Building Boom: Another Tech Giant Behind an Ambitious Campus Project

It's been an exciting few months for the University of Washington's (UW) computer science and engineering (CSE) program.

Earlier this year, Zillow gave $5 million to what may very well be the popular STEM-related capital project in the Western world—the construction of a new $110 million computer science building. Mid-February brought news that Google was chipping in $10 million. And in a headline-grabbing philanthropic crescendo, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen recently gave $40 million towards the school's new Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. (Microsoft also chipped in $10 million to the new school.)

It's worth clarifying that we're looking at two separate recipients—the new building and the new school. In fact, Allen's donation was given with the understanding that it couldn’t go toward the building's construction. Therefore, rather than muddy the waters, I'd prefer to focus on Google's role here—in addition to Zillow, recent donors also include Amazon and Microsoft—and table Allen's give for another time. 

By supporting “a mix of support for research projects and research facilities," the gift is a logical extension of the tech giant's ongoing collaboration with UW as a research partner. UW is one of the top programs receiving Google graduate fellowships and Google Research Awards, which go toward high-level faculty projects that overlap with Google’s areas of interest, including computer science, engineering, mobile, and machine perception.

Of course, Google isn't alone in funding initiatives that align with long-term corporate interests. As I noted after Zillow's gift to the very same project:

For tech companies, but also manufacturing and energy firms, one goal that's critical to the bottom line is ensuring a steady stream of new skilled workers. Universities have a key role to play, here, and UW is a case in point. There's an insatiable demand inundating UW's computer science program—and also a strong demand for the grads of this program among local employers in Seattle's booming tech scene. 

Unlike Microsoft, Amazon, and Zillow, Google isn't based in Seattle, but in Silicon Valley. That said, its regional footprint, which dates back to 2004, is rapidly expanding. Last year, the company opened a new 180,000 square-foot building in the region—dubbed a "Willy Wonka chocolate factory for technology"—that doubled the size of its previous engineering center.

Google also employs hundreds more at offices in Bothell and Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, and it’s planning to move its Seattle operations to a large new project in the South Lake Union area.

Google has good reasons to be here: for starters, there are a lot of knowledge workers in Seattle who'd never consider moving to Silicon Valley. (Google also has offices in such tech hubs as Cambridge, Boulder, Austin, and LA's "Silicon Beach.") 

The UW building is still under construction, but all this tech cash has already had an impact. Last year, CSE became the leading “first-choice” major among confirmed incoming UW freshmen, eclipsing the longtime leading preferred major, Business Administration. 

And as for the school's goal in the aftermath of Allen/Microsoft $50 million endowment give? "A Top 5 program, and for us to be the fifth,” nipping at the heels of MIT and Carnegie Mellon, according to UW computer science professor and fundraiser Ed Lazowska.

Given the school's startling fundraising success across the past year, that certainly seems feasible.