Paul Allen’s historic gift to the University of Washington’s computer science and engineering program came with another bit of history on Thursday.
In a post on LinkedIn, the Microsoft co-founder shared a 1971 letter that he received as a high school senior, informing him that he would no longer have access to the UW’s graduate computer lab.
Allen said that it is “truly an honor” that his name will be attached to a new computer science school thanks to his $40 million gift. But the letter, which Allen held onto for 46 years, shows a less-welcoming attitude toward the future billionaire philanthropist.
While his father was associate director of libraries, Allen and his friends from Seattle’s Lakeside School spent a good amount of time in the Computer Science Laboratory. The letter from the lab director, Dr. Hellmut Golde, informed Allen that that privilege was being revoked and why.
We squinted and attempted to re-type it here for easier reading:
March 17, 1971
Dear Mr. Allen,
I regret to have to write this letter to you and your friends from the Lakeside School, but the needs of the Computer Science Program leave me with no other alternative.
During the past months, you and your friends have been using the facilities of the Computer Science Laboratory to develop a software product for a commercial timesharing system in Portland. While I am basically in sympathy with such activities, your use of the laboratory facilities has caused a number of complaints and tends to disrupt the intended use of the laboratory. To be more specific, let me cite a number of specifics:
1. You have used the teletypes (at times all of them simultaneously) for prolonged periods of time and occasionally unattended, to produce endless listings. This creates a noise level in the laboratory which is detrimental to the normal activities and also is not the intended mode of operation for a remote console.
2. You have used the EMIAC system to connect to the Portland system without prior checkout on that device. While you and some of your friends subsequently obtained a drivers license for the EMIAC, I have just discovered that your friends did not get a drivers license for the Sigma 5, which was clearly announced to be a prerequisite.
3. Earlier this week you removed the acoustic coupler from Dr. Hunt’s office without authorization without leaving at least a note. Such behavior is intolerable in any environment.
In view of these and other occurrences which caused a number of complaints from the regular users of the laboratory, I must ask you to turn in your keys and terminate your activities in the laboratory immediately. Please inform you friends of this letter.
Director, Computer Science Laboratory
Allen goes on to explain in his LinkedIn post that the UW is a special place for him because it’s where he and fellow Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates built their Traf-O-Data machine. That effort, to automate the traffic-measuring process, ultimately ended up being a failure, but Allen said “the understanding of microprocessors we absorbed was crucial to our future success.”
“If it hadn’t been for our Traf-O-Data venture, and if it hadn’t been for all that time spent on UW computers, you could argue that Microsoft might not have happened,” Allen said.