Sergey Brin

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“Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical and ultimately making a big difference in the world.”


Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin (Russian: Серге́й Миха́йлович Брин; born August 21, 1973) is a Russian-born American computer scientist and internet entrepreneur who, together with Larry Page, co-founded Google, one of the world’s most profitable Internet companies.[6] According to Hurun Global Rich List 2015 he is jointly one of three people listed as 18th richest in the world (21 overall) with a net worth of US$30 billion.[7]

Brin immigrated to the United States with his family from the Soviet Union at the age of 6. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by studyingmathematics, as well as computer science. After graduation, he moved to Stanford University to acquire a PhD in computer science. There he met Page, with whom he later became friends. They crammed their dormitory room with inexpensive computers and applied Brin’s data mining system to build a web search engine. The program became popular at Stanford and they suspended their PhD studies to start up Google in a rented garage.

The Economist referred to Brin as an “Enlightenment Man”, and as someone who believes that “knowledge is always good, and certainly always better than ignorance”, a philosophy that is summed up by Google’s mission statement “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”[8][9] and unofficial motto “Don’t be evil“.

Early life and education

Brin was born in Moscow in the Soviet Union, to Russian Jewish parents, Mikhail and Yevgenia Brin, both graduates of Moscow State University.[10][11] His father is a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, and his mother a researcher at NASA‘s Goddard Space Flight Center.[1][12][13]

In 1979, when Brin was six years old, his family felt compelled to emigrate to the United States. In an interview with Mark Malseed, co-author of The Google Story,[14] Sergey’s father explains how he was “forced to abandon his dream of becoming an astronomer even before he reached college”. Michael Brin claims Communist Party heads barred Jews from upper professional ranks by denying them entry to universities, and that Jews were excluded from the physics departments in particular. Michael Brin therefore changed his major to mathematics where he received nearly straight A’s. He said, “Nobody would even consider me for graduate school because I was Jewish.”[12] According to Brin, at Moscow State University, Jews were required to take their entrance exams in different rooms from non-Jewish applicants and they were marked on a harsher scale.[15]

The Brin family lived in a three-room apartment in central Moscow, which they also shared with Sergey’s paternal grandmother.[12] Brin told Malseed, “I’ve known for a long time that my father wasn’t able to pursue the career he wanted”, but Brin only picked up the details years later after they had settled in the United States. In 1977, after his father returned from a mathematics conference in Warsaw, Poland, Michael Brin announced that it was time for the family to emigrate. “We cannot stay here any more”, he told his wife and mother. At the conference, he was able to “mingle freely with colleagues from the United States, France, England and Germany and discovered that his intellectual brethren in the West were not ‘monsters.'” He added, “I was the only one in the family who decided it was really important to leave.”[12]

Sergey’s mother was less willing to leave their home in Moscow, where they had spent their entire lives. Malseed writes, “For Genia, the decision ultimately came down to Sergey. While her husband admits he was thinking as much about his own future as his son’s, for her, ‘it was 80/20’ about Sergey.” They formally applied for their exit visa in September 1978, and as a result his father was “promptly fired”. For related reasons, his mother also had to leave her job. For the next eight months, without any steady income, they were forced to take on temporary jobs as they waited, afraid their request would be denied as it was for many refuseniks. During this time his parents shared responsibility for looking after him and his father taught himself computer programming. In May 1979, they were granted their official exit visas and were allowed to leave the country.[12] At an interview in October 2000, Brin said, “I know the hard times that my parents went through there and am very thankful that I was brought to the States.”[16]

In the summer of 1990, a few weeks before his 17th birthday, his father led a group of high school math students, including Sergey, on a two-week exchange program to the Soviet Union. His roommate on the trip was future CMU computer science professor John Stamper. As Brin recalls, the trip awakened his childhood fear of authority and he remembered that “his first impulse on confronting Soviet oppression had been to throw pebbles at a police car”. Malseed adds, “On the second day of the trip, while the group toured asanatorium in the countryside near Moscow, Brin took his father aside, looked him in the eye and said, ‘Thank you for taking us all out of Russia.'”[12]

Brin attended elementary school at Paint Branch Montessori School in Adelphi, Maryland, but he received further education at home; his father, a professor in the department of mathematics at the University of Maryland, encouraged him to learn mathematics and his family helped him retain his Russian-language skills. He attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland. In September 1990 Brin enrolled in the University of Maryland to study computer science and mathematics, where he received his Bachelor of Science in May 1993 with honors.[17]

Brin began his graduate study in computer science at Stanford University on a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation. In 1993, he interned at Wolfram Research, who were the developers of Mathematica.[17] As of 2008, he is on leave from his PhD studies at Stanford.[18]

Search engine development

During an orientation for new students at Stanford, he met Larry Page. They seemed to disagree on most subjects. But after spending time together, they “became intellectual soul-mates and close friends”. Brin’s focus was on developing data mining systems while Page’s was in extending “the concept of inferring the importance of a research paper from its citations in other papers”.[9] Together, the pair authored a paper titled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine”.[19]

To convert the backlink data gathered by BackRub’s web crawler into a measure of importance for a given web page, Brin and Page developed the PageRank algorithm, and realized that it could be used to build a search engine far superior to existing ones.[20] The new algorithm relied on a new kind of technology that analyzed the relevance of the backlinks that connected one Web page to another.[21]

Page and Sergey Brin

Combining their ideas, the pair began utilizing Page’s dormitory room as a machine laboratory, and extracted spare parts from inexpensive computers to create a device that they used to connect the nascent search engine with Stanford’s broadband campus network.[20] After filling Page’s room with equipment, they then converted Brin’s dorm room into an office and programming center, where they tested their new search engine designs on the Web. The rapid growth of their project caused Stanford’s computing infrastructure to experience problems.[22]

Page and Brin used the former’s basic HTML programming skills to set up a simple search page for users, as they did not have a web page developer to create anything visually elaborate. They also began using any computer part they could find to assemble the necessary computing power to handle searches by multiple users. As their search engine grew in popularity among Stanford users, it required additional servers to process the queries. In August 1996, the initial version of Google, still on the Stanford University website, was made available to Internet users.[20]

By early 1997, the BackRub page described the state as follows:

The mathematical website interlinking that the PageRankalgorithm facilitates, illustrated by size-percentage correlation of the circles. The algorithm was named after Page himself.

Some Rough Statistics (from August 29th, 1996)
Total indexable HTML urls: 75.2306 Million
Total content downloaded: 207.022 gigabytes
BackRub is written in Java and Python and runs on several Sun Ultras and Intel Pentiums running Linux. The primary database is kept on a Sun Ultra series II with 28GB of disk. Scott Hassan and Alan Steremberg have provided a great deal of very talented implementation help. Sergey Brin has also been very involved and deserves many thanks.
– Larry Page[23]

BackRub already exhibited the rudimentary functions and characteristics of a search engine: a query input was entered and it provided a list of backlinks ranked by importance. Page recalled: “We realized that we had a querying tool. It gave you a good overall ranking of pages and ordering of follow-up pages.”[24] Page said that in mid-1998 they finally realized the further potential of their project: “Pretty soon, we had 10,000 searches a day. And we figured, maybe this is really real.”[22]

Some compared Page and Brin’s vision to the impact of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of modern printing:

In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg introduced Europe to the mechanical printing press, printing Bibles for mass consumption. The technology allowed for books and manuscripts – originally replicated by hand – to be printed at a much faster rate, thus spreading knowledge and helping to usher in the European Renaissance … Google has done a similar job.[25]

The comparison was also noted by the authors of The Google Story: “Not since Gutenberg … has any new invention empowered individuals, and transformed access to information, as profoundly as Google.”[14] Also, not long after the two “cooked up their new engine for web searches, they began thinking about information that was at the time beyond the web,” such as digitizing books and expanding health information.[22]


This profile is partly adapted from a Wikipedia entry on Sergey Brin, available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.