Even by MIT standards, says Tom Leighton, Danny Lewin was special.
“He was really exceptionally smart. MIT has a lot of really smart people, and Danny stood out even among that rarified environment,” says Leighton, who was then one of Lewin’s professors at the Massachusetts school’s computer science laboratory. “He liked working on the hardest problems, as opposed to the easier ones, because they would make more of a difference.”
That kind of determination drove Lewin throughout his short life. He was an American who joined the Israeli army and served in an elite unit, though he could have avoided the military altogether. He was a mathematician who could have had a stellar academic career but decided to jump into business.
Most importantly, in the late ’90s he saw a solution to what was then called the “World Wide Wait” and, with his company Akamai Technologies — co-founded with Leighton — made the Web faster and more efficient. (Disclosure: CNN was an early Akamai client and remains one to this day.)
Lewin died on September 11, 2001, at age 31. He was on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center, and was almost certainly the first person killed in the attacks on that horrible day.