Business Technology

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Life after Google

Some of the most powerful players in the Irish technology sector have one thing in common... they all started their careers at Google

Published 30/03/2014 | 02:30

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The promise of producing graduates who excel in maths is key to attracting global giants like Google to invest in Ireland.
Sonia Flynn, Director, Facebook Ireland
Sonia Flynn, Director, Facebook Ireland
Google have signed the deal

FOR decades, the CVs of Ireland's most prominent senior executives had one thing in common: education. A bankable degree from Trinity or UCD, followed by a lofty-sounding master's in the UK, was the one sure way to kickstart a career and begin on a path that ended in riches and company cars.

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But there's a new CV builder emerging. Gather 500 of the country's top C-suite and senior executives in a room and you'll find another uniting factor: a big chunk have worked, at one time or another, for Google.

An elite new group of powerful Irish executives has surfaced, with members all united by long stints spent at the search engine's Barrow Street abode. They've gone on to lead some of the world's biggest companies – and most of them are still under 45.

One such executive is Stephen McIntyre, the Dublin-based head of Twitter's Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) business. He was headhunted by Twitter after a six-year stint at Google. McIntyre joined the search behemoth in 2005 and quickly moved up the ladder from technical operations manager to the man responsible for all of Google's new products in the EMEA region.

McIntyre is a trained engineer with impressive credentials. He got a First in electrical engineering at Trinity College and then travelled stateside on a prestigious Fulbright scholarship, earning a Master's in Engineering at east coast Ivy League university Cornell and an MBA at Harvard.

But you don't have to be a techie to qualify for membership of this group. Many of the former Googlers who have gone on to lead tech giants wouldn't know a line of code if it smacked them in the face. Some moved up through Google in ad sales, communications and marketing roles, since that's what the vast majority of its 4,000 Irish employees are engaged in. After all, the search engine is one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world.

Sonia Flynn is a good example. Today the Kildare mother of one is managing director of Facebook Ireland, responsible for about 500 employees. She worked for Google between 2005 and 2009, a member of the original team who built up its Irish presence. The Queen's University graduate is no techie; she studied applied languages in college.

Facebook's senior staff is littered with Paddies. Its US-based vice-president of global operations, a very senior role, is Derry man Colm Long. He was Mark Zuckerberg's first Irish employee and led the creation of the social network's Irish hub, before moving to its global headquarters in Menlo Park, California, following a promotion.

Long's CV also includes a stint at, you've guessed it, Google. He joined in 2004, when the search giant only had a small team based in Dublin and Grand Canal Dock was overwhelmed by pigeons rather than multi-lingual 20-somethings. He worked there for five years, a period in which its Irish staff grew from 100 to 1,200, before being headhunted by Facebook. He's another one with a background in languages, holding a degree in applied linguistics, specialising in French and Russian, from the University of Brighton.

But this elite group of former Googlers extends beyond the borders of Twitter and Facebook. A stint at the search engine giant also appears on the CV of Eoghan Nolan, head of technology operations for the world's biggest payday loans company Wonga. Like Colm Long, he joined Google in its Irish infancy, signing up in 2004 after a gruelling 12 interviews.

Van Morrison fan Nolan held a variety of roles at Google, including positions in payment activities, audio and video networks with search quality teams and ad sales.

The UCD and Trinity finance graduate only changed jobs recently, joining Wonga last August – not long after the company was described as "morally wrong" by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The list goes on.

Other big names include Johann Butting, the head of sales and operations for cloud storage company DropBox. DropBox is valued in the multi-billions; investors include Bono and The Edge. Then there's Brennan O'Donnell, vice-president of sales for Survey Monkey. California-based Survey Monkey is headed up by David Goldberg, husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. It was recently valued at $1.35bn.

One of the reasons for all this industry incestuousness is that Ireland has suddenly found itself in the enviable position of technology hub of Europe – but doesn't have a sufficient number of qualified people to staff it. A survey last year of major multinationals by tech group 'Fasttrack to IT' found "severe shortages" in the supply of skilled candidates for Irish technology jobs.

The result of this is intense competition among the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Google and Wonga for a small pool of talent. Even the perks for which Google has become so known – an expansive gym, in-house doctors and all the free food you can eat – aren't proving enough for some senior people.

The technology industry is notorious for poaching, so much so that at one point Apple's Steve Jobs and Google's Eric Schmidt allegedly entered a shaky pact promising not to poach each other's employees.

Smaller indigenous companies with less bargaining power don't have a hope – AIB's latest Technology Outlook Report, released last week, revealed that three-quarters of the 700 "significant" indigenous Irish technology companies surveyed said hiring decent employees is a bigger challenge than raising money.

But this is changing, says Google HR manager Helen Tynan. "The pool of talent is consistently growing," she says. "We now have a large cluster of technology companies firmly established here – because of that, more and more people are arriving every day."

She denies that poaching and losing senior people to competitors is a problem. "Most people choose to stay, and stay here for a very long time. The rate of staff turnover considered healthy in this industry is about 10 per cent, which provides both a level of stability and also an injection of fresh blood. We're no different ... There's bound to be movement but it's the same in any industry." She says the company views people like Stephen McIntyre, who leave after years of service, as success stories. One of the reasons so many Googlers go on to lead companies, she says, is because their recruitment process focuses on leadership – "whether you're a college graduate or have 20 years' experience".

"We're not hung up on candidates having particular skills because your job here could change dramatically in the space of a year." Flexibility and the ability to respectfully challenge the status quo are also important, she added.

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