Monday, November 03, 2003

What happened at NEC?

The NEC Research Institute (NECI) died just over a year ago. I didn't feel comfortable talking about it then so let me say a few words now.

I joined NECI in 1999 just after its tenth anniversary. When I joined its mission and focus was basic research in computer science and physics. NECI gave me considerable time and resources to study fundamental questions in computational complexity. It was an exciting place to be.

Soon thereafter some changes were occurring. NEC modified the mission of NECI to focus on producing technologies with basic research secondary. Some researchers (though not us theorists) were encouraged to join "technology groups" to find practical applications of their research. But during this time, the administrators always supported basic research and I never felt uncomfortable doing theory.

But then on November 1, 2002, NECI merged with NEC CCR&L, a more applied research lab in the same building to form NEC Laboratories America. The new mission makes no mention of basic research. The scientists in charge were replaced by engineering/management types. Many of the research scientists, particularly physicists, were let go.

My job was never in immediate danger but NEC was no longer the place for me and so I went on the job market; no one was surprised when I decided to leave.

A corporation like NEC needs to make decisions for the health of the company. I do not fault NEC for the decisions that it made and they gave me a few great years. Still I mourn the NEC Research Institute, quite a special place during its thirteen year run.

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