I Left My Staff in San Francisco
Aaron Ricadela / Business Week
June 19, 2008
Autodesk software engineer Hawkeye Parker would have to drive more than 20 miles north, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, if he worked at his company’s headquarters in San Rafael, Calif. Instead, 37-year-old Parker takes a seven-minute train from his home in San Francisco’s bustling Mission District to the design-software maker’s outpost on the city’s eastern edge. The dress is casual, the office plan open, and the commute quick.
“It’s an engineer’s place to work,” says Parker. “I want to live in San Francisco. So there’s kind of a symbiotic relationship there.”
Put simply, San Francisco residents “hate commuting,” says Autodesk (ADSK) Chief Executive Carl Bass. The $2 billion-a-year company, which houses 275 of its 7,000 employees at One Market St. in San Francisco, thinks customers prefer the city to the suburbs, too. In September, Autodesk plans to open its flagship “customer briefing center” in the same building to court the engineers, architects, and IT executives who buy its software.
CAN THE COMMUTE
Autodesk is one among a raft of tech companies, including Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), and newer players like professional networking Web site LinkedIn, striving for that same San Francisco symbiosis. These companies have long occupied suburbs to the south, east, and north of the city. Now they see expansion downtown as a way to attract and retain some of the brightest talent, quicken the travel time to meetings, and impress customers from around the world. “There’s a lot of talent we can attract” who don’t live near Google’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters 36 miles south, says engineering manager Julie Pearl, who works in San Francisco. “It’s very appealing for folks.” Soaring gas prices have only enhanced the appeal of ditching a 40-mile commute.
Since October, Google has moved more than 600 workers onto three floors of an office near San Francisco’s Ferry Building that used to belong to The Gap. Google plans to hold an opening event, featuring keynotes by executives and demos of new technology, to showcase the space in July. Several engineering teams, the Google.org philanthropic arm, plus workers in sales, PR, and other areas, have moved up from Mountain View. Though Google offers free shuttle buses from the city to headquarters, some workers don’t want to commute, Pearl says. “It’s a huge difference to be able to get off the Muni [train] right in front of the building,” she says.
Microsoft, too, is widening its Frisco footprint to attract city-dwelling engineers. The company, which has long operated a satellite campus in Silicon Valley, in December more than doubled its main San Francisco work space, moving from 42,000 square feet at One Market St. (where Autodesk is moving in), to a nearly 92,000-square-foot office at the city’s new Westfield Centre complex eight blocks away. Microsoft has nearly tripled its number of San Francisco employees in the past year, to 520, across four locations, a company spokesman says. It’s also expanding office space near the city’s downtown ballpark for Rapt, a maker of advertising software bought by Microsoft in March.