Microsoft’s sixth global development center, situated in the heart of downtown Vancouver, is state-of-the-art. It’s vibrant, colorful, and decidedly modern.
Among Microsoft’s 143,000 square feet of space, a couple thousand of those make up The Garage, perhaps the office’s most intriguing area. Inspired by the original, located at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, the Vancouver Garage is one of few and the newest for Microsoft, having opened in July.
But what is it, exactly?
“We at Microsoft continually evolve the way we work,” the company explains. “The Garage is a resource to Microsoft employees that supports and encourages problem solving in new and innovative ways, ultimately empowering people to achieve more. The Garage is a worldwide community of thousands of passionate employees who challenge convention, explore new technologies, and move their ideas forward.”
A bit vague, maybe, but accurate: the Garage is a place to think, do, fail and fail again and then succeed.
“It’s a playground for your passions,” offers Stacey Mulcahy, the senior program manager for the Vancouver Garage.
To break it down, the Garage serves four core purposes. It’s an event space; it’s a playground; it’s an annual hackathon; and it’s an internship program.
As an event space, the Garage—an open-concept, industrial-design room—features talks, workshops, and networking events. As a playground, it’s an official outlet for experimental projects from small teams across the company to test a hypothesis, receive early customer feedback, and determine product market fit. The Garage also hosts hackathons to foster new ideas and cultivate creativity among employees. And finally, an internship program managed by the Garage keeps the talent flowing in. The internship program runs twice per year, giving 25 students per cohort the opportunity to spend up to four months waist-deep in the glory of the Garage.
“These high-impact programs offer opportunities for innovative people to unleash their ideas, follow their instincts, take risks, and exercise their creative muscle,” says Microsoft. “They also offer opportunities to learn new technologies, work closely with people of all different backgrounds, and help foster a culture—on a team, in a division, and at the company—in which people are empowered, self-directed, and nimble.”
Anyone can access the unusual tools lying within the Garage: a laser cutter, 3D printers, and milling machines, among others. Anyone can walk in. The walls are glass and the door is always open. It is perhaps the purest embodiment of the culture shift occurring inside Microsoft, which CEO Satya Nadella ignited in 2014 with a lengthy memo urging employees to rethink, well, everything. Microsoft employees are more passionate today, and concepts like the Garage help them channel that passion into powerful ideas and potential products.
Currently, there are Garages in Vancouver, Silicon Valley, and Israel. More are coming, including ones in Massachusetts, India, and China. Each one is unique, a reflection of where it’s built and of those who built it.
Once an experiment itself, the experimental outlet can now be considered a success.