With one quarter down for TripAdvisor’s Dublin engineering hub, Elaine Burke checks in with senior vice-president of engineering and operations Andy Gelfond and director of engineering for TripAdvisor Ireland Lars Holzman to find out how the new office is working and growing.
If you’re a techie traveller, you’ve likely used TripAdvisor or one of its travel media brands to plan your trip. With branded sites in 37 countries worldwide, the TripAdvisor family accumulates more than 260m unique visitors per month and now, software engineers based in Dublin have the opportunity to have a genuine impact on that vast community.
TripAdvisor’s headquarters are in Newton, a suburb of Boston in Massachusetts, but the online travel site has offices around the world for general functions, such as sales and marketing. In terms of engineering, there are teams on the US west coast and another in Ottawa, Canada.
But in September last year, TripAdvisor extended its engineering business out of North America for the first time with the establishment of a core engineering hub in Dublin. At the time, 50 jobs were created to fill the new office and recruitment began in December.
Quality and quantity
When we spoke, Gelfond was visiting the Dublin office for the third time. He first came over to scout locations and set up shop here, and later when the office first opened. Three months down the line, he wanted to check in and let the team know that their reception has been positive.
“We are more than meeting our goals,” he said, referring to the 10 members of staff already recruited. Staff members who, Gelfond says, “are making big contributions to some major project initiatives we’re doing this year.”
Holzman, who heads up the Dublin office, is delighted with the quantity of staff recruited within the first quarter, but what he’s really happy with is the quality of the recruits and the excitement emanating from the office.
As someone who has made the move himself, Holzman is quite taken by Dublin’s tech scene. “It’s so easy to find a community around technology. It runs the gamut; you have everything from pub standards, where it’s really just hanging out, to meet-ups,” he said, confident that any overseas talent coming to live and work in Dublin will have the same “soft landing” that he has enjoyed.
TripAdvisor Dublin needs intelligent, hardworking software engineers that are motivated and self-sufficient – exactly the type of employee that is in high demand worldwide, thanks to a global talent shortage.
However, Gelfond is confident that the Dublin office’s numbers will continue to grow. “We’re already looking at what we’re going to do next year in terms of getting more space,” he said.
Engaging the community
The content on TripAdvisor’s sites is largely user-generated, including 150m reviews and opinions from travellers covering accommodation, restaurants and attractions in more than 139,000 destinations.
“As people come to TripAdvisor and they get good advice and they get great trips, they appreciate what they’ve been given and they give back,” said Gelfond of the brand’s loyal community.
Such a high level of engagement doesn’t happen overnight, either, and TripAdvisor has been building a reputation of quality and credibility for 14 years.
In 2014, the company continues moving forward and, these days, the focus is on mobile and personalisation.
“Things change a lot in TripAdvisor based on market opportunities,” Gelfond explained. “If we spoke six months ago, when we were starting to set up the (Dublin) office and figure things out, we probably wouldn’t have mentioned mobile. Mobile, now, is a very big thing and so we’re focusing on mobile, personalisation and commerce connectivity.”
According to Gelfond, the Dublin team will be leveraged to achieve these aims even faster.
Moving ahead with mobile
To date, TripAdvisor has seen 82m downloads of its various mobile apps and, this year, elements such as the downloadable city guides will be integrated into the main app.
Also this year, the company plans to introduce the ability to make bookings from the mobile site. “That’s a major change this year and our team here (in Dublin) has been a very significant part of that effort,” said Gelfond.
There’s also more to be done in connecting hotels with TripAdvisor, and the Dublin team will also play an important role in this development.
Another key priority for 2014 is analytics and personalisation, and there’s already a recruit in Dublin contributing to this. “You’re not going to read 150m reviews and make a decision, so we need to figure out how to get the reviews that you’re interested in in front of you,” explained Gelfond.
As is clear from its positioning within the company’s highest priorities for development, the Dublin office is key to TripAdvisor’s future. “This is not people off on the side doing support functions; this is part of our core engineering effort, so it’s a great opportunity,” said Gelfond.
The reason why Dublin was chosen for this critical TripAdvisor engineering hub – when anywhere in Europe could have been an option – was, primarily, talent.
“We feel like the talent is of a similar quality to what we get in the States,” said Gelfond. “We’ve grown globally and we need more talent – and, yes, we can get talent in Boston, we’re getting talent in Palo Alto and LA, but to get the talent that we need we need to reach further.”
Of course, having English as a primary language, a practical time zone, an open business environment, support from the IDA and the cultural ties between Boston and Ireland didn’t hurt the decision to locate in Dublin.
From this Irish base, TripAdvisor has established a European gateway that works both ways: the Dublin office doubles as a European hub and TripAdvisor gains access to talent from across the EU, and beyond.
“The reach isn’t just EU,” said Holzman. “That’s one area where my expectations have been exceeded: how attractive Dublin is in the worldwide marketplace for this sort of talent.”
Holzman believes there are talented engineers around the world with limited options for access to the type of influential work being offered in TripAdvisor Dublin. Transferring to the US workplace can be a bureaucratic nightmare, while Dublin is not only an attractive location, but also a more open environment.
“(Dublin) seems to be top of the list now and it has garnered some good attention from a worldwide technical audience who are looking to make upward career movement and get working on meatier problems,” Holzman said.
In fact, the TripAdvisor working environment itself is quite open and, in the Newton HQ, junior staff members are comfortable talking to SVPs such as Gelfond or even the CEO, Stephen Kaufer.
“We have high expectations for staff worldwide and the same is true here, so I do think that same level of connectivity and access is available in Dublin,” said Holzman. “It’s key, because we’re asking people to do huge things for our company.”