“Our idea towards philanthropy is to try to make change happen.”
This philosophy was stated by CS alumnus Thomas Siebel (BA History ’75, MBA ’83, MS CS ’85) during an interview with CS Department Head Rob A. Rutenbar. Their conversation was a main event in the April 3 celebration of the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science. Since its doors opened for the 2003-2004 school year, the Siebel Center has seen more than 2,700 CS graduates walk its halls.
During the discussion, Siebel described how it was that he, an undergraduate history major, ended up pursuing a CS master’s degree. While working on an MBA in the early 1980s following a stint at a publishing company, Siebel took an elective CS course in discrete simulation. Because he enjoyed that experience, he applied to and was admitted into the graduate CS program. “It was a life-changing event,” said Siebel. “I was able, in the next few decades, to participate and play the game at a reasonably high level.”
Siebel worked with CS Professor Geneva Belford. It was through a recommendation from Belford that Siebel received a position at a new company—Oracle—after he completed his master’s degree. From Oracle, Siebel went on to lead Gain Technology, which merged with Sybase in 1992. He then formed Siebel Systems, which became one of the world’s leading software companies. Siebel Systems was acquired by Oracle in 2006. Siebel is now chairman and CEO of C3 Energy, a software company that helps utility companies realize the full promise of their investments in smart grid technologies.
Regarding the building that bears his name, Siebel praised the team at the university that helped develop the project, as well as Peter Bohlin, the building’s architect. Siebel noted that Bohlin developed a design whose south-facing exterior reflects the design of the south campus, but whose northern exterior has a distinct modern feel. “It’s a nod to the future,” Siebel said.
Siebel went on: “This building looks as modern and timely today as it did the day it was built. And it’s going to look that way in 20 years. And if you look at the quality of construction, they did a great job.”
The Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science would easily fit Siebel’s approach for philanthropy that “makes change happen.” Every day the faculty and students of the CS department are engaged in developing the technology that can improve the lives of people all over the world.
The Siebel Center is just one of Siebel’s philanthropic activities. Every year, five CS graduate students are selected as Siebel Scholars. This program recognizes top graduate students from 18 institutions in bioengineering, computer science, and business. “It was started in 1999. Now there are 900 Siebel Scholars in the world,” said Siebel. “So it’s about 900 of the smartest people in the world that we get together with every year. We hold conferences in an effort to make change happen.”
Siebel also supports the Meth Project, which operates in eight states to provide a communications campaign to reduce the use of methamphetamine. “In the state of Montana, for example, we’ve reduced methamphetamine use by 70 percent, in the state of Arizona by 50 percent. This is huge,” Siebel said.
The celebration of the Siebel Center’s 10th anniversary continued throughout the afternoon, and included a commemorative t-shirt giveaway. In addition, the afternoon included the investiture of William D. Gropp as the first Thomas M. Siebel Chair in Computer Science.
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