Microsoft is a place where sociologists could work

Sociology majors are always wondering what kinds of jobs they might have in the future. I ran across an article that mentioned a talk by “Mark Smith, Research Sociologist at Microsoft.” With a little Google searching, I found an excerpt from a 2003 interview with Smith who describes how he ended up at Microsoft:

How did a guy like you get to work for a company like Microsoft?
I’m a sociologist. I’ve now been at Microsoft Research about four-and-a-half years. Microsoft has a few social and cognitive psychologists, but I’m the only sociologist.

Which means what, exactly, in the context of technology employment?
A sociologist studies the attributes of relationships and the group of relationships that add up to a collective or a community. As a technology group, our mandate is to both explore and to build tools to study the phenomenon that we could call online community. We sociologists don’t like to use the term “community,” particularly–we like to refer to them as social cyberspaces…

So why exactly does Microsoft need a resident sociologist?
Microsoft has a big investment in online communities, and has not had until recently many tools to enhance that investment. What Microsoft wants around communities is what every enterprise does, which is a peer-support, knowledge-management application. And that means that if you go into Usenet, you’ll find 3,000 Microsoft public newsgroups, with 1.5 million people posting 10 million messages. And that’s 2002–and it’s going to more than double this year, because it more than doubled in ’01. We don’t see traffic flagging at all.

Trained sociologists could be very useful to businesses and organizations who want to conduct their own research and see how potential customers or clients operate in the world. I remember reading an article years ago about Microsoft employing anthropologists who would live with (or spend extended periods of time with) families in order to see how the different family members would use the computer and Windows.

What would it take for more sociologists to convince organizations they can help add to their bottom line or help them reach their goals? Or what might it take for businesses or organizations to start seeking out more sociologists?

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