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Tuesday, July 19, 2005 - Page updated at 08:07 AM

Gates stresses need for qualified help

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft can't find enough people to hire, which is limiting the pace of its development, Chairman Bill Gates said yesterday.

"It really is gating the speed at which we do things," he said, speaking to about 400 faculty researchers from colleges and universities at the company's annual Research Faculty Summit in Redmond.

Gates said that when he reviews projects under development at Microsoft, the talk always turns to whether enough people are hired to do the work. The reality is troubling.

"I'm certainly very worried about it," Gates said. "Microsoft is trying to hire every great college graduate who has basic computer-science skills and [who we think is] highly talented."

That said, numerous software developers are available, having lost jobs after the dot-com bubble burst. Microsoft could fill its ranks from that pool, but the company prefers to hire new college graduates.

Microsoft had about 57,000 employees at last reported count, including 28,000 in the Puget Sound area.

It had planned to fill several thousand jobs locally during the fiscal year that ended June 30, but many positions are still open, Gates said yesterday.

The popularity of computer science as a major in the United States plummeted at least 60 percent between 2000 and 2004, said Maria Klawe, dean of engineering at Princeton University.

At the same time, the federal government has projected that computer-software-engineering jobs will be among the fastest-growing in the next several years.

The lack of potential employees means there will be some shift in technology development to Asia, Gates said, quickly adding that the majority of development work at Microsoft will remain in Redmond.

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"We like to do things in a unified way," he said.

"So even [though] India and China are going to grow quite a bit, it's a big problem for us that we can't get these great students."

Although the number of computer-science majors has begun to drop, Microsoft has been busy hiring in the past year, said Rick Rashid, a senior vice president in the company's research division.

That's because the many computer-science majors who enrolled in college four or five years ago are now graduating, he said.

"It hasn't gotten bad yet, but it will get bad," Rashid said.

Microsoft has more than 700 researchers, and the research division grows by about 50 people a year, he said.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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