Paul Allen Unplugged.

If C-Cubed had never been founded, do you think you would have continued your interest in computing?

Absolutely. My main interest has always been in science and technology. If it wasn't an open computer door at Roberts Hall I would have found another way to satisfy my curiosities—I was just very fortunate that the UW had the facilities, even way back then, which ended up giving me opportunities that were close to home.

When C-Cubed went bankrupt, it seems you started to hang out more at the UW Computing Center. According to one account, you saw your first computer game—Spacewar—and your first computer mouse at the UW. Is this true? Can you tell me anything about those discoveries—did you feel that they were going to have a impact in the future?

A. There was a version of Spacewar that ran on the IMLAC terminal, and I later saw another version on the PDP-1 at Harvard that had been written earlier by Steve Russell—who ironically was also one of the key programmers at CCC. I eventually saw mice on Altos at Xerox Parc, and was blown away by how they worked and the great GUI that had been developed at the time— it was really exciting to see how the envelope could be pushed ahead on how people could use computers and interact with software.

In one interview you described how you just sat down and started to use a Xerox time-sharing computer—XDS Sigma 5—and everyone thought you were a UW student. How were you eventually found out?

A. I think people could tell I was a bit too young to be a student there. I had been using the computer for some time before an assistant professor eventually walked up to me and asked if I was in any of his classes. I of course could not lie so I told him no, I was not in any of his classes, and he went on to ask if I was even enrolled in the UW. Again, I had to tell him no. But I was given the chance to keep using the labs here because I agreed to help students when they came in with a problem. And from that point on, there was no turning back.

Bill Gates, an eight-grader, looks over the shoulder of Paul Allen, a tenth-grader, in this 1968 photo taken at the Lakeside School's computer desk. Photo courtesy of Lakeside School.

University Libraries Associate Directior Kenneth Allen (left) watches as the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, the Rev. George Otto Sims, signs a guest book in the this 1960 photograph. Courtesy MSCUA, University of Washington Libraries Neg # UW 23237z.

Did you also get free time on the UW's CDC 6400? I understand these were still the days of punch cards and batch systems. According to the computer science and engineering department, you also accessed a DEC PDP-10 operated by the Medical School and a Burroughs B5500 operated by the Academic Computer Center. Why were you testing out all these different systems?

A. I believe I paid for time on the CDC 6400, but it was fairly cheap—the only problem was that the programming was done on card decks, and I missed using terminals from my experience with the CCC PDP-10s. I was really fascinated by the differences in instruction sets, operating systems and languages on each of the machines—back then each mainframe was a computing world in its own right. We worked on everything from compilers to operating systems to games, class scheduling programs, and even a computer matchmaking program. It was a lot of fun, and there were always a lot of ideas and challenges.

Have I left anything out about exploring UW computer systems?

I don't think so. Again, it was such a great opportunity and I'm lucky that the UW let us spend the amount of time we did in the computer center. I think it's so important to give young people the opportunity to explore their passions - whether it's computers and software, or music, or studying entrepreneurial skills - whatever makes them excited about life and learning. I hope that my support of the new Allen Center will help create those opportunities for students, in the same way that building EMP has helped get kids excited about music, etc.

“The UW has always had a great program-It's on of the top five computer science programs in the country-and Microsoft has definitely benefited from the University's program.”

With all your UW connections, some of our alumni might wonder why you didn't apply to the UW when you graduated from Lakeside. Was there a particular reason why you chose to go to WSU instead?

At the time UW didn't offer an undergraduate degree (in computer science) and WSU did, so I went to WSU.

If we can jump ahead a few years to the early days at Microsoft, was there much interaction with the UW? I think some of your early employees were UW graduates. Tim Patterson, the author of QDOS and later a Microsoft employee, was a UW alumnus. So was there some interplay there?

Yes, of course. The UW has always had a great program—it's one of the top five computer science programs in the country—and Microsoft has definitely benefited from the University's program. It's important for academic institutions and business organizations to work together, to share resources, to "cross-pollinate" each other's efforts in a way because together they can accomplish really good things for young people, the field of technology and the community as a whole.

When you moved the company from Albuquerque, was there some consideration of moving to the Silicon Valley? Was the UW also a factor in coming back to Seattle?

Albuquerque was a great place, but I missed my family and missed living in the Northwest. I'm a Seattle native and my roots are deep here—Bill and I thought it was time to go home and see what we could accomplish in Seattle. Bill and I also thought that people in the Bay Area seemed to change jobs every 18 months, and we would have a more stable and focused workforce up in Seattle than if we moved to the Bay Area—and is was much easier to hire people and relocate them to Seattle than to Albuquerque.

Jumping ahead a few years, you left Microsoft in 1983 and took some time off. Sadly, your father died that same year. Just five years later, you decided to make what I believe is your first major philanthropic gift: $11.9 million to create the Kenneth S. Allen Endowment at the UW. Can you tell us how you got the idea for the gift?

My father had worked at UW as the associate director of libraries and obviously I had many great experiences on campus—from the library to the early computer experiences we talked about. My family wanted to give back to the University to help make sure that students for many generations to come have access to the tools they need—whether it's an outstanding library or a great computer center or a top-notch arts center (the Faye Allen Center for the Visual Arts at the Henry) that can make a difference in their lives

Go To:  Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

Home / Current Issue / Archives / Talk Back / Advertising / Columns FAQ / Alumni Website / Search