Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Microsoft Research Software Summit trip report

On Wednesday to Friday of last week I attended Microsoft Research's first European Software Summit in Paris. Basically Microsoft Research (MSR henceforth) invited about 150 high-profile researchers that they work with, want to work with, want to influence, etc. to come to Paris on their nickel and hob-nob for a few days.

The main themes were in areas in which Europe and MSR are both strong and doing novel stuff: multicore/parallelism, semantic computing, (empirical or rigorous) software engineering, web-scale data-driven research, cloud and services, verification, natural user interaction, tool-centric pedagogy, bug and malware detection, reconfigurable computing, and open source (!).

Keynotes came from Ken Wood, Tony Hey, and my friends Wolfram Schulte and Brendan Eich.

There were workshops on the role of funding agencies and industrial research in promoting CS education, SAT/SMT solvers, and sexy types, tutorials on Microsoft's .NET Gadgeteer and the future of F#, and panels on verification in the embedded application industry and speculations about software research in 20 years.

What did I learn?

  1. MSR continues to do outstanding work and hire really great (and surprising) folks while Microsoft proper continues to tell tall tales about Open Source. An example of a new surprising person working at MSR: I met Peter Lee who is now the managing director of MSR Redmond (!) rather than returning to CMU after his stint at DARPA.
  2. I'll be investigating a couple of new technologies from MSR for research and teaching. For research, I'll be looking into FORMULA, a unified framework for specifying DSLs and model transformations. I'll also be looking into the new plugin architecture for their Z3 solver that we have used for several years. For teaching, I'll be looking into augmenting my current use Code Contracts and PEX with FORMULA, Gadgeteer, VCC, and F#. I'll also definitely be contributing to RISE4FUN.
  3. Microsoft has a new competitor to Google Scholar called Academic Search. It claims that MSR is the #1 place to do CS in the world over the past ten years.
  4. Mario Campolargo (principle scientific officer for the EU commission DG INFSO) promises that the new EU Framework program will be simpler, more rationalized, more flexible, etc. I won't hold my breath though.
  5. Alain Chesnais (President of the ACM) is a nice guy and says good-but-balanced things about the connection between a professional organization like the ACM and MSR and the funding agencies.
  6. Brendan Eich showed me some new stuff going on inside of the Mozilla Foundation. They continue to hire PhDs to do interesting empirical software engineering and tool-centric formal methods applied to dynamic languages. He also name-dropped me in his keynote, which was a nice nod.
  7. Tom Ball (MSR), Ganesh Gopalkrishnan (Utah), and others have developed a very nice course package for parallel programming call PPCP. Good stuff.
  8. Andy Gordon (MSR) continues to blow me away. Their new F7 type checker (F# with refinement types) that was presented at POPL'11 is amazing.
  9. Denmark was represented by myself, Kim Larsen, Olivier Danvy, and Anne Elisabeth Haxthausen, the latter of whom I had never met.
  10. I met a bunch of other folks face-to-face for the first time that I have known online for some time (some over a decade!) including several of the aforementioned folks and Nikolaj Bjorner, Jean-Marc Jézéquel, Ben Livshits, Conor McBride, Erik Meijer, Manuel Serrano, and Don Syme. (Yes, events like these are about networking!)

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