Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Janet I. Tu.
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August 19, 2013 at 6:00 AM
[In case you missed it, this story ran in the print edition of The Seattle Times on Aug. 18, 2013.]
Matt Wallaert is not a software engineer. Nor is he a programmer or developer.
Still, it’s not unusual for him to get calls regularly from tech companies looking to recruit him.
Wallaert is a social scientist — a behavioral scientist who has done undergraduate and graduate work in psychology.
Eight months ago, Wallaert, who also has experience at tech startups, began working at Microsoft with the Bing team, figuring out ways to make it easier for Bing users to make decisions and take actions, as well as ways to wean people off the habit of automatically going to Google for their Web searches.
While the idea of social scientists working at tech companies is not new, “There’s been a shift in the industry,” Wallaert believes. “They used to shuffle these people into marketing: ‘How do we get them to help sell us more things?’ Now, they’ve shifted us into product: ‘How do we actually make the thing better.’ ”
Wallaert’s experience is echoed by some other social scientists at Microsoft and at other tech firms that are seeing increased interest in the skills social scientists offer, especially with the rising importance of social networking and big data to businesses.
Many agree their roles have become more integrated with specific product groups within their companies, rather than segregated to marketing or research.
In the past few years, with the rise of social computing and social media, tech companies have come to understand that, “It’s not enough to understand the individual user,” said Donald Farmer, a Seattle-based vice president of product management at QlikTech, a software company. “You have to understand them in a social context.”
“There really is no business any more that sells directly to one consumer,” he said. “Every enterprise is now a social enterprise.”
Jennifer Chayes, managing director of Microsoft Research labs in Cambridge, Mass. and in New York City, saw this change coming about six years ago. She pitched the idea to Microsoft of opening up a research lab specifically staffed with social scientists.
Social science research forms a substantial part of the work of the New England and New York labs, which opened in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Those labs take an interdisciplinary approach, uniting subjects such as machine learning and behavioral sciences.
A number of those researchers are studying some aspect of social networking.
“As technology becomes the mediator of our social interactions, it’s essential that research in technology incorporate deep research in social science,” Chayes said. “Otherwise, we design systems that don’t do what we would like them to do for people or don’t do what people would like.”
Microsoft’s devices and services, for example, shouldn’t be thought of strictly as only devices or services. Many of them have social components as well.
“Xbox is a social site,” Chayes said. “Skype is a social site.”
[Continue reading the story here.]
March 18, 2013 at 11:06 AM
[This story ran in the print edition of The Seattle Times March 17, 2013.]
When Microsoft announced recently that it was starting a big push to grow its market in Africa, it cited the continent’s big growth opportunities, calling Africa a “game changer in the global economy.”
Similarly, IBM, Google, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and other tech companies in recent years also have expanded their presence in Africa.
As the growth of tech hardware, software or services flattens or declines in mature markets such as the U.S. and Western Europe, and markets in China, India and Russia grow increasingly competitive, many of the largest tech companies are looking to Africa.
“The U.S. and Europe are stagnant. China is growing but plateauing, as is India,” said Roz Roseboro, principal Middle East and Africa analyst at research and consulting firm Analysys Mason.
“You’ve got these big multinational companies looking at Africa and saying: ‘You’ve got growth here,’ ” she said.
Though situations vary from country to country, some factors have coalesced to make the continent attractive to major tech firms.The political situation in many countries has become more stable, with governments open to cooperating and forming joint projects with foreign, multinational corporations.
More tech infrastructure is being built, including undersea fiber optic cable systems bringing faster broadband connections to Africa’s coasts and terrestrial cables to extend the networks inland.
China’s government and some of its companies have invested in African infrastructure, such as electricity grids, in return for natural resources such as oil and minerals.
There is a growing middle class and rapid urbanization. And the population of the continent, as a whole, is young — with an average age under 20 in some countries, Roseboro said.
“They’re the ones who want this [tech] stuff and the most willing to pay for it,” she said. “And they’re the ones evangelizing — it’s going to be the 16-year-old student who shows his mom how to use it.”
[Continue reading the story here.]