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

The new center will help ameliorate an oft-cited problem: large distances between Arab population centers and major high-tech employment hubs.

June 5, 2016 15:00
1 minute read.
microsoft israel

From right: Microsoft Israel CEO Yoram Yaacobi, Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam and T.K. Rengarajan. (photo credit: 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.

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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.

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