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The planned UW Computer Science & Engineering Building. (LMN Architects Rendering)

Zillow announced Tuesday that it has donated $5 million toward a second building for the University of Washington’s Computer Science & Engineering program, joining fellow Seattle-area tech companies Microsoft and Amazon as big donors on the project.

Zillow COO Amy Bohutinsky. (Zillow Photo)

This is the first major corporate donation for the 11-year-old Seattle-based real estate media company, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for UW. The university’s Board of Regents is scheduled to meet Thursday, where it could approve the budget and give the go-ahead to start construction. If the Regents OK the project, construction on the 130,000-square-foot structure could begin as soon as Friday, said Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates chair at UW’s department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Zillow’s gift, as well as $10 million each from Microsoft and Amazon, shows that while these companies compete for tech talent on a daily basis, improving the local pipeline of computer scientists and engineers will help everyone succeed.

“This is a place where people work together to make things happen and realize if we create a rising tide that lifts all boats we are all going to benefit,” Lazowska said.

The new building on the main University of Washington campus will double the capacity of the program, allowing it to award more than 600 degrees annually, university officials say. If all goes well, the new building, designed by LMN Architects, could open in early 2019. A 3,000-square-foot event and common space for students, faculty and the community as a whole will be named for Zillow.

This year, Computer Science & Engineering 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 Computer Science & Engineering department.

Zillow is a little younger than some of the tech companies based in Seattle, and it benefitted from the foundation that Microsoft, and later Amazon, built. Amy Bohutinsky, COO of Zillow, said in an interview with GeekWire that the company has always felt connected to UW. Aside from providing a reliable pipeline of young talent, professors and grad students from UW have on several occasions helped Zillow with technology research.

Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates chair at UW’s department of Computer Science & Engineering. (University of Washington Photo)

As Microsoft, Amazon, Zillow and the litany of other tech companies have grown in Seattle so has the need for capable workers. Speaking in Vancouver B.C. last year, Bohutinsky said if Zillow could hire every single graduate from the UW computer science program it would. There is also the pool of more seasoned workers at tech companies around the region that Zillow and other companies pull from. Bohutinsky said the strong tech scene in Seattle helped Zillow take off, and now it wants to pay it forward by creating more opportunities for other small companies to have access to quality talent.

“We have been such a beneficiary of the brands that have come before us, so we are excited now for the first time to really be able to give back in significant way,” Bohutinsky said.

Zillow’s donation means UW has secured about $90 million of the $110 million project. More than a third of that — $32.5 million — has come from the state, with UW chipping in another $9 million. Microsoft is the biggest private donor at $20 million, followed by Amazon at $10 million, and then Zillow. Lazowska said a fourth big company has provided significant help but has chosen not to make their participation public. Lazowska applauded Microsoft and Amazon for their leadership in the tech community, and he said he was impressed that Zillow is stepping up to take on a prominent role locally.

“This is a statement about Zillow putting a stake in the ground as a core member of our tech community and making an investment that is going to benefit the entire tech community, the students, the companies and the region,” he said.

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