Can Microsoft and Steve Ballmer help more young people launch tech careers?

steve ballmer

Steve Ballmer's big business venture is in California now. But the former Microsoft CEO is still working to help young people in Washington break into tech.

Ballmer, who left Microsoft last year and now owns the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, and his wife are giving $11 million to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship for tech students.

Microsoft (MSFT) is injecting another $10 million. And the state of Washington will match the gift, bringing WSOS's new investment to a $42 million total.

Microsoft was an original investor in WSOS, which was set up in 2011. The company gave $25 million at the time to help WSOS toward its goal of sending Washington natives to college to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or health care.

The scholarship fund has soared past its goals. The organization said its raised $190 million so far from public and private donors.

Currently, WSOS pays part of a student's tuition -- up to $22,500 over the course of their studies -- for low and middle income students it selects from a pool of applicants.

Since the fund's start, about 1,500 students have graduated with its help, fund spokesperson Megan Nelson said.

Microsoft announced its latest gift in a blog post Wednesday written by the company's general counsel, Brad Smith, who also chairs the WSOS board. It tells the story of Yarelly Gomez, a 20-year-old from a small town studying computer science at the University of Washington with help from WSOS.

yarelly gomez microsoft
Yarelly Gomez is one student who's benefiting from the scholarship.

Women like Gomez are rare in tech fields. WSOS says it's looking to address that -- 63% of its scholarship recipients are female.

Smith said investing in STEM education is crucial to filling a plaguing employment gap.

"According to the nonprofit Code.org, there will be one million more technology jobs nationally than qualified applicants by 2020," he wrote.

WSOS also pointed to a 2013 study that estimates "even after importing highly educated workers from out of state and abroad, Washington was missing out on an opportunity to fill as many as 25,000 high-skill jobs -- a number that could double by 2017."

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