Posted on Wednesday 4 September 2013 by Ulster Business
The area surrounding the three huge offices the internet search giant occupies on Dublin's Barrow Street is so named because more than half of its 2,500 staff walk to work from nearby apartments.
Counting contractors, suppliers and staff in its data centres the employment numbers are nearer 4,000, so talk to any hip young thing under 30 in the area and there's a good chance they work for Google.
The company has been in Ireland since 2003, when it started with five employees. Now, Dublin is the EMEA headquarters from which it sells to customers in 40 countries.
So, when invited by the team behind the forthcoming Digital DNA event in Belfast to see behind the scenes of the internet giant, I was intrigued. I've heard the crazy stories about the super laid back workspaces of California-born tech companies and wanted to see whether those tales of skate-boarding CEOs, staff bowling alleys and in-house video game arcades have been exaggerated to make them seem cooler than they really are.
A quick bit of Google research (really, how did we find information before it existed) tells me Google is the basis for many of the stories. Its office in the Netherlands has an indoor cycle lane running between desks; headquarters in Mountain View is home to a replica T-Rex and edible flower garden; there's a slide between two floors in Zurich; and a very appropriate climbing wall in Boulder.
So, does Dublin live up to the hype? As it turns out, yes it does. From the moment you enter reception there are interactive screens everywhere, colourful sofas dotted around and fridges offering free drinks and snacks, which we're told are on hand across every one of the 13 floors.
Arriving at floor 11 we enter an oh-so trendy café area with quirky, comfy seating, good coffee, a pool table, a fussball table and stunning views across Dublin to the Aviva Stadium.
So far, so what, I hear you say. Well that's just the tip of the ice-berg. In the restaurant areas chefs prepare a selection of high quality meals from around the world for employees. Each station is colour coded to indicate how healthy the food is, and, even better, it's all free.
Anyone feeling a bit stressed before lunch can amble down the corridor to one of the waiting masseuses for a neck and shoulder massage. A high-spec gym occupies half of the second floor and a pool will open in the basement this month. Across the road in the graffiti-daubed office known as The Garage, we're given a sneak peak at The Foundry, a plush, state-of-the-art, 380-seater auditorium that will be used for customer events and training. Then we were led through one of the bright, airy offices buzzing with multi-lingual chatter to The Playground, a colourful outdoor rooftop area complete with swings and see-saws, where employees chat over ice-cream and cold drinks in the sun.
The working environment is designed to keep staff comfortable and focused, says Dave Geraghty, Director of SMB Sales at Google Ireland: "Larry (Page) and Sergey (Brin), when they formed the company back in a garage 15 years ago, they built this culture. The idea is that if you make people very comfortable in their work environment you don't have too many concerns. Like everywhere there are challenges, but we try not to make the basics challenging. If you're hungry you don't need to go down 12 floors, go out to the Spar to buy something, come back having lost track of what you're doing. You grab some fruit or a chocolate bar, you come to the kitchen area."
Those kitchen areas and the cafes with their long tables also enable smart people from different teams to meet, collaborate and innovate.
"It's hard to measure in a dollar number but if you look at it in an overall sense, is Google doing okay? It's doing okay, and this is definitely a feeder into it," adds Dave.
However, don't confuse comfortable with easy. The attitude is very much one of work hard, play hard, and while hours are flexible, all staff have stretching quarterly targets to meet.
And there's a very high bar to become a "Googler" or, if you're new, a Noogler (each of whom is given a multi-coloured baseball hat with a propeller to wear). The interview process is strict, consisting of four 30 minute interviews, including peer interviews to make sure the person will fit into a team. Roles range across marketing, sales, operations and product quality – about 10% are programmers.
But not every role is open to the Irish. Geraghty, who has been with Google for more than six years, says the company has people from 65 countries speaking over 100 languages in Dublin, with around 70% of staff hired from outside of Ireland. The international nature of Google's workforce in Dublin gives it the opportunity to stage a football world cup tournament every year (the Irish team has won twice in eight years). But around half of all overseas employees only stay two years or less, many transferring home or moving on to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn or long-term players in Dublin like Microsoft and Intel.
"We're always recruiting," says Geraghty. "People in Google have options. We hire 70% of people from outside of Ireland, we hire people who are fresh out of university. They often come and think I'll stay two years and then go home with Google on my CV. Our goal is to get them to stay for a longer period because it takes four to six months to train people up."
There has of course been widespread criticism of the tax arrangements used by Google and several other large multinationals in Dublin. But other stories show the positive impact it has had on the city. In the early days the company would buy sandwiches in for employees crowded into its first office, three to a desk. Today, the same caterers who provided the sandwiches employ 60 people across three restaurants which, between them, serve more meals than any other restaurant in Dublin.
And from a Northern Ireland perspective the Dublin operation is helping to make the web work for SMEs by helping them target customers globally.
Geraghty says: "It might sound corny, but in our day to day work, in SMB sales, we work with SMB customers and I believe we change their lives by getting the most out of the web for them so we can increase their turnover and the number of people who come to their websites. That can help create jobs, which is changing lives."
Open plan, with lots of glass, the company's famous no office policy has extended to Dublin with only quirkily named meeting rooms (sports stadia, Father Ted references) having closed doors. The obligatory fussball and air-hockey tables nestle next to well stocked staff kitchens on every floor; there are vending machines full of keyboards, cables and other IT kit; employees are encouraged to get creative on massive chalk boards bearing random statements and words of wisdom.
It's easy to forget that despite being such an established brand Facebook is only nine years old. It has been in Dublin for four and its staff are expected to be innovative, getting involved in global "hacks" to solve problems and make services better for customers. The motto is "move fast and break things".
"We're at an age where it feels like you can make a difference to the company and its users. We still see ourselves as a very young company with a lot to achieve," says Gail Power, Facebook's Director of Global Sales Services in Dublin. "You're given a lot of autonomy and freedom. We used to say that we were only 1% finished and it still feels like that. You can come to Facebook and there are 1.1 billion users you can make a difference to in a positive way."
Originally from Saintfield, Gail joined Facebook from Google in 2009. Her role is an international one, leading Facebook's Outsourcing, Offshoring and Strategic Client Services teams around the world. Staff report in to her from destinations as far away as Austin in Texas, India, Singapore and Sao Paulo.
Dublin is in fact the biggest office Facebook has outside of California, housing 450 staff (with 100 more to be added by next April) and important functions such as HR, user operations, finance, mid-market sales, global sales and development support.
The international nature of the work means that, like Google, less than 30% of staff at Facebook in Dublin are Irish. The company says it is in Ireland because it is the only English speaking country in the Eurozone and because it's easy to attract talented people to live there.
The Irish staff we meet have been attracted by the autonomy, the flexibility of working hours, the allowance of working from home, and the absence of any sort of formal dress code. As in Google they have food and drinks available and all times in a hip café and other perks and services that mean no time in work is wasted.
Ballyclare native Stafford Houston – who tells me he's just celebrated his one year "faceversary" – explains that what most people see as added perks have real benefits for the business.
"We're provided with so much here that we can just focus on the job without worrying about other stuff. There's a dry cleaner here on site, the canteen means you don't need to worry about making your own food," he explains.
"That's important because things do move very fast here and it is constantly evolving with new products coming along all the time."
So far, only a handful of people have managed to transfer from Dublin to Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California, where key functions such as product development are centralised. But Gail says there are lots of opportunities in Dublin to advance a career in Facebook.
"It is our European headquarters but it also has a lot of other global roles. Because of the time difference it is the perfect location to help support a lot of international business," she says.
"The culture is very fast paced. People get to have an impact, everyone is very involved and as such everyone tends to be very motivated and very engaged."
What's not to like about that?