Lawrence “Larry” Page, the American internet entrepreneur and computer scientist, co-founded Google, the world’s most popular search engine, 20 years ago this year.
In October 2018, he was named as the ninth richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of $53.4 billion. In addition, he was ranked number 10 by Forbes Magazine on the list of the world’s most powerful people of 2018, the six wealthiest American of 2018 and the fifth richest person in tech in 2017.
Google had a market share of 82.85% of the search engine market in the UK in July 2018. It handles an average 40,000 search queries per second, equating to more than 3.5 billion searches per day and employs more than 88,000 people full-time.
How it all began
Page was born in Michigan in March 1973. His father, Carl Victor Page, graduated from the University of Michigan in 1960 with two bachelor’s degrees in engineering studies – one of them as the university’s first graduate in computer science, when the field was in its very early days.
The following year, Page Snr earned a Masters degree in communication science, followed by a doctorate in computer science in 1965. He went on to become a computer science professor at Michigan State University in 1967 and was described as a “pioneer” of computer science and artificial intelligence research.
Larry’s mother, Gloria, was a computer programming instructor at Michigan State University and also at Lyman Briggs College. Considering his family background, it was no surprise that he was interested in computing from an early age. He recalled growing up in a house where computers and science and technology magazines were “all over the place”.
He spent much of his time reading books and magazines and the combination of his attentive parents and home environment fostered creativity and invention within the youngster. By the age of six, he would play with the first-generation personal computers in his home and was the first pupil at his elementary school to complete homework assignments on a word processor.
Page completed his Bachelor of Science in computer engineering with honours at the University of Michigan and his Master of Science in computer science at Stanford University.
During his studies at Michigan, he invented an inkjet printer made from Lego as a way of printing posters cheaply. He built the casing himself and also the mechanics and electronics to drive the device.
He also designed a plan for the University of Michigan to replace its bus system with a personal rapid transit (PRT) system, comprising a monorail with driverless, separate cars for every passenger. During the same period, he drew up a business plan for a software company to build music synthesisers.
World Wide Web
A large part of Page’s university research at Stanford focused on how web pages linked to another given page, including the important role of backlinks. He was joined in his research project by fellow PhD student, Sergey Brin.
They nicknamed their project “BackRub”, writing a research paper called The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine. This has become one of the most downloaded scientific documents in internet history.
According to an article in the technology magazine Wired, Page based his research on the premise of citation. He looked for a means of counting and qualifying every backlink on the Web in an effort to make it “a more valuable place”.
When Page began BackRub, there were an estimated 10 million documents on the Web, with millions of links between them. His research was well beyond the usual remit of a student project. Page began building his crawler and the complexity of the project drew Brin in too.
Previously, Brin had begun various topics without deciding on a subject for his thesis. He found the BackRub project fascinating and exciting. He joined Page not only because it was an innovative project that tackled the Web, but also because he liked Page as a person.
Page and Brin began developing the PageRank algorithm to convert the backlink data collected by the BackRub web crawler into a rank of importance. They soon realised they could build a search engine that was better than existing ones. New technology analysed the backlinks’ relevance as they connected the web pages together.
Working from Page’s dormitory room, which became a machine laboratory, the duo used inexpensive computers for spare parts and created a device that they used to connect the search engine with the university campus’s broadband network.
Brin’s dormitory became their office and programming centre and they began testing their new search engine ideas on the Web. Their project was so technically advanced, and it grew so rapidly, that it even caused problems for Stanford’s computing infrastructure.
Page used his HTML programming skills to launch a simple search page for users. They also used many more spare computer parts to assemble the necessary technology to cope with searches by multiple users. Their search engine became popular with users at the university.
As its use grew, Page and Brin needed extra servers to process all the queries. In August 1996, they launched their first version of Google, which is still known as BackRub on the university’s website, for internet users.
Google official launch
Two years later, on 4th September 1998, Google Inc was officially launched by Page and Brin from their makeshift office at a garage in Menlo Park, California. Page became CEO of the new company and Brin was Google’s president.
In 2000, the company moved to new offices at Mountain View and Page’s style of management ensured the company’s success. Later, the computer whizz said his business ethos revolved around a number of beliefs, the first of which was not to delegate and to do everything he could himself if this would make things work faster.
However, he also believed in the importance of not getting in the way if you weren’t adding value to the project in hand, enabling those doing the work to talk to each other and work more efficiently. He didn’t believe in a bureaucratic approach, saying ideas were more important than age: if someone had a good idea, they deserved respect and cooperation, no matter how old they were.
He also said the worst possible approach was to stop a colleague from doing something they believed in by just saying “no” without an explanation and without helping them to find a more effective way of doing it.
In October 2015, the American multinational company Alphabet Inc was founded by Page and Brin as a result of a corporate restructuring of Google. It is Google’s parent company and Brin is president, while Page is CEO.
Alphabet has a large portfolio spanning many industries, including technology, investment capital, life sciences and research. The company’s net income in 2017 was $12.66 billion and it has been described by Page as a “collection of companies”, the largest of which is Google.
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