Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Campus

I am still in shock at the news that Microsoft decided to shut down MSR SVC and fire, literally from one day to the next, almost all the scientific staff.

It is shocking that the company decided that it was a good idea to destroy an investment they had made over several years; I am only familiar with the theory side of MSR SVC, which had great success in nurturing young talent and developing breakthrough ideas and results. The work on privacy led by Cynthia Dwork, for example, informed the thinking on privacy of higher management, and on how one could find new ways to balance European privacy law with the data collection necessary for advertising. This is one of the returns of having academic research in a company: not so that they can implement in C++ their algorithms, but so that they can generate and communicate new ways of thinking about problems. (Cynthia is one of the few people retained by Microsoft, but she has lost all her collaborators.) Microsoft’s loss will be other places’ win as the MSR SVC diaspora settles down elsewhere.

It is also shocking that, instead of planning an orderly shutdown, they simply threw people out overnight, which shows a fundamental indifference to the way the academic job market works (it can take a full year for an academic job offer to materialize).

I am not shocked by the class demonstrated by Omer Reingold; the moral stature of people is best seen in difficult moments. Omer has written a beautiful post about the lab, whose comment section has become a memorial to the lab, with people posting their personal remembrances.

Here at Berkeley and Stanford we will do our best to help, and we will make sure that everybody has some space to work. There will also be some kind of community-wide response, but it will take some time to figure out what we can do. Meanwhile, I urge everybody to reach out to their friends formerly at MSR SVC, make them feel the love of their community, and connect them to opportunities for both short term and long term positions, as they weigh their options.

10 thoughts on “Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Campus

  1. Very nice post Luca. I hadn’t thought of it, but I am glad to hear that people at Berkeley/Stanford are thinking of how they might help. That shows great community spirit.

  2. This is why bill gapes and marc shmuckerboig want “comprehensive immigration reform”. To REPLACE you at the job site, and to REPLACE you at the voting booth. Your voting makes a difference. And it determines your future.

  3. How exactly can the community respond, given that Microsoft doesn’t care about basic (paper-producing) research? (Which is implied by shuttering MSR-SVC. No doubt future layoffs will impact other labs.)

    * Stop sending students for internships and jobs there? They don’t care. They don’t want researchers, they want programmers. And since they laid off 2000 of those, surely they considered the impact on recruiting.

    * Point out the economic benefits of the research? Microsoft knows how MSR-SVC contributed to their bottom line better than the community, and still went ahead with its decision.

    * What’s left?

    The deatch of MSR-SVC is awful.

    But instead of being shocked and figuring out how to “respond”—which is like ants trying to respond to their nest being bulldozed—it should be a sobering wakeup call.

    Researchers can do nothing to make their organization care about basic research.

    So industrial researchers should consider doing basic work a bonus, and always keep an eye open to make sure they are contributing to the organization’s bottom line.

    Sadly, in the long run, the same applies to universities.

  4. By “response” I mean response to the crisis, that is, ways to be of help to the former MSR SVC folks, not response to Microsoft.

  5. I agree with Angry Researcher. MSR Boston and NYC contribute even less than SVC to the parent company. Due to the optics of the situation SVC was killed first. Now it is a wakeup call to the rest of the theory folks at MSR.

  6. Luca, thank you for your heartwarming post. And a thank you to the entire community for this wonderful show of solidarity and compassion. I truly love this community!

    For anyone who wants to contact our group, I’m happy to serve as the point man (or to supply new emails for any individual colleague you are looking for).

  7. Pingback: Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Microsoft SVC

  8. Pingback: microsoft silicon valley TCS research lab shuts down— easy come, easy go | Turing Machine

  9. Pingback: Microsoft Closes SVC | Gödel's Lost Letter and P=NP

  10. Dear sirs,
    I receive the news jut today. What impresses me is the fact that MSR-Sillicon Valley was more active than MSR-Boston. Rationally, they could think about a downsize. For instance, aggregate the most productive researchers of all MSR labs in one unique lab.

    As I understood (correct me if I am wrong), they kept some very few researchers of MSR-SV and fired all the rest.

    I believe some of them were tenured professors before joining Micro. Right? Man, it should be an awful feeling to think about that …

    Mike.

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