An account of the tragically brief life of mathematician Danny Lewin (1970–2001), whose innovative algorithms “[changed] the Internet forever.”
When the Denver-born former Israeli Defense Forces soldier entered MIT in 1996 to begin work on a doctorate in mathematics, the Internet was still very much a work in progress. It offered limitless possibilities as the information superhighway, but its “complex architecture” was plagued by an ever-present congestion that no one seemed to know how to alleviate. While working with Tom Leighton, the graduate adviser who would become his business partner and close friend, Lewin wrote a set of algorithms that would transform the Internet from the “World Wide Wait” into a faster, more efficient communication tool. His aim was to become an academic like his mentor, but the desire to provide a better life for his family motivated him to turn his ideas into a business. In 1997, he and Leighton entered the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition in hopes of attracting the money they needed to fund a content-delivery company they christened Akamai Technologies. Although they lost, Lewin continued to pursue their dream with a passion that caught the attention of both high-level venture capitalists and brilliant young computer scientists. By late 1999, Akamai boasted clients like Disney, Apple and Yahoo and had made Lewin and Leighton into billionaires. Lewin died—though with his military training, “not without a fight”—when his plane crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Ironically, it was his trailblazing technology that helped online news sources like CNN and MSNBC withstand the colossal worldwide demand for information about the attacks that killed him along with thousands of innocent bystanders.
Bittersweet but celebratory.