I've always been interested in what's next. Beyond that, I've always wanted to be a part of the research that goes into finding and honing the future state of whatever technology or practice is in question. Unfortunately, I've never really had the opportunity to work for a company that did such a thing. Well, I take that back... I've worked for organizations that had research labs, I just didn't work close enough to them to be a part of that research. After starting with Microsoft, I figured I might have the opportunity to do just that -- work with researchers on some next-gen concepts. Of course, I love consulting and I'd like to get settled in here (in Microsoft Consulting Services) as much as possible for the time being. Perhaps after a couple of years I'll see what my options are. One thing I like about consulting is that you typically bounce between projects fairly often. Unfortunately, my current customer has so much going on, I'll stay gainfully employed for the foreseeable future. Don't get me wrong, this is a good thing, but I'd almost like to see about taking a 3 month break to work on a research project. Of course, in the big picture, there's no telling how much I could gain from that since research projects are typically multi-year efforts. Right now isn't the time to start that, anyway, but I might have to start looking into it for the future.
Lately, I've been thinking about this a bit more as I try to put together what I'd like to do over the next few years. The main research area I'm interested in is software engineering. It's hard to define what I like, but if I had to, I'd say my interests revolve around best practices and making life better for the user. Again, this is still a fairly broad area, but that's good... there's plenty of room for improvement. As a matter of fact, I'm always trying to think of what might define "next-gen" with respect to various areas of software engineering and usability. On the software engineering front, I might ask how we can reshape the way software is developed by increasing productivity and integrating best practices where they make the most sense. I have several ideas around this, but the overall concept is fairly sketchy. As I mentioned, usability is something I'm also interested in. When I say "usability," human-computer interaction (HCI) comes to mind, but there's so much more. Everything has a usability factor -- perhaps that's an idea... calculating usability -- and that usability factor typically makes or breaks a product's success in the market. I'd be interested in finding new, innovative ways to streamline and replace antiquated practices. Most of what we do everyday is out of habit, so it can sometimes be hard to break those habits and make some forward progress. There are so many angles to take here, so I can't really get specific. I think it'd be interesting to see how much time is spent doing various tasks with this ultimate goal of determining where streamlined tasks could provide the most benefit. This would definitely take some time to determine, so it might be best limited to computing activities, which can be easily tracked and metrics obtained... well, easier than daily life activities, anyway. Just thinking of how to track this brings up a handful of very basic concepts on how such efforts might be better implemented. The possibilities are truly endless when you start talking about research topics.
I am interested in taking on a research project, but seeing as tho I've never done it before, I need a "mentor" who has more research experience. It would also be nice if the project had a smaller scope, so it didn't take a year or so to get somewhere. I guess my goal right now is to gain some experience researching a topic. Once I have that, I'll probably break off on my own to try it out. I may take on two mentored projects before doing one of my own, but I'd like to do both. Then, wrap that up by working on a Microsoft Research team, and I should have a decent research foundation to base a PhD on. I'm not sure if I'll ultimately get there or not, but I'm entertaining the idea. I don't like the idea of taking 4-6 yrs off of work to do that, tho. I'd balance the two for 8 before I'd take off of work for 4. We'll see what my options are. I don't need the paper to do the work, but it's nice to have the recognition for the effort and get a more formal background in research.