Jim Gray was a celebrated computer scientist and Microsoft Researcher who went missing at sea a little over a year ago. The tech community rallied together in a distributed attempt to find him. Yesterday there was a tribute for him and John Markoff has written a nice farewell in the New York Times on Jim.
Roughly 600 friends and colleagues attended two separate events on campus intended to capture his technical and personal contributions. The audience was a cross-section of the computer industry’s best and brightest, and speaker after speaker repeated the point that virtually everyone thought that Dr. Gray was one of their closest friends, only to discover after he disappeared that that had been true for literally thousands of people.
“He was one of the world’s great listeners,” said Ed Lazowska, a University of Washington computer scientist, who in recent years had collaborated with Dr. Gray on a series of projects designed to provide powerful computational tools to scientists. “I thought we had a special relationship,” he said, only to realize that there were 500 special relationships of the same kind.
Markoff also includes some anecdotes that clue us in a little bit more on Jim’s personality:
While working at I.B.M.’s Thomas J. Watson Jr. Research Laboratory in New York, Mr. Gray asked his boss if he could relocate to an I.B.M. laboratory in San Jose. When he was told that he couldn’t, he said, “All right, then, I quit.”
He then got in his Volkswagen, drove across the country and was rehired by an I.B.M. laboratory in California.
“We had a research group in San Francisco because Jim lived in San Francisco, and if he’d wanted to move to Monaco, we’d have a research center in Monaco,” said Rick Rashid, senior vice president for research at Microsoft.
If you want to learn more about the search for Jim Gray check out Inside the High Tech Hunt for a Missing Silicon Valley Legend. If you want to hear a perspective on how the search for Jim Gray has changed Disaster Technology watch this excellent talk from Jesse Robbins and Mikel Maron on Disaster Tech from Where 2.0.