MSR – walkabout


The first time I worked at Microsoft my spear of exploration was between 2 buildings and a cafeteria. Round two, one of my goals has been to explore more of the massive Redmond campus work at. Around the start of the new year Wes and I picked a random building I’d never walked around, drove over there, and walked around it. The building turned out to be the main Microsoft Research facility on campus. What was going to be a 15-minute walk turned in an hour of WOW come look at this

The day and time we chose turned out to be a rare occasion where the building was void of people. We maybe ran into 3 people in the, and we walked the majority of every floor. Any other time I’m sure the building would have been bustling with activity from PHD level employees and interns too smart to be bothered knowing what day or time it is. With the rare opportunity to explore and not annoy some of the smartest people on the planet Wes and I explored with gusto and talked about things we found and pretty much said wow a lot.

We took might have taken pictures of things in the public areas of impressive and crazy insane things. If such pictures existed you can be guaranteed they will never leave our phones or private collections because, you know, NDA, and we love our jobs. While exploring the first level we walked by a bunch of rooms with badge readers in front of them and scanned our badges to see if we could access them. After the doors kept saying now we looked at each other and said “we better stop this before security comes and arrests us” From then on no more random badge scanning took place.

It was both humbling and insanely impressive walking the halls looking at projects, accomplishments, piles of patents, projects demo boards, and lab spaces. Some of the people afforded entire display cabinets outside of their offices to house awards and recondition received. Like, National science awards, awards from foreign governments, patents, neat glass things, Doctorates, ETC. We found a shelf stacked with pieces of wood like books. Upon inspection the wood books turned out to patent award plaques for a single person. He had so many he just randomly stored them somewhere. There were enough patents in the pile he could rotate them one a week on his door for a few years and not have to repeat; all the while being awarded another few every month.

We found countless walls of covered in math, we think it was math. Math using symbols we’ve not even seen before. Like what does an upside A and a squiggle X and circle dot line thing have to do with {1r x 2r}? I’m not really sure, but it was on one wall with other odd symbols and looked important. Countless science fair like posters of projects were hung on the walls. Some we would almost understand others just we made “huh?” sounds while looking at – the humbling part.

We found labs dedicated to 3d imaging, 3d printing, modeling, some offices setup as full recoding studios with 24 channel mixing boards on desks, massive servers rooms with well labeled cables – oh the cable porn, unlimited storage in racks, projects we can’t talk about, garment workshops with gorgeous dresses, a walk in freezer operating at room temperature – no clue there, Maker labs with laser cutters, CNC machines, wood shops, metal shops, device checkout areas, robots to help you find people, elevators that talk to you, large lecture halls for visiting speaker, usability labs, a Tardis setup as a sound booth, the Stig, science in action. We found nearly unlimited amazing things Microsoft researchers are playing with.

This is what Bell labs of old would looks like today. On one floor we came upon what I called the cereal isle. Floor to ceiling posters of cereal boxes with bar codes and odd things coming out of the ceiling and carts in the corner. We were thinking something to do with grocery store scanning – not sure. SOOOO wanted to take pictures.

The science and ideas and research and thinking going on in the building is impressive and awe inspiring. It sure made me think “what have I accomplished” and made me feel not smart at all. Wes and I talked about our awe and feeling of not being smart for parts of the walk-about. We are both what some call smart people, but when compared to the continents of the research center we started to feel inadequate. To properly relate we had to step back a bit and look at processing and intellect vs. depth and focus and knowledge. Our career paths have turned us into effectively generalist with a focus in computer operations, and some coding, and email. Whereas the researcher are mostly savants in a narrow field of study.

If we had the focus and passion and time and monies, we too could do things like the researchers. We chose different mental paths in life then they did. Given time and effort and we might be able to approach comparing in a narrow focus, but we happy where we be. Any way you slice it we were looking at things presented with so much depth they became foreign languages, which were mostly not understandable. Not understanding provided a respectable dose of empathy we can apply to people we talk who hear the same foreign language listening to us. So far I’d rate this top walk-about of the year.

Anyone need a cable? Sexy organization there.

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