Photo Credit: Illumina

Illumina isn’t the Google of genetic data, they are instead, the whole internet. However, they do draw comparisons to other members of the tech elite, as they inhabit the drive to hire top-tier talent. 

This drive to be the best is demonstrated in its newly unveiled Bay Area home, writes Wired. Employees arriving at the Peninsula’s corporate campus can expect gaming consoles with stadium-level seating; a tricked-out gym; and well sod-grounds. In addition, you will find thousands of square feet of wet labs, hundreds of begoggled, begloved scientists, and rows and rows and rows of the world’s best sequencing machines. 

The rooms will be filled with the 800 newly added people that were hired last year, with on any given day 300 more it’s looking to fill. Biotech is booming in the Bay Area, so it’s no surprise that competition is tough. Illumina is hoping to seduce recruits by taking a page from the Silicon Valley book. 

“The whole concept of the space is designed around openness and collaboration,” said Illumina spokeswoman, Tina Amirkiai, as she pointed out the glass-walled break-out rooms and open office floor where CEO Francis de Souza inhabits a cubicle. “The first step to bringing in new talent is creating a destination where people actually want to work.”

Despite previously being headquartered in San Diego, Illumina has long had roots over in the Bay Area. However, it’s various business units have been spread around dark office parks; a research and development center in Mission Bay, prenatal testing in Redwood City, and a software division in Santa Clara. So it’s no surprise that a move to one 20-acre campus in Foster City has got employees excited. 

With that in mind, 400 employees are expected to arrive between now and June. But with three buildings and 360,000 square feet, Illumina anticipates that it will one day house more like 1,200. That’s not forgetting the empty lot that could potentially house a fourth building when growth mandates more space. If this was to be the case, it would mean adding more parking. This could be problematic as the campus isn’t within walking distance, so they are adding to the serious shortage of transportation and housing on the peninsula. 

This view is felt by Allison Arieff, head of public engagement for the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. “Biotech firms here aren’t any different – they keep creating these isolated, automobile-dependent campuses that contribute to an already intractable problem,” she said. “To see them just default to the traditional paradigm is disappointing.”

Although Illumina boasts connectivity, creativity, and innovation, Arieff suggests that real innovation would look more like creating mixed-use spaces, where people could live. Or offering on-site childcare. Or having more flexible policies around remote work. “The shiny stuff will attract people, but it’s the more pragmatic things that retain them.”

But, you have to attract them in the first place. Entry level positions often require phDs, and “senior staff scientist” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Stanford professor of human genomics.” And let’s be honest, six figures only goes so far in the Bay Area housing market. 

“There’s a greater expectation amongst the most desired workforces, and that’s where the context of the office becomes much more important,” explained Louise Mozingo, a landscape architect at UC Berkley and author of Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes. “You can’t just take them to a tilt-up warehouse, no matter how much you pay them.”

At the end of the day, a foosball table might please the millennials, but it’s not going to have the same appeal to families, who would much rather not fight hours of rush hour traffic to get their kid from daycare. 

 What do you think of the new campus? Leave your thoughts below!