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.

198 thoughts on “Rest In Peace”

  1. Rajeev was from my engineering college (two batches senior to me). He incidentally worked in the same institute where I currently do. I had met him several times in the alumni meetings and was charmed by his warm smile, his helpfulness and his brilliance. He was to me the most humble, knowledgeable person that I had ever seen and was a luminary for everyone else to emulate. He has left an indelible mark on society through his contributions in his short life-span. We will remember him for long and so will all others who have been associated with him and have benefited from his warmth and brilliance. The silicon valley has lost a beacon through his absence. My deep condolences go to close relatives who have lost this great soul.

  2. I’ve not had the previlege to met with Dr. Motwani. But I enjoyed reading his book “randomized algorithms”. As one of the best computer scientists of his age, Motwani is a legend. He will be missed.

  3. As I read these comments, it is deeply moving to see how many lives
    have been touched by Rajeev. It has taken me some time to truly
    accept this loss. For a while I kept hoping that it was some terrible
    misunderstanding, and I resisted talking about this with others fearing
    that would only make it true.

    Even though it was almost 15 years ago, it feels that it was just
    yesterday that I would have research meetings with Rajeev, or meet
    him on a weekend for grading exams. As his student, I found Rajeev’s
    brilliance and clarity of thought both inspiring and humbling. I am grateful
    that Rajeev was very patient with me, and always allowed me to freely
    pursue whatever research directions excited me. Now that I advise students
    myself, I appreciate even more how truly extraordinary Rajeev was as an adviser.

    Asha, Naitri, and Anya, I wish you great courage to go through this
    very difficult time.

  4. Motwane was clearly one of the most outstanding guys I came across in IIT and elsewhere. Cool and calm, exceptionally gifted, his beautiful nature reflected in his endearing smile that was always on. I feel privileged to have spent some wonderful moments with him at IIT while getting to know the more personal side of this wonderful friend. Shall miss you Mots, though I know you are now free from the bondage. We pray for strength for Asha and the kids in this moment of great personal loss. God bless them all.

  5. Rajeev was the shining star of the first ever batch of Computer Science undergrads from IIT. During the three years we overlapped in Kanpur, we always looked up to you guys for advice.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Mots.

  6. This news comes as a major shock. It is such a huge loss for the scientific world, silicon valley community and mainly to the students. It has been a privilege taking his classes. There was so much more to learn and to look forward from him.

  7. Professor Motwani and asha helped me a lot. at stanford, he taught me how to think. when i start companies, he gave me good advise. it’s a true lose to the world of computer science and stanford.

    I really miss him.

  8. I was traveling in China when my wife and friends back in Silicon Valley told me this big news. What a shock! I am greatly saddened.

    I am an alumnus of Stanford CSD, who is starting up my own company. Like many other entrepreneurs from Stanford, I have the plan to approach Rajeev for advice. I would not have thought that such opportunity would suddenly disappear. The loss is felt very personally to me, though it is way beyond.

    May Prof. Motwani rest in peace. Your life is shortened, but your impact will last.

  9. When I first met Rajeev ten years ago, I had already finished a PhD and was working at a research lab. I read some of his work on clustering and wanted to work with him on the problem of clustering a data stream. He agreed to meet and immediately showed an innate mathematical insight into the problem. He generously connected me with his most treasured assets, his PhD students. It was a joy to collaborate with them all.

    Subsequently, he arranged a visiting faculty appointment for me at Stanford. The first class I ever taught was co-taught with Rajeev on Advanced Algorithms for the Internet. It is one thing to learn from him as a student, it is quite another to learn while teaching with him. His lectures were stupendously crafted. One specific lecture on approximating the frequency moments was performed with exquisite technical clarity, loaded with intuition and kept me on the edge of my seat for an hour. Man, was that a tough act to follow!

    He taught me how to advise PhD students, leading by example. He steered students towards important problems with his leading questions “Why does that matter?”. He spearheaded meetings on Privacy and Internet Algorithms. He was a master at defining new and important practical problems in a rigorous way. He was the role model of a professor that I sought to emulate. The experience led me to pursue an academic career. The support and guidance he offered during this transition was invaluable.

    It is natural that a professor would help his PhD students. I don’t know what he stood to gain from helping me. It is the ultimate in giving, to not expect a thing in return.

    I had the privilege to work with a few generations of his PhD students. It is tragic that he cannot impact another generation.

    Even more devastating is that he leaves behind a wonderful family. He told me that the best hours of his day was the time he spent with them. My heart reaches out to Asha, Naitri and little Anya in this time of unspeakable grief.

  10. Deeply saddened by the loss of this brilliant mind. Last time I saw Rajeev was in a SPIC-MACAY reception (1992?) hosted by Asha after Sonal Mansingh’s dance performance. Whatever little interaction I had with him will stay in mind for a long time. May God give his soul peace and strength to his family to bear this loss.

  11. I was traveling in China when my wife and friends back in Silicon Valley broke this shocking news to me. I am deeply saddened.

    I am an alumnus of Stanford CSD, working on my own startup. Like many other entrepreneurs in the bay area, I have the plan to approach Rajeev for advice. Never would I have thought that such opportunity would be lost suddenly. The loss is felt very personally, though it goes way beyond that.

    May Prof. Motwani rest in peace. Your life is shortened, but your impact will last forever.

  12. My deepest condolences to the family, and wish them all the strength to overcome this grief.

    I have never met Rajeev, my closest interaction with him is through his website, where I would follow his work with his students in diverse areas quite regularly. Whenever I wanted some academic stimulus, I would go there and check out the latest work.

    The world of computer science has lost an ‘intellectual spearhead’, he had so much to offer! Some of the key ideas he would have generated may now take lot more years to come about.

  13. I have not known Rajeev at all personally, but reading about his untimely demise, still makes me sad. It is evident that Rajeev was brilliant scientist, a great teacher and equally good human being. It feels as it his death is a personal loss to me….

    It is said that those was desired most on earth are even more desired in heaven…Maybe there are bigger problems to be solved in heaven….

    May God give his family courage to bear this loss…..

  14. This spring, I started out taking ‘Finite Automata and Complexity Theory’ very skeptical of how interesting it would be. I was absolutely struck however by the clarify of the classes and begun to absolutely enjoy the course. I was going to get the textbook signed by him during exam day and since he didn’t show up for the exam on Friday, I thought I’ll show up at his office and ask for it on the following Monday, only to receive the tragic news that evening! It was gut wrenching in many ways to hear of his demise.

    He will be remembered for the startling clarity of his words, his organized mind and the very rare combination of a great teacher and an inspiring entrepreneurial mind.

    He is sorely missed..

    One of his many students

  15. My deepest condolences to Rajeev’s family (whom I have not met) whose grief I cannot even begin to imagine.

    I met Rajeev at IIT Kanpur in 1980 when,as a fresh MTech degree holder, I had just helped set up a Microprocessor Lab. A young BTech Student by the name of Rajeev Motwani and one of his friends approached me for a project. The diligence with which Rajeev carried out his project (building a text editor for an Intel 8080 machine using a flaky PL/M compiler) impressed me. He used to generate code, punch it on a paper tape, load it into the 8080 machine, and console-debug the compiler by correcting the generated code! It was a brief project of a few months, but that left me deeply impressed. My next meeting of Rajeev was in 1995 at Stanford. He instantly remembered me and we struck off a nice conversation. Rajeev, you have left so much behind in such a short time, including an impressive group of PhD graduates! Your kind and unassuming nature and genius will be missed!

  16. I have only talked to Dr. Motwani a couple of times, over the phone.

    But please give my heartfelt sympathy to his family for the untimely loss of his life.

    His prizes were well-deserved by him. He was brilliant.

    “Randomized algorithms” is an interesting field. I wish that it was formally effective; then it could have been used in many domains.

  17. My deepest condolences to Prof. Motwani’s family on their tragic loss. May they find the strength to steer themselves through this very difficult time. and may Prof. Motwani rest in peace.

  18. Though I dont know him personally, but I was very much inspired by his work and was planning to take my career in that direction. Its a great loss to the industry, his extraordinary contribution to the world of computing is eternal. May his soul rest in peace.

  19. Rajeev was a founder at iScale, a startup in the valley, where I worked as one of the first employees. It was a very rewarding experience to work with him during those days. The clarity of his thinking and abilty to communicate, technical or business matters, to any kind of audience, is unforgettable.
    Although, I never took a formal course that Rajeev taught, I am grateful for this learning experience. He was accessible always and gave generously of his
    time and help, over the years, to myself and several others.
    A thought from Hindu philosphy comes to mind, roughly translated:
    ‘death is not the end and birth is not the beginning’.

  20. My deepest condolences to Prof. Motwani’s Family!
    I in Iran am so shocked beyond words at this terrible news. Although I have not had the pride to meet Prof. Rajeev Motwani, I learned so many
    things from his rich books and works, specially Hopcroft/Motwani/Ullman automata book!
    A great loss, May the kind soul rest in peace.

  21. I was priviledged to have Rajeev as an advisor, and as time has passed, I do feel his influence in many of the things I take up. I felt his greatest gift towards me was of courage. I found him to be always smiling, always supportive. It is hard to express the sense of loss.

  22. Dear lord….

    I’m from Tunisia.. I did not meet him. His papers however know no boundaries…

  23. His Automata book is kept in front of me…. I really feel sad about this tragic incident…….
    But he will always be an inspiration for whole of young generation…
    May God gives you peace!!!

  24. Rajeev for me was the voice of Stanford! He was the Professor who called me up in Greece to give me the news that I was accepted into the Ph.D. program. He was also the Professor who taught the first course I took at Stanford, an advanced course on lower bounds. I had seriously misjudged my preparation, my true inclination, and the level of difficulty of the course :-), but with Rajeev’s help and his illuminating lectures (and a lot of hours of study) I managed to do pretty well. (I didn’t take another advanced complexity class though…)

    I didn’t have a chance to attend a course taught by Rajeev since that first one, but I often had the chance to hear him speak, and to talk to him about research, and, later, about our startup company. He was always available to talk and dispense advice, always kind as well as sincere. Even though his experience expanded and his reputation rose in the 15 years I’ve known him, he never changed, he remained always accessible and friendly. He will be remembered fondly by many not only for contributions but also for who he was.

    I hope Asha and the girls find the courage to get through this difficult time. My thoughts are with them.

  25. Prof. Motwani was right up there in my all-time favourite list of academics about whom I read relatively regularly and am deeply saddened presently.

    The inevitable has snatched away another gem of a scholar and a star professor.


  26. Professor Motwani was one of my favorite professors at Stanford. Though it’s undoubtedly a tough time for his family, I hope that after the initial shock has worn off they take comfort in knowing how many people Rajeev helped and how many students he influenced.

  27. My deepest condolences to Rajeev’s family. He will be always remembered for his inspirations for many people to success and achieve their dreams.

  28. Rajeev was a dear friend, a real mentor, and a great supporter. He was one of the most humble and truly friendly persons I have had the pleasure to know. Given his great achievements in computer science, data mining, information retrieval and algorithms, I was always in awe of his ability to be so active in the tech startup world.
    When it was time for me to leave Microsoft back in 1999/2000 and form my first startup, Rajeev was a great source of advice and support. He was the first angel investor in digiMine Inc (along with Jeff Ullman) and he was a close advisor all along through several rounds of funding. Our relationship continued though DMX Group and its acquisition by Yahoo! in 2004, and through the Yahoo! years he was a great source of advice, deals, and technical ideas.

    Rajeev: I will miss you and so will many academics, entrepreneurs and thinkers. You have left your mark on my life…

    As incoming Chairman of the ACM SIGKDD (Special Intenrest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining), I would like to represent the gratitude of our entire field for Rajeev’s great technical contributions, his service to the field, and his vibrant contributions to our community. We will miss him deeply. On June 30, 2009 we will have a memorial presentation for Rajeev at the KDD-2009 conference business meeting.

  29. I was shocked to read about this in a recent Stanford Newsletter. Rajeev helped us with our startup not only as an advisor but also a close mentor. Rajeev always managed to find time for us. We are indebted to him. A great loss…may his soul rest in peace.

  30. Rajeev Motwani’s death is a great loss to each and every people of computer science research community in the world.

    I did not get a chance to meet him in India when he came to India

    May his soul rest in peace

  31. I learned about this tragedy 20 minutes ago. I am shocked and shaken to my core. May he rest in peace.

  32. I usually met him during conferences. Always gave me a sincere advice on my research. Great person. Always miss him.

  33. I have taught Automata Theory from his excellent book. Though I have no personal link with him I feel sad at his sudden demise

  34. I could never attend Stanford University to study Computer Science: either as an undergraduate or graduate. But I never failed to visit the Computer Science Dept. web site at least once a month.

    When I did that, I always visited Prof. Motwani’s page because of Randomized Algorithms. Though I could not understand his work, I always downloaded his latest papers.

    Today, a quick glance through the latest CACM brought the news of his untimely demise. I was sad, to say the least and I regretted that I never wrote to him to ask for his assistance to understand his work – CACM referred to him as a very helpful person: a motivator and a mentor.

    I hope his family would find solace in these thoughts and my fond memories of a man whom I never forgot to meet in cyberspace!

  35. A Computer scientist like him who have contributed so immensely will always be fondly remembered. May his soul rest in peace.

  36. One of the best professors that I’ve ever had. He was a fantastic teacher. It was incredible the way he was able to answer questions and explain concepts in different ways until people understood. It was like he understood instantly what was confusing people and already knew the best way to respond.

  37. I met Rajeev first time 15 years ago during his visit to CMU as an external thesis committee member of one of PhD students. Rajeev was young and brilliant. Over years he seemed only to gain on both qualities. I had multiple references to Rajeev’s work in my thesis and follow-up work. We stayed in touch, the news came as a shock! It is so sad to lose such a talent, such a great person so early.

  38. Rajeev Motwani worked as my Teaching Assistant at UC Berkeley when he was a graduate student there in the mid-1980s. The course was CS 172, Formal Languages and Automata Theory. The text was the book by Hopcroft and Ullman. Rajeev Motwani later became one of the authors of the new edition of the text.

    As I was teaching CS 172 for the very first time in my life, and had never taken a formal course on the subject, I was very fortunate to have working with me a teaching assistant who was brilliant, very knowledgeable about the subject matter, and very patient with me. It was a joy to work with Rajeev Motwani during that semester at UC Berkeley. I certainly miss him, and will always remember him, his contributions to the course I was teaching, and his contribution to the world of Computer Science.

  39. My hearfelt respect and homage being paid to the departed great soul of a great computer scientist belonging to the computer science world from IITK and Stanford.

    An Engineering Graduate in Computer Science From Motilal Nehru NIT(formerly REC) ,University of Allahabad UP INDIA

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