Google Forging Connections with University of Washington

Last week, the University of Washington’s Computer Science and Engineering department hosted a special workshop sponsored by Google and the National Science Foundation. The goal of the three-day program was to instruct professors on how to teach Google-style computing—which includes harnessing huge amounts of digital data and doing “cluster computing” over large-scale, networked servers. The weekend before that, Google also sponsored a workshop at UW to teach high-school math and science teachers about computer science—everything from programming and robotics to cryptography and security.

It’s an example of Google ramping up its local outreach as the search giant builds a larger presence in the area. Google Seattle, located in the Fremont neighborhood, has grown from 0 to 180 employees since opening last October, while on the east side of Lake Washington, Google Kirkland boasts some 400 workers. “Having Google in the Seattle area—and particularly having them in the city of Seattle—is huge,” says Ed Lazowska, chair of computer science and engineering at UW (and an Xconomist). He adds that he worked “very hard over several years” to encourage Google to open an office in Seattle proper.

Not that Google’s relationship with Seattle is anything new. Lazowska’s department has 150-plus alumni working for Google—many based at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA, but an increasing number in Kirkland and Seattle. “We have dozens of undergraduate students doing summer internships at Google, many graduate students carrying out their research at Google, and two faculty members spending the year there on sabbatical [Gaetano Borriello and Steve Gribble],” says Lazowska. And Brian Bershad, director of Google’s Seattle site, is a UW computer science professor on leave.

Some would say Google’s main mission in Seattle is to compete for talent against a certain home-grown software giant that has done more than its share of outreach in computer-science education over the years. So while Google’s latest efforts are highly welcomed, it will probably take some time for the search company to become as deeply established in the community.

“Despite all this, Microsoft is [still] the University of Washington’s #1 corporate partner,” explains Lazowska. “Google is fantastic, but they have a lot of ground to cover to catch up.”

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