Symantec’s Auckland research and development lab is one of just a handful of development centres the company runs outside the US.
From unassuming cubicles and rooms, in a building in Auckland’s Queen Street, developers create software, while quality assurance testers try their best to break that same software, says development director Tim Wayper.
The centre has rack after rack of computers which automatically test the software. “We are also using a lot of virtualisation,” says Wayper.
The Auckland R&D centre started up when Symantec acquired Binary Research, in 1998, and since then it has been heavily involved in developing the Ghost range of products, says Wayper. Some of the original Ghost staff still work in the lab.
The centre used to be the only Symantec R&D facility in the world outside of the US, but now there are also centres in India, China, Australia and Germany, says Wayper.
Wayper can’t disclose what products Auckland’s R&D staff are working on at the moment, but, he says, besides Ghost, the centre has been working quite a lot on Altiris projects and end-point management products. Symantec acquired IT asset management firm Altiris last year.
The Asia-Pacific region currently accounts for 15% of Symantec’s total revenues and 19% of growth, according to the company.The R&D lab has a flexible approach to working hours, says Wayper. As long as the job gets done, staff can choose what hours of the day, or night, they wish to work. The workload is usually project-based, and working hours tend to become longer towards the end of a project, says Wayper. If staff members need to come in early, or work late, the company provides breakfast and dinner, he says. When a project is delivered there is usually a calmer period when the developers get the chance to be a bit innovative, he says.
While the Auckland developers need to stick to a core set of requirements for the software they are writing, they also get the resources and flexibility to innovate quite a bit, says Wayper.
Symantec strongly encourages its staff to file patents. The company has a patent-reward programme, which usually involves a junket of some description, says Wayper. Last year the trip was to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, he says.
Wayper isn’t too affected by the skills shortage yet. There is still a reasonable pool of talent out there, he says. Symantec is generally looking for developers with strong C++, multi-thread development and network programming skills, he says.