It can be easy these days to imagine that Bill Gates is no longer much of a computer buff. After all, the guy is busy saving the world from any number of dreaded diseases, including malaria and polo. Also, Gates has been out of Microsoft for years.
But $30 million says that Gates still very much does care about computers and, more specifically, about training America's young people to use them. That's how much Gates and his wife Melinda recently gave to the University of Austin at Texas to help create a new computer science center on campus. (See Gates Foundation: Grants for Science Education).
Now, $30 millon is not actually a huge gift for Gates, who, as of early 2013, still somehow has a net worth of $67 billion despite years of giving away money by the wagonload. But it was important enough to Gates that he gave a speech at the opening of the center in early March.
"I envy you being in computer science today," Gates told the students. Actually, though, it was Gates who really got lucky, entering that field when a college dropout could become a billionaire by writing some pretty basic code.
Interestingly, Gates said in the speech that he saw computers as playing a powerful role in the global health revolution and cited the work of UT computer science professor Chandrajit Bajaj,who created three-dimensional models of the HIV molecule to determine where it might be vulnerable to vaccines. (Read Gates director of education Vicki Phillips' IP Profile).
So how did UT Austin manage to land a $30 million gift from Bill Gates, who has nothing to do with the university? The answer would seem to lie with Michael Dell, who also chipped in with a smaller gift of $10 million to help build the computer science center. Dell does have a strong connection to UT, of course, since he famously started his company in a dorm room on campus. And the fact that he dropped out doesn't seem to have dimmed his affection for the place.
Gates and Dell go way back, and had a crucial symbiotic relationship for years: Dell built and sold the computers that ran Gates' software. Now they are both using their fortunes to help ensure that the U.S. remains a leader in the computer revolution.