Co-founder of Google to speak at Maryland

Alumnus Sergey Brin's search engine is to go public in the spring

Company valued at $20 billion

December 20, 2003|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

When students and their families turn out to hear Sergey Brin deliver a commencement address at the University of Maryland, College Park tonight, they may be listening for more than the usual post-graduation advice. They may just welcome a stock tip as well.

Brin is a 1993 graduate of UM. He is also the co-founder of Google, an Internet search engine, which is scheduled to go public in the spring. The details of the offering are still being worked out, but the company is expected to be valued at $20 billion. That would make the IPO the largest for any high-tech startup -- and make a billionaire of Brin.

Until recently, there has been little publicity about UM's connection to one of the young titans of the Internet age. That is starting to change. Brin, 30, is letting the university use Google's search technology on its Web site, a contribution valued at $28,000 -- and one UM trumpets on its home page.

Brin has been back to campus often since graduating: He serves on the board of visitors at the College of Computer, Mathematics and Physical Sciences; he was named UM's Outstanding Young Alumnus in May; and his father teaches math at the university. But tonight's speech to about 2,800 midyear graduates will mark his most high-profile return to campus.

He declined requests for an interview through an assistant, but his father, Michael Brin, said this week that his son was honored to be giving the speech, saying that Brin gives UM part of the credit for his success. When Brin arrived at Stanford for graduate school in 1993, his father said, he passed all the qualifying exams for a doctorate upon arrival, while some classmates who attended Ivy League colleges couldn't pass them.

"I got a lot of attention, a lot of one-on-one. I was better prepared than peers from MIT and Harvard," Sergey Brin said in a statement quoted on the university's Web site.

Michael Brin attributed his son's satisfaction with UM to its faculty and the broad range of courses that were available to him at the large campus. "Overall, there is a lot of freedom for good students. They can take quite a variety of courses and also have a lot of qualified faculty," he said.

His son's experience at College Park was not without its problems, though. He was initially barred from being a computer science major at UM. A technicality penalized him for having taken too many college courses while in public high school in Prince George's County.

Brin, whose family moved to the United States from Moscow in 1979, never completed his doctorate at Stanford, dropping out in 1998 to found Google with classmate Larry Page. The company surged past competitors thanks to a search program that lists sites based on how many other sites are linked to it, rather than on how many times the sought-after word appears on it.

The company executes an estimated 60 million searches a day, employs more than 1,300 people, and brings in about $900 million a year in revenue. To "google" someone or something has become part of the American lexicon.

But there are challenges looming for Brin, several of which were outlined in a critical cover story in this month's Fortune. Giants including Microsoft, America Online and Amazon are developing competing search engines, and there are reports of rifts within the company.

"It's not all pinky," Michael Brin observed.

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