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Ed Lazowska of the University of Washington wins the “Geek of the Year” award at the 2017 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo)

The 2018 winner of the GeekWire Awards‘ Geek of the Year will join the ranks of Northwest heavy hitters working to do good using technology.

That includes last year’s pick, University of Washington professor Ed Lazowska, the seemingly tireless top promoter of the UW’s computer science program. In 2016, the hardworking team behind Black Dot, an organization supporting black entrepreneurs, took home the prize and before that came the founders of buddingSTEM, an apparel startup with positive messages for girls. Julie Sandler, one of the top women in Seattle’s venture capital community, took home the honor four years ago.

And this year’s slate of nominees is no less remarkable for their commitment to harnessing technology for good causes and working to make STEM education and employment opportunities available to all.

Over the next two weeks, we’re opening voting in all 13 GeekWire Awards categories from finalists selected by our panel of judges from community nominations. Check back each day to cast your ballot for a different category. Winners will be revealed at the GeekWire Awards — presented by Wave Business — on May 10th at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle.

This year’s finalists offer some stiff competition. Contenders for Geek of the Year include Dr. Gary Gilliland, president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Caroline King, co-founder and CEO of non-profit Washington STEM; Solynn McCurdy, CEO of non-profit Social Venture Partners; Amy Nelson, co-founder and CEO of female-focused co-working space The Riveter; and Code.org’s founder and CEO Hadi Partovi and Alice Steinglass, president of Code.org.

Read more about each of nominee and vote for your pick in the poll below. And a big thanks to Wave, our longtime partner, for sponsoring this year’s Geek of the Year category. 

Tickets are on sale now for the big Awards show, so purchase yours here before we sell out.

Dr. Gary Gilliland speaking at the 2017 GeekWire Summit in Seattle on Oct. 10, 2017. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Since Dr. Gary Gilliland took the helm as president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center a little more than three years ago, he’s made some bold plays.

At a Seattle event in 2015, he made the audacious prediction that “it is actually plausible that in 10 years we will have cures and therapies for most, if not all, human cancers.” The nationally recognized cancer center is working on some of the hottest frontiers in cancer research, namely cellular immunotherapy treatments that specifically target a patient’s unique cancer mutations.

Under Gilliland’s leadership, the Hutch has recruited big names from the technology field to its board of trustees, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Mike Clayville, a vice president at Amazon Web Services. In a GeekWire interview, Gilliland explained that “big data is going to be hugely important for the next steps” in the fight against cancer, which will focus on leveraging a huge amount of biological data to personalize cancer treatments.

Caroline King
Caroline King, co-founder and CEO of non-profit Washington STEM. (Photo courtesy of Caroline King)

A long-time educator, Caroline King is a co-founder and CEO of Washington STEM. The nonprofit launched seven years ago and is a leader in bringing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to all students in the state, with a particular focus on kids who are historically underrepresented in STEM fields. That includes students of color, female students, students living in poverty and students living in rural areas.

“I’m incredibly invested in helping young people across Washington state achieve their dreams and apply their passions to solving the world’s most challenging problems,” King said in a recent Geek of the Week. “STEM is the best bet to a life of opportunity and purpose.”

Washington STEM works multiple angles to promote their cause, including providing teacher training, lobbying lawmakers for support for STEM education and organizing tech-related community events. The group recently helped launch Career Connect Washington, a program to help students access apprenticeships, internships and other work-focused opportunities.

Solynn McCurdy, CEO of non-profit Social Venture Partners. (Social Venture Partners Photo)

For community-oriented Solynn McCurdySocial Venture Partners was an obvious career fit.

McCurdy, a Washington native, has devoted his career to working on issues that impact the communities he loves, including youth development and public education, economic prosperity and social equity. In July, he became CEO of SVP, a nonprofit that acts as an important hub for social innovation and investment in the Seattle area.

“I’m local and have lived experiences as a young person similar to those that SVP wants to serve. I need to do my part to create a more vibrant community, particularly for our most vulnerable youth and families,” McCurdy told GeekWire.

“The demographics of the Greater Seattle area are changing, which could impact our network of partners in new and exciting ways. I think we’re at a special moment in time where we can inspire and shape an upcoming generation of philanthropists,” he said.

The Riveter CEO Amy Nelson. (The Riveter Photo)

When Amy Nelson opened The Riveter’s first female-focused co-working space, it appears that the startup’s co-founder and CEO was tapping into a massive unmet need.

In less than a year, the Riveter enrolled more than 700 members who are working at the original location in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and a second space in Fremont. Then last month, the company announced a $4.75 million investment round. And there are plans this year to open locations in Bellevue, Wash., Los Angeles, Dallas and Denver, as well as to grow their staff from nine people to 35.

“The reason we’ve seen so much success is that professional women are a really big market, and they are a market that no one has been paying attention to,” Nelson recently told GeekWire. “If you look across the entire spectrum of business offerings, you see very little built by women for women.”

Last year, The Riveter won the GeekWire Award for Newcomer of the Year, which Nelson accepted alongside her co-founder Kim Peltola.

Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of Code.org, talks about the fun and creative aspects of computer science with a group of students. (Code.org Photo)

Since Code.org launched five years ago, the nonprofit promoting U.S. computer science education has received millions in funding from tech companies to promote STEM education. The Seattle-based group is led by founder and CEO Hadi Partovi and president Alice Steinglass; the two are co-nominees for Geek of the Year.

Alice Steinglass, president of Code.org. (Photo courtesy of Alice Steinglass)

Code.org is training educators across the country in computer science instruction, with a focus on low-income and urban school districts. It also led a coalition of computer science organizations in developing the K–12 Computer Science Framework, a roadmap for educators. And the group has teamed up with star athletes including Kobe Bryant and Serena Williams and tech luminaries such as Bill Gates to create computer science videos.

One of Code.org’s first initiatives was the Hour of Code, a program introducing computer science to students globally.

“[I]n a world where opportunity increasingly feels limited only to a few, the best jobs in the world should be accessible to every child, regardless of their gender or race or where they’re born,” Partovi told GeekWire in 2016.

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