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Microsoft’s Brad Smith at the Washington Innovation Summit

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith delivered a pep talk followed by an alarm bell during a presentation this morning to Seattle-area technology leaders — saying that the region is second only to Silicon Valley in terms of its technology prowess, but risks following in the path of Detroit and the auto industry if it doesn’t shore up its educational system.

“The sun set on the glory of Detroit,” Smith said during the opening keynote at the Technology Alliance Washington Innovation Summit this morning.

When he goes to Silicon Valley, he said, he encounters people who think the sun will never set on them. “Well, I think we have the advantage of living in a rainy climate,” he said. “We know, on a beautiful day in August, you cannot take that sun for granted.”

Smith proposed a series of reforms, including upgrading the status of computer science courses at the state’s high school, enabling more flexible schedules at community colleges to accommodate working students, and investing to increase the capacity of the University of Washington’s computer science department.

At the same time, Smith defended the company’s call to increase the inflow of immigrant workers to the U.S. to make up for what Microsoft sees as a talent shortfall in the meantime. “We’re happy to hire people from Amazon, but then where’s Amazon going to hire people from,” he said. “The truth is we’re chasing each other’s tails.”

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