Microsoft’s Garage program has evolved from a place for mobile experimentation into a breathing example of Microsoft’s future on mobile. And today, they’re celebrating their two year anniversary.
“The Garage is very focused on the bleeding edge of experimentation, moving forward at all times,” Garage partner director Jeff Ramos says. “We help Microsoft be better at experimenting, to be faster, to test ideas and to learn by doing. We’ve really taken Satya Nadella’s challenge to be more customer obsessed seriously, putting projects in the hands of real customers.”
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I spoke with The Garage earlier this year about the transitions taking place both within the program and at Microsoft more broadly, and was told that Mr. Nadella’s rise to CEO has really accelerated things.
“Garage began as a grass roots empowerment program several years ago,” Garage principal program manager Ed Essey told me at the time. “Even before Satya Nadella became CEO, he was fan. And when he did take over, he did his first public talk to the company from within the Garage.”
That speaks volumes about Nadella’s mobile emphasis, which has been on popular mobile platforms like Android and iPhone, and not on Windows phone, which has failed in the marketplace. And not coincidentally, that is where the Garage’s efforts have focused as well, though I was told that the choice of mobile platform varies on a per-app basis.
“We choose the platforms based on what is best for that experiment,” Mr. Essey told me. “It’s like the Scientific Method: We have a hypothesis and then test it on users where they are. This lets us gather data as quickly as possible.”
The Garage’s experiments—or projects, as they’re also called—happen publicly via the mobile apps it creates. But they also produce Microsoft’s annual Hackathon event, where thousands of Microsoft employees from all over the world come to Redmond and flash-create new projects. Over 16,000 people participated in this year’s event.
When the Garage first launched, it had 16 projects, but today that number has swelled to over 75, and Microsoft says there are “many more in the pipeline.” The program is seen as an internal accelerator, or incubator, allowing employees to be entrepreneurs within a humongous corporate entity. It is entirely internal to Microsoft, with no outside people or projects.
“The Garage is a place for folks interested in technology for good,” Essey told me. “We’re hacking to Help non-profits solve challenges, hacking for good. We bring in philanthropies, solve their issues, and then just give them the projects.”
It’s an amazing story. Be sure to check out the Microsoft feature story about the Garage for more information.