In advance of its annual Tech Impact Awards event next month, Seattle Business magazine has named Ed Lazowska its 2016 Tech Impact Champion. The award recognizes a lifetime of work building up the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering into one of the nation’s top 10 programs; leading the UW eScience Institute to help scholars in fields ranging from astronomy to biology take advantage of data analytics; and tirelessly promoting a vibrant regional tech industry.
Tech Impact Champions are chosen not only because of their achievements in technology, but also for championing the region’s broader tech sector. Past inductees in Seattle Business magazine’s Hall of Technology Champions, previously called Lifetime Achievement Honorees, are John McAdams, former CEO of F5 Networks; Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft; Jeremy Jaech, cofounder of Aldus and Visio and chair emeritus of the Technology Alliance, and Tom Alberg, cofounder of Madrona Venture Group.
When Lazowska arrived in Seattle 39 years ago as an assistant professor, both the University of Washington and the region were very different places. In computer science, he was the newest of only 13 faculty members. The region’s tech industry largely consisted of Boeing, Fluke and Physio-Control. Microsoft at the time was still a dozen people in Albuquerque.
Today, the UW’s Computer Science & Engineering Department rivals Stanford’s and Carnegie Mellon’s for attracting tech talent and major research — accomplishments that Lazowska helped bring about. As the university’s Bill & Melinda Gates chair, his effort to recruit leading data scientists included personally reaching out to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who provided $2 million from Amazon to endow two professorships and personally met with researchers. A decade after leading fundraising to build the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, he is doing so again to build a new CSE facility that will help double the center’s capacity.
“Our job,” Lazowksa asserts, “is to provide socioeconomic mobility for bright kids in this region.”
Driving opportunities through research remains his passion, as his own studies in high-performance computing, multicomputer processing and big data science have proved. An early technical adviser on the formation of Microsoft Research and a member of two national advisory committees on science and technology policy, he has promoted private and public investment in “engineering things that one day in the future will be used in game-changing products.”
Lazowska believes big data and cloud computing “lie at the heart of 21st century discovery.” He helped found and now leads the UW’s eScience Institute, a cross-campus partnership that helps scholars in fields such as astronomy, biology and sociology take advantage of data analytics to enhance their research. Given the region’s far-reaching cloud expertise, Lazowska says, “This is an area that Seattle has the potential to own.”
Lazowska’s other initiatives include promoting K-12 STEM education and promoting gender diversity in the UW program. He champions the notion that all students should study computer science to cultivate the “computational thinking” skills needed for the new century.
Lazowska marvels at the region’s transformation into a place “with distinctive and innovative activities in the broadest range of areas.” With his trademark enthusiasm for UW and the local tech industry, this celebrated educator, researcher, adviser and booster has played an important role in that transformation.
Lazowska will be inducted at the Tech Impact Awards, which will honor 19 technology leaders, at Showbox SoDo on September 21.