I am glad that the idea of open a research center in Indonesia was brought up. I don't know who provided the information to our president, but I am glad that our president was bold enough to put the idea forward.
First of all, this idea was not just came up one or two days ago. We have thought about this for quite a few years. In fact, in a presentation about BHTV (Bandung High Tech Valley) in 2000 (and updated in 2001), I suggested that we approach stable multinational tech companies to open their research centers in Bandung. (Presentation material is available in my web site at budi.insan.co.id/presentations. Search for the word "BHTV". If you can't find it, I'll mail it to you.)
Multinational companies are needed in a tech region (such as Silicon Valley and their look-a-likes). Wired Magazine (in July 2000 edition) did a survey of tech regions in the world. They ranked the regions based on these four criteria:
- The ability of area universities and research facilities to train skilled workers or develop new technologies
- The presence of established companies and multinationals to provide expertise and economic stability
- The population's entrepreneurial drive to start new ventures
- The availability of venture capital to ensure that the ideas make it to market
Bandung was not in Wired's list, but I tried to measure Bandung against those criteria. We have most of them. The only ingredient that's still missing is "the presence of established companies and mutltinationals". I called these companies, the anchors!
The idea of Microsoft Research Center in Indonesia (hopefully in Bandung, since I don't think it will be successful in other region) is definitely inline with BHTV plan. We won't stop with Microsoft. We'll go after other tech companies. Perhaps those who are in Biotech too. Or, we can ressurect "Bell Labs" in Indonesia?
I would like to put an emphasize in research center, not just companies running business. It is good to have (established multinational) companies running business in the region, but it is not very useful since there's no market in Bandung itself (yet!). But Bandung has a great pool of talents.
These research centers (companies) provide a buffer and place to work for new graduates (from tech universities, such as ITB). They are needed to shape these fresh talents. I use the word "shape", since these research centers provide real world high-tech culture (including work ethics) that are not given at universities. They will mold the talents into world class work force. This will benefit to the region and the world. (It's difficult to find well rounded talents.)
Then, there's this question to answer: Can Indonesia (let me selfishly point to Bandung) provide the needed talents for these research centers? My bold answer: Yes!
If not, I will work hard to provide you with the talents! If you (established multinational tech companies) committ to it, then I'll make sure I'll committ to it.
How so? Let me give you a recent example. Recently, Google had a programming contest in Bangalore India. They called it "Google Code Jam." Do you know the winners of this event? The first winner, an Indonesian. The second winner, an Indonesian. Then the third, an Indian. I am not putting down Indians here. I have too many Indian friends to know their quality (excellent!). I just want to point out that we, Indonesians, are also good. Given the opportunity, we will excel. This is good for the (research) centers, by the way.
Another resistance came from people who are against Microsoft. They are afraid that this movement will kill open source movement in Indonesia. Well, let me assure you that open source initiatives (and of course free software movement) will still thrive in Indonesia. I consider myself to be an open source person (slightly slanted towards free software actually), although I don't have the time to code myself. (I still write [perl scripts] just for fun.) We hope that there are other research centers, not just Microsoft. Perhaps there's Apple Research Center (Bandung is well know for its artists and creativity), Intel Research Center (we have a complete Microelectronics lab here in Institut Teknologi Bandung, we have more than a dozen PhDs in Microelectronics), IBM Research Center (big Banks in Indonesia may need special machine from IBM), Biotech research center (there are pharmaceutical companies / factories in Bandung, and also Biotech research in ITB), and many more ...
In short, I am happy that SBY has put forward the idea of Microsoft Research Center in Indonesia to Bill Gates. Let's make this happen. And let approach more companies...
Budi Rahardjo, a BHTV evangelist - http://budi.paume.itb.ac.id