Sergey Brin: Inventor, Engineer, Immigrant

We all use Google. It has become such a pervasive piece of our everyday life that it has transformed from a name brand to its own verb. Rarely do you find yourself telling someone else to “Check a search engine.” Instead, you direct them to “Google it.” It has distinctly and irreversibly changed the face of information and research forever.

The average person uses Google 3-4 times a day. At any given second, there are 63,000 searches being done. That comes out to more than 5.6 billion searches a day, 1.2 trillion searches per year.

The person behind this pivotal creation? Sergey Brin, a Russian immigrant who came to America to escape Jewish persecution in 1979. What started in a dorm room by an American immigrant from Russia is now a worldwide, household name.

Coming to America

Brin was born in Moscow, Russia on August 1, 1973. At the time, in the wake of the Six-Day War, discrimination against the Russian Jewish community was ramping up, abetted by a massive anti-Jewish campaign spurred on by the U.S.S.R’s mass media.

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The Brin family, headed by mathematics researcher Mikhail and aerospace research Eugenia, applied for immigration visas in 1978, seeking an opportunity to escape religious persecution abroad. They immediately lost their jobs in response, as Russia’s hard-lined stance against Jewish people raged on. The Brins lived in fear, and without a steady income, for eight months before finally receiving permission to leave the country.

They lived in Vienna and Paris until finally immigrating to the United States in October of 1979. They settled in Maryland, where Mikhail took on the role of a University of Maryland mathematics professor and Eugenia began her research work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Forging His Own Path

Brin benefited from living in a home filled with mathematical and scientific genius. When it came time for Sergey to pursue his own career, he opted to study computer science and mathematics at the University of Maryland, receiving degrees for both in 1993.

His postgraduate studies took him to Stanford, where he began his doctorate in computer sciences. It was here that he was introduced to Larry Page, future co-founder of Google.

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In their work together, they sparked up an interest in sorting the massive amount of data that existed online into user-friendly, indexed results. They wanted to find meaning and organization in the overwhelming mass of information so that it could be harnessed for the everyday user.

A Spark of Genius

Working from Page’s dorm room, the partners began devising “a new type of search technology that leveraged Web users’ own ranking abilities by tracking each site’s “backing links”—that is, the number of other pages linked to them.”

After receiving his Master’s degree in 1995, Brin dropped out from the Stanford program to dedicate more time to research and development of the search engine idea.

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While other search engines existed at the time, they lacked credibility. Pages seemed to be randomly chosen for top ranking spots, many of which contained outdated or poorly put-together information. Brin and Page began piecing together the PageRank algorithm, which allowed the number of backlinks (links to a website that existed outside of that website) that a particular page had to determine its rank. In doing so, the beginnings of Google emerged.

By 1998, they had received over $1 million in outside funding from investors, family, and friends to continue developing their idea. Google, Inc. was officially launched (from a friend’s garage in Menlo Park), with Brin and Page at the helm.

Growing Up Google

By 1999, Google, Inc. had been moved to Palo Alto, California. That same year, Google was pulling in over half-a-million searches a day. While this number pales in comparison to today’s search statistics, Google was quickly overshadowing all search engines that had come before it.

This was also the year that Brin and Page brought in an additional $25 million in funding, allowing them to bring in an additional partner, Eric Schmidt. Google, Inc. went up for initial public offering five years later, selling 22.5 million shares at $85 per share, and raking in a massive $3.8 billion for the company.

By 2006, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock offerings and marking a distinct shift in Google’s mission. Instead of only being a search engine, the company was seeking to lead the charge in media, science, engineering, education, and entertainment ventures.

Today, Google is only one part of the umbrella company Alphabet, Inc. Sergey Brin continues to serve as president of the company, with Page serving as CEO and Schmidt leading as executive chairman.

The American Legacy of a Russian Immigrant

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Brin is the richest immigrant in America, with a massive net worth of $49.8 billion. He regularly pursues philanthropic opportunities, including donations to the Michael J. Fox Foundation and running his joint charity, the Brin Wojcicki Foundation.

He is ranked #22 in the Fortune 500 and Forbes has named Brin the ninth more powerful person alive. His invention has been compared to that of the printing press, forever changing the way that people find and process information.

Sergey Brin has changed the face of the internet undeniably and irreversibly. His website has become a household name, an iconic work of genius… One that might not have existed had he continued living in a country rife with anti-semitic sentiment, instead of one rich with opportunity.

If the past innovation of immigrants continues its trajectory, imagine the future greatness that talented immigrants could bring to our country. Are we willing to miss out?

Header photo by James Duncan Davidson/O’Reilly Media, Inc. | Creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0