Build Your Career: Interviews 

BIO: Harold Javid

TITLE: Director of External Research Global Programs. Microsoft Research

ACADEMIC DEGREES: BS, MS and PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Harold Javid’s original field of investigation was optimization and nonlinear control system design. Upon completing his Ph.D., he moved to industry to follow his passion for applying theory to significant practical problems. Examples of his results while working at Systems Control, Inc. in Palo Alto, California, and GE in Schenectady, New York, include Markov chain-based dynamic optimization algorithms for hydroelectric power scheduling for public utilities in Colombia, real-time feedback control of steam turbines, and coal gasification systems. In 1984, Harold became Director of Electronics for Acrowood Corporation where he led efforts to create real-time embedded optimizers and nuclear instruments for use in the lumber and pulp and paper industries. In 1988, he joined the Research and Technology Group in the Boeing Company where he led teams involved in developing industrial simulation tools. In 1998, Dr. Javid joined Microsoft as Group Manager for Visual C++ Support. After enjoying a number of different opportunities to exercise his managerial skill at Microsoft, Harold happily joined Microsoft Research where has enjoyed the sweet intersection of technical interests and program management activities. As Director of External Research Global Programs, he is focused on bringing synergy to Microsoft External Research’s global talent investment activities.

CS ACTIVITIES: Sr Member of the IEEE, on the Industrial Advisory Board and Secretary of the Member and Geographic Activities Board


Developing Global Understanding

Harold Javid

Harold Javid

Dick Price: Today we’re talking with Harold Javid, Director of External Research Global Programs at Microsoft Research and member of the IEEE Computer Society’s Industry Advisory Board. Could you tell us a little about where you are in your career at Microsoft right now and how you got there?

Harold Javid:  Presently I’m the director of global programs as part of Microsoft Research, and it’s actually a role which is kind of hard to describe, but it’s also the kind of role that you get after lots of experience. I’m responsible for major outreach efforts for Microsoft, responsible for various award programs, and in addition to that, to coordination of these kinds of programs in our labs around the world.

DP:  So what’s the biggest challenge you face in that role right now?

HJ:  I think the challenge you face anytime you work internationally is global understanding. There are cultural differences between all of us as people from different backgrounds; finding a common ground for communication and understanding what people mean lies at the base of everything we do as people.

To help people entering into the field of computer science who might want to follow the path you followed, could you trace your trail through your career?

HJ:  I have three degrees of the University of Illinois – a Bachelors of Science, a Masters of Science, and a PhD. My background, my field was control systems and optimization. From there, I went to many different companies. I worked for big companies and little companies. I worked for General Electric, I worked for Boeing, and now I’m with Microsoft, and in between I worked for some companies that had 75 or 100 employees. Throughout, I had a lot of different responsibilities.

DP:  As a youngster, what drew you into the career path that you ultimately followed?

HJ:  Partly it was that my father was an engineer, but as much as that, it was I had a general interest in how things worked and how things came together. When I did my studies at the University of Illinois in controls, I was very interested in how you create algorithms to make things do what you want to do. That led me into computer science.



DP:  Was there an individual, your father or somebody else, who had a great deal of influence during your college and graduate schooldays?

HJ:  My thesis advisor at the University of Illinois was somebody I truly respected. He had a very international education, having studied in Europe, Russia, France, and Yugoslavia, but had become so well recognized that they convinced him to come to the University of Illinois. He’s the one who influenced me to get the advanced education, to really understand how a good theory was best seen in practice.

DP:  What was his name?

HJ: His name is Petar Kokotovic, and he’s presently at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

DP:  For some time now, you've been involved with the Computer Society’s Industry Advisory Board. What role does that play in relation to your work at Microsoft?

HJ:  At Microsoft, we are very much interested in really the future of computing, the ecosystem overall, and in helping young people find the real excitement there is in the field of computing and its ability to solve great problems. So the executives here at Microsoft asked me to participate on that board to assist the IEEE in setting out in these directions, finding what is really needed for the improvement of our society at both the Computer Society and society in general.

DP:  You often hear, especially in the U.S., but probably around the world, as the Baby Boom Generation begins to retire, high-tech firms are concerned about filling the empty seats with the brightest minds and also concerned that since we’re cutting back in many areas on education that we’re not going to be training the next generation. How does Microsoft see that?

HJ:  Well, I think Microsoft is very much interested, not only in the U.S., but worldwide. That’s part of the reason I enjoy working with the IEEE, because it has a worldwide footprint in finding the best and brightest to come and be of assistance. It’s been my perception and the perception of my colleagues that the opportunities exist in the universities in our field. It’s really more about showing how computing can make a difference in the world that’s important—this is going to bring great people into the field and Microsoft; all of the other great companies that are working in this field will benefit from it.

DP:  Does Microsoft have any particular programs to pull high school students into technology careers?

HJ:  We get involved with various activities. One of the ones we’ve been involved with in the past is CSTA, which is the high school program out of ACM. We get involved with some awards programs, and the local subsidiaries often do special projects. We had one here recently regarding robotics. We had high school students come in and build robots and control them with computing software. It was quite an exciting activity.

DP:  Have you had other involvements with the Computer Society, perhaps as an author or a conference speaker?

HJ:  Well, yes. In fact, a number of papers will published in IEEE conferences and a couple in IEEE journals. The early part of my career was a lot about publishing and research.

But as the years went on, I became more and more interested in the business side, and I wanted to share that I think having a great technical education has helped me in that process. It’s always been very quick for me to understand a new business—the technologies behind it, what’s going on—and to be able to speak authoritatively about it. My education has allowed me to do that in all of the different companies I’ve worked for. I have that involvement with the IEEE in the past, and also the impact of that on my future has been great.

DP:  As you move through your career, was there any decision that you regard as particularly smart, any move that you made from one company to the next or educational choices that you made?

HJ:  I’ve enjoyed every one of the jobs that I have. One of the things I did, which really has brought me a lot of enjoyment in life—it’s kept me on my toes—is that I sought opportunities to do things differently every five years or so. In some cases, it was through changing to another company to get a completely different kind of job. In other cases, as it has been here in Microsoft, it’s been to change within the company, to go from a role where I was involved primarily with logistical kind of activities within the company as a senior manager to come and join Microsoft Research, where I could come back to some of my technical and theoretical route.

DP:  That’s interesting. That’s exactly the advice my dad gave me; keep things fresh every few years.

HJ:  It’s been very good, you know, and I’m really happy I came to Microsoft. I joined Microsoft because I saw a vision in the company for what was the future and what computing could do in the future. A lot of other companies have it, but Microsoft is in the area I most like to live, which is the Seattle area, and I’ve never been disappointed. I’ve been really happy about always having new challenges and new opportunities and a chance to see what the future looks like.

DP:  What advice would you give to a recent graduate who wanted to pursue a career something like yours at Microsoft or elsewhere?

HJ:  The key is to find a job, whether it’s in a big company or a small company, but a job that has the opportunity to do more than one thing. Early in your career, you really don't want to get settled into doing a particular function that looks like you'll be doing almost the same thing every day. Diversity of responsibility and diversity of technical activities are very important for a young person. Later on, you could settle in to something that you're the best in the world at, but early on I think it’s good to look broader.

DP:  So is joining your field, or perhaps with Microsoft, what do you think is going to be the most startling advance or change in the next five to 10 years?

HJ:  You know the joke. They say that the things that you can predict for the next five to 10 years don’t actually happen, and the ones you think are impossible actually occur. But to me, it’s this change in communications that we’re seeing, the fact that more and more I am staying connected to other people in a social networking sort of way and in a communication way, whether I’m on my cell phone or at home or anywhere I am. I find it incredible, and it’s only increasing as the bandwidth and the video and the audio and other things get combined in.

DP:  I agree. Is there some problem that you would like to see technology solve for humanity?

HJ:  For humanity’s sake? Boy, that’s a really big question. One of the things that we’re really happy with here in this area is Bill Gates’ focus with his foundation.

DP:  Right.

HJ:  I think that the viewpoint he’s brought, where he really is interested in applying technology in ways that can affect education and health of people around the world, not just focusing on kind of the so-called developed countries, but on the countries that are developing and are challenged. That’s very exciting.

The other thing I can add is that there’s an awful lot of research. This is where computing meets medical research in this whole field of genetics. Computing is going to, at some point in the future, help doctors when they give prescriptions or try to help people, because they find that genetically we’re different in how we respond to various drugs, even cancer drugs. With computing, we can identify which ones would be more effective for us.

DP:  Either in the U.S. or around the world, is there a policy change that governments should make to benefit technology advances?

HJ:  Countries are already moving along those lines. It’s difficult to decide what’s best, but I think the one important thing that started after World War II in this country is the National Science Foundation, which was founded and funded for basic research so it could be the feeder into the future products and technology that would be of service to humanity.

In my global programs role. I’m seeing various governments invest quite a bit, not only in basic research, but they are adding additional funds when companies invest in universities. In Australia, for instance, sometimes the Australian government will multiply the money given by a company by four times to increase the professor’s ability to come up with new innovations. That happens in places like Korea and China, and of course the U.S. has a lot.

DP:  Do Microsoft’s staff members and leaders get to participate in the Gates Foundation work somehow?

HJ:  Our organization uses a member of the Gates Foundation staff as an advisor as we do our research. I suppose there’s some of the same thing going on in the other direction, but it’s not a day-to-day thing. Only certain individuals get a chance to look over the fence to see what’s going on there.

DP:  Well, very good, sir. Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share?

HJ:  Well, I would like to urge anyone who’s interested in technology and applying sciences and math to pursue computing. Computing has a great future for years and years to come, both in terms of opportunity for a career and opportunity to make a difference. That’s something that every young person should think about.

DP:  Well, thank you so much, sir. I look forward to meeting you face-to-face.




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