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Interview: Finding and keeping talent in a research lab

T.C. Seow | April 15, 2013
Valuable lessons from a leading research lab on where to find the right people to spearhead innovation within an organisation.

How does a research lab earn its keeps? Why is it important to any organisation? CIO Asia talks to Dr. Lynn Wilcox of California-based FX Palo Alto Laboratory, Inc. (FXPAL) about how to keep her lab going.

FX Palo Alto Lab is a leading multimedia research laboratory established by Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd. in 1995. Its researchers invent information technologies intended to address key issues affecting businesses and society. FXPAL focuses on four main areas of research—multimedia systems, interactive documents, mixed reality spaces, and information access.

Dr. Lynn Wilcox is Vice President of Research at FXPAL. Her current research interest is applications of augmented reality and visual search. Past interests include video surveillance, semi-automatic photo organisation, and multimedia documents. She has 22 patents in audio and image technologies and has published a number of papers.

CIO Asia: How do you find the right people to do research in FXPAL?
Dr. Lynn Wilcox: I try to keep in touch with universities and their professors. When their good students are graduating, we try to hire them. If I know of a professor, I know he will give me a better student at the very least.

So you give a lot of emphasis on references?
On reference and knowing people—yes. But I have to go a step further, not just the reference. Knowing who wrote the reference is really important. So, keeping in contact with the universities is important. Another thing we do in Silicon Valley is, we look out for labs that just shut down. If I know the people who worked there, I'll call them up, suss out who are the good people, and try to hire them. People do that all the time.

Sounds like you have a very wide network of contacts out there.
Yes, that's important.

How did you manage to build up such a huge network?
One way is publishing papers at technical conferences where you'd typically give a talk to present your research. And then you meet people afterwards that are interested in these technology issues, stay a few days at the conference with them, and eventually you build up a relationship with them. Most of them have students, and often they would introduce their students who may be working at other companies, so then you learn what's going on in the other companies. When people are getting laid off or when things are bad, there goes your opportunity to find good people.

But how do you retain new people? How do you incentivise them?
We try to maintain a good reputation to our lab. We get good reputation mostly by publishing in conferences and getting awards for best papers. FXPAL has a really good reputation in more and more multimedia conferences. That's because our president [Dr. Lawrence Rowe] was a past president of the [ACM] multimedia special interest group (SIGMM). Several of us have been on conference committees there, so we do 'community service' for this organisation. People know FXPAL.

 

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