Musings of a Tech Transfer Enthusiast
Ever since graduate school I have been a man between two worlds. I value publishing, but authoring one more paper does not thrill me as it does my academic friends. I love writing tools that make developers' lives easier, but achieving wide commercial success for that tool does not drive me like it did my friends at Tasktop (i.e., a software tool vendor). Until recently, people like me, equally interested in research and practical impact were doomed to operate on the margins. We could work as a research developer implementing other people's ideas or as a software engineer desperately trying to align assigned projects to our interests. Fortunately, more and more companies are waking up to the value of those that can both dream and engineer, and applied researchers are beginning to thrive (and be hired!).
To the best of my knowledge there are at least two corporations that are clearly recruiting and rewarding applied researchers, ABB, through its Corporate Research centers, and Microsoft, through its Tools for Software Engineers group. As I currently work for ABB Corporate Research I'll focus on that group, but kudos to Microsoft, and especially Wolfram Schulte, for recognizing the need for applied innovation. It's always bothered me that so much great software engineering research gets lost in the publication machine; yet groups like mine, Wolfram's, and hopefully others I'm not aware of yet are working to remedy that situation.
At ABB Corporate Research the software engineering group's mandate is to create tools and processes that improve software quality or increase developer productivity (or hopefully both). In the past few years we have, for instance, implemented a state-of-the-art search tool for developers and used gamification to motivate software developers to adopt best practices. Yet, more interesting than what we have done so far (we are just getting started) is how we have done it. By explicitly valuing both innovative ideas *and* execution in terms of development we now have a rare combination of working software tools, engaged internal users, and publishable results. In a given day I'm just as likely to receive an email that says "I am using <your tool> and finding it extremely useful and found it much simpler and faster than <the respective default tool> present in Visual studio… Thank you for sharing this tool", a paper acceptance notification, or a grant collaboration request from an academic. And this is precisely the balance we are trying to achieve.
So, if you are like me, and you enjoy both research and impact, consider joining us here in sunny Raleigh, NC, because we are hiring. In addition to being a major tech hub for the East Coast, a great place to live, with a low cost-of-living, the RTP area is known for having great pig pickin's!
David Shepherd leverages software engineering research to create useful additions to the IDE.