Inside The Garage at Microsoft’s New England Research Lab
Learn why Microsoft’s Garage program is the future of employee collaboration and innovation space through an interview with Director of Awesome Linda Thackeray
Don’t confuse The Garage with a simple workshop. The comparison is fair, but inadequate.
Microsoft employees started The Garage in 2009 as a way to connect, hack and be creative outside of their day job. The Garage in Cambridge is a flagship of collaboration and experimentation for employees, universities, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) focused non-profits, and customers in the Boston area.
The spacious area features a collaboration space, a “Reality Room” for mixed reality development, 3D scanners, workstations for building IoT (The Internet of Things) devices and electronics, and even a programmable robot stashed in a corner.
Linda Thackeray, who is the Director of Awesome for The Garage, says the program is more than just a place for fun and innovation. It’s a true reflection of the company’s culture.
“The Garage embodies the new Microsoft culture,” Thackeray says. “It is the physical manifestation of our CEO Satya Nadella's vision for the company. It’s a growth mindset.”
We discussed The Garage space with Thackeray, and its role in the workplace experience for Microsoft employees.
Learn why Microsoft's Garage program is the future of employee collaboration space
Q: What is The Garage?
A: The Garage is a program that drives a culture of innovation. We produce experiences that promote creativity, collaboration and experimentation. We have seven locations worldwide that have spaces like this, but also communities of Microsoft employees that get together on a regular basis to innovate, create and to hack on projects they are passionate about.
Q: What is your role as Director of Awesome?
A: It's all about understanding what Microsoft employees and teams in this area need, understanding deeply what their goals and objectives are and trying to identify programming that we can do here in The Garage space to help them achieve those goals and objectives.
Q: What have you used the space for personally?
A: In additional to producing events and workshops, I’ve done some laser cutting and solder, created T-shirts and lots of buttons and stickers. I’ve even used the 3D scanner and printer on myself, that was awesome.
Q: Have your people done anything particularly unique?
A: Tons of awesome stuff. The thing that has amazed me the most is that there is a very large passion for STEAM in this area. It’s a connection between Microsoft employees, teams, and the local ecosystem. So, we’ve focused a lot on bringing STEAM programming into the space.
Q: How would you advise other companies trying to setup an employee space like this?
A: My advice would be to get comfortable with discomfort and to get comfortable with letting your employees do whatever they want—whether it's related to company goals or not. This is their experience, so you have to let them define it and own it.
Q: How is this a reflection of the culture at Microsoft?
A: I've been at the company for over 20 years, and I very much love the culture that we have now. It's very collaborative. It's very inclusive. It's very much, "Hey, let's learn from one another and help one another grow.” We like to try things together, and that means collaboration. The Garage enables people to come together and learn from each other.