Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Larry Page

Larry PageAs 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 computer science.

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)