The almighty ampersand linking R and D

According to Wikipedia, the lowly ampersand or “&” is a logogram representing the conjunction word “and” using “a ligature of the letters in et,” which is of course the Latin word for “and.”

In my line of work I most frequently encounter the ampersand in the common phrase “R&D” for research and development, although I notice that with texting and short-form social media the ampersand is making something of a comeback in frequency of use anyway.

Below is a neat infographic demonstrating the & in R&D, from a Microsoft perspective. To quote the Microsoft team which produced it:

We get a lot of questions about what Microsoft does with the more than $9 billion we invest in R&D every year. There’s a lot of research for sure, but most of that investment goes toward development. With 850 Ph.D.-level researchers in Microsoft Research and around 40,000 developers in our product teams, that should give an indication of how we balance that $9 billion between research and the development of shipping products. I call it small r and big D.

The Research part of our R&D has a stunningly broad remit across technology areas.  MSR has active projects in computational science, machine learning, semantic computing, data visualization, quantum computing, bioinformatics and biomedical computing, speech technologies, nanotechnology, robotics, sensors, and many more topics (see more information here).

The Development component of our R&D is even larger, and includes advanced work on next versions and future roadmaps for products you already see shipping such as Bing, Kinect, the Azure Cloud, Windows, Office, SQL, Exchange, Lync, etc.

But those two components can come together, and collaboration between them is absolutely critical.  The “&” can create magic when one or more research areas bears fruit in a way that makes commercially viable sense for a product team to adopt – or to create an entirely new product area. Kinect is a now well-known successful example, and consequently has officially become the fastest-selling consumer electronic device of all time.

The infographic describes several recent examples which make this a pretty exciting place to work – the kind of place where colleagues sometimes do answer the question “What are you working on?” with a profound and funny answer: “the future.”

Click the graphic to expand to full-size for reading:

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10 Responses

  1. Lewis,

    When I was at APL the lab director Rich Roca would always implore us to remember the lab’s first name “Applied”

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  6. The term R&D or research and development (or RnD especially in domain names) refers to a specific group of activities within a business. The activities that are classified as R&D differ from company to company, but there are two primary models. In one model, the primary function of an R&D group is to develop new products ; in the other model, the primary function of an R&D group is to discover and create new knowledge about scientific and technological topics for the purpose of uncovering and enabling development of valuable new products, processes, and services. Under both models, R&D differs from the vast majority of a company’s activities which are intended to yield nearly immediate profit or immediate improvements in operations and involve little uncertainty as to the return on investment (ROI). The first model of R&D is generally staffed by engineers while the second model may be staffed with industrial scientists . R&D activities are carried out by corporate or governmental entities.

  7. This is an amazing read. It immediately brought 2 things to mind.

    One: I was in a messy project called E.A.T. in the 60’s, Experiments in Art & Technology in NYC. The heavily endowed plan appeared to be bothering hard-working people of industry (meant both ways) with ‘artistic’ etherial annoyances of how the artists could really do something brilliant with the products heretofore only designed for function. In the end, the producers didn’t have the time for abstracts, and the abstract artists didn’t focus on how to increase anybody’s bottom line by altering the companies they annoyed. No motivation from either side, unlike Microsoft’s intent to combine purposes.

    The second is a bit in a very funny Ed Norton movie called Leaves of Grass in which the entrepreneurial twin complains to the scholarly twin (both played by Norton) that his academic output contains no originality but only lengthy dissections of really good thinkers, to which the scholarly twin replies: You have just described Academia. The fault in limited purpose.

    Oh, a 3rd, in favor of two sides waging entry to the future. The original astronauts complained vociferously enough to the Rs&Ds so that a window was installed in the rocket to the moon, something not considered important to the mission designers, although, after all, the undertaking critically involved sentient humans who wanted to sense. Which just might provide valuable input to the whole.

    I’m not sure what the itching complaint in me is about the processes described in your article, except that I’m thinking 40,000 plus 850 is a lot of people. & if the teams were reduced to two of each classification, 2 of the R’s and 2 of the D’s, they might do just as well cheaper and faster. Applying mass to intent doesn’t always equal invention.

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