Wild Geese: Going head to head with Google on search

Bing executive presses the case for maths and science education


Google may by the king of online search, but it isn’t the only game in town, and Irishman Derrick Connell is keen to ensure internet users always have a choice.

The Microsoft corporate vice-president was instrumental in the launch of Bing, helping to develop it into one of the largest search engines in the world. Now he is on a new mission – to make Bing the best search engine in the world, by delivering intuitive search results.

The new Bing results page features a sidebar function which draws relevant posts from a user’s Facebook and Twitter contacts as they search. It aims to combat “search overload” and even intelligently suggests influential or authoritative people who may have an opinion on the keywords a user is searching for.

“Research tells us that 90 per cent of people consult a friend or expert before making a decision – whether it’s something as simple as which train will take you uptown or who is the best dentist in Boulder, other people are often the most trusted source of information.”

Connell studied computer science at DIT Kevin Street, and at the University of Ulster, before working on the London Stock Exchange as a programmer for three years.

He began his career in Microsoft in 1992 as an application developer in the Irish offices, moving to London in 1997 to work for MSN (Europe) on Microsoft’s engineering team. It was there he discovered search.

“At the time, MSN was new so we were almost like a start-up. Google had just come to Europe and their search inspired me.”

Connell started building a search engine in London which was called Live Search before moving to the US to work on Bing.

“We went over to the US to get more investment, and Microsoft said we needed to move over and base ourselves out of the States. I moved over in 2004.”

Connell takes great pride in being one of the people who named Bing.

“We wanted a name that was short, [and] that we could own in every country. We had to buy all the URLs.”

The search engine now has 100 million users in the US, and is showing no signs of slowing down.

“We are competing with Google for search and we are in an epic battle. We will be happy when we have the same market share as Google. That said, working on a search engine you are never happy. There is always work and innovation to be done. Our vision is that information on the internet should not be controlled by one company. We live in a democracy. There should be choice.”

Global product
The company is currently investing very heavily in making its global product as good as its US product.

“It is improving every month. Bing powers Yahoo search. It powers the search on Nokia devices. Kindle from Amazon is powered by Bing. Half of the Facebook search is Bing.”

Connell believes education and training in the tech sector will help Ireland’s high unemployment rate.

“Ireland today is similar to when I grew up in the 1970s. When I started secondary school, we were told almost half of us would need to emigrate when we finished as we wouldn’t be able to get a job.

“Irish people are fortunate to have access to free education and they should take advantage of that. It gives you a platform to get any job.”

He says the entire high tech industry is based around big data and machine learning, an area where there is a huge shortage of qualified personnel.

“There are not enough graduates of maths and science. People should go that way as there will be lots of jobs worldwide in that arena. There are lots of opportunities but the key is education.”