Exclusive: Get inside Microsoft Vancouver's maker space, The Garage

Jan 17 2017, 3:59 am

You might think you can’t explore your own entrepreneurial ideas at a large company, but that’s not true – at Microsoft Vancouver, anyway.

Microsoft Vancouver’s staff and interns get full throttle access to its development lab called The Garage. It’s a place where they can work on contemporary technology, conduct customer research, design, and even develop products.

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Stacey Mulcahy is The Garage’s senior program manager. She explains why it’s such an integral space at Microsoft Vancouver.


The Garage/Microsoft Vancouver

“This is one of Microsoft Vancouver’s most creative spaces,” she says. “It fosters an environment of passion and creates opportunities for innovation. It’s all about technical curiosity.”

The coolest part: When you visit The Garage, you’re encouraged to do whatever the hell you want.

Creating without limits

Geoff and Marcelo/Microsoft Vancouver

Geoff and Marcelo/Microsoft Vancouver

So, what happens when a curious mind is left to its own devices, without any limits? Two Microsoft employees, Geoff McDonald and Marcelo Ramires, have the answer to that.

Last year they participated in Microsoft’s worldwide hackathon, a challenge that encourages employees to generate and advance big ideas. It’s here that they imagined an epic upgrade for the studio’s foosball table. Coined Foosbot, they’re building an AI opponent that you can play against.

“Using AI, deep learning and training data, we’re training Foosbot on human information and human behaviour to make it play like a human,” explains McDonald. “We’re not programming it, we’re teaching it.”

What’s cool – beyond a robot arm performing a crank shot – is that the two hadn’t met prior to the hackathon. Their chance encounter in The Garage led to chatting about the hackathon and the rest is history – or better yet, future.

The Garage creates opportunities


Foosbot table/Microsoft Vancouver

For McDonald, The Garage offers a spot where experimentation is more important than results. And if it impacts his day job – that’s cool too.

“It plays an important role in the future of society. It’s actually the same technology that’s going into self-driving cars. We didn’t have computers powerful enough before to be able to create deep learning models so we’re just reaching the golden age now,” says McDonald. “I’ve been able to take some of what we’ve learned so far and look at how I can apply it back to my day job reverse engineering and identifying tech viruses.”

Ramires says that without The Garage, his Microsoft experience just wouldn’t be the same.

“We met here and we’ve used the machinery a lot, especially the 3D printers. “None of this work would have been possible without this space.”

The Garage shapes Microsoft Vancouver’s culture


The Garage/Microsoft Vancouver

The Garage is a place where staff go to create, and you won’t find anything else quite like it at Microsoft Vancouver. Mulcahy is constantly creating programs that encourage people to challenge convention, explore new technologies and move their ideas forward.

“I look around the space and I think it definitely represents a lot of people and personalities here,” she says. “It’s nice, I come in and people leave things for me, it’s turning into a culture thing. It’s indicative of a lot of things because it’s not just a cool space but it’s also about the people who visit.”

Microsoft, as a brand, is so well known, it’s easy for us to forget about the people behind it. Visiting The Garage reminds you of the bright individuals who make it all happen – that behind every strong company, is a strong culture, too.

“I believe culture shouldn’t be defined. That’s the beauty of The Garage – if you want to do it, do it. People talk about culture, and they think it’s in terms of numbers,” says Mulcahy.

“But I think it’s in terms of moments, of how people act, of how people work together. That’s what The Garage is all about.”

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