Written by Doug O’Neill

While the business focus of BlueCat Networks has shifted somewhat in the last couple of years, one element of the Toronto-based Enterprise DNS company remains the same: employees can expect a healthy breakfast – and lunch – in the subsidized staff cafeteria every day of the week.

“Treating our employees well has been core to our business philosophy,” says CEO Michael Harris. “Providing a nurturing workplace dates back to the very beginning of BlueCat.”

A 2012 national newspaper article about BlueCat co-founder Michael Hyatt (who remains as a director upon the 2017 sale to Madison Dearborn Partners) devoted the first paragraph to the subsidized staff cafeteria, and how all 110 employees in the Toronto office back then chowed down on the same egg-white omelette and fruit salad as their CEO upon arriving at work each morning. 

That commitment to a nurturing work environment helped spur the growth of BlueCat Networks, whose success up until now has been driven by its Enterprise DNS (Domain Name Service) server technology, which is used by over 1,000 corporate and government customers to connect users and devices securely to Internet-based applications and services. Says Jim Williams, vice-president of marketing, “BlueCat has supplied the world’s largest and most complex corporations with a DNS platform that helps them move to the cloud, virtualize their infrastructure, deploy Internet of Things (IoT) strategy and transform their IT operations.”

That nurturing workplace, now occupying a new 38,000-square foot open-concept space in North York, has grown to 400 people. Not only is there a modern, hipster-style cafeteria inside the main entrance, but there’s also a sleekly-designed lounge where employees come together Friday afternoons for snacks and cocktails – and at other times for yoga or pilates classes. “We are looking for 70 people right now, and I would say in three years we’ll be up to 600 or 700 employees,” says Williams.

Among the job openings BlueCat was looking to fill in early 2018 were 12 positions in cyber security, mirroring a shift in the start-up’s business focus. 

“Historically, BlueCat has been a leader in the $3B Enterprise DNS marketplace,” explains Williams. “Our future growth, however, is in the red hot cyber security market. At least 10% of our current workforce has cyber security experience. Our strategic position on corporate networks gives BlueCat access to billions and billions of network queries – and that is a veritable cyber security goldmine for our customers. Breaches, ransomware, DDoS attacks, data exfiltration…all of these can be detected and mitigated in DNS data, and that’s where we are investing today.”

BluecatWilliams uses the analogy of Jenga, the nerve-wracking, block-building game, to explain network security challenges today: “In the beginning, everything starts out in perfect alignment. The network architecture is simple, and it holds together well. Over time, the foundation starts to erode. Pieces of critical infrastructure are moved around. A new network region here, a hundred new employees there – each layer of complexity puts strains on the system.  Mergers and acquisitions create an awkward tangle of network pathways.  New security layers lead to additional complications.”

The BlueCat team is focused on building a Cyber Security Center of Excellence here in Toronto, says Harris: “Businesses today face threats of increasing sophistication and frequency, executed by nation states and criminal organizations intent on exploiting weaknesses for financial gain or competitive advantage.” 

While the company is expanding internationally (recently opening offices in Maidenhead, UK and Mannheim, Germany), all BlueCat development happens in Toronto. “We do not offshore any of our development,” says Harris. “We can find the talent we need right here in Toronto.” BlueCat’s twice-yearly hackathons are popular with the Toronto IT community, and the company also hosts HackerX, a recruiting-and-networking event for local developers.

In late 2017, the Great Place To Work Institute Canada named BlueCat a Best Workplace for Women and one of Canada’s Best Employers for Recent Graduates. BlueCat was also designated as one of Canada’s Best Workplaces in Technology.

Photos: Doug O’Neill