The Microsoft Garage is a Microsoft program that encourages employees to work on projects that they are passionate about, even if they have no relation to their primary function within the company. Employees from all divisions of Microsoft are free to take part in Microsoft Garage activities and small-scale innovation projects. The Microsoft Garage is a global program with locations on the main campus in Redmond, Washington, and several others spread all over the world, and a website that launched in October 2014 to share experimental projects with customers.
For project teams that want to move their ideas forward, Garage resources include collaboration with experts to help accelerate project development. These experts consult with project teams who want to ship a trial through the Garage, sharing guidance on all aspects of project development including engineering, design, go-to-market, and analytics. Project teams own their project from ideation to retirement — they design, code, build, release, and support their project. These teams are as small as two and as large as twenty+ people. Teams that win the annual worldwide Hackathon, produced by The Garage, get to meet members of the top level leadership teams to discuss their project and receive direction. The Hackathon and other Garage activities are driving culture change across Microsoft by empowering employees to take risks and try new things.
Type of site
|Launched||October 22, 2014 (website)|
The Microsoft Garage originated in 2009 in Office Labs in Building 4 of Microsoft Redmond campus with Office Labs GM Chris Pratley, Quinn Hawkins, Jennifer Michelstein and Joe Coplen. The name was coined by Quinn based on the fact that many tech companies were "started in a garage" and the term captured the notion of innovation and the start-up culture. The impetus was that Microsoft needed a safe space where employees could pursue ideas that they were passionate about, even ideas that were not part of their day job, or things that might "fail fast". The Garage was originally called "The Office Garage" and was limited to projects focused on office worker productivity.
At the time of The Garage's founding, there were several other better-funded programs inside of Microsoft focused on grassroots innovation including IdeaExchange. These programs focused on having employees submit and vote on ideas with the highest-voted ideas receiving some level of funding. What differentiated The Garage was the slogan "Doers. Not Talkers." The premise of The Garage was that ideas were cheap and not that valuable, and that execution and prototyping were far more valuable. The Garage focused on supporting employees who were already building their projects and were willing to build it themselves vs. seeking funding.
The first Garage event was the "Garage Office Science Fair" where all employees, regardless of department, were invited to demo their projects to executives from the Microsoft Office group in Building 36. The next step was the creation of an internal email group and a series of bi-weekly events called "Stay Late And Code" (SLAC). Soon employees with projects not focused on office worker productivity asked if The Office Garage could be expanded to include other groups and Pratley agreed. However, rather than directly funding science fair or SLACs for groups outside of Office, The Garage would seek an internally champion within the business group to obtain funding from the group's executives. This meant that the leaders of the business group were financially invested in the success of The Garage and did more to support it. Bing was one of the first groups outside of Office to have a science fair. During this period Liane Donald and Jane Boise were the primary event organizers for The Garage. International expansion also happened organically. Engineer Sidharth Sehgal at Microsoft's Hyderabad campus began organizing SLACs in India and eventually secured funding for a Hyderabad science fair.
The first Garage space opened in July 2011 in Building 4. The space included a working/meeting space with two large working garage doors, a laser cutter and a 3D printer. In September 2011, The Garage helped publish its first Garage project to the general public: Mouse without Borders developed by Microsoft engineer Truong Do. Garage volunteers assisted Truong by designing and developing the installer and setup for Mouse without Borders. By the end of 2012, The Garage had 3,000 members, grassroots Garage chapters in ten locations around the world, and eight Garage Interest Groups (GIGs) including Makers, SQL, Surface, and Bing.
By mid-2013, there were more engineers getting involved, and — because of the emphasis on innovation and inspiration — the activities got the attention of leaders in what was then called the Technology & Research group. Eventually, The Garage moved under Jeff Ramos to be part of T&R in the Engineering Excellence group. There were resources to support “maker” activities and hands-on learning sessions for employees who wanted to experiment, and small “chapters” forming in engineering groups in Microsoft locations around the world. Throughout this period, The Garage continued to retain its identity as the place for pursuing ideas, being creative, and learning new things in an open environment. In late 2013, a dedicated Garage facility was built in Building 27 South on Redmond campus, and Garage activities like hackathons and hands-on coding sessions were occurring on a regular basis.
In early 2014, Satya Nadella, as the new Microsoft CEO, began to socialize the priority of having a “growth mindset.” Nadella had earlier shown interest in The Garage, and he held his first all-company meeting streamed from The Garage space in B27. Garage principles were well aligned to the growth mindset, so when the senior leadership team at Microsoft wanted to evolve the Company Meeting to align to their new vision and support culture change, a Garage-type hackathon seemed like it had potential as a company-wide event. By this time, The Garage — still focusing on hacking and innovating in free-form style — had a couple of vendors, an FTE program manager, and a team nearby who often helped when needed. They were running more planned and curated events in The Garage space as demand grew.
In July 2014, The Garage produced the first company-wide hackathon. It was an online and in-person event aimed at giving employees an opportunity to set aside time to work with others on a project that interested them. More than 11,000 people registered from 80 countries and created more than 3,000 projects.
The Hackathon has grown to be the largest private hackathon on the planet, most recently with more than 23,500 registrants at 45+ locations and 5800+ projects. But more than scope, what makes the Microsoft hackathon unique is that it is open to everyone in the company, not just coders, from any role, any skillset, any division, any team, any location worldwide. Anyone with an idea or with a passion and interest can jump in and participate. Sometimes the ideas turn into something “shipable” through the Garage experimental outlet or in a product, and sometimes the value is just in the experience. There are also a huge number of philanthropic projects in the Hackathon, and the “Hack for Good” activities are an important component of the overall event.
In October 2014, The Garage launched the first set of lightweight, cross-platform apps created by incubation teams across the company. When the Microsoft Garage website was made public at www.microsoft.com/garage, there were 16 different applications available for various operating systems such as Google Android, Android Wear, iOS, Windows, Windows Phone and the Xbox One.
In February 2015 Microsoft launched a new wave of Android and Windows Phone applications, one of them previously being a Nokia application. Since then, some projects have been marked "experiment complete" and there continue to be applications and small-scale projects released through the Garage site.
In January 2016 Microsoft announced plans to open additional facilities in other Microsoft worldwide offices. The first Garage location outside Redmond opened in the downtown Vancouver, BC, office in June 2016. Next, a Garage facility was opened in Herzelia, Israel, in July 2016, followed by a site in the Microsoft Silicon Valley campus in August 2016, in Beijing, China, and Hyderabad, India, in March 2018, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, in April 2018. In Redmond as well as the global sites, the Garage is a key asset in accelerating culture change at Microsoft through programs and engagements that focus on a growth mindset, customer obsession, diversity and inclusion, and One Microsoft.
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