The Garage – Microsoft’s home to experimental projects like smart news apps, Android launchers, productivity add-ons, smartphone keyboards, and yes – even that app that tells you what sort of dog you look like – is expanding to three new locations including Cambridge, Massachusetts, India and China. In total, there are seven Garage locations now open or under construction.
This includes the original Garage at Redmond, first launched in 2013. Microsoft expanded the program to Vancouver, BC and Herzliya, Israel last year. Its Silicon Valley location is also now open with a formal grand opening event planned for the coming months.
The Garage program began as an offshoot of Office Labs, and has grown from a few hundred people back in 2013 to many thousand active employees as of 2016, Microsoft says in a post announcing its expansion plans.
The idea with Garage is to foster a sense of “hack culture” inside the larger corporation – giving employees a way to experiment with new ideas and gain customer feedback. The apps and other products that emerge from Microsoft Garage can receive a lot more attention than if the engineers went out on their own, as they’re launched under the Microsoft brand.
That offers the developers a built-in set of beta testers, to some extent. Meanwhile, many of the more interesting apps receive press coverage, too, thanks to their Microsoft affiliation. TechCrunch itself has covered several of these Garage projects, for example, including design app Sprightly, the Hub Keyboard, notes app Plumbago, news app News Pro, and email app Send, among others.
Now Microsoft says it’s planning to launch three more of these hack spaces, including one in Beijing, China opening the first half of 2017; another in Hyderabad, India, opening in the second half of 2017; and the third in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which will open in early 2018.
The company is already scouting for additional locations to follow.
The locations were chosen because they have a large concentration of Microsoft employees and higher levels of diversity, as well as strong connections to the local tech scene and higher education communities, the company explains. These connections allow Microsoft to share strategic insights with area businesses, government and educational institutions while also serving as a means to recruit new employees from the community.
The Garage locations will be set up inside existing Microsoft Global Development Centers (GDCs), where many employees were already participating in Garage activities, Microsoft says. The expansion is more about bringing on dedicated facilities and staff to support that activity.
The Garages themselves may include Collaboration Spaces for meetings and events plus Maker Spaces where there are tools for prototyping and tinkering. Advanced Maker Spaces also house laser cutters, large CNC mills, a drill press, and a resin 3D printer.
The program, overall, is representative of a different kind of culture at Microsoft than the one seen in years back.
“The Garage program really took off when Satya Nadella started as CEO and saw the cultural impact of the first Hackathon in 2014,” says Jeff Ramos, the leader of The Garage. “There is a lot of amazing engineering happening beyond the six GDCs, and we want to cater to that. We want ideation and experimentation to happen everywhere at Microsoft.”