New Microsoft Board Member Maria Klawe on Bill Gates, College Students, and Seattle Innovation

3/12/09Follow @gthuang

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the Northwest corridor because they were getting better work out of that area than any other site around the world. I think you develop critical mass in terms of the communities of people who live there. It’s partly the presence of really good universities. Like UW, and the University of British Columbia (UBC)—they really invested in computer science and electrical engineering, and they have great students and great faculty. Or maybe it’s the weather, who knows?

X: How have the computer science departments at UW and UBC evolved over the years, and what is their role in supporting local innovation?

MK: When I was head of computer science at UBC, UW already had a very strong computer science department. UBC was very far behind. One of the things that was absolutely wonderful was that UW helped us build the department. They would encourage their best Ph.D.s to apply to UBC and interview there first. Those students became assistant professors at Carnegie Mellon and MIT, etc., but they had met folks at UBC, and were connected…And eventually we succeeded in hiring some of them. Whenever I needed advice on how to build a top department, I’d call up UW and ask them how to make a case, for instance. UW was really our partner.

I’ve been involved in a couple of startups in Vancouver. When I wanted access to VCs, I’d call up Ed Lazowska. It’s always been not a competition, but a collaboration. UW and UBC both deliberately built a culture of support. Take any faculty member there, and you’ll get a good human being.

X: Will your ties to Seattle increase as a result of your role at Microsoft?

MK: Yes and no. We already have quite a few Mudd grads who go on to do Ph.D.s at UW. Probably we’ll have even more Mudd students doing internships at Microsoft. I can imagine this will cause more high school students in the Seattle area to think about coming to Harvey Mudd, so it will raise our visibility in Seattle.

X: How will you work for gender equity at Microsoft?

MK: Steve Ballmer actually raised the issue. All technology companies have difficulty with this, and Microsoft is no exception. I was delighted to meet Lisa Brummel, Microsoft’s senior vice president for human resources. It’s something I’ve spent a lot of my life working on. But how that will play out is a question. I know how to attract females to major in computer science, or to do Ph.D.s in computer science. For Microsoft, it’s not a new thing for them to care about, but hopefully I’ll be of assistance.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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