(cross-posted to MTV here)
The tech community lost a hero yesterday. Rajeev Motwani, an omnipresent Stanford professor who advised the creation of Google, passed away suddenly sending ripples of melancholy through Silicon Valley. Sergey Brin, Spencer Ante, and Michael Arrington blogged about the loss, while Ron Conway delivered a powerful memorial at last night’s Tech Fellows event.
I knew Rajeev for only a brief time. Having freshly arrived to San Francisco, I began reaching out blindly and generically to people in the tech space who I thought were interesting. Not surprisingly, the response rate was low — for every ten emails I sent, approximately two replied. Rajeev was one of the few that did.
The weather is perfect. We are seated outside the University Cafe in downtown Palo Alto, both turned slightly towards a busy Stanford sidewalk filled with flip-flops and backpacks. It’s easy to spot the freshmen, because like me, they carry a blended look of excitement and confusion. I kick off our conversation with an overly broad question: “I’m new to the area. Do you have any advice?”
I’m a bit surprised when Motwani nestles into his iron-rod chair and deliberates the question. Surely, he had been asked the same by hundreds of his students. Surely, he had a canned answer. But he takes his time. He studies me for a moment, perhaps to gauge my sincerity. He thinks…then he begins:
(paraphrased from my notes. yes….I took notes.)
1. “Work with big ideas you believe in.”: Motwani stresses the importance of being emotionally attached to your work. “If you can get emotional about an idea, you increase your chances of executing well.”
2. “Share those ideas actively.”: Perhaps sensing my anxiety, Motwani leans over. “Silicon Valley may seem big to you now, but the more people you meet, the more you’ll realize how tiny and close-knit this community actually is.” Motwani encourages me to be open about my work and to share my ideas actively, even if they aren’t complete.
Rajeev’s simple, but prescient advice continues to inform my approach to product development. Yet I crave another iced tea with him. I have more specific questions now…so much more to learn. I can’t say that I knew Rajeev well, but I knew him well enough to join thousands of others in missing him today.