Monday, September 22, 2014

Goodbye MSR-SVC

This week I'm back at Dagstuhl for the Workshop on Algebra in Complexity Theory. Bill is here as well and we hope to have a typecast for you later this week.

The big discussion is the closing of Microsoft Research in Silicon Valley last week. The 50 researchers at MSR-SVC included 15 in a strong theory group. Luckily I captured the page last night as Microsoft has eliminated all mention of the lab from its web site. Just like the novel 1984: Microsoft doesn't have a research lab in Silicon Valley. Microsoft never had a research lab in Silicon Valley.

I visited MSR-SVC a couple of times, once inspiring a 2005 blog post on The New Research Labs. Cynthia Dwork was just starting to think about differential privacy. Jason Hartline, then a researcher at SVC, would later help me grow theory at Northwestern. In 2008 I took a trip there with Northwestern economist Mark Satterthwaite talking on how to connect CS and economics.

Omer Reingold, a favorite theorem author, writes his farewell to MSR. Sergey Yekhanin was supposed to be at Dagstuhl this week but unfortunately cancelled after getting the news. There have been rumors of changes in Microsoft Research since Satya Nadella took over as CEO but the suddenness of the closure of MSR-SVC took everyone by surprise. Computer scientists sent out on the streets well-off the usual hiring cycle. Many other Bay Area institutions will try to help in the short term and I would hope these researchers will find a new permanent home by the next academic year. Luca and Michael also chime in.

Industrial labs come and go but we should remember their legacy. Even as the scientists move on, the research they produce always remain part of our discipline.


  1. > The 50 researchers at MSR-SVC included 15 in a strong theory group.

    Even more than 15 since several people are not listed on that website (Alex Andoni, Raghu Meka, Rina Panigrahy, and maybe others).

  2. It is out of date in the other direction too -- Gil Segev, Alex Slivkins, and Moshe Babaioff had already left prior to the lab closing.

  3. Happy to report that it's not quite as bad as 1984 now:

  4. Is it possible that - even though these researchers are top-notch, their actual contribution to Microsoft in terms of their products and services, has not been as much as it ought to be.
    Second, as IBM research became more and more 'product groups & services' funded research group, there was rethink in MSR.
    Third, quite frankly MSR completely missed out 'columnar store', 'big data' revolutions, even though it had (still has) greatest names in Database Systems area.
    Such acts, do have side-effects.