Top jobs in IT: Microsoft Research Chief Scientist recognized for pioneering online video technology


Geek in Question: Henrique “Rico” Malvar

Job title: Chief Scientist and Distinguished Engineer of Microsoft Research (MSR)

If you’ve ever used online videoconferencing with Skype, or watched YouTube videos, you can thank Rico Malvar. No, he didn’t singlehandedly invent the technology, but he was intimately involved in the creation of technologies that power audio and video on the Internet.

I sat down with Rico to learn why a man who could have a job at any company built his career and found his intellectual home at Microsoft.

Rico, I hear you were just elected to the National Academy of Engineers (NAE). Can you tell us a little about that?

Yes, I was pretty surprised. It is one of the top professional distinctions given to an engineer. It is quite an honor as other NAE members include Bill Gates and [MSR Chief Research Officer] Rick Rashid.

Congratulations. Were you always interested in engineering, even as a kid?
I was interested in electronics since I was a little boy in Rio de Janeiro and Brasília, Brazil. Both of my parents were professors who taught statistics. I was the first person in my family to go into engineering.

How and when did you move to the United States?
I got my PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. Afterwards, I went back to Brazil and taught at University of Brasília for 7 or 8 years prior to being recruited by a company in Boston. It was not an easy decision as I was happy being a professor.

And that was your crossover from academia to industry?
Yes, I was VP of Research and Advanced Technology at PictureTel which was one of the first videoconferencing companies. It was a great experience, but, eventually, I ran out of options to learn and be more involved in the creation of new technologies.

How then did you come to Microsoft?
I knew Microsoft Research offered a great combination of research and industry., I wrote an email to Nathan Myrvhold, Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer at the time, and told him about my background and interests. My wife told me I was crazy for trying, but by the next morning I had an email inviting me out to Redmond for an interview. That was 1997 and I’ve been here ever since. And I’vewatched MSR triple in size.

Has Microsoft Research lived up to your expectations?
It exceeded those expectations and continues to exceed them. There is so much opportunity here that I have never, and will never, feel limited as I did in my prior jobs in IT.

At Microsoft Research, we have the best combination of innovative, blue sky research and practical application. I can brainstorm the future of computing or walk down the hall, knock on the door of the head of a global technology like Windows, Office or Xbox Kinect – and figure out how to create a new solution.

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