“Two years ago, the University of Washington sought to recruit as faculty four of the nation’s leading minds in data science and machine learning. Competition was fierce from such schools as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, which also offer highly regarded education in data-related fields.
“However, the UW had a unique advantage. ‘Local (data and cloud) companies stepped up and offered tremendous help,’ says Ed Lazowska, director of the UW’s eScience Institute, which recently received a major grant to encourage the use of Big Data analysis in university research. Amazon.com provided two $1 million endowed professorships to help recruit two of these stars, and CEO Jeff Bezos met with them personally when they visited Seattle. In the end, all four professors joined the UW staff.
“More recently, during the recruitment of another faculty candidate, it was discovered that the spouse of the prospective professor would need to find a job in the legal profession. ‘In the space of an hour, we got [the law firm] Perkins Coie and the chief legal people at Amazon, Microsoft and Tableau Software]to offer to meet with her,’ Lazowska says.
“Big Data is an industry in its infancy. Creating local expertise, therefore, is integral to cementing a foothold. Innovation and technical expertise are traditional strengths for the area, Lazowska says, but if they’re not cultivated, they’ll disappear. The willingness of local companies to help, he says, is ‘what makes us strong.’
“‘Every field is transitioning from data poor to data rich right now,’ Lazowska adds. ‘You can make the argument that the Puget Sound [area] is in the catbird seat, both in the cloud and data analytics.'”
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