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Microsoft Shuts Down Silicon Valley Research Lab, Amid Broader Layoffs

The esteemed lab employs about 75 leading computer scientists.

Asa Mathat

Microsoft laid off another 2,100 employees on Thursday, as part of the software giant’s previously announced plan to reduce its ranks by 18,000.

What wasn’t expected, however, was that the latest cuts would include shutting down the company’s esteemed Silicon Valley research group, a powerhouse of computer science talent tasked with dreaming up Microsoft’s next product lines and pushing forward the computer science field.

That decision will affect more than 50 top-level engineers and scientists, the bulk of the staff at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, according to a source close to the company. A few researchers may continue to work on projects from Microsoft’s campus in Mountain View, Calif., but the lab itself will close.

There’s an obvious risk in letting go staff focused on inventing new business lines for Microsoft, particularly given the company’s struggles to make the leap to the mobile computing era. But the company is confident that it is continuing to invest at an appropriate level in research and development after these cuts, the source said.

Microsoft Research’s 11 other worldwide labs will continue operating as before, including the main facility in Redmond, Wash. Following the layoffs, the company will still employ more than 1,000 scientists, constituting one of the largest basic research teams within a corporation. Ongoing research projects will be consolidated across the remaining labs.

The layoffs are part of a broader strategy shift that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella outlined back in July, several months after taking the helm of the company. Around 13,000 employees received notice in July.

The 75-person research division in Mountain View has been particularly focused on distributed computing, the use of software and other tools to coordinate tasks across a broad network of machines. It’s a field with major implications for privacy, security, online search and other areas.

The lab is filled with heavyweights in the field. Notably, earlier this year, Microsoft Research’s Leslie Lamport won the 2013 A.M. Turing Award, considered the highest honor in computer science.

MSR Silicon Valley’s managing director is Roy Levin, a veteran researcher who previously worked at Digital/Compaq Systems Research Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and Xerox PARC.

The specific individuals affected by the layoffs and exact timing of the closure are still unclear. Other valley companies, notably Google and Facebook, are likely to move fast to take advantage of the dozens of high-level researchers about to hit the market.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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