Everyone knew Jawed Karim was headed for big things.
Ideas spilled from Karim's brain: an e-mail system for his St. Paul high school, a computer file-sharing program, an instant-messaging service - all before he was 25.
At the University of Illinois, one of the nation's top computer-science schools, he won awards and scholarships. Then he dropped out to become a chief architect of PayPal, the Web's leading online payment service.
Despite those accomplishments, Karim largely escaped notice until this week - when news broke that his latest invention was being sold for $1.65 billion.
It was a little website called YouTube.
The 27-year-old Karim, a 1997 graduate of St. Paul Central High, was recognized as one of the creators of YouTube, a site that allows users around the world to share videos. Internet giant Google agreed to buy the site from Karim and his partners, fellow PayPal alums Chad Hurley and Steve Chen.
More than 100 million videos have been posted on YouTube since its launch in February 2005. And the very first YouTube video, the great-granddaddy of millions that followed, is an 18-second clip of Karim standing by the elephant pen at a California zoo.
To hear Karim tell it, there's no magic in his method.
"It's very simple: I basically create things that I need myself," Karim said in an interview Thursday. "It just so happens that sometimes other people want to use that."
His playground was the lab
Karim's curiosity came naturally. The child of two scientists, an East German mother and a Bangladeshi father, he tagged along with his parents as they worked toward their degrees.
"We didn't have anyone to take care of him, so we would bring him along to the lab," said his father, Naimul Karim, a 3M research scientist. "We would give him things to play with, like a magnetic stirring bar in a beaker of water.
"My wife usually took him to her work, and there were lots of physicists around," Naimul Karim said. "They commented to us that Jawed was almost like a sponge. At 10, 11 years old, he would just listen and observe everything."
Karim is "obsessed with technology," said his mother, Christine, a biochemistry research professor at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus. One day, a colleague explained to young Karim how TVs and radios work.
"He was fascinated by that story," she recalled. "When we were driving home, he told me about that."
The family moved from Germany to Maplewood in 1992. As a child and then a teenager, Karim always had a science project underway. When Karim was 10, his father bought him a used Commodore computer, and soon he was writing software code.
"It's not like he just reads something - no, he's fascinated," his mother said. "He thinks very, very deeply about it, and he is busy with it. When you are together with him, you see this as a gift, this fascination."