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Internet search giant Google Australia has opened not only new offices in Australia, but also a major software engineering and R&D centre, and announced plans to attract graduates via vacation and recruiting programs.

Google Oz is also advertising for seven more engineers as it gears up for development of new products in the Australian lab – including the first local version of Google Maps, a service which promises heavy competition for the Telstra/Sensis WhereIs operation.

Google Maps – currently in use in the US and Europe – was in fact developed in Australia by a team of four independent engineers, who sold the idea to Google US. One of that team, Lars Rasmussen, is now head of engineering at Google Australia.

Comms and IT Minister Helen Coonan cut the ribbon, literally, at the snazzy new HQ – dubbed the Googleplex – on the 18th floor of Darling Park, Sydney.

The air was distinctly relaxed with a number of Google workers trading shots at the staff pool table.

Coonan bubbled with enthusiasm for Google, having recently visited the US Googleplex at Mountain View, California. “It’s a magic place,” cooed Coonan, who confessed she greatly enjoyed riding the company’s electric scooters across the campus. “A great way to go – I really want one,” quoth the Minister.

Google Oz is also advertising for seven more engineers as it gears up for development of new products in the Australian lab – including the first local version of Google Maps, a service which promises heavy competition for the Telstra/Sensis WhereIs operation.

Google Maps – currently in use in the US and Europe – was in fact developed in Australia by a team of four independent engineers, who sold the idea to Google US. One of that team, Lars Rasmussen, is now head of engineering at Google Australia.

Comms and IT Minister Helen Coonan cut the ribbon, literally, at the snazzy new HQ – dubbed the Googleplex – on the 18th floor of Darling Park, Sydney.

The air was distinctly relaxed with a number of Google workers trading shots at the staff pool table.

Coonan bubbled with enthusiasm for Google, having recently visited the US Googleplex at Mountain View, California. “It’s a magic place,” cooed Coonan, who confessed she greatly enjoyed riding the company’s electric scooters across the campus. “A great way to go – I really want one,” quoth the Minister.

 Summer interns wanted

Also in attendance was Rob Pike, principal engineer at Google Labs in the US, who is to henceforth divide his time between the Californian and Sydney labs. “We’re not just localising services here – we’re doing original R&D work, and we’re still a significant part of the (worldwide) Maps team,” said Rasmussen.

Google Oz and NZ operations chief Kate Vale revealed plans for the new internship program. Recruits will be sought from Australia’s top universities, she said, and a “handful” would work at the Sydney Googleplex during the 2006-07 summer vacation, gaining industry experience – and some hopefully later joining the fulltime staff.

Google also plans to start an active campus recruitment program as it builds numbers at the Sydney lab, and will establish a scholarship for women in computing – an initiative that drew an enthusiastic endorsement from Helen Coonan. The company currently employs about 30 people in Sydney, some 75 percent of them in sales and advertising support roles, according to Vale.

It is currently advertising for seven more engineers, six sales reps, two “Adwords” operators and one temporary “quality rater”.

The Australian version of Maps is expected “very soon”, a Google engineer told CDN. Unlike WhereIs, Google Maps allows mouseclick zooming and scrolling as well as overlays from third parties which can show commercial information – eg, the location of every kosher Chinese restaurant in New York (there’s lots), or yacht clubs around Sydney. – David Frith

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