European Business: Thanks in no small part to Microsoft, there is no escaping digital technology in everyday life. Is there still room for expansion in the digital world?
Jamel Gafsi: Certainly, the future is most definitely digital. More and more assets will be digitized; more and more data will find its home in the cloud and connectivity will increase. Our lives will be completely different to how they are today. For the moment, the internet and mobile phones have transformed the way people live, communicate, consume information and entertainment and work but they, too, will disappear or be transformed. The next few years will see an explosion in innovation unlike anything that has gone before. The future will be heavily influenced by artificial intelligence. Also, we will live in a world, where virtual and real will get mixed, where many jobs will disappear and many others will get created.
European Business: What is your role in this development?
Jamel Gafsi: The Microsoft Engineering Center Paris designs, builds and operates products around the Microsoft Store and the Microsoft Windows Ecosystem. This is to say we build services and experiences that are related to games, music, TV, books and anything else that falls under the media umbrella. Most recently, we built the platform that enables people to build, distribute and share 3D objects that they have created with Microsoft Paint3D tools on Windows. Everything related to those aspects is designed, developed, productized and operated by our team out of Paris. We also built the cloud services to run these products.
European Business: What highlights can we expect to see in the future?
Jamel Gafsi: One of the things we are working on at the moment is the online books-reading platform that relies on the Windows Edge browser. We are perfecting this platform aimed at the educational market so that teachers and students can have the best interactive reading and sharing experience. It will allow students to interact with the books in the same way that they might annotate a physical book but with many more opportunities to enhance their understanding and engagement with the text, graphs and even videos. We want to make sure that students have access to the books, and all related educational support they need in digital form. This is part of our mission to usher in a paperless education. I see this as one of my main tasks to helping to digitize the world.
European Business: Why did Microsoft choose to locate its engineering center in Paris?
Jamel Gafsi: Everything we developed here is destined for the world market. Because we work in a digital environment that finds home in the cloud, it does not really matter where we are located. It just happened to be Paris. I have been with Microsoft since 2005. Before that I had my own start-up company building software to distribute television content on Internet networks. I received an offer from Microsoft to build up a European center far away from its US headquarters. Our mission was to take complete responsibility for the development of particular projects and turn the center into a product unit. We have 200 software engineers here in Paris and I spend one week out of every month at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, where I also have a team working for me out of the US.
European Business: There is huge competition among employers for the best IT brains. How do you recruit the skilled people you need?
Jamel Gafsi: Of course, Microsoft is an extremely prestigious employer known for operating at the cutting edge of software development and engineering excellence. We also have the advantage of being located in one of Europe’s most vibrant capitals. I need excellent engineers and can recruit from all over Europe and the Mediterranean countries . Within our organization today, we have 24 different nationalities in our offices in Paris. For me, that is one of the big draws of my job – being able to work with multicultural people who are smarter than me and where I can learn something new every day.