Microsoft Cambridge Lab Getting into Gear—Core Hires Expected Soon

11/29/07Follow @bbuderi

Reed Sturtevant is building a Microsoft development lab and innovation group here in Cambridge, but I caught up with him in Redmond, WA. I gather the former Eons chief technology officer and local tech legend has logged a lot of miles between Seattle and Boston since being plucked away from Eons in late September. And, in fact, one of his chief occupations—in some ways taking precedence over building the lab—has been learning about his new employer. “What I’ve been up to is really a crash course in Microsoft itself,” he told me in a telephone call yesterday.

We broke the news of Sturtevant’s move to Microsoft shortly before he started work on September 24, reporting that he had been hired to open the lab next door to the MIT campus, not far from the Kendall Square offices of a Google lab that has also been expanding fast this year. And now, with some two months under his belt, we thought it was a good time for an update.

“It’s been fun,” Sturtevant says. “Not a whole lot to show for it in terms of building out the team, or this group, if you will.” But he has made a lot of progress behind the scenes—and reports that he is getting set to make the first hires, and that a core team should be in place by year’s end. “I have a number of folks that I’m talking to for certain positions, inside Microsoft [and] outside Microsoft,” he says.

Sturtevant is currently occupying a corner of the first floor at One Memorial Drive in Cambridge, a 17-story luxury office tower overlooking the Charles River. Microsoft recently leased about half of the building, and the same week Sturtevant started work, employees of the company’s SoftGrid unit (the new name for Softricity, a Boston firm acquired last year) also moved into space on the building’s first two floors. Sturtevant reports that once his group is in place—he declined to disclose its intended size right now, noting “I need to be stealth about that”—it will set up shop on the 10th or 11th floor.

It still hasn’t been determined what, exactly, the lab will work on. “It’s a new development group, and we’re really going to work out the details as we get started,” he told me in September. “At this point it’s wide open. So all I’ll say is the intention is to try new ways to innovate and bring some fun products to market.”

Microsoft has three large business divisions. Sturtevant’s lab will not belong to any of them, nor will it be part of the large Microsoft Research organization. Instead, it will serve as an arm of chief software architect Ray Ozzie’s group, which is focused on special innovation projects. It was New Englander Ozzie and his brother, Jack (who also works at Microsoft), who personally recruited Sturtevant, whom they’ve known since their days at Lotus together in the 1980s.

Sturtevant has been meeting with people from around Microsoft to get ideas for what to work on—and says that there’s been a “hugely positive reception to the idea of having a footprint in Boston.” (Google evidently feels the same way: as Wade reports today, the search giant is staffing up its Cambridge operation quickly and will soon take over a space at Five Cambridge Center that’s three times as large as its current office at One Broadway.)

Microsoft’s new Boston tech guru also says that not everyone who works with him will actually be a part of his lab. He’s been meeting with folks from the advanced development arms of the various business divisions, and at least some think they will hire people who live in Boston to work directly for them. Sturtevant says a fair number of senior technical people work remotely from other areas, and that offering a physical space for them here could be a means of attracting talent in the Boston area—or retaining Microsoft people who need to move east for personal reasons.

Having representatives of the product groups in Cambridge might also facilitate transfer of technology from Sturtevant’s group to the business divisions. “The expectation is that successful projects that get traction, as they grow will find a home inside one of the existing business groups,” Sturtevant says.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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