Microsoft Responds To Academic Research Community With An Open Letter

Microsoft Research

Back in September, Microsoft announced that they are shutting down the Microsoft Research lab in Silicon Valley. Located in Mountain View, California, Microsoft Research Silicon Valley was founded in August 2001 and it employed over 75 researchers. The lab’s primary focus was on distributed computing and includes privacy, security, protocols, fault-tolerance, large-scale systems, concurrency, computer architecture, Internet search and services, and related theory. It was headed by Roy Levin, a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer.

Microsoft said that this lab was closed as part of the “consolidation of the west coast labs” and Microsoft still has 2,500 employees working for the company in the Silicon Valley area. Also, the cuts today do not mean Microsoft is backing away from its research commitments or necessarily closing any of the research projects that are run out of the Silicon Valley lab. Microsoft is also offering positions for some of these researchers at other Microsoft Research labs.

The closure of Silicon Valley Lab didn’t go well with the academic and research communities. They wrote a open letter to Microsoft raising their concerns. Read about it here.

Now, Harry Shum, Executive Vice President, Technology & Research at Microsoft responded with a blog post assuring that Microsoft remains committed to the theortical research. Read his reposne below.

I would like to thank the broad computing research community which has taken the time to share its thoughts and concerns about the recent closure of our research lab in Silicon Valley.  I share with all of you a strong belief in the value of fundamental research and its importance for the long-term viability of our company, our industry and our society, and want to reassure you of Microsoft’s commitment to fundamental research.

Unfortunately, no organization – governmental, industrial or academic – is immune to change and the technology business in particular is defined by rapid evolution. Technology businesses need to constantly adapt in order to survive.  In July, our new CEO, Satya Nadella, discussed how Microsoft would transform to be the productivity and platform company for a mobile-first, cloud-first world, and evolve its culture to be more nimble.  This transformation included reducing our workforce by 18,000 jobs.  Each organization within Microsoft, including Microsoft Research, is accountable for driving changes in culture and organization, and each has to participate in the job reductions.

No one at Microsoft feels good about the fact that a significant number of our friends and colleagues were laid off.  These people contributed to the success of Microsoft over many years.  As one can readily imagine, the decisions made about how the cuts were implemented within MSR were extremely complicated and personally painful.  We feel with you the sense of loss that has been evoked by the closing of our Silicon Valley lab. We also understand the concerns that have been raised about the impact of the SVC layoffs on certain parts of the community.  We appreciate the community effort in helping those who have been impacted in the process, and we will be part of this effort.

Please understand, though, that despite these layoffs, Microsoft maintains its commitment to fundamental research at a historically high level.  Microsoft Research still stands strong at 1000+ persons in labs worldwide, making it one of the largest research institutions of its kind in the world, either industrial or academic.  Microsoft Research continues to be one of the very few organizations in industry that does true academic style open research. We will continue to partner with the academic research community not only in moving forward the state of the art in computing but also in developing computing talent around the world.

As he was retiring from his role as Chief Research Officer more than a year ago, the founder of Microsoft Research, Rick Rashid, said that what he cared about most was that Microsoft Research and its people would stay true to its values: a commitment to fundamental research and a commitment to creating a future, both for Microsoft, and for the field of computing.  I assure you that those values have not changed.

Source: Microsoft

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