Wednesday 18 October 2017

Digital economy is the key to Irish recovery

Twitter Ireland boss Stephen McIntyre on how to kickstart business through technology

AIN’T IT TWEET: Stephen McIntyre with staff at Twitter’s European headquarters in Dublin – the firm will double the number of staff by the end of 2014
AIN’T IT TWEET: Stephen McIntyre with staff at Twitter’s European headquarters in Dublin – the firm will double the number of staff by the end of 2014

Stephen McIntyre

THE digital sector is driving the Irish economy forward and providing high value jobs.

The fact that our digital economy is expanding rapidly won't be news to most Irish people. In the last few months alone we have seen jobs announcements from Dropbox, Qualtrics, Tripadvisor, SquareSpace and Salesforce.

At Twitter, we recently announced plans to double the size of our European headquarters in Dublin from 100 to 200 next year. At a time when Irish people are emigrating by the thousand, online companies – homegrown and foreign – are providing concrete career opportunities right here at home.

There has been some suggestion lately that in this sector multinational companies crowd out local firms in the search for skilled people. While it's undoubtedly true that the market for talent is competitive, it is not "zero sum". In fact, local and foreign companies are on the same side in the quest to make Dublin the pre-eminent tech hub in Europe.

There has been a huge inflow of talent into our digital economy in the past decade: first came a slew of Irish people returning home after years abroad; next came a skilled international workforce attracted by the beacon of the world's brightest brands.

Many of these people wouldn't be in Ireland today if it weren't for the multinationals. I'm a case in point.

When I grew up in the late Eighties, I took it for granted that I would have to emigrate if I ever wanted a decent job. By the time I graduated as an engineer in 1996, prospects were improving but the best career opportunities were still overseas. In any case, I was conditioned to believe that a more exciting path lay outside Ireland and so, a month after my 21st birthday, I left Ireland and spent most of the next decade abroad.

By the time I returned in 2005, my hometown was becoming a true tech cluster. The job I landed at Google was comparable to any I could have secured in Silicon Valley. Thousands of returning Irish emigrants experienced something similar.

The notion that you could come home without making a big career sacrifice was truly novel. And while the Celtic Tiger transformation of some sectors turned out to be a chimera, Ireland's digital economy proved robust and it has gone from strength to strength.

Twitter Dublin has over 30 open positions available right now, the breadth of which would have been unimaginable in the Ireland of a decade ago. We're looking for a business development leader to oversee our efforts across Europe, a public policy manager, software engineers and sales managers, to name just a few. The variety and seniority of these roles points to something that should be a cause of great optimism. We have indeed moved up the value chain as a country. While there has been plenty of distracting blather about this topic, make no mistake: our tech economy has undergone a quiet revolution.

In 2004, a Government-sponsored body of academics and business leaders called the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) published a report entitled Ahead of the Curve. It makes for poignant reading now, coming as it did at the tail end of the Celtic Tiger years and describing an Ireland full of promise. But it got many things remarkably right. It identified three vital portions of the value chain: R&D, manufacturing, and sales & marketing. The ESG noted that Ireland had lost competitiveness in manufacturing and would have to bulk up on the other two, developing expertise in "products and markets".

Fast-forward a decade to today's Ireland, where we have thousands of highly paid workers in sales and marketing roles at some of the world's hottest companies. I'm not referring to call-centre agents, who handle one-off customer queries but don't have an ongoing relationship with that customer. I'm referring to highly skilled sales and marketing people at companies like Twitter, who manage large customer relationships across Europe from a base in Dublin. This is a part of the value chain in which Ireland has been stunningly successful. It is the kind of high-end work that didn't exist in Ireland a decade ago, which is why it was highlighted by the ESG as an untapped opportunity.

So it surprises me when I hear talk of "moving up the value chain" only in terms of software engineering jobs. I'm an engineer by profession and a board member of Engineers Ireland. I believe passionately in the transformative power of engineering to make people's lives better. I want to see more young people studying engineering at university and I want to see more engineers at work in this country.

But engineering jobs are by no means the only high-end jobs available in tech companies in Ireland or anywhere else. In some of the recent debate about Ireland's positioning as a global tech hub, "number of engineering jobs" has been used as a proxy measure for "job quality". This is very misleading and may stem from an oversimplified view of how tech companies evolve from start-up to maturity.

In the early days of a typical tech start-up, the product is built by software engineers and is the firm's main source of competitive advantage. So it makes sense that start-ups are obsessed with engineering talent above all else. Without engineers, there is no product.

But without salespeople, there is no business. Contrary to popular belief, great products don't sell themselves. At least not for long. The iPod and iPhone were indeed innovative and beautiful. But Apple's marketing machine was an integral part of the story. Amazon's reputation for after-sales service has been a vital component of its success. Google's search engine may well be the world's finest, but its advertising sales team has transformed that technical superiority into sustained revenue growth.

All of this is good news for Ireland. It means that we can play to win in two high-end parts of the value chain. Although Ireland's shortage of locally-produced software engineers has been well documented, the number of students choosing engineering at university is thankfully on the rise.

And our vibrant start-up scene is a testimony to what great engineering talent can do, even when it's in short supply.

Ireland's new-look digital economy took on a visible form during the recent Web Summit, which miraculously made Ballsbridge in late October feel like Palo Alto. As I walked among the buzzing crowd of entrepreneurs, techies, investors, and journalists, it was hard not be optimistic about the future.

Modern management theory suggests that people are more likely to become world-class by building on their strengths rather than by chipping away at their weaknesses. Perhaps the same could be said for countries.

When it comes to Ireland's digital economy, I suspect we don't realise just how world-class we already are.

Twitter recently announced plans to double the size of its European headquarters in Dublin to more than 200 people by the end of 2014.

Those interested in finding out more about employment opportunities at Twitter should visit the website – www.twitter.com/jobs/ positions/ and also follow @JoinTheFlockEU on Twitter to hear about new roles as they come available.

Stephen McIntyre is senior director of online sales in EMEA and managing director of Twitter in Ireland. @stephenpmc

The CV

Stephen joined Twitter in 2012 to build its European headquarters in Dublin, where the company now employs more than 100 staff.

Before that he spent almost seven years at Google in a variety of EMEA leadership roles, including a stint as director of media and platforms,and another as director of online sales. He was a member of the original leadership team which built Dublin into Google's largest international office.

He started his career as an engineer in the mobile industry with Nokia and Ericsson.

His student trajectory began when he got a first-class honours degree in Engineering at Trinity College, Dublin, and was awarded an Engineering Masters from Cornel lUniversity, where he was a Fulbright scholar. He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

The status sheet

Twitter has more than 230m monthly active users

Globally, over 500m Tweets are sent everyday

More than 300bn Tweets have been sent since company founding in 2006

More than 75 per cent of active users are mobile users.

Twitter established its office in Dublin two years ago.

Twitter Dublin is the EMEA headquarters for Twitter.

Twitter currently employes over 100 people in Dublin across more than 10 different functions and plans to double this by the end of 2014

Sunday Independent

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