By Rosa Saba
Ask any of the people who work in Magnet Forensics’ Kanata office why they are there, and they will give you one of two reasons.
For Ian McGillen, it’s the work itself. McGillen, who once worked at BlackBerry, now works as a software test specialist in Kanata North – the Waterloo company’s first separate R&D office.
The local office houses the team dedicated to developing and testing the cloud component of software used daily around the world to prosecute criminals, including for such notable cases as the Boston Marathon bombing.
“It’s very rewarding,” says McGillen. “What you directly work on is being used by law enforcement to capture those people … it’s pretty awesome.”
For Craig Hodge, also in software testing, it’s even simpler than that: “The people.”
People and passion – these are the two words that manager Thusha Agampodi had in mind when she set to work creating the Ottawa team. A former manager at BlackBerry, Agampodi used her connections to start Magnet Forensics’ Kanata location in the heart of the technology park, building a team that has continued to grow ever since.
When hiring, she says the person is just as important as their resume. She’s looking for that passion, a belief in what Magnet Forensics does, and she’s carefully crafted a team that not only embodies those values, but also functions as more than just an office of employees.
“We care about each other even outside of work,” says Agampodi. “I feel valued.”
As software developer Daniel VanderVeen puts it, “We’re kind of like a family here.”
That comfort is clear in the way the team interacts and jokes with each other. On Thursdays they like to wear matching shirts – on the day the Networker visited, six were wearing “Sky Pirates” team shirts designed by one of their colleagues – and at 3 p.m., a group huddled near the windows to play HQ, a daily live trivia game.
As with many families, food is a big part of the culture at Magnet Forensics. They have catered lunches together every Friday, and Agampodi sometimes likes to surprise her employees with breakfast before their daily morning meetings – usually waffles.
“I like to bake a lot, and they’re my guinea pigs,” she laughs.
What unites the Kanata Magnet team the most, however, is the work they are doing and the people they are doing it for.
Magnet Forensics founder Jad Saliba is a former police officer in the tech crimes unit who found himself working on a lot of cases involving Facebook messages, especially child exploitation cases, and wanted to be able to access the information left behind on devices such as laptop computers and cell phones.
Saliba found the process of scrubbing hardware for data used to investigate child exploitation, terrorism and other cases to be time consuming, and wanted to speed up the process with a digital tool. In the evenings, he began developing what would eventually become Magnet’s flagship product, Internet Evidence Finder (IEF).
“I was giving (the software) away for free because I was passionate about helping others who were working similar cases,” says Saliba. However, he soon realized demand for the software was much higher than he could handle, and he decided to found Magnet Forensics.
Now, IEF is used by thousands of agencies worldwide. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, they have also developed a product called AXIOM, which helps investigators comb through data faster. Version 2.0 of AXIOM was released earlier this year, which Saliba called a big milestone for Magnet.
The Kanata office’s mandate was to create the cloud component of the IEF software, allowing access to data stored on or synced to the cloud. That product launched last September, less than a year after the team was initially formed.
What VanderVeen said about family rings true for Saliba, just as he would hope – since the company’s inception in 2011, he’s been focused on instilling the right values in his company and hiring people who are aligned with those values, regardless of which office they are in.
“It all feels like one big family,” he says. Saliba interviews every new hire in person, and makes sure all non-Waterloo employees visit the headquarters, while also making visits himself.
Saliba’s presence is something that motivates many of the team members, who say they joined for the chance to work for a person they believe in.
Software test specialist Paul Carr says Saliba was a “big reason” he chose Magnet Forensics.
Shawna Crawford, a software tester who is also from BlackBerry and a member of the original team, says Saliba’s down-to-earth approach and inspiring story made it an easy move.
“Inside or outside of work, he’s still the same guy,” she says. “We totally belong here.”
Agampodi has also brought some of her own central values to the team. As a woman in tech who is originally from Sri Lanka, she’s vocal about bringing more diversity to the sector, whether it’s in age, gender, ethnicity or otherwise. As a result, her team is diverse, especially in age, but united with a common front that brings them into work every day.
“On Monday morning, you actually look forward to coming into work,” says Crawford. “To this day, as soon as we hear that there’s a cloud license sold, we still all scream.”
As a small office, especially with so many of the team members coming from larger companies such as BlackBerry, the Kanata North tech community has been a good place for Magnet Forensics to grow. Saliba says he chose Ottawa because he saw it as a technology hub, and housing Magnet among other small tech companies seemed like the right fit.
For Agampodi, it was the right place to find and build her team.
“As a small company, I think you need that community, and the network,” she says. “There’s a lot of talent here.”
The Kanata office continues to grow from the seven-person team it began as to 16, with another new hire about to arrive. Agampodi says they hire people who are the right fit, regardless of timing. As Saliba puts it, they’re looking for passion – for the work, and for the people.
“What we do (is) impacting people’s lives in a positive way around the world,” he says. “We really want people who are passionate about that.”