With eye on Arab Is­raelis, Mi­crosoft opens Nazareth R&D cen­ter

Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By NIV ELIS (Si­van Farag)

Twenty-five years af­ter Mi­crosoft launched its first non-US R&D cen­ter in Is­rael, the tech gi­ant opened its lat­est re­search and de­vel­op­ment fa­cil­ity in Nazareth.

“The new site is an ad­di­tional step in our ef­forts to in­te­grate Arab en­gi­neers in our de­vel­op­ment en­ter­prise in Is­rael, and to deepen our ac­tiv­i­ties in the coun­try’s North,” Yo­ram Yaa­covi, the di­rec­tor of de­vel­op­ment at Mi­crosoft Is­rael R&D Cen­ter, said on Thurs­day.

Is­rael’s Arab cit­i­zens were a source of un­tapped po­ten­tial, he con­tin­ued, not­ing that they com­prise 25 per­cent of the Tech­nion-Is­rael In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy’s com­puter sci­ence grad­u­ates each year, but that only a 10th of those grad­u­ates end up work­ing in the field.

“We’re striv­ing to en­sure that the num­ber of Arab en­gi­neers we em­ploy is will be close to their rel­a­tive share of the pop­u­la­tion,” Yaa­covi said.

Mi­crosoft’s other R&D cen­ters in Haifa and Her­zliya em­ploy roughly 1,000 en­gi­neers and re­searchers spe­cial­iz­ing in cloud, busi­ness in­tel­li­gence, big data and per­son­al­iza­tion, the same fields of fo­cus ex­pected for the new fa­cil­ity. At first, only some 30 to 50 peo­ple will be em­ployed there.

The lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women, Arabs and ul­tra-Or­tho­dox is a strate­gic chal­lenge for Is­rael’s hi-tech sec­tor, not only be­cause di­ver­sity has been shown to pro­duce bet­ter out­comes, but also be­cause it has a short­age of en­gi­neers in gen­eral.

As Yaa­covi has noted in the past, just half of Is­rael’s schools of­fer the full range of math­e­mat­ics cour­ses, and the share of un­der­grad­u­ates study­ing core fields such as Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, En­gi­neer­ing and Math (STEM) dropped from 8.3% in 2001 to 5.7% in 2013. The lack of par­tic­i­pat­ing among cer­tain groups has ex­ac­er­bated the en­gi­neer short­age, which has led to a spike in hi-tech salaries.

Com­pa­nies such as In­tel and Cisco have cited the prob­lem as a se­ri­ous ob­sta­cle to Is­rael’s abil­ity to re­tain its Start-Up Na­tion sta­tus, as have many re­ports from the Bank of Is­rael.

Arabs, in par­tic­u­lar, face chal­lenges on nu­mer­ous fronts, in­clud­ing cul­tural bar­ri­ers, fewer ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, and lower preva­lence of women in the la­bor force. The new cen­ter, how­ever, will help ame­lio­rate an oft-cited prob­lem: long dis­tances be­tween Arab pop­u­la­tion cen­ters and ma­jor hi-tech em­ploy­ment hubs.

In Fe­bru­ary, Mi­crosoft CEO Satya Nadella vis­ited Is­rael and re­it­er­ated the com­pany’s com­mit­ment to the coun­try, both as a mar­ket and a source of in­no­va­tion.

MI­CROSOFT’S RE­SEARCH fa­cil­ity is seen in Nazareth.

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