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Microsoft R & D Seeks Global Tech Talent, Not Bargains

July 12, 2005

The new global model  for workforce management entails going to the talent wherever it may be. Companies in the highly competitive, knowledge-driven IT industry are now looking well beyond the established knowledge pools in the U.S. and Europe to build a global R&D workforce.

    Microsoft is a case in point. The company’s future rests in the hands of its research unit, staffed by 700 scientists and engineers working in six laboratories on three continents. The largest lab outside of Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters is Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing, where 200 researchers are developing next-generation multimedia applications and Asia-specific computing technologies.

    Microsoft launched a new research laboratory in Bangalore earlier this year to tap the vast talent emerging from India’s universities and software companies. But all of Microsoft’s labs include researchers from a mix of countries, compensated purely on the basis of merit.

    Indian-born, U.S.-educated P. Anandan is now managing director of Microsoft Research India. "The lab in Bangalore will be staffed with the best research talent available to us from anywhere in the world," he says. "The positioning and the remuneration of the researchers will depend only on their qualifications, merit and research reputation, and nothing else."

    The prevailing assumption in the U.S. is that companies open research facilities in India solely to reduce labor costs, but this supposition is no longer fully accurate.

    "Research is a highly skilled field in which talent, and not cost, is the main driver," Anandan says. "As a global company we have both the opportunity and obligation to build an international community of researchers--going where the talent is, so to say, rather than trying to bring them all to Redmond.

    "In addition, India, like other countries, offers a set of perspectives on technology and its role in society, which will inform our research that is done here."

    Many experts believe that the next revolution in computing will come from efforts to meet the needs of the developing world rather than expanding offerings in the advanced nations.

    Microsoft built the Beijing lab in 1998. "Our decision to open the lab in Beijing was due in large part to the great pool of talent located in the area, but candidate nationality or location has never been a factor in our hiring decisions," says Harry Shum, managing director at Microsoft Research Asia.

    Technologies such as e-mail, instant messaging and Web conferencing have enabled the globalization of research talent and made it possible to build collaboration across continents. "Microsoft Research has successfully built a global think tank where our researchers collaborate daily with scientists located in Microsoft’s other worldwide research labs and with industry and academic partners across the globe through these technologies and travel," Shum says.

Workforce Management, July 2005, p. 39 --Subscribe Now!