Larry Page and Sergey Brin may have conceived the idea for Google‘s original search engine, but another duo within the company — Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat — turned that theory into a reality, and then some.
A profile by The New Yorker in its December 10th issue tells the story of these two early engineers who — back in 2000 when there was no supercomputer big enough to process Google’s index of the Web — saved the company from going broke.
The piece describes a deal negotiated by Page and Brin to power Yahoo’s search engine. It was a deal needed to keep the company funded. The problem, however, was that a bug on google.com was causing five-month-old search results to surface and Google’s top engineers were stumped.
“None of the analysis we were doing made any sense,” Craig Silverstein, Google’s first employee, told The New Yorker. “Everything was broken, and we didn’t know why.”
Coding together side-by-side for days, Dean and Ghemawat started noticing some words were missing from Google’s index of search terms, like “mailbox,” and others were out of order. According to the report, the two decided to convert Google’s index into a binary code (a series of 0’s and 1’s) to better understand what their computers were seeing. From there, Dean and Ghemawat were able to spot and fix the issue.
The deal — and the company — had been saved.
The duo went on to build hugely important projects at Google, like MapReduce in 2003 which was a new way for the company to crawl and index the Internet. A free clone of MapReduce would eventually enable platforms like LinkedIn, Netﬂix, and Facebook to run.
Today, Dean is the head of AI projects at Google, while Ghemawat is continuing to innovate on search.
“If Google were a house, Jeff would be building an addition. Sanjay is shoring up the structure, reinforcing the beams, tightening the bolts,” James Somers of The New Yorker writes.
Inside Google, Dean, at least, is known as a bit of a rock star. He even has a Chuck Norris-like Quora page dedicated to”Jeff Dean facts,” like: “Cricket matches used to take 5 days, until Jeff optimized them” and “Google Search was Jeff Dean’s Noogler Project.”
Outside the Googleplex walls, however, knowledge of just how much Dean and Ghemawat influenced the course of Google (and the Internet) are less known and worth cozying up for the 6500+ word read.