Microsoft Hires 14 Yahoo Researchers to Kick-Start New NYC Research Lab
Over the weekend, I reported that Duncan Watts, the well-known social network researcher, had left Yahoo to join Microsoft. Turns out he’s not the only one.
Microsoft snatched up not only Watts, but 13 other Yahoo researchers to kick-start a yet-to-be-opened New York research lab. That includes algorithmic economist David Pennock — who will oversee day-to-day lab operations — and machine-learning expert John Langford.
Microsoft has an extensive research organization that includes 850 PhDs. New York City will be its 13th global office, according to Jennifer Chayes, who manages Microsoft Research New England as well as the new New York group.
The hires came after Yahoo made significant layoffs last month that hit its research organization hard.
Chayes said the Yahoo researchers didn’t necessarily come as a package. “I don’t feel like we hired a group; I feel like we hired 15 amazing individuals, some of which became available because there were some problems at Yahoo,” she said.
Though Microsoft might seem like a bit of an odd fit for Watts, given its lack of social products, Watts said today that he’s looking forward to working with data from Microsoft’s Xbox, Hotmail, MSN Messenger and Skype for research projects on topics like group performance and network structure. He also said that Microsoft’s partnerships with Twitter and Facebook enable extensive data access that he might have had trouble getting elsewhere.
Why Microsoft? “It’s an extremely distinguished research organization with long history and stable culture for both basic and applied science,” Watts said. Starting a lab from scratch, he said, is “a once-in-a-career opportunity.”
As for how Watts’s research might influence Microsoft products, that’s to be decided, but he said he had ideas for the search and news teams, once he gets a chance to go to Redmond to meet them.
The New York research team doesn’t have an office yet — for now, it’s working out of Microsoft’s sales office there.
(Image courtesy of Robert Scoble)