Skip to Content
Alumni profile

Doug Klunder ’81

Excel creator works for civil liberties.
December 22, 2015

Doug Klunder knew his first job interview as an MIT student went well when the company flew him to its headquarters in Washington State for a second interview, which also went well. In 1981, after graduating a year and a half early, he joined as its first college recruit. The fit was perfect: he wanted to be a programmer and the young company was brimming with raw talent, ideas, and opportunities. He would spend the next 10 years at Microsoft, developing one of the most widely used computer programs.

“Excel was my baby,” says Klunder, who developed, coded, and perfected it over two years after working on the company’s first spreadsheet program, Multiplan. “It immediately became the best-selling product for the Mac. It was widely recognized by people for many different uses, including ways we never conceived of.”

Since it released the first version of Excel—for Macs only—in 1985, Microsoft has improved and upgraded the product every couple of years. “Of course many features have been added,” Kunder says, “but the basics of the spreadsheet are the same. And I still use spreadsheets that I created 25 to 30 years ago.”

While that legacy endures, Klunder decided to change careers in 1992. “I had done enough software development for a lifetime,” he says. At age 32, he left Microsoft and began pursuing his interest in privacy as a part-time volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Then he went to law school so that he could litigate as well. As a full-time privacy counsel at the ACLU’s Washington State affiliate, Klunder still spends much of his time immersed in new technology, though from a very different angle.

“Most of what I work on has to do with technology and privacy and where government and individuals intersect,” he says. He develops briefs and works to change or enact state policies in order to protect individuals’ privacy while ensuring the best use of technologies. “A fair amount of my time there now is writing amicus briefs for state supreme court for various privacy issues, some of them technology-related and some of them just very old-school basic constitutional law about what happens when you get stopped by the police.” Issues with police body cameras, drones, GPS tracking, and cell-phone records are all within his bailiwick.

“Take drones,” says Klunder, who lives in Seattle with his wife, Camille. “There are huge potential benefits in terms of saving money and saving lives, but there’s also the potential if they’re not regulated that it becomes a surveillance network. In Washington, we’ve been working on a bill to prohibit law-enforcement use of drones without a warrant, though they could still be used for things like search and rescue, wildlife monitoring, and forest fire prevention and management. This is the same kind of balancing that underlies almost all of our work on technology.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

individual aging affects covid outcomes concept
individual aging affects covid outcomes concept

Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid

Drugs that rejuvenate our immune systems and make us biologically younger could help protect us from the disease’s worst effects.

close up of baby with a bottle
close up of baby with a bottle

The baby formula shortage has birthed a shady online marketplace

Desperate parents just want to feed their babies. They’re having to contend with misinformation, price gouging, and scams along the way.

"Olive Garden" NFTs concept
"Olive Garden" NFTs concept

I tried to buy an Olive Garden NFT. All I got was heartburn.

Our newest issue spells out what you need to know about the dizzying world of digital money.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.