Citing 25 years of significant impact on software engineering research, the IEEE Computer Society Technical Council on Software Engineering has awarded Microsoft Research the 2016 TCSE Distinguished Synergy Award. The award was presented Thursday, May 19, at the International Conference on Software Engineering in Austin, Texas.


Tom Ball, Principal Research Manager; Wolfram Schulte, Partner Group Software Engineering Manager; Dongmei Zhang, Principal Research Manager; Brendan Murphy, Principal Researcher; Rick Kazman, Chair of the IEEE Technical Committee on Software Engineering

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As the name suggests, the collaboration between Microsoft researchers and engineers with academia, and their team-oriented approach toward common research goals, contributed to the awards committee’s selection.

“Such an award is a well-deserved honor for Microsoft Research,” said Tao Xie, who nominated the organization for the award following years of interaction with researchers.

Now an associate professor in computer science and Willett Faculty Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Xie first engaged with Microsoft Research 15 years ago while pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Washington.

“After I became a professor in 2005,” said Xie. “I worked as a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research, Redmond, for several summers and collaborated with the Pex team: Nikolai Tillmann and Jonathan de Halleux along with Wolfram Schulte.”

Ten years later, Pex was shipped as IntelliTest with Visual Studio 2015 Enterprise Edition, benefiting numerous developers in the industry. Thanks also to the continuing collaboration with Xie and including Judith Bishop in Outreach, the game version of Pex, Code Hunt, has encouraged more than 100,000 students worldwide to practice their coding skills.

Software engineering in Microsoft Research spans its labs in Redmond, Washington, Cambridge, UK, India and Asia. Xie also was able to spend a sabbatical with the Software Analytics group,  led by Dongmei Zhang in Microsoft Research’s Asia lab. This group, says Xie, “has been a leader in conducting high-business-impact research, pioneering and shaping the increasingly popular and important research field of software analytics”.

Another reason for the awards committee’s selection: Microsoft Research is seen as an open research institution that has always enabled and encouraged its researchers to work in collaboration with academia.

“Microsoft is one of the few places that is willing to let academics study actual working programmers, and because Microsoft uses a wide variety of software development methodologies across all of their products and services, we are able to find representatives of any group we want to focus on,” said Brad Myers, a professor at the Human Computer Interaction Institute of the School of Computer Science at  Carnegie Mellon University.

The awards committee also noted Microsoft’s continual efforts toward improving the company’s own software engineering practices, as well as its commitment to open source software.

“Microsoft Research has made dozens of their tools available to researchers who have eagerly grasped them to avoid time-consuming work to reinvent the wheel. Some of these tools represent hundreds of person-years of work. This sharing of tools makes it easier to reproduce results and to make direct comparisons – without which rigorous science is impossible. In addition, Microsoft’s datasets are priceless. There is no other source for data about software development at such a large scale, done by such skilled practitioners. It has revolutionized our thinking about empirical studies,” said Michael Ernst, a professor in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.

Microsoft in 1991 was one of the first software companies to create its own computer science research organization. Today it has more than 1,000 scientists and engineers, many of whom are world renowned, who focus on a wide variety of research areas and openly collaborate with leading academic, government and industry researchers to advance the state of the art of computing and solve some of the world’s toughest problems through technological innovation.

Bishop said the researchers in Microsoft’s labs worldwide look forward to a bright future of collaboration with academics everywhere.