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 have written a letter to Microsoft raising their concerns. Read the letter below,
Harry Shum, Executive Vice President, Technology and Research
Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President, Head of Microsoft Research
Jeannette Wing, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research
Dear Harry, Peter, and Jeannette:
By now, you are no doubt aware of the research community’s shock and disappointment at the sudden and harsh way in which the members of the Microsoft Research Silicon Valley lab were dismissed a few weeks ago. We are writing to share our perspective on the negative impacts of the shutdown and to open a dialogue about the ways in which Microsoft can try to restore the environment that enabled MSR to produce such great research in the past, benefiting both the company and the world.
While layoffs are always unpleasant, the impact of this one has been exacerbated by the fact that many researchers at the Silicon Valley lab worked on long-term, fundamental research of the kind that can be done at very few places outside of academia. As you know, the academic calendar is such that many of these researchers, including very junior ones who recently completed their PhDs, could be jobless for nearly an entire year. We feel that there should have been a better way to close down this lab, one that would have allowed them to have continuous employment until academic jobs are available again in September 2015. Given that this lab was continuing to produce exceptional — indeed revolutionary — research, we fail to understand why closing it had to be done so suddenly.
Over the past two decades, MSR, and indeed all of Microsoft, earned an excellent reputation in academia as an organization that not only valued basic research but also supported the career development of the many researchers that worked in or visited the labs. That reputation has been significantly damaged, threatening Microsoft’s ability to recruit and retain world-class researchers. As faculty members, we can no longer recommend it as highly to our students as a place to start their careers. In the long term, this move seems likely to adversely affect Microsoft Research (and the positive contributions it makes to Microsoft as a whole) in more ways than any benefit it may have had.
Nevertheless, we believe that Microsoft can reduce the damage that has been caused by the shutdown of the Silicon Valley lab. We understand that Microsoft is considering ways to help care for the researchers who were dismissed, such as defraying the additional costs of the academic organizations who are trying to provide these researchers with temporary homes. This would be an excellent, and highly appreciated, first step. Looking forward, we hope that you will open a discussion with us and the community about Microsoft’s vision for industrial research (which has become less clear after the closing of what appeared to be an extremely valuable and successful lab) and concrete commitments MSR can make regarding the career development of its remaining and future researchers. Steps like these are essential to rebuilding the relationship between Microsoft and the academic community, along with all the mutual benefits that it brings.
The drafting of this letter was led by the ACM SIGACT Committee for the Advancement of Theoretical Computer Science, but the letter is signed by a number of people outside that committee and indeed even outside the SIGACT community.