As a boy, Larry Page (BSE CE '95) was fascinated with
inventors and their creations. But he was troubled by stories of
those who revolutionized everyday life, but were never fully
recognized for their inventions. "I was quite struck by this
after reading the autobiography of Nikola Tesla," Page noted.
Chances are, there'll be no such pity from youngsters who read
Page's life story. In 1998, at age 26, he became a member of
that rarefied fraternity of Internet entrepreneurs who have awed
the world with their meteoric rise to success. That's when he
and partner, Sergey Brin, founded Google, Inc.
Page and Brin, who at the time were doctoral candidates at
Stanford University, gave their company the same name as the
Internet search engine they also created - Google - which is a play
on the word 'googol,' meaning an enormous number (the number one
followed by 100 zeros).
Google helps Internet explorers find the information needle in a
haystack of 1.3 billion web pages without having to wade through
extraneous clutter. And it tends to accomplish this trick better
than other search engines. For example, last December, PC
Magazine said, "Google is an almost frighteningly accurate
search engine. Our testing found that the quality of the results
matches or exceeds that of every other site tested."
Google works its magic mathematically, with an intelligent
"spider" that crawls the Web, ranking the relative importance of
sites in comparison with the user's query.
Backed by $25 million in venture capital, Google (the company)
is headquartered in Mountain View, California, and employs 200
people, 40 of whom hold doctorates in computer science. Google
(the search engine) has grown from about 10,000 searches a day
shortly after it was launched, to its current 60 million queries
a day from people in more than 30 countries.
Born to Compute
Page's propensity for computer sciences seemingly has genetic
origins. A native of East Lansing, Michigan, he was exposed to
the mesmerizing world of computers early on.
His father, Carl, a professor at Michigan State University, was
among the first to teach computer sciences. And his mother,
Gloria, was a database consultant who holds a master's degree in
Then there's his brother, Carl, also a graduate of Michigan,
with a BSE in computer engineering (1986) and an MSE (1988).
He's now traveling the world after selling his own Internet
company - eGroups.com - to Yahoo! for $400 million.
Explained Page: "I never got pushed into it. I just really liked
computers. I was probably the first student at my elementary
school to turn in a word-processed homework assignment." His
corporate biography notes that he first used a computer in
1979 - in the era of punch cards - at the age of seven.
Following his graduation from high school in 1991, he headed to
Ann Arbor to enter U-M's College of Engineering. While there, he
received a number of leadership awards for his efforts to
improve the environment for students within CoE. He also served
as president of the U-M chapter of Eta Kappa Nu, the national
honor society for electrical and computer engineering students.
Page says his undergraduate experience contained critical
components for his future success, especially his involvement
with the honor society, a course load that included business
classes, and a variety of leadership training experiences.
"I spent a lot of time in Engineering with the organizations in
which I was involved, learning about leadership," Page recalls.
"In particular, the 'LeaderShape' program was an amazing
experience that helped me a lot when we started Google." (LeaderShape
is a University-wide student leader development program that
originated in the College of Engineering in 1992.)
Seeds of Success
Still, it was with some trepidation that Page left Michigan in
1995 to enter Stanford University's doctoral program in computer
sciences. "At first, it was pretty scary," he said. "I kept
complaining to my friends that I was going to get sent home on
the bus. It didn't quite happen that way, however."
Like so many other inventors, Page didn't set out to create
anything new or better than what already existed; he was simply
satisfying his curiosity.
As part of his doctoral program, he met with his advisor and
professor Terry Winograd to discuss projects. "We settled on
looking at the link structure of the Web - how to grab all the
links and analyze them and do something interesting," he
explained. "We eventually wound up with a way to rank web pages
based on the link, then realized we could build a better search
engine. And we did just that."
As an engineer, he appreciates the 'nice mathematics' that set
Google apart from the crowd of search engines by measuring the
quality - rather than quantity - of a link.
As an entrepreneur, he can't help but be amazed by his company's
rate of growth. Yet, his 'dot.com' world has given him no time
to relax and appreciate the phenomenon that is Google. He's too
concerned about running the company.
"I don't have a good perspective right now," Page said. "In a
couple of years, I may be blown away by it, but now I'm just
involved and worry about it. I don't want to be too complacent."
In the meantime, he is grateful for the intellectually nurturing
environment he found at the University of Michigan: "There I had
access to amazing people who were willing to share their advice
and expertise, and to help me succeed."
- Michigan Engineer Spring/Summer 2001 (College of Engineering)