Looking back, it was as if Yahoo! swept into Champaign-Urbana overnight. Although its entry into the Research Park in late summer 2007 was swift, it was nothing but strategic.
“Yahoo saw it as very strategic location because of its proximity to the University of Illinois,” says Yahoo! engineering director Cathy Singer. “Also, they saw it was a very highly talented pool, not just the engineers coming from Motorola but other engineers in the community because of the University.”
Since it took up residence in the Research Park, Yahoo! has become one of its largest employers with more than 90 full-time staff. The quality and consistency of its professional workforce is one reason why Yahoo! has made a strong commitment and investment in the Champaign location, regardless of the distance to the California headquarters.
“It’s a great opportunity to work for a high-tech company like Yahoo! but yet live in a place like Champaign that is very family-oriented, and the cost of living is reasonable,” said Singer.
In addition to hiring its graduates, the company has made other synergistic connections with the University of Illinois. It actively has developed relationships with faculty members who do research in relevant topics. Yahoo! has collaborated with the University as a sponsor for the Illinois Cloud Computing Testbed, the world’s first cloud testbed aimed at supporting both systems innovation and applications research within a single microcosm.
That is relevant to the Yahoo! site at the Research Park, where the staff focuses on two major projects that both involve cloud computing. As a Hadoop Center of Excellence, a team of engineers works on Hadoop, an open-source software framework that allows massive data processing distributed across thousands of nodes and petabytes worth of data.
Another team works on a data pipeline project that handles, aggregates, and processes data generated from clicks on Yahoo!’s advertising platforms.
The team is known for its innovation. Although not a research center, engineers at Yahoo!’s Champaign site filed 15 patents and published papers on a variety of topics in 2009 alone.
“The engineers here have proven to be able to quickly learn new technologies,” Singer says. “They’ve also had a very low attrition. As a result, the company feels very comfortable putting a big investment in the Champaign site.”