January 22, 2008 4:00 AM PST
Life after Google, with millions
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Georges Harik, one of Google's first 10 engineers, former director of new products, now investor and founder of a nonprofit artificial intelligence lab
In the spring of 1999, Georges Harik was looking for a break from the engineering world after a job at Silicon Graphics and was planning to travel the world for a year. But a mutual friend introduced him to Larry Page--a fellow alum from the University of Michigan--and he spent a few hours talking to him about search. After that, Harik shelved his travel plans and signed on as a Google software engineer.
Now, Harik understandably believes he was lucky he made that choice. He left in November 2005, and his fortune affords him freedom he didn't expect--like flying business class or buying a 3,000-plus square foot home in Palo Alto, Calif., where he lives with his brother and sister, who are also computer scientists. (His sister works at YouTube.)
But it's the association with building Google that has him hooked on the idea of changing the world. "Walk into any coffee shop and people are using stuff you worked on, and it just feels good. It's rewarding," said Harik, who in seven years at Google helped launch Gmail and Google's advertising platform.
Like some of his peers, Harik is investing in small companies like Wi-Fi company Meraki, and he's helping to develop a Web-based video conferencing company called Imo.im with his brother. Harkening back to his college studies of mathematical models of genetic algorithms, he's also opening a yet-to-be-named research lab in Palo Alto to develop artificial-intelligence software for the fields of biotech and medicine. He plans to invest about $100,000 in the lab this year.
"The largest intelligence system at Google is in AdSense and the Gmail spam system, but I've always really wanted to see our work applied to medicine and biology, which is sort of hard to do at a company," said Harik, adding that the software will be open-source with access to the entire medical community. The nonprofit is partially funded by Google, Harik said.
Scott Hassan, early Google architect, now robotics advocate
In 1996, Hassan was a doctoral computer science student at Stanford University when he crossed paths with Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who were also working on the Stanford Integrated Digital Libraries project under a National Science Foundation grant. At the time, Page and Brin were also working on a side project--developing the predecessor to Google. Hassan helped Page with the code; as thanks, the Google founders later gave Hassan a large chunk of shares after Hassan started eGroups (bought by Yahoo for $412 million in 2000).
Lore has it that Hassan owned close to a percentage point of Google, acquired through the early shares and later through a hefty investment in a company called Neotonic, which Google bought in 2003. With that large stake in Google, Hassan's wealth could stretch to the high hundreds of millions of dollars or more than $1 billion.
Hassan keeps a low profile. He lives with his wife and kids in a multimillion-dollar house in Palo Alto. He keeps a personal Web site (password-protected), which includes lists of people he might write a reference for, including Page and Brin, movies he's seen, and poems. He said in an e-mail that he only wants to talk about his current venture--a year-old robotics think tank called Willow Garage.
Willow Garage, based in Menlo Park, Calif., stands out in Silicon Valley because it has no immediate ambition to make money. Rather, the mission is to make Willow Garage a hub for robotics development in the areas of personal assistants, autonomous boats, and driverless cars--with the hopes of attracting talent and partnerships across the country. The company is collaborating with Stanford in the robotics field, having donated $850,000 to its computer science lab. With Hassan's fortune, Willow Garage has plenty of time to develop new markets for robots.
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