Why IT companies hire scientists – “SoftServe”

by Anastasiia Lieberman
Thursday, October 28, 2021
Why IT companies hire scientists – “SoftServe”

Mykola Maksymenko, Director of R&D at "SoftServe", talks about business science, how companies hire scientists and how they apply to research in practice

$656 billion was invested by US companies in the research and development of innovation in 2019, according to the US National Science Foundation. In recent years, among the businesses that invest the most in Research & Development - Amazon, Google, Volkswagen, Samsung, Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Johnson & Johnson (The Global Innovation rating 1000). Over the past year, Facebook, Alibaba, and SAP have increased investment in research by 35, 32, and 16%, respectively, and this figure is projected to continue to grow.

Why should companies invest billions of dollars in the research and development of innovations that may or may not turn into profits? I will try to explain with the example of our R&D department in SoftServe.

How is the research department in an IT company organized?

SoftServe's R&D department currently employs 70 people in four countries (Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, Singapore). In general, several research teams are working in different domains (Life sciences and Healthcare, Finance, Computer vision, Virtual reality, and Human-Computer Interaction, Hardware lab) and a product team. Each of the research teams has engineers with a bias towards science and scientists. Together, they develop and research the most pressing issues in a given domain and test the results. The product team helps to commercialize the solution - to find the optimal application of technology in different markets.

We have gathered in the R&D department people with unique experience in good research groups or deep tech companies. One of the engineers studied quantum computer science at Yale University; another practiced computer vision in a startup recognized by Breakthrough Technology in the MIT Technology Review; some people came to us from the research departments of companies such as Samsung, Nokia, Intel, and others. Typically, many of these experts have a Ph.D.

Personally, before I started working in the industry, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Israel and the Max Planck Institute for Physically Complex Systems in Dresden. I received my degree in the physics of quantum materials at the Institute of Condensed Matter Physics in Lviv in 2010.

How to decide what to explore today?

We are not a research institute and our research is always a filter for potential implementation and future market size.

At an early stage, we take several steps to help find the most interesting projects:

Presentation of the idea to find like-minded people in the team;
analysis of the market and competitors to understand what other groups in the world are doing similar research (such as groups at MIT or Cambridge) and what advantages we have to do something new or better;
portrait of the user of the technology or research results.

Who can we potentially do a pilot project with and who within our company will pick up these results?

Before embarking on a particular study or even work cycle, the department's teams analyze the market, scientific trends, and the ecosystem in a given domain. The product team helps to decide which research to undertake - we do not want to do everything in a row, but only what is the most interesting and what will give results. Then, the engineering team and scientists start working - together they crystallize the technology, and manufacturers based on a new solution or technology generate examples of their use (use cases) in certain markets and validate them.

What are they, the developments of scientists in R&D?

Tactility for virtual communication
We have recently partnered with University College London, Ultraleap, the University of Copenhagen, and the University of Navarra, and have jointly won a Horizon 2020 grant that provides funding for the development of new mid-air haptic feedback technologies. We are working together on technology that will add tactile sensations to virtual interaction. For example, our now daily calls to Zoom - we communicate, negotiate and even celebrate something remotely, however, the tactile presence of people is not enough. Hugging, touching, shaking hands in a businesslike way - such interfaces do not exist yet, so we try to create them.

Touch technology
Another of our collaborations with the British startup Ultraleap. Together with them, we created a hologram that can be touched. This is a hologram of the human heart. We presented this technology at several conferences in 2018-2019 and we already have customers who saw our expertise and started working with us. Today, we are developing several similar solutions that will help businesses introduce a completely new interactive way of perceiving certain products.

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