Lab man: Microsoft's Phil Fawcett

The world of R&D is a world in which anything is possible. Kathryn Edwards caught up with Microsoft Principal Research Program Manager, Phil Fawcett, to the past, present and the future.

I don't think anybody that enters in has that expectation, because I had an accounting, a marketing background, I used to work for PriceWaterhouse. The reason I got into computing is I was the youngest in most accounting departments and what they asked me to do was convert manual accounting systems into automated, which ended up being a corporate-wide thing. So I got exposure to a broad range of businesses and well as their computational needs, as well as the challenges -- the social challenges, the community challenges, the 'we're gonna do things different now' challenges, of taking a manual system and automating it. That's how I got my own background in computing and I was thrown into the fire!

I look at Microsoft as an interesting company, mostly back then is was MS DOS and they had a few applications such as multi-plan, so they really needed someone with a strong accounting background to be able to answer phones! So that's how I started, but things were growing so much that I ended up helping start the test department at Microsoft, so I helped start the quality assurance side of how we did things then and I shipped about 25 or 30-odd products, including the first versions of Word and Excel.

Back then, the competition was also as heavy as it is now, because we had to compete against Lotus 1-2-3, Corel WordPerfect, Borland and the likes. In a lot of cases the product shipping cycles were 7 days a week, for 6-8 months at a time and are pretty intense things. The product release cycles were more like competitive campaigns, with a focus on a specific competitors set of features. The reason I enjoyed Microsoft so much was that the company allowed me to move as I acquired skills and became better technically as well as managerially and as well from a visioning perspective, I was able to adjust and help spend the last nine years in research.

At Microsoft Research my focus is on R&D. I do technology transfers, so I help take the ideas of researchers worldwide and put the ideas into our products.