Modern technology gives us many things.

‘Mind-blowing’ gift to Univ. of Washington computer science honors Ed Lazowska’s ongoing legacy

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Computer scientist and professor Ed Lazowska has been at the University of Washington since 1977. University of Washington Photo / Dennis Wise

Ed Lazowska has played an instrumental role in the growth of the Seattle region’s technology industry, as a driving force behind University of Washington computer science and engineering for more than four decades.

Based on his work alone, his impact was already guaranteed to extend beyond his tenure as a longtime professor and past chair of what’s known today as the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. But a group of technology leaders has been working quietly behind the scenes for more than a year to add to his legacy.

The Allen School revealed this week that Microsoft’s Peter Lee and Google’s Jeff Dean (a UW CSE alumnus) have joined with Microsoft President Brad Smith and Microsoft emeritus researcher Harry Shum to give a combined $1 million to establish an endowed professorship in Lazowska’s name.

They surprised Lazowska by telling him about the gift on his 70th birthday last year, bringing him to tears.

The Allen School has already named the first Lazowska Professor: Luis Ceze, a computer scientist and entrepreneur who has been a faculty member since 2007.

That’s just the start. Lee, Dean, Smith and Shum are encouraging others in the community to add to their gift, seeking to establish multiple “Lazowska Professorships.” They’re raising additional funds through the end of December, coordinating with Allen School Director Magdalena Balazinska and the school’s advancement team.

“I don’t know anyone who has done more than Ed Lazowska to illuminate how academia, government, and industry work together to create new technologies, provide economic opportunities for people, and improve national competitiveness,” Lee said via email this week. “His contributions have made an impact on the region, on Microsoft, and on me personally.”

Lee explained, “Jeff and I teamed up to do this in the hopes that it would help advance Ed’s work – he has had such an influence on us personally. We just used his birthday as an excuse to attach his name to this legacy.”

It might be the biggest thing to ever happen at UW CSE without Lazowska’s involvement.

“It’s mind-blowing — both for what it means to me, and for what it will mean to the Allen School going forward,” said Lazowska via email, with his trademark enthusiasm. He added, “I’ve been kept totally in the dark — at this point I have no idea who has contributed or how much has been raised. I’ll find out in January!”

We had to ask: what about retirement? Lazowska had promised his wife, Lyndsay Downs, that he would retire when he was 70, which obviously didn’t happen. He’s now “firmly committed” to retiring at 75. We’ll believe it when we see it.

Read the UW’s full backstory about the gift, and learn more about contributing.

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