Microsoft wants Vancouver’s tech community to “engage” with its Canadian Excellence Centre. “It is an important global development centre for us, and we’re investing a lot,” explained T.K. Rengarajan, who goes by the nickname “Ranga”.
“It’s an inspiring place with inspiring people, and we do work that has global impact,” he said of the centre. “We’re doing some very interesting things.”
Ranga, Microsoft’s corporate vice president in charge of research and technology, hopes that the city’s tech community can come together to “pursue the possibilities of the future”.
He made the request during an interview with the Georgia Straight at the B.C. Tech Summit. Earlier, British Columbia’s minister of technology, Amrik Virk, claimed that Microsoft had chosen Vancouver to be its “second home”.
Certainly, the technology giant, which is headquartered in Redmond, Washington, has a presence here, with three downtown offices (on Beatty, Cambie, and Homer streets). But Vancouver is only one of about a dozen global development centres around the world, which include Brazil, China, Finland, France, India, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Sweden, the U.K., and elsewhere in the U.S. Calling Vancouver a second home is, perhaps, a bit much.
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Ranga agreed that Vancouver may have a favoured status because of its proximity to head office. “I’ve been advocating that we should be having off-sites for all of our teams in our gorgeous new facilities here,” he said. “We’re going to have our SLT [senior leadership team] and board meetings here in Vancouver in the future.”
The new Canadian Excellence Centre, in Pacific Centre at 725 Granville Street, will open in the spring and will become home to many of the Microsoft employees in Vancouver.
Ranga is not excited about just the office space. He’s also enthusiastic about the work being done by Microsoft employees in the city.
“Right here in Vancouver, we’re going to have OneNote focused on education," Ranga said. "And we see a huge potential there to make a dramatic difference.”
Edoardo De Martin is the director of the Excellence Centre. He noted that being away from the “mother ship” is a benefit.
“It helps us engage with our customers in different ways,” he explained, such as including them in the software-development process, an approach being used to bring features to OneNote that “mean something” to users.
Cloud, social media game changers
Ranga said that social media and being able to keep software services in the cloud has completely changed how Microsoft does business.
If one issue is impacting millions of customers and Microsoft can learn about that problem on social networks, the problem can be solved without the rest of the million needing to call. “If you have deep engagment,” he said, “and fast iteration, you don’t have to scale to a million.”
“We’ve not seen the end of change,” Ranga said.
Other Microsoft products and services that are being developed in Vancouver include Skype and both the technology and the curation of news feeds for MSN, which is integrated into Windows 10. There are also teams developing applications for the Microsoft Band wearable, and the HoloLens augmented-reality system.
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Ranga said Microsoft’s annual investment in Vancouver will be at least $90 million, resulting in a total economic impact of some $180 million.
“We’re making a great investment in the physical space, the attitude, the way we engage with the community right here in Vancouver,” he said.