outlive him.

    My sincere condolences to Rajeev’s family.

  12. kuljinder lubana says:

    Rajeev’s passing is a crushing blow, I don’t know Rajeev personally nor am I a computer scientist to understand the depth of his work.

  13. Rakesh J says:

    My deepest condolences to Rajeev’s family. It is really a heart breaking news for the entire research community. I feel really proud to have been a part of a community where people like Rajeev have lived (Both in terms of being @ Stanford and being an Indian). I pray that his soul rest in peace.

  14. Sachin Adlakha says:

    My deepest condolences to Rajeev’s family. His presence will live with us in form of great contributions he has left behind.

  15. Poulomi says:

    Very sad news. Rajeev & Asha were investors in my startup but more importantly, I considered Rajeev a mentor and friend. He was never to busy to have coffee with me and impart his special brand of wisdom, be it about technology or life.
    My heartfelt condolences to Asha and the family.

  16. Joel Vincent says:

    This is a shock and a great loss to the world, not just the tech community. Rajeev was generous with his time and in the short time I got to speak with him it was clear why he was so highly revered.

    I am saddened not to have a chance to spend more time with him. My condolences and prayer to Asha and all his family.

  17. Yossi Matias says:

    Rajeev was a wonderful and inspirational colleague. He had that rare combination of fundamental achievements in theoretical computer science and a taste for research that has high impact in both theory and practice. That rare combination of a celebrated computer scientist and technologist, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and the kind personality that touched and influenced so many. It was a great pleasure and honor having many conversations with him while he was hosting me at Stanford, and it was wonderful to see him influence so many young high-caliber students who clearly carry his legacy. He will be dearly missed by many.

  18. Prabhakar Raghavan says:

    It was over 25 years ago that Rajeev and I first collaborated; initially on class assignments at Berkeley, and then on research. A great deal has been said here about Rajeev by his many admirers, and all of it is justifiably true. That said, I have always felt that with Rajeev’s work, the best was yet to come – that he had something even bigger to do, something more to give us – beyond his already considerable achievements, beyond all that he has given each of us. Sadly, we are now denied this promise. As Tennyson put it:

    Thy leaf has perish’d in the green,
    And, while we breathe beneath the sun,
    The world which credits what is done
    Is cold to all that might have been.

    So here shall silence guard thy fame;
    But somewhere, out of human view,
    Whate’er thy hands are set to do
    Is wrought with tumult of acclaim.

  19. Mandar says:

    I first met Rajeev when I took CS154 “An Intro to Automata and Complexity Theory” at Stanford, that he was teaching. It was a “theoretical” class, and I was sure I was going to hate the class. But Rajeev was such a phenomenal teacher, I ended up loving the class (and did very well in the class, as a result).

    I had the privilege of meeting Rajeev several times after that, including a visit to his home (at the time) in Palo Alto and meeting Asha as well. Rajeev was brilliant, successful, a luminary - but he was also the nicest of people.

    My deepest and most heartfelt condolences to Rajeev’s family.

  20. I’m still hoping this terrible tragedy is a nightmare I will wake up from. Rajeev was my PhD advisor and had a profound influence in shaping my research. 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. Yet this is only one of many things that he did almost effortlessly. He was an inspiration in so many ways. Many years after graduating, he was always available for advice - one email and he would respond right away or call. His memory will live on through all the people he touched and I feel privileged to have been one of them. I miss him dearly.

  21. Magda Procopiuc says:

    I didn’t know Prof. Motwani personally, though I saw him several times at conferences. But I was familiar with some of his work in algorithms and databases. And more importantly, his “Randomized Algorithms” is always within easy reach of my desk. I use it often as a reference, and I am always grateful for its clarity and conciseness. It is quite possibly the most useful textbook I kept from my graduate years. I will use it again tomorrow, and the day after, and next year. This is how Rajeev Motwani lives on.

  22. Seffi Naor says:

    I first met Rajeev when I came to Stanford in 1988. We were both young
    researchers and Rajeev struck me from the beginning as brilliant, very
    knowledgable, and having broad interests. Working with him, he was always full of new ideas, prolific, but also very calm and mature. He was very ambitious of course, yet I never felt that he was in any way competitive. He had a very quiet self confidence which reflected on everyone around him. I felt very fortunate to have collaborated with him. Later on we had a joint grant from the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation.

    Over the years we kept in touch. Rajeev expanded his horizons beyond theory and also got involved in Silicon valley world. Yet, it was always intriguing to hear about his work and he was still very interested in what I was doing. I always knew I had a real friend at Stanford and that he had a special place for me in his heart. His death is a huge personal loss for me and I will miss him very much.

  23. Bin Lee says:

    Rajeev was a great mentor and a great teacher. I was an EE student, I had not taken course from him, but I had benefited numerous times through his helps regarding to career and startup activities.

    He is a great person. I will miss him.

    I send my deepest condolences to his family.

  24. Michael Goldwasser says:

    I am struck, in reading everyone’s comments, by how consistently Rajeev’s strengths come through in his interactions with everyone. I share the following description of those traits, as originally expressed in the preface of my PhD Thesis twelve years ago.

    “Always with an open door, Rajeev Motwani has served as both my advisor and also as a role model. Rajeev’s enthusiasm for research seemed unlimited, and his commitment to quality teaching was remarkable. I often found myself sitting in his classes, admiring his organization, preparation and explanations; these lessons I take with me as I become a teacher myself”

  25. Amitabh Shah says:

    I had the honor of knowing Rajeev from the first day of college - nearly 31 years ago - we were assigned to the same section and landed up taking many of the same classes over the next 5 years. We also lived in the same dorm halls, so I also got to know him personally well. We had a routine of playing volleyball every evening, and sipping tea and coffee into wee hours of the day.

    What struck me then was the ease with which he carried himself, in the class and elsewhere. It always seemed like he spent more time doing difficult crosswords and puzzles than attending classes, and yet, he understood the class material better than most! He was probably the most brilliant of our class.

    In 1986, I visited him at Berkeley. I can still remember vividly, him receiving me at SFO, with his trademark sling bag across the shoulders, and a pack of cigarettes in the hand! Later, doing groceries, he shared with me his secret - he always bought a tube of Pringles, and would finish it in the car before driving away!

    A lot has been written about his contributions to computer science and to the Valley. The one thing I would like to add that he was one of the most well-connected people. He seemed to know everyone, and what they did.

    Mots or Motwane, as we called him then, lived his life fully and gave so much to his friends, students, colleagues, and the Valley. He achieved so much in his short life. What he would have achieved more would now only remain a conjecture.

    Good bye, my friend. You were one genuine item!

  26. Krishna Paida says:

    I came to know of Rajiv when my friend said to me about the tragic incident; I was shocked when I saw his achievements and Research work.

    He has achieved a lot in such a short span of time. My deepest condolences to his family members.

  27. Daniel Chen says:

    Words do not express the gratitude we have for learning from Rajeev and the sadness for this sudden and tragic loss. Three days later, it still feels like a bad dream we are unable to wake up from. I was honored to have been a teaching assistant for Rajeev last year and to experience the way he explains concepts with clarity and precision. His deep knowledge and contributions in both theory and practice are amazing. Thank you, Rajeev.

  28. Sergei Vassilvitskii says:

    I had a privilege of having Rajeev as my PhD adviser. He was a great mentor, simultaneously flexible and allowing the students to develop on their own, and gently nudging them when they were getting off course. His breadth was unsurpassed. At the time he no longer went to conferences (though he would always entertain the thought in our meetings), but he still kept up with the latest developments in different areas. Last time I saw him I remarked on the ever growing stack of conference proceedings that he was reading; he responded by saying that he needs to order more bookshelves for his office.

    While keeping up with the scientific community, he was also known by everyone in Silicon Valley. Several friends work in startups that Rajeev was involved in, others were about to meet with him. No matter the problem, he was always full of advice and ideas.

    Perhaps the only time when I saw Rajeev be fallible was when his students organized a friendly poker game one evening. After a few rounds Rajeev asked to borrow some chips from one of the students (how could we refuse?). When his “sure hand” lost, he cracked a smile and asked to borrow chips from someone else. Remarkably the situation repeated itself several times, the game stopped when no one would let him borrow anymore chips.

    It is hard to overstate how much Rajeev has shaped my life. I will miss him.

  29. Ali Diab says:

    Rajeev, you will be sorely missed by many of us who had the pleasure of knowing you.

  30. Ajay Gupta says:

    I had the good fortune of knowing Rajeev from my IITK Days (he was one year senior to me in the CSE Department). I am very sorry to hear of his untimely death. May his soul rest in peace and may God give courage to his family to bear this huge loss.

  31. I know Rajeev since IITK days both while doing B.tech as well as M. Tech. While all will comment on Rajeev’s accomplishments, he was a wonderful person to know. We will certianly miss Rajeev.

    Arvind Bansal
    1979 batch (IITK)

  32. I’m deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic loss of Rajeev. He meant a lot to me as my advisor and mentor, whose guidance I was very fortunate to have over the last several years.

    I first met Rajeev at a TGIF event for prospective Computer Science Ph.D. students. I was standing alone somewhere on the Gates patio, awkwardly looking around and trying to figure out who to talk to next, when Rajeev suddenly came up to me, began a friendly conversation and started enthusiastically telling me about a research problem he was working on. I don’t remember the specific problem but I remember a friendly, smiling professor, who was able to excite students about a research problem and convey its importance with ease and love for the subject.

    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. Rajeev could be covering the contents of a few serious research papers in one lecture but in his presentation, understanding them was both effortless and insightful.

    As an advisor, Rajeev was supportive and laid-back. He always had several problems to suggest, many of them inspired by the practical challenges one of the Internet companies was facing, and if I wanted to pursue my own, gently tried to guide me in the direction of a formulation that can have some impact. Even in those times when research seemed not to be moving, our weekly meeting gave me a positive boost - Rajeev was never discouraged and always tried to help move things forward by suggesting a new idea or approach worth trying.

    What amazed me most about Rajeev’s advising was his generosity with his time. I realize that as a professor and advisor to many companies in Silicon Valley, he must have been incredibly busy. Yet he never cancelled a meeting without rescheduling for soon afterwards, and, whenever there was something time-sensitive, he would find the time to reply to your email, meet, or talk by phone within a matter of hours. Rajeev was also generous in sharing his wisdom and experience in any subject that came up, from giving a book that might be helpful for the current problem, to career advice, to thoughts on the politics of our home countries.

    I will always remember Rajeev as a kind person, inspiring role model and a caring mentor, and be grateful for the privilege of learning from him. I thought that I will have a chance to thank Rajeev when I finish my Ph.D., and now I wish that I had let him know how much I appreciated him without waiting for a formal occasion. My heartfelt condolences to Rajeev’s family.

  33. Rajiv Kalra says:

    I know Rajeev since his days in IITK where he was a year senior to us. We always knew him as a brilliant person & ready to help with a smile. Little did we know at that time, the laurels he will achieve later in his life & yet remain as modest.
    I pray to God to give his family the strength to bear this loss.
    We will always remember you my friend.
    Rajiv Kalra
    1979-1984 batch IIT Kanpur

  34. Oh, Rajeev. We will miss you. You always had endless energy and optimism. You had an undying enthusiasm for the creation of value, and, to you, value is everywhere, especially in *people*. Your appreciation for the human side, and what can be accomplished by a single person with a good idea, this separated you from others in your position. I can thank you directly for your help in returning and completing my PhD. The department staff always spoke highly of you, and so I knew I was not alone in thinking you were an effective, positive person. Even after graduation, you were still in my life by being on the board of a little startup. It seemed you were everywhere! After reading the thoughts of other’s who’s lives you have touched, I know now it was true. You were everywhere. You have had such a breadth and depth of direct impact, Rajeev. You will be sorely missed.

  35. Hamid Nazerzadeh says:

    I met Rajeev on June 4th to sign my dissertation. I still cannot believe that would be last time. He was an inspiration and a role model. My heartfelt condolences to his family.

  36. Qihua Mao says:

    I took his Automata course 15 years ago, and he was one of the best teaching professors beyond research.

    Thoughts and prayers are with his family and especially with his children.

  37. Yue Zhuge says:

    This is shocking news. I got to know Rajeev when studying at the database group at Stanford, and worked with him closely for some time when I was at Hitachi research lab – on text mining of semi-structured data. I remember visiting him every week and talking about interesting research ideas as well as work, opportunities and industry trends. Rajeev gave me good career advice, looked after my interest when I was changing jobs, and introduced me to his friends and colleagues in both academia and industry. I stopped by his office once in a while in the following years until I moved to live in Beijing three years ago.

    Rajeev’s automata class was one of the best, and one of my favorite. I still have copies of his hand-written class notes – but he did not need to use them to teach. I was so impressed then, as Rajeev would just walk into the classroom and start writing on the board. He would fill the entire board with neat, logical equations without looking at any notes.

    It was an honor to know Rajeev, and it is sad to know that he will not be there when I visit next time.

  38. Harshad Khatri says:

    I had the good fortune to know Rajeev from our IIT Kanpur days form about 30 years ago. What struck anyone who got to know him was how brilliant he was and how comfortably he carried himself.

    His passing is a sad day for all of us, especially for his family. My heartfelt condolences to his family.

  39. Amruta Joshi says:

    It was my honor to work with Rejeev as a graduate student at Stanford. I remember Rajeev as a wise and warm person, who would always make time for a quick chat, no matter how busy he was. His life and his work are an inspiration for me. I am thankful for his guidance and support.

    My heartfelt condolences to his family. May his soul rest in peace.

  40. Raghav Tulshibagwale says:

    I was impressed by Mr.Rajeev Motwani’s Book on “Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages, and Computation” . That book showed a marvelous combination of excellence and stability in Theory of Computer Science. His contribution towards the Computer Science world and humanity will always be remembered. My heartfelt condolences to his family.

  41. I read and read again about the sad and sudden demise of Prof Rajeev Motwani. We in India are very proud of him. He is a great source of inspiration to many. He has left behind his legacy of committment and contributions in his chosen areas research and developments and also also his humane touch. I join his family at this hour.

  42. Jeremiah Torres says:

    Professor Motwani was the best professor I had as an undergraduate at Stanford. Nine years later, after leaving CS, I still remember the clarity and wit of his lectures, and of course, his welcoming smile.

  43. Chee-Hyung Yoon says:

    I still remember his energetic lectures and warm attitude toward students. My deep condolences to his family and friends.

  44. Niraj Sinha says:

    I came to know about sudden demise of Rajeev Motwani ,a great Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University from the stanford website on 08.06.2009.
    Being faculty of MCA at Patna, Bihar I used to get motivation from his research works and teaching.

    I pray to Almighty God for infinte rest of his great soul .
    May God give his family members strength to bear it.
    My sincere condolences .

  45. Niraj Sinha says:

    I came to know about sudden demise of Rajeev Motwani ,a great Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University from the stanford website on 08.06.2009.
    Being faculty of MCA at Patna, Bihar I used to get motivation from his research works and teaching.

    I pray to Almighty God for infinite rest of his great soul .
    May God give his family members strength to bear it.
    My sincere condolences .

  46. Gautam Shroff says:

    I knew Rajiv since hostel days in IITK when I experienced his enthusiastic ragging. Later on in the bay area he shared an apartment with of a batchmate of mine so I would meet him then also. More recently in the past year or so he would point us to interesting startups for collaboration. Overall a wonderful person and full of life, apart from being a brilliant computer scientist. He’ll be remembered by many for a long time.

  47. Chandan Nayak says:

    This is really shocking and very sad news. I have studied a discrete mathematics book co-authored by him. My sincere condolences to his family.

    Chandan

  48. Savyasaachi Jain says:

    My son never met Mots, but has heard of him many times from me. I often mentioned Mots to him as someone who combined talent, ability, industry and human values to come as close to being an ideal as I have seen. Among the high achievers of IIT/K, he shone, and he shone brightly. Only those who have known him well would realise that this is not empty eulogy, that these words represent the reality of Motwani. Mots played hard, worked hard, was totally focused and above all, remained an extremely good human being. One remarkable ability he possessed, among many others, was to sleep on hard ground, exhausted, bang in front of a four-foot high booming bass speaker that he had lugged and set up for a concert.

    Heartfelt condolences on your loss, Asha and the kids, and Mots, good to have met you, my friend, sleep well.

  49. Ajay Jain says:

    Remembering IIT/K days is incomplete without mention of Mots. Not only because he was highly talented and brillient in whatever he did, he was a great friend, a good human being and always there to offer help with a smile.

    My heartfelt condolences to Asha and kids. May God give them strength to bear this loss.

  50. Words cannot express the void and grief left by the departure from our realm of such a brilliant mind, generous person and kind soul.

    Although I was not his PhD student, Rajeev welcomed me to his group meetings and was always available to talk about new exciting problems when I was searching for a research topics in my early years at Stanford, and later on, he was always there to meet and share his encyclopedic knowledge and brilliant insights when I was stuck on a problem, despite having so many other commitments.

    Rajeev you were so present in all the many many meetings and endeavors you undertook. Such an inspiring force. Rajeev, you will be deeply missed.

    My heartfelt condolences go to his young family and close friends… and thank you for setting up the “Rajeev Motwani Foundation”.