The internet capital of Europe or a base for technology giants’ support services?

While some development work is carried out here, the focus is often of sales, marketing and support


We’ve all heard the headlines. Ireland is the “internet capital of Europe”; Dublin is the “Silicon Docks” of Ireland; there is a chronic skills shortage with anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 vacancies in the tech sector.

Yes, there’s no doubting it, the tech sector is booming, and Ireland is doing better than most in capturing the big names. But is the country really succeeding in winning core development work and therefore the much talked of “higher value added” jobs? Or are we potentially overstating the technological footprint of US tech giants in Ireland? And does it actually matter?

For many US multinationals (MNCs), Ireland is a hub for their Europe, Middle East and Asia (EMEA) operations. This means that while some development work will be carried out, the focus will be on sales, marketing and support for this region.

Dermot Daly spent some years working with a US multinational during the 1990s, before he set up his own mobile app development company, Tapadoo. He found that when it came to core development work, the MNC “tended not to let that out of the US”.

Significant number
“My experience of it was that there was some engineering work going on, but not a lot,” he says, adding, “in terms of the Irish operation, it was under the company’s support wing – not under its product development wing – which meant that work was being done for internal projects. I didn’t witness a lot of high-quality engineering work going on; if it was important it would happen in the US”.

This is something that was echoed in discussions that have been ongoing between Apple and US senators, over its use of Ireland for extremely favourable tax planning.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said that while the iPhone-maker employs a “significant number” of people in Ireland, they are “functionally and practically managed” in the US, and some of its “most strategic decisions” are made back in the US.

This focus means that a lot of the jobs available in these tech giants are focused on sales. Take a look at Google for example. According to its most recent financial accounts for its Irish operations, it employs about 1,900 people here (this has since risen to about 2,500). Of these, some 8 per cent work in engineering roles, managing the infrastructure for all its products across the region, from Search to Chrome to Google+.

However, a staggering 70 per cent are employed in sales, with jobs in administration and operations accounting for the remaining roles. While there may be a technical element to these jobs, it’s not Phd qualified candidates that they’ll likely be looking for.

And it’s no different from the other big names of the tech sector that have found their way to our shores in recent years. At LinkedIn’s operation along Dublin’s docks for example, 75 per cent of its 95-strong workforce are employed in sales, marketing and customer support, with the remainder working in management and administration roles.

Crucial role
At nearby Facebook, which continues to grow its Irish workforce, of the 287 people employed as of the end of 2011, 45 per cent worked in sales, with engineering roles accounting for just 10 per cent of its workforce – although it also has a sizeable cohort (26 per cent) working in “user operations”.

And, when Facebook was looking for a home for its first R&D centre outside of the US, it opted for London, with Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering with the social media firm, saying that the London team would “play a crucial role in development of future products and core technology for Facebook”.

Last year, Twitter started advertising for its nascent Irish operation, which has just found a new home in The Academy on Pearse Street in Dublin. It was looking to hire about 40 people, split between the social media group’s London and Dublin offices, with the Irish operation in the market for sales executives for countries across Europe, as well as marketing and user services agents.

And the newer arrivals are adopting a similar approach. Online storage space provider Dropbox is also hiring for its Irish operation which it expects to open this year, and the Dublin-based sales team will be “dedicated to delivering Dropbox for business to the various markets across Europe”.

So why do we hear so much about the lack of tech skills if what these companies really want are sales and marketing experts?

John Dennehy, managing director of Zartis. com is project director of the Make IT in Ireland initiative. It is aiming to attract the best “sales, support, development and operations” people to move here, and for Dennehy, talk of a tech skills gap is “an easy soundbite” and leads people to think that it’s just java developers that are lacking.

“If you look at it, about 90,000 people work in the tech sector – but the majority aren’t actually software developers,” he says.

For him, tech jobs in Ireland actually fall into two broad categories – tech developers, who are typically computer science graduates; and sales, marketing and traditional business roles, such as supply chain management and recruitment.

Different skill sets
And it is the latter category where many of the jobs actually exist.

“There will be more multi-lingual people hired by MNCs in the next 12 months than java developers or .net developers,” says Dennehy.

Take a look at some of the jobs Google is looking to fill at its Barrow Street operation, which hosts professionals from all around Europe: a sales manager with fluency in a Nordics language; an Italian speaking associate account strategist and a consumer support market specialist for the German market.

But should we be concerned that so many so-called “tech jobs” are actually in different skill sets?

“Getting core development in Ireland is definitely something we should seek; the more people we can get to fill those roles the better it is for the country,” concedes Dennehy, adding, “but the tech sector is not just about development and a very important part is highly specialised sales and marketing skills”.

And these jobs do require a high level of education and experience, with Google for example, looking for an MBA qualified professional to take on a role as sales manager. Italso pays well, if you look at average salaries in the sector. At Facebook, for example, according to figures in its company accounts (which may be a crude estimate) the average salary stood at €60,229 in 2011 – with an additional €48,630 earned in share-based payments, while at Google, the figure is as high as €90,000.

At LinkedIn, whose staff work almost exclusively in sales functions, the average salary is more than €60,000, while customer service agents at Zynga in Ballsbridge, Dublin, can expect to earn about €37,000.

And there is always the possibility that over time, more and more core development work will be transferred into Ireland. Over at Microsoft in Sandyford, south Dublin, development teams worked on the keyboard for the software firm’s new tablet, the Surface, for example.

And with tax and multinationals staying firmly in the headlines, a skilled workforce – be it in development or sales – can help a company become more entrenched.

“The reality is you can probably move those tax structures into other countries far more easily than you can build up a talented workforce in another country,” says Dennehy.

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