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Celebrating a new crop of computer science grads at the UW. (Credit: UW CSE)
Celebrating a new crop of computer science grads at the UW. (Credit: UW CSE)

Here’s a good sign that computer science is on the right track at the University of Washington.

The graduation festivities were so big this year that the department moved the ceremony from Meany Theater to the much larger Hec Edmundson Pavilion, the university’s 10,000-seat basketball arena.

The university awarded 364 degrees at the graduation ceremony Friday evening — a record number. That was up from 317 last year. Of the 234 bachelors degrees awarded, one third went to women.

Microsoft's Brad Smith at the UW CSE graduation
Microsoft’s Brad Smith at the UW CSE graduation

Those are all positive signs. But the fact remains: 364 degrees is a drop in the bucket for what’s needed in today’s ever-changing economy where nearly every company in every industry needs software developers.

That message was highlighted earlier this week in comments made by longtime UW computer science professor Ed Lazowska, who noted in a story on GeekWire that the computer science program can only accommodate one out of three qualified students who apply to the major.

That’s one of the reasons why the UW is pressing to build a new 130,000 square-foot building on campus, with Microsoft this week stepping up to provide $10 million toward the campaign. Total cost of the building is estimated at $110 million, with the UW asking the state to pitch in roughly $40 million.

The goal is to get to 600 graduates in computer science “as rapidly as possible,” he said.

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith was on hand at last night’s ceremony to formally announce the gift.

“The goal should be to build this building as quickly as we can,” Smith told GeekWire earlier this week. “What’s at stake is whether high school students in Washington state have the opportunity to earn this degree the way they should.”

In addition to awarding the degrees — including 25 PhDs — the UW recognized graduates Tim Paterson and Kevin Jeffay for CSE Alumni Achievement Awards.

Paterson, who graduated in 1978, went on to develop the first operating system for Seattle Computer Products. The product was released in 1980 under the name of 86-DOS, and eventually was purchased by Microsoft and renamed MS-DOS. Paterson joined Microsoft as employee #80 in 1981, working on what became DOS 1.0 and 1.1. He left Microsoft shortly after he was hired, but returned twice: in 1988 and 1990.

Jeffay, a 1989 PhD grad, is now chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His current research includes the development of the nanoManipulator, a virtual reality interface for scannedprobe microscopes. He’s also working on an airborne communications network, which could provide Internet service to homes via commercial aircraft.

Other awards on the evening went to:

  • Professor James Lee received the ACM Student Chapter Undergraduate Teaching Award.
  • Katie McCorkell and Clint Malcolm received CSE’s Undergraduate Service Award.
  • Brett Boston received CSE’s Undergraduate Honors Thesis Award.
  • AJ Klatt and Sunjay Cauligi received CSE’s Outstanding Computer Science Senior Award and Outstanding Computer Engineering Senior Award, respectively.
  • Graduate student teaching assistant Sonja Khan and undergraduate student teaching assistants Michael Johnson and Ryan McMahon received the Bob Bandes Memorial Excellence in Teaching Awards. Graduate student TAs Irene Zhang and Nathaniel Mote and undergraduate student TA Jack Warren received honorable mention.
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