Rick Rashid

2009 Career Achievement
In overseeing Microsoft Research, Rashid helps ensure that Microsoft products and services will continue to provide impact and innovation into the future.

The future of Microsoft almost literally depends upon the dedicated efforts of senior vice president Rick Rashid, who has overseen Microsoft Research since launching the division in 1991. Microsoft Research is the 850-Ph.D.-strong petri dish in which the technological mutations take place that will ensure Microsoft's robust survival well into the century. "Basic research is about the future," Rashid says. "It's about innovation and building a reservoir of ideas, technologies, and smart people who can help you change—and change rapidly—as circumstances require."

Like pebbles in a global pond, Microsoft's world-renowned Research facilities are located on three continents and emit ripples whose consequences often take years to be understood and appreciated. It likewise took nearly two decades before Rashid's seminal work on the Mach operating system at Carnegie Mellon University during the 1980s was integrated into Apple's OS X and elsewhere.

While the IT landscape may have shifted substantially over the decades, the Research division's priorities have remained the same since day one. According to Rashid, "Our first and foremost mission is to move the state of the art forward in the field of computer science and the areas in which we work." Success in Research is measured not in terms of units sold but in the number of peer-reviewed publications generated by the division's six labs and nine jointly operated facilities. Funded on a corporate level but adhering to an academic model, the Research division has flourished in an atmosphere of trust combined with robust two-way communication with Microsoft's product divisions. Rashid also directed the company's first e-commerce group.

"Our second mission," Rashid continues, "is to get the great new technologies we've developed into our products as quickly as we can." Early on, Rashid created a team of program managers who facilitate technology transfer between the Research and Product divisions. Thus, Microsoft's Digital Media Division was originally part of Research's entertainment-devices organization, Windows emerged from Research projects undertaken during the 1990s, and research in natural language and speech technologies led to the SQL Server's data-mining capabilities.

Besides the basic and applied research in such obvious Microsoft concerns as algorithms, machine learning, search, security, social computing, architecture, and networking, Rashid's division also explores areas that might at first seem unconnected to Microsoft's core investments. The labs have recently been collaborating with the medical community to search for an AIDS vaccine, with results that will also have a significant impact on malaria, hepatitis C, and other diseases. And Microsoft Research India's Digital Green project, which uses video to disseminate information to small farms in outlying areas, earned a 2008 Stockholm Challenge Award in the competition's "culture" category.

Rashid embraces the totality of Microsoft Research, noting that choosing one project over another would be like picking a favorite among his five children. As a leader, he's noted for his accessibility and willingness to take risks. "I'm pretty much the antithesis of a micromanager," he says. "My philosophy is to try to hire really great people, provide them with an environment in which they can be successful, hold them to a very high standard, and for the most part stay out of their way. I try to lead by example."

Experience has taught Rashid that research done on unlikely subjects often proves critical to a product's success years down the line. Just as investments made in research were later realized to have been critical to the outcome of the two world wars, Rick Rashid views Microsoft Research as a sort of technological insurance policy—for both Microsoft in particular and computer science in general—no matter what lies ahead. "You simply never know what's going to happen in the future," he says.

View Rashid's official press profile.