Craig Silverstein, the first employee hired by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998, is leaving the company. Silverstein, who helped build the Google search engine, met Page and Brin while the three attended Stanford University.
Silverstein initially connected with Page and Brin by promising to show them a way to compress all links they crawled so they could be stored in memory and run faster, Silverstein told Steven Levy, author of “In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives”. Google started with two computers:
“One was the web service, and one was doing everything else – the page rank, the searches. And there was a giant chain of disks that went off the back of the computer that stored twenty-five million web pages. Obviously that was not going to scale very well.”
Google wanted to use a more human process to determine if a site had value related to particular keyword phrases.
“We began developing a mathematical way to determine if others think your site has value,” Silverstein said at SES Boston in 2002. He believed the ideal search engine would resemble the computer on “Star Trek”, always responding to queries for information that precisely matched the needs of the user.
“We need to make search as good as a human answering a search request,” Silverstein told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008. “We need to be like the computer on ‘Star Trek,’ and we are very, very far from that.”
Silverstein is joining an online education site, Khan Academy. Over the years Silverstein has worked on various internal technology and has mentored Google engineers.
“Craig’s been with Google since the early days. He was instrumental in the development of search and made numerous contributions to Google over the years. We wish him all the best at the Khan Academy and know that he will do great things to help them promote education around the world,” according to a Google spokesperson.
All Things Digital obtained a copy of Silverstein’s goodbye email:
[I couldn’t possibly remember everyone who I should be sending this mail to, so please feel free to spread the word to anyone I missed!]
It is with decidedly mixed feelings that I announce, after more than 13 years, that I’m leaving Google. My last day will be Feb 10. I’ll be joining the Khan Academy as a developer.
Some of you thought this day would never come (as one person once put it: “Will you die at Google?”), and it was an extremely difficult choice. I am as passionate about Google’s mission now as I’ve ever been, and as proud of the work we’re doing to achieve it. While a lot has changed at Google over the years, I think we’ve done a remarkable job of staying true to our core mission of making the world a better place by making information more accessible and useful. I am looking forward to pursuing that same mission, though in a slightly different way, at Khan.
I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such smart, passionate, and interesting people — not just a few, either, but (almost :-) ) everyone I worked with. I’m grateful not just that I had so many co-workers I could respect, but even more that I had so many that I could count as friends. I will miss that most of all, and I hope you will continue to be in touch. I also accept lunch invitations!
When I write my massive 4-volume autobiography, “Craig Silverstein: the Man Behind the Legend,” I will devote an entire volume to my years at Google. I can’t emphasize enough how meaningful my time at Google has been, and how meaningful all of you have been to it. I mean it literally when I say: all the best,
For more on how Google began, you can check out this video featuring Silverstein.