'Silicon Valley seed is in Bangalore'

Summary:FireEye's new Indian head says the Indian city is ready to transform into a new Silicon Valley and the security vendor aims to nurture a team that will eventually build their own startups.

BANGALORE--IT security vendor FireEye is hoping its new research and development facility here will be able to recruit India's best-and-brightest technical specialists who could then go on to develop the next generation of security startups.

In an interview with ZDNet, vice president research Sridhar Jayanthi said the California-based company's Indian facility aims to bolster the capability to detect unknown threats in real-time, with a very low percentage of false-positives. The US$50 million research center was launched last week and serves as a hub for developing and testing new products. 

Jayanthi, also FireEye's India managing director, wants 50 experienced, technical staff to develop three first-generation, or "1.0", products in the vein of the company's flagship virtual execution engine which discreetly observes the behaviour of malware inside a company's firewall and network to eliminate the source of the attack. He said few software protection vendors are attempting this, even fewer would build these products from scratch, and virtually no one has chosen to do this in India.

The key is to find the most talented, ambitious staff, he added. "We're not really going for numbers [of staff] here. That is not the success part I really cherish, it's only an indicator things are going well," he said. "I expect the FireEye India team to be much more focused on quality rather than numbers. This is leading edge product. Everything we do is brand new--not only for us but also the market. It won't be a numbers game."

FireEye focuses on network security offerings, touting its products across new breed of security attacks including advanced persistent threats and other advanced malware.

Jayanthi left America in 2002 to become McAfee's first India-based employee, returning to his homeland after 20 years. Over the next decade he cultivated a 1,500-strong R&D workforce--five times bigger than its American cousin  and constituted 40 percent of the company's R&D muscle.

"We were first asked to do testing, maintenance of products, and small amounts of product development, but by the time I left there were over 45 teams who fully engineered 18 products, including a couple of 1.0 products," he recalled. "There were so many patents and we even won an innovation award for a product developed in India."

However, he constantly battled to change the prevailing "numbers game" corporate mentality to arrive at a solution by throwing bodies at a problem. "When I first started, the executives said we need to hire 100 staff, and if it succeeds, we'll double that," Jayanthi stated. "I think we doubled headcount every year for the first five years.

This will not work at the "lean" FireEye, he noted. His said his team will operate like a startup, and he expects his employees to be hungry entrepreneurs .

"Hopefully lot of people will see this as something that will make them wealthy over time," he said. "The typical path in India is that after eight years of experience you become a manager. Now I'm finding, for the first time, that people with 15 to 20 years of tech experience don't want to be a manager."

FireEye in January raised an additional US$50 million in venture funding, according to Venture Beat, and a future stock exchange listing could deliver a windfall to the Indian R&D staff who then would have the seed capital and experience to start their own technology companies.

Jayanthi said: "I do hope these Indian staff actually go and start their own companies and keep pushing the envelope of technology. That is the model of Silicon Valley, and I see India going exactly that way."

He added that the elements had always been here to spark a Silicon Valley tech revolution: Bangalore always had the talent, it always had the U.S. connection, it always had the wherewithal, and now it has the courage.

"The Silicon Valley seed is in Bangalore I did not believe it five to six years ago, but now I see it. I see the number of senior technical people at brandname companies ready to join startups.

"In the past, I would have been worried to death about this challenge, but today I'm not even nervous because of the [available] talent," he said.

Topics: Start-Ups, India, Security

About

Mahesh Sharma earned his pen licence in his homeland, where he covered the technology industry for ZDNet, SMH, Sky Business News, and The Australian--first as an FTE, and later as a freelancer. The latter fueled his passion for startups and empowered a unique perspective on entrepreneurs' passion to solve problems using technology. Armed... Full Bio

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