Gathering in Berkeley, Calif., today to honor legendary scientist, Microsoft researcher Jim Gray
Stories about tech companies usually focus on feuds and rivalries, even though it's actually pretty collegial in the upper echelons of computer...
Seattle Times senior technology reporter
BERKELEY, Calif. — Stories about tech companies usually focus on feuds and rivalries, even though it's actually pretty collegial in the upper echelons of computer science. It's especially so when you get into the rarefied territory of Microsoft researcher Jim Gray, an industry lion lost at sea more than a year ago.
That's evident in the announcement today that an unlikely coalition of contributors, including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, is funding the Jim Gray Endowed Chair in Computer Systems at the University of California, Berkeley.
A similar kind of nonpartisanship was on display when Gray vanished in January 2007. Household names from the tech industry rushed to help when he disappeared on a day sail from San Francisco — a solo trip to scatter his mother's ashes near the Farallon Islands.
They ran what's probably the most sophisticated missing-person search in modern history, using Amazon.com's network to sift through images from government surveillance satellites redirected to the area. When the Coast Guard stopped searching, private jets, yachts and recovery services took over, to no avail.
Today, a year after Gray's wife, Donna, finally gave up the search, friends, family and co-workers are holding a daylong tribute and program of technical lectures at UC Berkeley, his alma mater.
The event will recognize Gray's contributions to computer technology. His early work on databases built the foundation for online commerce, banking and search, enabling the rise of companies such as Amazon.com, Google and Oracle. He also mentored a string of computer scientists that now extends throughout the industry and academia.
Gray came to Microsoft in the 1990s, when the company was building a dream team of computing pioneers. Instead of moving to Redmond, however, he remained in his native Bay Area, leading Microsoft to set up a research office in San Francisco.
Today's event will also include the announcement of the Jim Gray Chair, which drew contributions from up and down the West Coast.
Gates, Schmidt and Marc Benioff, CEO of Microsoft rival Salesforce.com, each donated $250,000 within a few hours of being asked, according to Ed Lazowska, a University of Washington computer-science professor who helped with the fundraising. A fourth donor, Mike Stonebraker, also donated $250,000. He is a Berkeley professor and founder of Ingres, a database system.
Their donations are being matched by $1 million from the Hewlett Foundation, as in Hewlett-Packard. A mix of additional gifts includes $75,000 from Google and $200,000 from Microsoft, which is passing on a prize that Gray won.
"It's another indication of how Jim spans all kinds of differences and brings people together," Lazowska said.
Gray is also being recognized at the Universities of Washington and Wisconsin, where he had anonymously funded several scholarships.
At Wisconsin, he asked that the fund be named in honor of professor David DeWitt; that fund is now called the David DeWitt Scholarship provided by Jim and Donna Gray.
At the University of Washington, Gray gave to a generically named scholarship fund and anonymously created a fund to honor founding computer science chairman, Jerre Noe.
Those gifts have been renamed the Jerry Noe scholarship established by Jim and Donna Gray, and the Jim Gray Scholarship, Lazowska said.
There is also a Jim and Donna Gray Endowment at the University of California, Berkeley.
Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story, published May 31, 2008 was corrected on May 31, 2008. The David DeWitt scholarship funded by Microsoft researcher Jim Gray is at the University of Wisconsin, not the University of Washington as reported Saturday. At the University of Washington, Gray donated several scholarships.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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