By now, most in the computing community are no doubt aware that Microsoft in September announced the closing of Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, one of 12 research labs (now 11) the company runs around the globe. The lab’s primary focus was on distributed computing and included research on privacy, security, protocols, fault-tolerance, large-scale systems, concurrency, computer architecture, Internet search and services, and related theory — work considered by many in the community to be exceptional. So it was with some surprise that researchers learned on September 18th that the lab would close the following day — part of new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s workforce realignment strategy announced in July that will see the company ultimately shed 18,000 jobs by the end of the year.
Given the lab’s focus, the theoretical computer science community felt the sting of the closing particularly hard. Members of ACM’s SIGACT Committee for the Advancement of Theoretical Computer Science led an effort — an effort that ultimately grew beyond the SIGACT community — to send an open letter to Microsoft Executive Vice President for Technology and Research, Harry Shum and VPs for Research Peter Lee and Jeannette Wing, urging them to open a dialogue with the community about the closing and “reduce the damage that has been caused by the shutdown.” The letter was originally co-signed by 28 researchers and posted on the Theory Matters blog, and has garnered the support of many more in the blog’s comment section.
Tonight, Shum provides Microsoft’s perspective on the shutdown with a “Microsoft Open Letter to the Academic Research Community” posted on the Microsoft Research blog. In it, he reaffirms Microsoft’s commitment to fundamental research and its importance “for the long-term viability of our company, our industry and our society” and he pledges that Microsoft will play a part in community efforts to help those impacted by the cuts.
Both letters are worth reading. The dialogue between MSR and the academic community moving forward will be important to both sides. Despite the cuts, Microsoft Research remains one of the largest research institutions of its kind in the world, employing over 1,000 people, and the company still maintains 5 labs in the U.S. The connection between the company and the academic community is a critical part of advancing the field — a healthy MSR is important for the academic community, and a vigorous academic research community provides a healthy flow of people and ideas to MSR.