Microsoft’s office in Silverdale, Wash., a town of close to 20,000 people on the Kitsap Peninsula across Puget Sound from Seattle, is far from the tech giant’s massive headquarters campus in Redmond — in more ways than one.
A 30-minute ferry ride from Seattle and another 40 minutes of driving brought me to the Creekside Office Park in Silverdale, just a few blocks from the water and the regional Kitsap Mall. That would be a pretty brutal commute to and from Redmond every day.
The most remarkable thing about the location is that it is thoroughly unremarkable. Creekside is a nondescript business park surrounded by several other nondescript business parks near the city center, but tucked away from the main drag.
Microsoft, of course, has offices all around the world. In the Seattle area, in addition to its Redmond headquarters, it has offices in Bellevue and Issaquah, and until recently, Seattle. But these are all bigger footprints, with a variety of teams spread across multiple buildings, rather than small satellite offices designed to house just a few people.
The building noticeably lacks the swanky amenities found on the sprawling 125-acre Microsoft campus: no network of restaurants and cafes, or open space or a private bus system that brings workers to and from the office. There is, however, a very nice view of Puget Sound just out the back door.
The building itself isn’t the kind that comes to mind for a tech company setting down roots in another city either. It’s not a co-working space, or even a big open-concept space with high ceilings and lots of windows. The office park — mostly occupied by doctor’s offices, a psychology practice and an attorney office — looks like pretty much every other suburban office building.
No one was home when GeekWire arrived at the office on a Friday morning. A peek through a tiny window revealed that the small office isn’t fully set up yet, with no desks or chairs. The only identifying information in the office was a “Microsoft Research” scarf hanging from a closed door.
A look at the people working out of the office sheds a little light on Microsoft’s motivation. It is led by Nathan Evans, formerly the chief technology officer at Silverdale-based tech consultancy Applied Technical Systems. Evans, who grew up in the area and went to Bremerton High School, is deeply entrenched in his community as a member of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance’s Board of Directors.
It is unclear if Microsoft came to him or vice versa, but Evans, who led a commission for the alliance focused on bringing technology companies to Kitsap, pitched his backyard as a place Microsoft should be. And apparently he was successful.
“The fact that we had a story to tell and could articulate what this market offered the larger technology market, I think that armed Nathan with the ability to really state a compelling case to the folks at Microsoft that they could establish that office here and the team here, and he can find the talent he needs to succeed here,” said John Powers, executive director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance.
It appears Microsoft picked up a number of other Kitsap area techies to staff up the office, which reports indicate could hold up to 20 people. And their LinkedIn bios give a few hints about what’s going in the office. Evans, whose Microsoft title is principal software architect, said on his profile he is working on big data visualization and he is a fan of “applications that put humans first (beautiful, usable, fast, resilient).”
Chris Trevino is a senior full-stack developer for Microsoft Research at the Silverdale office. His LinkedIn bio indicates he worked with Evans at Applied Technical Systems in addition to stints at Amazon and Boeing. A section dedicated to “Microsoft Research – Visual Analytics” says that he has built “research-grade visual analytics applications using React, Flux, and Relay.”
Senior software architect Bryan Tower spent 16 years at ATS before coming to Microsoft’s Silverdale office. Here’s what he is working on, according to his LinkedIn bio: “I apply machine learning algorithms to big data sets to help create predictive analytics. I use Apache Spark and Azure to produce interesting results.”
Eric Kimbrel is a software engineer at the Silverdale office. He has held several positions as a developer/engineer for a variety of tech companies, and served as nuclear reactor operator for six years for the U.S. Navy, which has a significant presence in the area with Kitsap Naval Base.
Kimbrel’s bio says the Silverdale office is focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence. “My team at Microsoft works to democratize machine learning, building tools and pipelines that empower every organization to get more out of their data,” he wrote.
While Evans seemingly leveraged his position at Microsoft to get the tech giant to open an office in his backyard, Powers doesn’t see that situation as a one-off. Because of the naval presence, the area has a wealth of engineering talent with background in the defense industry making it a potential hotbed for technology.
“A lot of people have come out of the defense industry or plucked talent out of the defense industry to build their companies here, and I see that more and more,” Powers said. “I think Microsoft is also seeing that as they look to Nathan Evans to head up that Silverdale office with a focus on AI.”
ATS, where Evans worked as CTO, was founded by a Navy veteran who wanted to simplify integrating and organizing data from multiple sources. Paladin Data Systems is based in Poulsbo, Wash. and it helps government agencies streamline permitting processes. Critical Informatics, a startup based in Bremerton that focuses on cybersecurity solutions for mid-sized companies in the financial services, healthcare and public sectors, recently landed a $3.25 million funding round.
“The talent that comes out of that dense, highly skilled defense community has spawned and now started to grow the pure technology sector,” Powers said.
Microsoft now has access to this pool of talent, without facing competition from other tech giants. And after my trek to the Silverdale office, across Puget Sound and back, I can appreciate somebody not wanting to make that commute everyday.