The Irish Facebook employees who went from Silicon Docks to Silicon Valley

26 Jan 2015

Mark Zuckerberg rings the opening bell for NASDAQ as Facebook hits the stock market

As Ireland’s economy dipped into decline in early 2009, the first trickles of an uplifting wave of investment from the international tech sector were already spilling into Dublin’s docklands.

Though the landscape was still scarred with visible reminders of the property crash – such as the empty shell of an unfinished eight-storey property on North Wall Quay – across the river, Grand Canal Dock was going from strength to strength.

Google, currently one of the country’s biggest employers, had been enjoying a docklands location since 2004, but it was the arrival of another born-on-the-Internet company in 2008 that sparked an internet influx in the area.

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Future Human

Before 1bn monthly active users. Before a plate of food had ever been Instagrammed. Before there was even a ‘Like’ button. Before all of this, Facebook came to Dublin.

On 2 October 2008, Facebook announced it was setting up in Ireland. Dublin was chosen to be the site of the social network’s international headquarters at a time when it had a mere 100m active users.

The Irish office initially created 70 jobs for Dublin through an investment supported by IDA Ireland. An office in Hyderabad, India, establishing a footprint in Asia, would follow. As would millions of users, billion-dollar acquisitions and an initial public offering (IPO).

At this point, Facebook was already the world’s leading social network, having overtaken MySpace as of April 2008. Membership in Ireland grew in line with global trends as the social network attracted a more mature 25-and-over crowd moving on from Bebo.

As its membership was increasing, so, too, were its staff numbers in Dublin. Facebook quickly grew out of its first digs in Fitzwilliam Hall and took up residence in Hanover Quay with more than 70 employees. This was now the official site of Facebook’s EMEA headquarters and was opened by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan in October 2009.

The faces behind Facebook Ireland

Like the social network it helps to maintain, Facebook Ireland is nothing without the people who populate it, and the Dublin office has churned out its fair share of movers and shakers.

Colm Long – now chief revenue officer at Flipboard – joined Facebook in 2009 to establish the EMEA HQ in Dublin, before moving on to run the company’s global user operations in Menlo Park. Like chief operations officer, Sheryl Sandberg, Long joined the company from Google, where he held several senior roles involving online sales and operations for emerging EMEA markets.

Silicon Docks book cover

A Derry native, Long served as director of online operations for the Facebook EMEA HQ and 2009 was meant to be the year this office brought 40 jobs to Ireland, but growth of both users and advertising justified extending the investment to add at least 70 jobs and expand key functions such as advertising, finance, legal, product marketing and engineering. Long saw this as a sign of a job well done and recognition of the Dublin office’s potential.

Also heading the Facebook fray in 2009 was University of Limerick graduate Shane Crehan, a former financial controller at Dexia and Paddy Power. Crehan was appointed head of international finance at Facebook and, to date, is one of only two listed directors of Facebook Ireland Limited. The second is Sonia Flynn, who was appointed to the board in July 2012.

Flynn had been part of the team that established Google’s European headquarters in Dublin and came with international-management experience in other multinational technology companies. With this on her résumé, she was the ideal candidate to become managing director of Facebook Ireland.

A well-engineered IPO

There were others who worked their way up from the bottom, too. Engineer Colm Doyle joined Facebook in April 2010 from McConnells Advertising, where he had tinkered with Facebook apps. When he attended a Facebook Developer Garage event in Dublin, he impressed the local staff and was offered work at the social network. This was followed in 2012 with an offer to work in Silicon Valley.

Doyle was one of the first members of Facebook’s developer support team, which was responsible for providing guidance to the global community of platform developers, and moved to Menlo Park in 2012 to establish the team’s North American presence. Just weeks after his arrival in California, he helped cobble together a last-minute project which leveraged the social network at a key moment in its history.

As part of a small team of engineers, Doyle helped rig the NASDAQ bell so that Zuckerberg’s Timeline would automatically update the second he rang it, signalling the company’s stock market flotation.

Another Irish ‘Facebooker’ who did well out of the company’s IPO is David Spillane – albeit, in a very different way. A former Ernst & Young employee, Spillane was the most senior Irish executive in Facebook’s worldwide operation, having joined as chief accounting officer in January 2009. He made headlines following the IPO when he sold more than half of his shares – 256,000 of them – for about €4.25 million.

Spillane later left Facebook, tendering his resignation in April 2013. A year later, he became chief accountant at Irish tech success story, Stripe.

This is an edited extract from Silicon Docks: The Rise of Dublin as a Global Tech Hub, edited by Pamela Newenham and written by a team of Irish journalists. Silicon Docks (€17.99) is published by Liberties Press and is available in paperback and as an e-book, in bookshops nationwide and on Amazon.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic