University of Waikato Emeritus Professor Ian Witten.

Company-X computer scientists are mourning the passing of the ‘Grandfather of Google’ Emeritus Professor Ian Witten.

The University of Waikato announced Emeritus Professor Witten’s death this week.

The University of Waikato Professor of Computer Science published Managing Gigabytes in 1994, influencing Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin as they built the search engine.

Dr Craig Nevill-Manning’s PhD supervisor was Emeritus Professor Witten at the University of Waikato before he established Google’s engineering centre in New York.

Emeritus Professor Witten joined the University of Waikato from Canada in 1992.

Company-X co-founder and director David Hallett said he studied Computer Science at the University of Waikato because it had the best computer science department in the country with an international reputation for expertise in machine learning, data mining, advanced networking and digital libraries.

“There were many amazing computer scientists in the department who made it a pretty exciting place to be; Ian Witten, Ian Graham, Tony McGregor and John Cleary.”

“Ian Witten headed up compression and search and digital libraries. He was one of those ‘on the shoulder of giants’ kind of guys.”

Hallett’s fellow co-founder and director Jeremy Hughes finished his studies at the University of Waikato before Emeritus Professor Witten arrived and was envious of those who got to learn from him.

“He passed on his knowledge to many students, some of whom now work in our team at Company-X,” Hughes said.

Company-X senior developer Rob Scovell read Managing Gigabytes early in his career and applied techniques to his work as a software developer at Collins Dictionaries in Glasgow.

“When I moved to New Zealand in about 2001, I was very surprised to discover that the author of the book was based in Hamilton,” Scovell said.

“I contacted Ian, and he invited me to work in his Digital Library group in 2004.”

Scovell worked alongside Emeritus Professor Witten for a year.

“There was a side-project for indexing OpenDocument Format files (ODF) in Greenstone digital libraries using Java and my job was to research the format and develop Java code for indexing content provided in ODF for consumption by the Greenstone software. I learned a lot about content indexing in that team.

“Ian was a generous, humorous, and fun individual to work with. His laugh was epic. He will be missed,” Scovell said.

“I remember his huge, larger-than-life laugh,” said Company-X software architect Luke McGregor. Luke’s late father Associate Professor Tony McGregor worked closely with Emeritus Professor Witten.

“Ian was really well known within the technology sector,” said Luke.

“His work, particularly his book Managing Gigabytes, was influential in building the technology our world now runs on.

“He will be missed by both the university as well as the Waikato technology sector.”

Company-X offers condolences to Emeritus Professor Witten’s family and friends.