My confession about Microsoft R&D

Yesterday I published a post on the Official Microsoft blog (OMB) that focused on the $9bn we spend each year on R&D and how we turn that in to products – it was accompanied by an infographic that showed how some of that process happens.

Now it’s time for a confession – for a few years during my early career at Microsoft, I thought all those billions of dollars of R&D investment went in to Microsoft Research (MSR) and I wondered where it all got spent. It turns out I was wrong. Very wrong. R&D does not = MSR. It’s obvious when I think about it but R = MSR while D = products. Therefore, our R&D investment not only pays for the work of the smart folks in MSR but also the products we release – products such as Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing, Azure and many many more.

I fell in to the stereotype trap of thinking R&D is all about folks in white lab coats working on future research. At the same time, I hadn’t grasped the nuance that development means real shipping products. It feels a bit “duh” now 🙂 However, I confess this as a noble act (cough) as I worry that others may fall in to the same trap and then wonder, what does MSR spend all of that money on? As I noted in the OMB post, we have 850 Ph.D.-level researchers in Microsoft Research and around 40,000 developers in our product teams – that should give an indication of how we balance that $9 billion between research and the development of shipping products. I call it small r and big D.

With that little confession out of the way, we can return to normal programming and I can finish up my reporting on TechFest this week – where our small r folks in Microsoft Research show that their work is anything but small!