Student life, Silicon Valley pay

Working remotely is all very well but Aucklander Ben Goodger would prefer to be in the office. Only in his case the office is Netscape Communications headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Working remotely is all very well but Aucklander Ben Goodger would prefer to be in the office. Only in his case the office is Netscape Communications headquarters in Silicon Valley.

Goodger, a 21-year-old student at Auckland University, is back from a one-year stint working at Netscape’s campus in Mountain View, California but remains a full-time employee, working from home.

The Macintosh, Linux and Windows computers that sat in his cubicle in the US have been shipped back to New Zealand and now dominate one end of his lounge room. He recently upgraded from a 56K modem to DSL because his work on the Mozilla browser requires him to download huge amounts of code. Each day he talks to his Netscape colleagues on IRC (internet relay chat) but says he misses being around them.

Goodger juggles all this with third-year studies towards a degree in computer systems engineering, but is happy he doesn’t have the cash flow problems usually attached to student life. Drawing a full-time Netscape programmer’s salary has enabled him to splash out on a sporty new Nissan 200 SX Sylvia in “sunstruck yellow”. The message on the number plate “There is no data only XUL” (pronounced Zul and standing for XML user language) comes from a Netscape in-joke, a play on a line from the Ghostbusters movie, “There is no Dana only Zuul”. XUL was created for the Mozilla application and is used to define its user interface.

Like all employees, he has Netscape stock options, though he wonders wryly what their ultimate value will be, given the rollercoaster US stock markets.

It all began in 1999 when Goodger, a keen amateur web developer, was wondering when the next release of Netscape Navigator would come out. He discovered the Mozilla project, whereby Netscape had released the source code for Netscape Navigator to the world for development.

“I would take dialogues, tidy them up, take screen shots and post them. People seemed to like what I had done.

“Around mid-1999 I was contacted and asked if I was interested in a job doing that stuff for them in the US. They found a Navigator group for me to join and it took several months to get a visa.

“I’d never been to the US and had always wanted to go there. Also, having done work with Mozilla here [in New Zealand] and being in IRC contact I’d already talked to a lot of people there, and it was exciting to meet them.”

Goodger says his co-workers were the highlight of his US work experience.

“Netscape has a large campus with basketball and volleyball courts and a roller hockey rink, but the main drawcard was the people. The people there create an environment that is fun. They’re always doing things like building a gigantic mock-up of the Golden Gate Bridge from soft drink cans, making curtains out of CDs, there’s giant bouncy balls. It’s a good culture.”

His plan is to finish his degree and return to Netscape’s California campus. He’d be there now except his US training visa ran out and he needs a degree to get a sought-after H1 professional visa.

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