Before they launched Microsoft and changed the personal computing world forever, Bill Gates and Paul Allen spent their teenage years at the University of Washington, tinkering with the latest technology inside computer labs. Their time on campus helped lay the foundation for one of the world’s most influential companies.
Now, buildings named after Allen and Bill and Melinda Gates will house the UW’s computer science school, standing across from each other on the UW’s Seattle campus, as a testament to their impact on technology and future generations of computer scientists.
The UW Board of Regents on Thursday afternoon approved the naming of the UW’s second computer science building as the “Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science Engineering.”
The decision to name the new building, which is currently under construction, was made by Microsoft and a group of local leaders who are longtime friends of Bill and Melinda Gates. Today they announced a $30 million donation toward the $110 million building; the $30 million includes previously-announced contributions from Microsoft ($10 million) and Charles and Lisa Simonyi ($5 million). Microsoft added another follow-up donation of $10 million, while the “Friends of Bill & Melinda” group helped complete the full $30 million contribution.
The group includes several top local tech leaders like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; and Expedia co-founder Rich Barton. Here’s the full list:
Jim & Catherine Allchin; Rich & Sarah Barton; Jeff & MacKenzie Bezos; Lloyd & Janet Frink; Craig & Marie Mundie; Satya & Anu Nadella; Jeff & Tricia Raikes; Charles and Lisa Simonyi; Rob Short & Emer Dooley; Harry Shum & Ka Yan Chan; Brad & Jan Silverberg; Brad & Kathy Surace-Smith; and John Stanton & Terry Gillespie.
Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, told GeekWire that donations by these couples show a “gesture of friendship and gratitude to Bill and Melinda, and an investment in the future of our program.”
“It’s the sort of thing that makes Seattle such a special community,” he added.
When the “Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science Engineering” opens next year, it will sit directly across the street from the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, which opened in 2003 thanks in part to a $14 million donation from Allen himself. It has since housed the UW’s computer science school, which was renamed the “Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering” earlier this year after Allen donated another $40 million to the UW.
Microsoft President Brad Smith helped lead the naming effort of the new building — along with his wife Kathy Surace-Smith and the Simonyi’s — and noted the “wonderful symbolism.”
“As teenagers, Bill and Paul roamed UW computer labs,” he said in a statement. “They went on to change the face of Seattle and the world — first with Microsoft, and later with their philanthropy. I can’t think of a better way for those of us who have had the privilege of working alongside Bill and Melinda to express our gratitude and admiration than to name this building for them.”
In a statement, UW President Ana Mari Cauce said that the university is “gratified” by the community support of the new 135,000 square-foot building, which will help the UW double the number of students admitted annually to its nationally-recognized computer science program.
“The Gates Center will enable us to prepare more students to be the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow — and to follow the Gateses’ example in seeking to positively affect people’s lives and invest in communities near and far,” she said in a statement.
This is the latest gift to the UW in the Gates name. Bill Gates’ father, William H. Gates, and his late mother, Mary Gates, have a long history of giving back to the UW. The UW School of Law is named after William H. Gates, while Mary Gates Hall houses undergraduate academic affairs.
Bill & Melinda Gates have also contributed to the university in a variety of ways, helping fund everything from new buildings to scholarships for students. Earlier this year, the couple’s foundation announced a $279 million research grant to the UW, which marked the largest private donation in the university’s history.
Allen, meanwhile, has also given millions to the UW over the past few decades. Aside from his financial support of the computer science program, his contributions also helped to build the Allen Library on campus, which is named after his father, the late Kenneth S. Allen, who was the UW’s associate director of libraries from 1960 to 1982.
In the decade since Allen helped open the current UW CSE building, the demand for computer science graduates has skyrocketed in the Seattle region, thanks to a strong startup ecosystem, Amazon’s rapid growth, and the opening of Seattle-area engineering offices by Google, Facebook, and many other tech companies based outside the region. More than two-thirds of UW CSE graduates remain in-state after completing their degree.
In 2016, CSE became the leading “first-choice” major among confirmed incoming UW freshmen, surpassing the longtime leading preferred major, Business Administration. UW says it currently has to turn away two out of every three qualified student applicants in the CSE department. Last year, 391 students graduated from the department and 5,000 students took CSE introductory courses.
The new CSE building will open in January 2019. In addition to Microsoft, the biggest private donor, other companies like Amazon, Google, and Zillow also helped pay for the construction. The state is contributing about a third of the construction cost, with the rest coming from various university funds and individual contributors.
The new building will include 16 labs, a lecture hall, two classrooms, three seminar rooms, an event space, communal and study spaces, office and support spaces.