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Showing posts from January, 2011

Does Google do "research"?

I've been asked a lot by folks recently about whether the work I'm doing now at Google is "research" and whether one can really have a "research career" at Google. This has also led to a lot of interesting discussions about what the role of research is in an industrial setting. TL;DR -- yes, Google does research, but not like any other company I know.

Here's my personal take on what "research" means at Google. (Don't take this as any official statement -- and I'm sure not everyone at Google would agree with this!)

The conventional model for industrial research is to set up a lab populated entirely by PhDs, whose job is mostly to write papers, and (in the best case) inform the five-to-ten year roadmap for the company. Usually the "research lab" is a separate entity from the product side of the company, and may even be physically remote.

Under this model, it can be difficult to get anything you build into production. I have a lot …

Fair Harvard

I've been reflecting on my reasons for moving to Harvard seven years ago. Although I have decided to leave academia, Harvard is really a wonderful place, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone considering an academic career. Back in 2002, I had job offers from several other (big name) universities -- including CMU -- but I chose Harvard for a whole host of reasons, and am really glad that I did. So I thought it would be good to share some of the things that I love about the place.

The campus.
This is an easy one. The Harvard campus is just unbelievably beautiful. It feels like the quintessential university: old brick buildings, vines, little walking paths crisscrossing the quads. Even better is that it's not isolated: it is right in the heart of Cambridge, and as soon as you leave campus you're in the middle of Harvard Square which has tons to do. Every day I would take my dog for a walk around campus at lunchtime just soaking in the atmosphere and bumping into Korean …

The Best Things about 2010

Last year I posted the Best Things About 2009, so I feel compelled to do the same this year. In what is sure to become an annual tradition, I present to you the Best Things About 2010 -- Volatile and Decentralized edition.

Best portrayed cameo appearance in a major Hollywood motion picture:


Brian Palermo's dramatic and riveting 45-second performance as myself in The Social Network. The rest of the movie is just okay, but the scene where I am teaching virtual memory to Mark Zuckerberg is one of the most compelling moments in modern cinema, right up there with Daniel Day-Lewis in the final scene of There Will Be Blood.

Best phone call:

It was early June and I was sitting by the pool in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, drinking a rum punch, when my cell phone rang. "Hi Matt, it's Greg." Morrisett, that is, at the time the CS department chair at Harvard. "Oh, hi Greg," I said, nonchalantly, as though I was used to getting phone calls from him while being t…